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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 416)



Mr Bennett

  400. Crewe!
  (Mr Hill) Inspiration has reached me again and we have done some work in terms of the Leeds guided bus scheme which is very promising of course which shows that journey times have speeded up by one-third and passenger volumes have increased, I was told today by the operator, by 65 per cent in the period, which is a remarkable achievement.


  401. Yes, it is remarkable. Do you intend to make that public in some form that is easily accessible by the general public?
  (Mr Hill) We have apparently published—what have we published? Have we published these statistics? Let me correct the record. The results of the research are in the public domain.

  402. Good. Can you tell us why you think light rail seems to be much more successful in getting people out of cars than other forms of transport?
  (Mr Hill) It is a very interesting question and I suspect the answer is partly in the realm of human psychology and it is about what people call the bus environment and the unattractiveness of the bus environment to your middle manager.

  403. Are you guessing there, Minister, or do you have any work in the Department?
  (Mr Hill) I do not believe—

  404. We know you have great psychologists in your Department!
  (Mr Hill) I do not believe there is any systematic survey data on this. We will see if there is any. It is an interesting proposition.

Mr Donohoe

  405. If there is not, will you get it?
  (Mr Hill) We will supply it to the Committee if there is and I believe that there is such data.


  406. Thank you, that would be helpful. Do you believe that there is any evidence that light rail systems are more effective as economic development catalysts in rundown areas than other forms of transport?
  (Mr Hill) I think the evidence on this is not clear. It is arguable that if the Docklands Light Rail scheme might be described as a light rail project it has certainly been productive in the significant regeneration of the Docklands area, but on the whole there is no solid evidence on this, I have to say.

  407. Has anybody got evidence on the Portland scheme in Oregon which apparently had a very direct and clear effect?
  (Mr Walsh) There is a perception abroad certainly that light rail is more successful in re-generating cities and corridors than bus services are.

  408. I go along with the perception, Mr Walsh. What I am saying is can we ask if you have any hard evidence that you can present to the Committee?
  (Mr Walsh) We will check and see if there is any evidence.

  409. Thank you very much. Are you satisfied as a Government that the appropriate strategies are now in place to promote the development of the light rapid transit systems?
  (Mr Hill) Yes, and I think the evidence is there in the outside world that there is a very lively interest across the country in our major conurbations in the introduction or extension of light rail schemes.

  410. You several times very encouragingly mentioned the local transport plans today. Is the Department doing anything in conjunction with the government offices and various regions to look at land planning or look at the use of specific areas in order to encourage people to put that kind of input into transport plans?
  (Mr Hill) I think the answer is that the government offices do work extra-ordinarily closely with the local transport authorities.

  411. Forgive me, Minister, your Department has got another half to it. What I am really saying to you is are the two halves of the Department working together to ensure—
  (Mr Hill) Environment and transport in the regions?

  412.—That in the regions this is given high priority?
  (Mr Hill) Yes, I believe that work is going forward and I think that work is going forward via the government offices in the regions.

  413. We are not too impressed in this Committee with Quality Partnerships as opposed to Quality Contracts. Do you think it is going to be necessary to ensure that bus and light rail services and ticketing are fully integrated by using Quality Contracts?
  (Mr Hill) We certainly do not think that Quality Contracts are the sine qua non of joint ticketing arrangements, if I might revert to another foreign language, even if a dead one. Indeed, there is no direct relationship between Quality Contracts and the joint ticketing regimes that you mention.

  414. Or the assurance offered.
  (Mr Hill) The Quality Contracts—where, as you know, the Government is proposing to introduce an extremely steep threshold in terms of their implementation—do not necessarily, in our view, add to the quality of bus services in a locality. Indeed, they reflect the failure of bus services in a locality and do not necessarily guarantee that although there will be an improvement that they would constitute bus services of the quality of successful bus provision in other areas or, indeed I might add, of the great success which voluntary Quality Partnerships have already had in many parts of the country. There are 130 such schemes up and running in various parts of the country and there is absolutely no doubt that they have greatly contributed to the significant increases in bus patronage, if we think of the leap in Brighton for example of 18 per cent in bus patronage after the introduction of the voluntary Quality Partnership there. Undoubtedly, they have led this big increase in bus patronage in those parts of the country outside London over the last couple of the years.

  415. As you have yourself said Minister, there are all sorts of solutions and all sorts of different responses in different parts of the country so we may agree to disagree on that. Finally, what work is the Department really doing to encourage people to look at either converting existing heavy rail or to look at the introduction of light rail systems in areas over a certain population, or are you only being reactive? Are you leaving it to local authorities to come forward with schemes or are you consciously look at a forward planning regime that would assume that if, for example, the hypothecation is to work, local authorities must have in place alternative schemes and what are you doing do stimulate that rather than simply react to people's existing ideas?
  (Mr Hill) Again, I am conscious of the time, but let me give you a couple of brief answers. You will be aware that the Government has now set up something called the Charging Development Partnership which has brought together the twenty or so local authorities who have expressed an interest in various forms of congestion charging schemes. The first meeting was in January, chaired by Lord Macdonald, and a second meeting has occurred, to bring together local transport officials and locally elected representatives involved in transport matters and DETR officials to exchange experience and to widen knowledge and information about congestion charging regimes and the public transport benefits in terms of investment that can arise out of them. Central to those discussions is actually precisely light rail schemes and measures of that description. So that I think is a genuine proactive move. A second genuine proactive move is the work we are doing in terms of issuing guidance with regard to local transport plans. That is about to come out. That clarifies and sets out exactly the Government's expectations in terms of what we are wanting local authorities to be coming forward with. We have already a short time ago sent out a best practice guide to local authorities which draws on what we deem to be the best local transport plans so that these can act as a model for future submissions. We think that is a positive and proactive step and that will of course include transport plans which involve light rail schemes and other sorts of significant projects but I have to say the underlying philosophy—and I do not apologise for this—is that the Government really does believe that it is in the end best to leave local people to produce local solutions to local transport problems and that actually is the approach we take. The answer is, I think, that it is a bit of both but basically we want to see the initiatives coming from the base rather than imposing decisions top down.

  416. Minister, we can see what a professional you are and how your training in this Committee has stood you in very good stead! We are tremendously grateful to you. We are very encouraged and we will certainly give you very special billing in our report. Thank you very much.
  (Mr Hill) It has been a pleasure, Mrs Dunwoody.

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