Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 12 JANUARY 2000
80. Are they going to give you a sufficiently
(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?
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.
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.
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
(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.
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.
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?
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
(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.
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.
93. Say that again rather more loudly, Mr Tarr.
(Mr Tarr) I would be very happy to do that.
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?
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.
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.