Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 12 JANUARY 2000
20. According to the information in front of
us on the Sheffield Supertram, 57 per cent of passengers were
attracted from other modes of public transport. Does that concern
(Mr Depledge) It is a fact of life and the operators
will be aware of that and will deal with that. The key issue is
how many people we have got out of cars.
21. All the evidence seems to suggest that when
you do attract people out of cars and you relieve the congestion
on the road what happens is more car owners come and occupy the
space left behind. Do you see these schemes as only working in
conjunction with restrictions on car use?
(Mr Coates) I think that is true. It is certainly
the case when you look at the evidence from public transport improvements
in the past that light rail passengers have, to a very large extent,
come from other forms of public transport. That is not a bad thing,
as Mr Depledge has said. But the main objectives of the current
policies are to try to do something to improve the environment
and reduce traffic and congestion in cities. It is rather important,
to put it mildly, that local transport strategies should be carefully
designed to achieve those objectives and that the routes that
are selected for light rail, rather than some other kind of public
transport improvement, should be selected in a way that will maximise
the transfer from the private car. We believe that it is very
important that they should be introduced in conjunction with congestion
charging or some other similar system of controlling the growth
in traffic. When we looked at Manchester light rail three years
ago, the PTE did some work for us which suggested that had the
Manchester light rail scheme, which has been very successful,
been introduced in conjunction with a congestion charging scheme
they would have had 25 per cent more passengers and they would
have needed 16 per cent less subsidy.
22. Could they have coped with those numbers?
(Mr Coates) I am almost certain that the capacity
of the Manchester system could be increased to cope with larger
numbers because the headways are not all that frequent. In our
view you need to start by looking at an integrated transport plan.
You do not just produce an individual light rail proposal out
of the hat. You start by looking at the thing fundamentally: you
look at your restraint scheme; you look at the flows that you
might expect to transfer from car to public transport; you look
at places where there might be park and ride and then you try
to assess which of these routes are going to have such large numbers
that light rail seems to be a good idea. Also, what are the physical
possibilities for putting it in and giving it priority or a reserved
track? That is how you arrive at it.
Miss McIntosh: I am particularly interested
to know, on the Government plans for budgeting for light railways,
how you feel they should be financed, particularly if you feel
there could be a private sector greater involvement? Also I will
declare, Madam Chairman, I am half Danish and I take great interest
in looking at all of the transport sectorswhether the bus
turns up and the tram leaves at the same timeand I wonder
to what extent we are going to see that.
23. We have the idea.
(Mr Coates) If I can answer first, we certainly think
that interchanges and proper connections are very important because
people are going to have to change from one mode to another, and
that ought to be efficient. On the funding we do have some worries.
In principle it seems quite a good idea that if there are going
to be congestion charging schemes at the same time as light rail
is introducedwhich, for the reasons I explained, we think
there should bethat will help the funding of light rail
both because there will be profits from the congestion charging
schemes that can be applied and because the light rail schemes
ought to be more commercially viable. It ought not to be beyond
the wit of man to raise capital up front to introduce these schemes
on the back of the income from the congestion charging schemes.
Our worry is that we have not yet seen any clear statement from
the Government about how that is to be done and how the private/public
partnerships would work; or whether perhaps bonds would be a better
solution, unless they fall into the trap of being classified as
public expenditure. We are concerned that in the early days, when
there will be considerable uncertainty in the private sector about
how many passengers these schemes will attract and how viable
they are going to be and what the response of road users will
to be congestion charging schemes, to try to transfer a large
part of that risk to the private sector for the early schemes
may be too difficult. We think the Government has to stand behind
local authorities and give additional support for the early schemes
to make them a success. We do not see any sign that that is what
the Government has in mind.
24. Are you indicating that if the Government
does not provide that support to the early schemes that when such
time as the Government is minded, if the Bill is successful, and
work place parking and congestion charging schemes come into effect,
could that have a detrimental and negative impact on light rail
(Mr Coates) The worst thing would be for it to go
off at half-cock, for a rather timid scheme to be introduced that
does not persuade anybody that life is better as a result.
25. Are you saying Miss Intosh is right or wrong?
(Mr Coates) I think the proof of the pudding will
be in the eating. It may be that we are being too pessimistic
and the private sector and the local authorities will be able
to come forward with schemes that are privately funded. We are
rather sceptical about that. We are encouraged that the Government
are proposing to have a joint group with the local authorities
to discuss these matters. We think it is very important that they
should come up with workable answers to these questions.
26. Can I rephrase my question? We all recognise
that light rail is an environmentally friendly form of transport,
a sustainable form of transport, it has many good things going
for it. If local authorities are going to have to fund the systems
before they get any income, if they were to go ahead with the
congestion charging and work place parking it would have a negative
impact on the development of light rail systems; do you agree
(Mr Coates) Yes, I think I do agree with that.
27. Mr Depledge, do you agree with that?
(Mr Depledge) I have to say our experience so far
is that the private sector is clearly interested in working on
this sort of development. We have seen a number of schemes in
the country so far. I see nothing to suggest the private sector
is not happy to work with local authorities, recognising that
there is a very heavy initial capital cost against which there
is a fairly long-term revenue stream. That, I believe, is a model
which can be adopted.
28. On this whole linkage between your systems
and these systems and congestion charging and work place charging,
it is a fairly obvious thing to say, "Let us bring in those
taxes and use them to pay for systems such as this." Is there
not an actual dislocation in two senses? First of all, the amount
of money raised from congestion charges and work place charges
is extremely unlikely to be even remotely close to the amount
of money you would need. Secondly, the people you would be taxing
to come into town are not necessarily the people who would be
able to use the systems you describe, in other words people coming
from the countryside are nowhere near any of the terminals of
the system. While this sounds like a good idea and sounds very
clever and bright, surely the truth of the matter is that it does
not work at all and if these systems are for the general benefit
of the nation the Government should pay for them.
(Mr Coates) I do not think I take that view. First
of all, I think that the amount that might be collected through
these schemes could be very large indeed. Estimates have been
produced for London from some other cities, and in London one
is talking about hundreds of millions, from some of the other
cities quite considerable amounts have been forecast of possible
revenue. If that is used not to fund the capital investment directly
but to pay the interest on the capital, you could raise six, ten,
twelve times more than the annual revenue on your initial capital
investment. On your other question about whether congestion charging
would affect people who cannot use public transport, I think it
is important that one should not just be looking at light rail.
The proceeds of congestion charging could be used to help local
authorities fund bus priorities and bus priority enforcement and
bus park and ride as well as light rail. It would be for the local
authority to try to devise a scheme which provides an alternative
for most people and, for those which it is not suitable.....
29. My question was, should they not be doing
those things anyway? Why are they additional? Why are they dependent
on congestion charges? Surely it is the duty of the local authority
and the Government to be doing the things you describe anyway?
(Mr Coates) The evidence is that if you give people
lots of new public transport, if it is light rail a lot of people
come from buses, if it is a better bus service a lot of the people
perhaps walked previously or did not make the journey at all.
If you are going to get significant numbers of people out of their
cars, all of the evidence we have seen shows you have to make
the car journey relatively more difficult and expensive compared
to public transport.
30. I really wanted to take a step back from
that series of questions. As you have been answering that I have
been doing some sums here. I reckon on the evidence I have in
front of me that these systems cost about £5 million per
kilometre on average. I have just worked out that for £5
million you could probably buy 250 mini-buses and when parked
end to end you could not even get a kilometre. What I am asking
you is, why not buy lots of small buses and have them running
around providing a far more flexible service than the one you
are suggesting. It seems to me the additional cost of building
these light transit railways makes the whole thing a nonsense
in terms of a flexible service.
(Mr Coates) I do not think we are suggesting, and
I am sorry if the answers I have given to the questions have given
that impression, that light rail is always the right answer. Buses
do have the great advantage of being flexible, they are the main
form of public transport in this country at the moment and therefore
the most widespread and easily available way of providing people
with better public transport is making the bus services better.
However, light rail does have some advantages. If it has got a
reserved track it is faster than a bus and Manchester shows that
clearly. If it is given proper priority in street running that
tends to be self-enforcing and you probably get a higher quality
of service than you do on a bus and for reasons which are not
entirely clear car users seem to find light rail a more attractive
form of public transport than they do buses, which have got a
poor image. Having said all that, a lot of the advantages of light
rail could be obtained if there was some really major improvement
in bus services, if they were given good priority, properly enforced,
with nice new vehicles and high quality service standards. The
proposals in the Transport Bill for quality partnerships and quality
contracts are obviously aimed at that and we support all of that.
31. Do you think there is going to be a problem
with the SRA in that if it is able to fund schemes and to integrate
LRT systems with the heavy rail network it might see a different
set of priorities? Do you think that is going to be a difficulty?
(Mr Depledge) I am slightly caught in being a little
unsure as to what the right answer is here.
32. I think we have to decide what the right
answer is. You just give us an answer and take your chance.
(Mr Depledge) My concern is that there are clearly
advantages in saying that the SRA can look at light rail options
when considering the future of some heavy rail lines, particularly
the suburban line serving conurbations and that would clearly
be a benefit. My concern would be if the SRA's interest in the
very much more expensive and very much larger needs of the main
heavy rail network were so substantially to dominate their thinking
that they were unable to take any views about
33. Do you think it would undermine the role
of the PTAs?
(Mr Depledge) I am not sure I am in a position to
answer that directly.
34. Make a wild guess, Mr Depledge.
(Mr Depledge) We would need to clarify the respective
roles very carefully and ensure that the interests of light rail
are not overwhelmed by the heavy rail network.
35. We have now got local transport plans and
once the Transport Bill becomes law there will be a legal duty
to provide them. Critics say that local transport plans whilst
hopefully reflecting local need, will tend to fragment the wider
considerations in this area. Do you think there is a need for
more emphasis on regional planning and the Regional Development
Agencies and, if so, how do you think that might be achieved?
(Mr Depledge) In my own region I am hugely encouraged
by the work which the regional assembly is undertaking on regional
transport planning and regional planning guidance and regional
transport strategies because it is important that the links between
local transport plans are properly thought through. It is very
important that we ensure that the boundaries of local transport
planning are not fixed boundaries. We need to look at them in
36. In your experience, albeit regional development
has only been with us for a short period of time, is there evidence
to suggest that local transport authorities are taking into account
the regional dimension in drawing up their plans in a reasonable
(Mr Depledge) There is clear evidence that that is
evolving and evolving well.
37. I want to ask you about quality contracts.
Are quality contracts going to be necessary to ensure that bus
and light rail services complement rather than compete with one
(Mr Depledge) They are not. Quality partnerships will
be able to deliver. As the Government is giving it a clear steer
in that direction it is something our industry is very ready to
38. So you are quite convinced that your experience
of partnerships will be sufficient to ensure the results?
(Mr Depledge) I believe there is good evidence of
that from the work so far and I think it will become much clearer
as the work on the concept of the statutory quality partnership
develops. We do need to worry about things like the involvement
of competition law and all those things and I am sure you are
very mindful of that as a Committee, but I am very confident that
we will get the results out of quality partnership work.
39. What has been the effect of the Transport
and Works Act?
(Mr Depledge) The Transport and Works Act is a very
big question and I have to say, I am not sure that I am fully
briefed to answer that in very short order.
1 Note by Witness: In the sense that light
rail-and other major public transport improvements-will be difficult
to fund up front unless (a) the government allows local authorities
to borrow against the forecast income from charging schemes; or
(b) it facilitates public/private partnerships and, if necessary,
stands behind local authorities on the early schemes. Back