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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)

MR MICHAEL TAPLIN, MR GEOFFREY CLAYDON AND MR ROBERT TARR

WEDNESDAY 12 JANUARY 2000

  80. Are they going to give you a sufficiently long-term vision?
  (Mr Tarr) At the moment they are not. In the first trial year of the local transport plans, quite frankly, I think the advice that the Government issued to the local authorities was pretty pathetic. Basically they said to local authorities they were not actually thinking of anything which would cost a lot of money or take a long time to do. They then had the cheek at the end of the process to criticise local authorities for not coming up with innovative and visionary ideas. It is hardly surprising that they did not! The local transport plans process as a concept, if the Government take advantage of it, if you like, they could actually say at a fairly early stage in that process, "We are talking about light rail schemes, this could apply to other schemes as well." Let us think about a particular light rail scheme proposed by a local authority or a passenger transport executive or authority as its promoter, if Government said, "Okay, this is a scheme which we believe is a runner", at an early stage, from the conception of the scheme and there was confidence it was likely to be backed by Government and was likely to come to fruition, it would make an enormous difference in the ability to bring it to fruition. It would enable private sector partners to take a serious interest in the scheme with the reasonable assurance that it had a fighting chance of happening.

  Chairman: The Government has to focus its idea and accept at a much earlier stage it is serious about schemes of this kind and it has to make that public in a way that will enable promoters of schemes to go forward.

  Mr Donohoe: What is the timescale?

Chairman

  81. They are hardly likely to do that if they are handed a bit of paper that says, "This is the population, this is what we would like to do, this is what we think would be a very good idea." I could provide you with one like that in Crewe and I could give you an answer tomorrow. I would imagine what Mr Brown would say when I presented it to him.
  (Mr Tarr) The reality is there are so many different stages now. There is the local transport plan, and you might say the first time the scheme appears in the local transport plan it is relatively at the conceptual stage. Then that has to be fleshed out with evidence that this is a sensible proposal.

  82. You know local government and you also know central government. To be absolutely honest no central government is going to commit a lot of its money to a scheme which is at a very early stage without some absolute guarantee that this is not only going to be a scheme that will work but it will produce positive benefits. How can you do that at an early enough stage?
  (Mr Tarr) I am not saying that at a very early stage the Government should give a one hundred per cent commitment to this scheme and say, "This will happen regardless of how it turns out in the detailed appraisal." Historically what has happened is that successive governments have not been willing to say anything about their degree of support to a scheme until the absolute last moments.

Mr Donohoe

  83. Surely as the experts you get to a point where by examining schemes across the world of a similar nature that you would want to introduce you can set guidelines so that you know something is going to be successful or not, you know if it is going to be practical or not. In these circumstances that is what you would expect the government in their expertise to be employing, surely. In these circumstances the labyrinth of regulation is cut out so that we get a clear picture of what is needed, where it is needed and how it will be implemented. Surely that is something that can be done.
  (Mr Tarr) I think that is right, yes. The key thing is for the Government to declare its hand. I am sure it is the case that in the depths of the Department of Transport, as it used to be, the civil servants concerned knew whether or not eventually, Treasury permitting and all this sort of thing, they would be supporting a particular scheme in the course of time.

Chairman

  84. You are not suggesting they keep secrets to themselves, Mr Tarr, are you? All those wildly progressive and imaginative ideas from the Department of the Environment and Transport—
  (Mr Tarr) I can tell you as a promoter of a scheme that it was very very difficult to get a clear indication from the Department as to whether or not it did support a scheme.

  Chairman: We have got the message.

Miss McIntosh

  85. Do you welcome the prospect of the Strategic Rail Authority being able to fund the link up between a light rail system and a heavy rail system?
  (Mr Tarr) Yes. If the SRA were to have a more general supervisory or regulatory role with light rail I am not sure that would be a good idea because I think light rail is essentially about local transport, it is not about national transport. In terms of actually facilitating things like track sharing schemes, I think it is a very sensible thing to happen and very desirable because there are an awful lot of under-used heavy rail lines which could actually be very sensibly used and enormously reduce the cost of building new schemes.

  86. A bit of a red herring and I know it is a subject close to Madam Chairman's heart, but do you know how the rail scheme in Strasbourg was financed? Was it financed exclusively by the municipal authority?
  (Mr Tarr) My belief is that it was a mixture of local funding and central government.

Chairman

  87. My belief is there are very few politicians as efficient at getting money out of the French government as the previous Mayor of Strasbourg.
  (Mr Tarr) Absolutely. French cities have the ability to impose a tax, the Versement Transports, which is like a selective employment tax which helps to pay for local public transport and is a very useful tax to have.

  Chairman: When we start playing politics like the French we shall all be much richer and much more effective.

  Miss McIntosh: Do you see that as a model that we could use in this country?

Chairman

  88. I do not think there is any point in asking someone who is not a politician that question. What scope is there for reducing the cost of light rail schemes through the use of standardised vehicles?
  (Mr Tarr) I think there is beginning to be some evidence that there is a standardisation of vehicles developing which is actually a very good thing because, arguably, the light rail industry has made things more difficult for itself by having vehicles which cost more than they need to. When you are only producing a few vehicles of a particular design clearly the unit price of those is higher than it needs to be.

  89. Lower cost tracks?
  (Mr Tarr) One of the things certainly is to do with the weight. For about the last 12 years I have been waging a bit of a campaign about light rail being unnecessarily heavy. Actually, quite a few light rail schemes ought to be renamed heavy rail schemes because the vehicles are very heavy and as a result everything else has to be heavy and the track has to be heavy.

  90. There is a problem with aluminium bodies, is there not? You are taking account of safety, are you not?
  (Mr Tarr) One thing which one can be absolutely sure about with any light rail scheme is that the Health and Safety Executive and Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate crawl over the scheme in incredible detail.

  91. Mr Tarr, you will find no sympathy for any objection to that on this Committee.
  (Mr Tarr) I am not objecting to that. What I would like to see, Chairman, is the same standards of safety being applied to road vehicles, particularly cars.

  Chairman: What a good idea. We may even find room for that in one of our reports.

Mr Stevenson

  92. Mr Tarr, I think it was in answer to my colleague Dr Ladyman that you talked about roads and whether we should just let them fill up and so on. You gave me the impression that you were interested in the light rapid system and once you had got that, what happened to the roads really did not matter, I think you described it as a social issue. I got the impression that the system itself was an end in itself and if the roads clogged up afterwards that was an issue that the sociologists would have to deal with. Is that impression correct?
  (Mr Tarr) It is certainly not a correct impression, Chairman. I personally think that it is very important for us to get a control over the level of road traffic congestion which it seems to me in all major cities and towns has reached chronic proportions. The most worrying thing is not just that it has already reached chronic proportions but everybody knows it is going to get worse and there is no serious policy commitment by anybody to reverse that.

Chairman

  93. Say that again rather more loudly, Mr Tarr.
  (Mr Tarr) I would be very happy to do that.

Mr Stevenson

  94. From your experience of the systems in the West Midlands and elsewhere, would you say that these systems are in competition with the private car or are they in competition with other public transport systems?
  (Mr Tarr) Certainly their intent is to offer an attractive alternative to using the private car, but until you stop the people getting on it and who did not come out of a car and you say to them, "Did you previously use a bus? If so, you cannot use this nice new system". That is not the real world, is it?

Chairman

  95. You would produce some interesting results in local government elections.
  (Mr Tarr) The thing that you need to do and it seems to me is a crucial thing in connection with the proposed congestion charges is you have to be able to offer to the public in a particular area a system of local public transport which is not just light rail, it is the combination of light rail and very much better bus services working in a totally integrated way. You cannot see that, unfortunately, in the UK. You have to go to cities in Europe. Recently I was in Stuttgart for a while and, quite frankly, the quality of public transport in Stuttgart is astounding and this is a city which is more dependant upon the motorcar for its prosperity than my home city of Coventry, for instance.

Mr Stevenson

  96. I have had some experience of that. When you put the case together and went through these hoops in the West Midlands case did you as part of the economic justification for the scheme say "We think the scheme will attract X passengers over a period of time?" Did you say, "We're not bothered where those passengers come from provided they come", or did you say, "We think that half of them will come from existing public transport systems, ten per cent will come from cars, 15 per cent will be pedestrians"? Did you have to go into that amount of detail and, if so, what was it?
  (Mr Tarr) I do not recall the precise figure, but the figure expected to come out of cars on to the light rail system was actually relatively low.

  97. What was it?
  (Mr Tarr) I cannot remember the exact figure.

  98. Ten per cent, 15 per cent?
  (Mr Tarr) My memory is that it was in the region of 15 per cent, something like that. That would be in line with the average sort of system. I think the key thing about that is that if you got a 15 per cent transfer out of cars and on to public transport and you did not allow the roads to fill up again then you would have dramatic differences in the level of road traffic congestion. One knows how much difference there is in the school holidays, when probably the level of road traffic is, perhaps, ten per cent down on normal levels.

  99. How many passengers did your scheme, a ball-park figure, see dislodging from existing public transport?
  (Mr Tarr) Several million passengers a year.


 
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