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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  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 you?
  (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.

Dr Ladyman

  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 sectors—whether the bus turns up and the tram leaves at the same time—and 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 introduced—which, for the reasons I explained, we think there should be—that 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.

Miss McIntosh

  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 systems?
  (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.

Miss McIntosh

  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 with that?
  (Mr Coates) Yes, I think I do agree with that.[1]


  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.

Mr Gray

  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.

Dr Ladyman

  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.

Mr Stevenson

  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 regional terms.

  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 fashion?
  (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 another?
  (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 work on.

  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.

Mr Donohoe

  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

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