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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



  360. Is the Government concerned that light rail systems are to the detriment of other public services that are in being or is it the opposite?
  (Mr Hill) To the detriment in which sense, Mr Donohoe?

  361. Existing bus routes or even heavy rail routes.
  (Mr Hill) Have they operated to the detriment of other means of public transport in particular? My impression is not. My impression is that on the corridors where they have been introduced there has not been an increase but a stabilisation of existing road traffic levels. I am not aware that any of these schemes have operated to the detriment of other forms of public transport, but can I revert to my expert on this one.
  (Mr Bird) I think the position is that light rail often helps the development of an integrated service. With a lot of rail trips into Manchester Piccadilly station there is a Metrolink add-on to that service so that they are complementary and a light rail service has replaced a loss making heavy rail service and doubled the usage on that particular line. I think as far as rail is concerned the position is very positive. As far as buses are concerned, most light rail schemes do result in patronage moving from buses to light rail. This is one of the aspects which is taken account of in the appraisal of the project and obviously it is important there should be an overall benefit if the scheme is to be approved. Because of the bus structure that we have obviously there is flexibility for bus operators to reorganise their routes, to organise feeder services to light rail or to offer services which might be complementary or, in certain circumstances, in competition with light rail. That is the structure that we have at the moment.

  362. Do you think light rail is more successful at getting car drivers out of their cars in comparison with other systems?
  (Mr Hill) We have some evidence on the extent to which light rail schemes have taken passengers out of cars. We know that 20 per cent of the users of the Manchester Metro were car users, although not necessarily drivers but certainly car users and so there is some evidence that the Manchester Metro has certainly attracted car drivers out of cars and on to the Metro. In the case of the Midlands Metro in the West Midlands the figure is 15 per cent. So there is some evidence of attracting people out of cars and into light rail schemes. I do not have comparable figures for guided bus schemes.

Miss McIntosh

  363. Minister, do you not think the Government would be better advised to postpone the introduction of workplace charging and congestion charging until alternative schemes are in place?
  (Mr Hill) Let me remind Miss McIntosh that this is a matter for local authorities to decide and not the Government. The Government is putting in place the statutory framework for the introduction of workplace parking levies or road user charging schemes, but it is entirely a matter of choice at the local level as to whether they are brought in. I do not think you can have a hard and firm rule on that. I think we have all agreed—and this is how Mr Stevenson and I began on the matter—that there is a psychological element in this which says it is certainly sensible before you bring in these regimes to have some evidence, but whether these schemes are completed by the time you bring in the congestion charging regimes I think is a matter of judgment. They do not necessarily have to be complete. What I think local publics have to be confident of is that their money is being spent in a way which is designed to relieve congestion and to create an attractive public transport alternative.

  364. Could I put it to the Minister that if the charging is introduced and the alternative schemes are not in place and my constituents are travelling from the vale of York into, for example, the centre of York or the centre of Leeds to commute to work they will be stranded on the outskirts of the town.
  (Mr Hill) In what sense?

  365. If they do not wish to pay the charges and there is no alternative scheme they will be stranded and prevented from reaching their workplace.
  (Mr Hill) My impression would be that in both the case of York and Leeds neither city is so bereft of existing public transport options that people would be literally stranded. I do not want to be facile about that, but both of those cities have excellent bus services and, of course, in the case of Leeds, suburban rail services. There are already possibilities for informal as well as formal park and ride choices on the part of your constituents. I do take your general point that all those who face the prospect of congestion charging regimes ought to have some assurance and some availability of the public transport alternatives which we see as one half of what congestion charging regimes would bring. The other half is the reduction in congestion and the associated economic and environmental benefits of that.

  366. Perhaps it would be helpful if I sent to the Minister the actual number of bus services that are being cut from villages and the outskirts of the vale of York into York so he can see for himself. Could he advise the Committee today on what pressure the Government is putting on local authorities to impose on the service providers of both bus services and light rail services a proper system of through-ticketing? Madam Chairman, I referred before to the experience I had in Denmark where there is a network of complete integration and seamless transport; you get off the bus, you can board the light rail system, a tram or a train and I do not envisage that happening in this country. Perhaps the Minister could advise whether it is their intention to introduce a system of through-ticketing?
  (Mr Hill) This Government takes the view that this is a matter for operators and local authorities to develop these schemes and that is why in the current Transport Bill we are bringing in provisions which will permit and encourage the development of joint ticketing schemes amongst operators and by the local bus strategies which also form a part of the Transport Bill. I have to say that the picture in reality is rather more positive in this country than you may be painting. For example, there are already in large parts of the country, East Anglia, for example, extensive joint ticketing arrangements which link different bus operators with different rail operators in terms of a single style Smart card which can be used for all of those services. We think that is an excellent development. We commend the operators who have brought those schemes in and we want to see that rolled out as extensively in the UK as possible.

Dr Ladyman

  367. Can I come back to the economics of this situation and, in particular, the economics of light rail systems compared to guided busways. Maybe I am becoming the Committee sceptic on this. It does seem to me that the cost of the guided busway and the cost of buses is minuscule by comparison to the cost of light railways. I wonder under what circumstances you really see it being justifiable to go for a light railway system rather than a guided bus?
  (Mr Hill) My view is that if the case is made and the appraisal stands up and it is demonstrably the best solution to local transport demands then you should go with the light rail scheme, but you should do it on as objective a set of criteria as possible for the precise reason which you identify, which is that these are very expensive schemes, there is absolutely no doubt about it. In preparing for this Committee meeting I asked my officials if they would dig out some comparisons between the cost of light rail schemes and bus-based schemes and I am looking here at two light rail schemes and one bus scheme over about the same kind of distance. The Midland Metro Birmingham-Wolverhampton is 21 kilometres and the capital cost is £145 million. The Tyne & Wear Metro Sunderland extension is 19 kilometres in length and cost £100 million. The Crawley Fastway, which is busway and partly guided bus, is 24 kilometres and the cost is £24 million. That £24 million does not include the cost of the vehicles. I make the observation not in a negative or sceptical way that for the extra £75 million in one case or £120 million in the other case you could buy an awful lot of buses so it is perfectly right and you are perfectly right to look hard at that. I can assure you that the Government also looks hard at this.

  368. I suggested this at a previous Committee meeting and I had a large number of letters from bus lovers around the country. I am just warning you when you say you could buy so many buses that you may share my post bag now, having said that. The simple fact of the matter is what you just described there is a difference between £5 million per kilometre and £1 million per kilometre and you can buy a lot of buses with the £4 million saved. Other than where a light rail system is going to use an existing track or where you have a huge capacity problem that can only be solved by a light rail system, under what circumstances can you see the Government saying a light rail system is preferable to a guided bus system?
  (Mr Hill) I ought to point out in terms of the comparative figures that I have been using here that particularly in the Crawley Fastway relatively few works were required in order to put that into operation and I think, characteristically, if you were looking at other bus based schemes, and particularly those which involve guided buses, you would obviously be looking at larger works and consequentially larger sums of money. But I actually am not expressing a preference for bus based schemes or light rail schemes at all and if there is anybody listening in do not write to congratulate me about it. I have quite a large post bag as it is, I understand that I sign 12,000 letters a year. But, having said that, I come back to the first principle which is that if the light rail scheme can stand up in terms of appraisal as obviously the best solution to the local transport solution then of course it would be justifiable and should go ahead notwithstanding the admittedly high cost of the scheme.

  369. And you do not see any reason why any local community cannot put forward through the DTP proposals for guided bus systems if they think it can answer a local need? You are not limiting this to urban centres?
  (Mr Hill) We call them, by the way, LTPs rather than TPPs these days.


  370. It might be rather nice if we use the English words.
  (Mr Hill) You are absolutely right. I rarely fall into that particular error but it is an elementary error of public speaking and I am guided by my mentor as ever in these matters!

Mr Donohoe

  371. Tell us what they are.
  (Mr Hill) Obviously guided busways, it has to be said, like rail schemes do better in certain specific situations. Obviously you need a reasonable density of population. That is one consideration and therefore it is not absolutely axiomatically the case that a bid for a guided busway, with respect, in Thanet would necessarily stand up better than a bid for a guided busway in Leeds where we know the guided busway has been very successful indeed.

Mr Ladyman

  372. Would the bid for a guided busway in Thanet, if it meant you did not have to spend £20 million on a road, have a chance of success?
  (Mr Hill) Both are subject to appraisal and both will be examined very much in terms of the criteria which my colleague set out earlier in terms of the new approach to appraisal and you would take into account traffic volumes, passenger volumes, economic considerations and various other criteria.

  Chairman: Now we have got York and Thanet sorted out—

  Mr Ladyman: I will put in the bid next week!


  373. Can I ask you have you got comparative figures for private finance initiatives when you are talking about various costings? Have you worked out whether private finance initiatives are more expensive in the provision of things like light rail?
  (Mr Hill) We have, I think I am correct in saying, just one example in this area of private finance initiatives and that is the Nottingham case and perhaps I can ask Richard.

  374. Mr Bird, briefly, some figures.
  (Mr Bird) Any private finance initiative case has to pass something called the public sector comparator where the scheme has to show that it is better value overall as a private finance scheme.

  375. We know the theory, Mr Bird.
  (Mr Bird) That has certainly been applied in the Nottingham case.

  376. And?
  (Mr Bird) And it will have shown that private finance in that particular case was the best way forward. Obviously this does vary from case to case. It will depend on the transfer of risk to the private sector and so forth.

  377. So you do not have a table of a number of cases that we could look at in the same way as you have got comparative figures on other aspects of light rail transport?
  (Mr Hill) Can I undertake to go away and see what we can supply the Committee with by way of various costings?

  378. That would be very helpful and I think perhaps some indication of your attitude towards different schemes as they come up.
  (Mr Hill) Future schemes? Just to clarify, that is in terms of the sort of criteria that the Government will adopt towards future bids?

  Chairman: Financial criteria.

Mr Ladyman

  379. Would it be possible to ask for a copy of a typical bid and a typical analysis of that bid for us to have a look at?
  (Mr Hill) Is that something for the public arena?

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