Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by The High Wycombe Society Transport Group (IT 83)



  We welcome the White Paper and applaud its concern for environmental protection, including the threats from climate change and toxic emissions, as well as the clear statement that things could not go on as before.

  Nevertheless we are disappointed to find it contains some surprising omissions and inconsistencies, and fails to provide a useful analysis of some key problems or offer appropriate support to local authorities, as indicated below.

    1.  Rural transport—not just a question of rural isolation

    2.  Park & Ride—no balanced appraisal

    3.  Competition between neighbouring local authorities—overlooked

    4.  Light Rail—no recognition of its full significance and potential

    5.  Car dependent shopping—a very serious omission

    6.  Transport to/from rail stations—not just bus services and cycle storage

    7.  Parking and land use—a crucial factor

    8.  Road pricing—a different approach could be fairer


1.1 Rural isolation

  In paragraph 1.25, rural transport problems are seen simply in terms of the isolation and social exclusion experienced by rural residents without access to a car, but such isolation occurs not only in deeply rural areas. In High Wycombe, bus services after 7.00 pm are so limited that even people living in urban parts are effectively isolated if they do not have a car. (See Section 6).

1.2 Rural traffic

  Paragraph 4.92 recognises that "some rural areas suffer from significant congestion" and does acknowledge that "traffic nuisance is a growing problem in the countryside generally" but it also suggests this is mainly during holiday periods and in special places such as National Parks (paragraph 4.96). The overall view presented is that transport and mobility in rural areas are not serious problems for those who have a car, while serious traffic problems are largely confined to densely urbanised areas. This crude analysis is misleading, because many, if not most car drivers live/work in places other than deep rurality or major city centres. It is difficult to see how the objectives of the White Paper can be achieved with so little account taken of such a large part of transport activity. The analysis seems to colour the position taken on many policies (e.g., Sections 2-6 below) such that they do not help to tackle many problems of traffic congestion, environmental impact, social exclusion, etc.

1.3 Rural traffic and urban congestion

  The imbalance outlined above fails to recognise that congestion, pollution etc., occur not just in dense urban areas but are common and widespread. The inherent mobility of cars means that a high proportion contribute to the problems in all of many different locations—rural, semi-rural, motorway, small town, suburban and city centres.

1.4 Rural/urban transport

  A key aspect of "rural" transport problems is not how to cure the isolation of those without a car, but how to reduce the environmental impact everywhere caused by rural dwellers who do have a car, and have to use it for all types of journey in every direction. Tackling this latter problem could simultaneously help resolve the transport problems of those rural residents who do not have a car.


2.1 Park and Ride—a green procedure?

  The analysis discussed in 1.1-1.3 has led to Park and Ride being widely thought of as a "green" measure for reducing traffic in town centres. However, at the same time, it allows unrestrained car use everywhere else (i.e., where it is assumed—wrongly—that it generates no serious congestion). Park and Ride actively encourages car use by providing easy parking, so the increasing numbers of cars and car journeys have led to it being no longer universally viewed as benign, but the White Paper offers little indication of this alternative view.

2.2 Park and Ride not sustainable

  We view Park and Ride as not sustainable, because it does nothing to discourage car use, (on the contrary) and hence effectively nothing to reduce car mileage overall. It appears to have become popular with Government because it has superficial green credentials and is easier to provide than developing good, imaginative "bespoke" public transport alternatives (See Section 6 below). Local authorities like it because it can offer them a competitive edge over their rivals (Section 3 below)—but if they all have Park and Ride any advantage diminishes. Moreover, at a time when there is mounting concern about development on greenfields, Park and Ride encourages dispersion and generates increasing pressure to use ever greater areas of valuable land for the car parks on the outskirts of towns, while diverting money and other resources from more effective road traffic reduction measures. We therefore think that Park and Ride merited a more balanced discussion in the White paper.

2.3 Park and Ride in Oxford

  Where P and R was pioneered 25 years ago. Much money and land has been lavished on it here, but in spite of this there are regular queues to get into the car parks, because they encourage car journeys. Now there are plans for costly quality public transport on some routes to the P and R car parks. This should be a valuable lesson for central Government and those towns embarking on a Park and Ride strategy.

2.4 A more sustainable alternative to Park and Ride

  Instead of large car parks on the outskirts of towns, drivers should be helped to abandon their cars much nearer the start of their journeys (at small P and R's if necessary). This may not necessarily require more traditional scheduled public transport, but instead, public transport closely matched to individual needs, based on a computerised information system. See Section 6.


3.1 Nationwide Government support for local authorities

  The policy of allowing local authorities to decide on their procedures for parking restraint, road charging etc., is false democracy. The White Paper's crude analysis of transport problems (1.2-1.4 above) seems to have led to a lack of understanding of the problems faced by groups of towns within easy driving distance of each other. Any one town imposing car restraint measures risks economic disadvantage when shoppers, leisure customers etc., choose to drive to rival facilities with no such restraints. Similarly lavish, non-sustainable P and R facilities could offer competitive advantage (See 2.2 above). Central Government action is needed to counteract this competition, as well as to reward bold sustainable initiatives.


4.1 Transport's environmental problems

  More than 25 of the White Paper's 664 paragraphs are concerned with the problems of CO2 emissions, fuel efficiency, toxic emissions, the amount of land consumed by transport infrastructures and the need to make the best use of present infrastructures. There are also references to reducing transport noise (paragraphs 2.11, 2.21, and 2.24). Paragraph 3.147 refers to toxic run-off from roads (due largely to tyre wear products) and recycling road construction materials. The need to conserve such quarried resources is apparently confirmed in paragraph 4.170 which links a promise of new guidance on minerals to taking "account of the importance of promoting greater use of rail and water transport" which use far less of such mineral resources.

4.2 Light rail can help alleviate ALL the problems outlined in 4.1

  Light rail is energy efficient and non-polluting at the point of use; modern vehicles are very quiet, steel rails can be recycled and rail wear does not generate toxic products (polyaromatic hydrocarbons). Light rail uses the minimum of land, being confined by slender steel tracks which (unlike the bulky curbs of guided busways) are narrower than the vehicles.

4.3 Reports by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution

  The first report by the Royal Commission on "Transport and the Environment" (October 1994) called for Government support for clean, energy efficient light rail in Recommendations 16 and 87. The Commission's further report (September 1997) points out in paragraph 4.55 that light rail has been advocated as the form of public transport offering the best prospect of attracting people who would otherwise use their cars, being more comfortable than buses and "more glamorous".

4.4 The White Paper and light rail

  In spite of all the factors in 4.1-4.3 the White Paper discourages use of light rail (paragraphs 3.36-3.38), apparently because the Manchester MetroLink cost £150 million. In view of paragraphs 4.1-4.3 above we find it surprising that neither the White Paper's authors nor the Royal Commission have raised the question—Does light rail always and everywhere have to cost the equivalent of Manchester's £150 million? Our studies suggest there are many possible applications for lower cost light rail outside the big urban centres, using lighter vehicles than in Manchester, with lighter bridges and a generally simpler infrastructure, running on disused rail tracks and/or an innovative, quickly built street track. This question has been asked and pursued by John Parry of Parry People Movers Ltd. The resultant ultra light vehicles are very energy efficient and their flywheel energy storage requires no costly overhead power supply. We would respectfully suggest the Committee should consider looking at lower cost light rail, including contacting Parry People Movers Ltd.


5.1 An astronomical mileage

  Our studies indicate that a typical out of centre supermarket serves at least 25,000 customers a week, most of whom come by car and many travel from 5 to 10 miles away, so an average round trip of six miles would seem to be a conservative estimate. This adds up to almost eight million miles per year—or more than 300 times round the world—for ONE supermarket.

5.2 The White Paper and car dependent shopping

  In view of the monstrous mileage in 5.1 we are surprised the White Paper does not give this shopping greater prominence, particularly since it could be fairly simple and cheap to significantly reduce this mileage, by compelling supermarkets to reduce their car parking and provide good cheap delivery services. These get a passing mention in paragraphs 4.114 and 4.116, but with such a huge car mileage involved and such a simple solution available, we believe the case for delivery services should be promoted much more strongly, even though the supermarket chains are evidently not enthusiastic.

  5.3 At least three different types of delivery services should be promoted. Two of these relate to shopping at a single store and entail making arrangements for the customer to either order by phone, fax, e-mail or the internet—or even by post—or to enable shoppers to travel to/from the store by bike, bus or walking, but leave their purchases to be delivered home. A third type could help protect town centres. "Shoppers' Bases" in town centres could allow shoppers to purchase goods at a number of shops, stalls etc., and drop them off at the base for later delivery home. Many people would already welcome deliveries and many others could probably be encouraged to use them if available.


6.1 Hundreds of stations affected

  Outside the large urban centres, transport to/from stations poses special problems, even including Cockfosters station on the London Underground. At High Wycombe Rail Station there are 153 trains coming and going every day, and like other stations on the successful Chiltern Line, there are huge parking and congestion problems, but traditional scheduled public transport could never meet the variable journey needs of all rail passengers arriving/departing by every train in such areas.

6.2 The "bespoke" approach

  We offered suggestions for "bespoke" public transport, at stations and elsewhere, in Section 6 of our submission to the Integrated Transport consultation (November 1997). A recent (5.9.98) 14 page report in the Economist about road traffic reduction etc., world wide, described a range of sophisticated technologies being applied to transport. In comparison, it should not be very difficult to organise procedures for "bespoke" minibus transport to/from stations and many other destinations. For example ordered from the train, (or cinema, leisure centre etc.,) using postcodes for easy computer sorting into convenient routes and economic loads for waiting minibuses as needed.


7.1 The key to car restraint

  Imposing severe limits on parking is the only sure way to restrain car use, coupled with special parking arrangements for the disabled and other justifiable needs. A recent study on town centre accessibility (Healy and Baker 1998) suggests that increased parking charges have little affect on car use, and in any case they penalise poor drivers but can be ignored by the more fortunate. Severely curtailing parking spaces offers the further advantage of freeing valuable land for better purposes than parking. The White Paper includes some passing references to this but does not adequately promote the fundamental significance and sustainability of such measures.


8.1 Financial disincentives

  In the light of the comments in paragraph 7.1 above we believe that road charging must not be seen as a primary deterrent to drive, but that it could be an acceptable source of finance for sustainable transport, if applied to making very small charges (e.g. 3p) at a large number of suitably dispersed strategic automatic charge points. That way substantial sums could be raised from millions of small contributions because of the very large number of car journeys done every day. Sensitive rural car dependent areas need not be charged.

8.2 Charging technologies

  We think that the objective should probably be a system permitting pre-payment of charges by in-vehicle smartcards, but another procedure that might be considered could be based on today's sensitive digital cameras. If they could photograph the number plates of passing vehicles, the charge could be allocated to the vehicle's road tax "account". The bill would have to be cleared before the vehicle was re-licensed, but drivers could be encouraged to clear their account at more frequent intervals by setting up easy pay arrangements via banks, post offices etc. The charges recorded at any particular camera could be passed on to that local authority.

Elsa Woodward

25 September 1998

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