Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by RAC Motoring Services (WTC 33)


  RAC Motoring Services offers a range of services to customers including roadside rescue and recovery, traffic and travel information, car servicing and repair, vehicle examinations, legal services and temporary directional signs. We provide roadside rescue and recovery for 6.2 million customers and attend of 2.4 million breakdowns a year. Our aim is to become the first choice provider of individual motoring solutions to our customers.

  We are separate from the RAC Foundation, which is an independent charity set up to champion the interests of motorists and which runs a number of high profile media campaigns and conducts research on safety, environmental and general motoring issues.


  RAC promotes responsible motoring and a balanced approach to the car. Where possible, we do encourage motorists to use alternative modes of transport and believe all forms should be embraced.

  We would welcome the early publication of a national strategy for walking to provide focus for both local authorities and for other transport users who will be affected by local programmes to increase walking.

  RAC has been working in schools to encourage young people, who have not yet fixed their travel habits to consider the alternatives to the car. Our education programmes, "Keep on Moving" and "Grass Routes", are best practice examples of how the private sector can play its part in promoting greener modes of travel, primarily cycling, walking and public transport.


  1.  RAC Motoring Services "core mission" has always been, and remains, to support the enjoyment of motoring. Motoring must achieve, efficiently and acceptably, its primary objective of giving people unrivalled, personal mobility. However, today we are faced with a road network that is deteriorating, poor public transport and a history of neglect of walking and cycling. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that dependence on cars is growing. Congestion is on the increase with all the economic, environmental, social and safety implications that this entails. Motorists, our customers, are well aware of these problems with 83 per cent stating that traffic congestion in towns and cities is a major problem[5].

  2.  There is an emerging consensus for change amongst policy makers and other interested parties. RAC Motoring Services is committed to playing its part by promoting responsible motoring and a balanced approach to car use that minimises both the financial and environmental costs. Indeed, over the last few years, we have produced a series of technical advice leaflets on the theme of responsible motoring. These include advice on the new vehicle excise duty and company car taxation, which come into force in 2001 and 2002 respectively. We have also produced a leaflet with "greener motoring tips", which encourages motorists to consider whether their journey is necessary and if so, whether it could be undertaken by alternative means. These leaflets are available through our telephone hotline and our award winning website.

  3.  In addition, we also run a variety of educational initiatives, which encourage young people to think about our car dependent society and the implications thereof. Our longer-term aim is to encourage young people, the next generation of travellers, to develop a balanced approach to the car. In this respect, we believe that where possible, all forms of personal mobility should be embraced.

  4.  Our aim in promoting responsible motoring is not based solely on environmental or social grounds. We want motoring to become pleasurable and more efficient again. Without the implementation of an integrated approach to personal mobility, the benefits of the car will be increasingly minimised, and the car will begin to be seen as a liability, rather than the asset, which it really is. This clearly goes to the heart of RAC's own business proposition.


  5.  Walking remains the most frequently used form of transport though the number of total miles walked is in decline. As with cycling, the relatively short distances involved mean that this mode must be treated seriously and its potential realised. While much of the recent focus has been on public transport, this must not be to the neglect of other modes of transport. Public transport requires investment and investment requires time. Walking on the other hand can be promoted at a fraction of the cost and arguably within a shorter time period. It should be seen as an integral part of our transport system.

  6.  Indeed, back in 1995, RAC's authoritative report on car dependence[6] showed that, while currently there is no viable alternative to the car for 80 per cent of the trips for which it is used, about one car journey in five could easily, in practice, be switched to another mode. These are predominately short trips, usually in urban areas, and where walking is a real possibility. Indeed, some 25 per cent of car journeys are less than two miles long. We firmly believe that policy makers should focus on such journeys given that it will be easier for motorists to make the switch the cumulative effect of such a shift may be significant and would have many positive wider implications in terms of health, social interaction and the environment more generally.

  7.  Back in 1997, RAC Motoring Services first outlined its priorities for walking in our "Policies for Personal Mobility" policy paper, and many of these are the same today. While we welcome the steps that the Government has already taken in this area, in particular the balanced approach of the Integrated White Paper and the Ten Year Plan, we do believe that the Government should publish a national walking strategy in the near future.

  8.  A focused strategy would ensure that targets are set (against which policy makers can gauge performance), and that there is a uniformity of approach amongst policy makers at all levels. This is particularly important for the more sensitive issues such as the reallocation of road space, which may have implications for a whole range of transport users. Indeed, one of the greatest challenges to road transport users such as RAC is keeping abreast of all the latest developments in transport policy and the likely implications for breakdown operators' practices. A comprehensive national strategy on walking would be most instructive in this regard.


  9.  We believe that as a responsible motoring organisation we should play our part in encouraging a balanced approach to the car. Over the last three years, RAC has established and run two educational initiatives, which aim to educate young people about their travel choices and their implications.

  10.  The rationale behind our approach is clear. We believe that it is easier to encourage young people, who have not yet fixed their travel behaviours, are not yet drivers and are more likely to walk and cycle than older people, to examine their travel choices and to consider alternatives to the car. And, by encouraging the next generation of travellers to think about the alternatives, we are more likely to achieve a step change in the longer term. We believe that such an approach is more likely to be effective than, for example, symbolic days where cars are banned from city centres.

  11.  The first educational initiative is called "Keep on Moving", is the introductory module to BSM Ignition road safety course. This is taught in 1,500 schools across the UK through Personal, Social and Health Education and is also available as a stand-alone teaching pack. The basic unit is designed to last between 40 minutes and one hour, but can be extended significantly if schools wish to pursue the exercises more fully. The key message is that while most of us may need access to a car throughout our lives, we may not always need to use it. There are a series of exercises, which encourage young people to think about the alternatives to the car, and to imagine how towns and cities would look in a civilized city of the future, focusing in particular on transport provision.

  12.  The second initiative is our "Grass Routes" competition, which encourages students to develop a school travel plan to tackle the school run. The competition is open to every secondary school in the UK and over 1,000 have signed up to this year's competition. The competition is supported by a free curriculum challenge pack, which has a range of activities across a variety of disciplines to help teachers bring the issue of sustainable transport into the classroom. Students are encouraged to take a holistic approach to the issue of school travel, taking social, health, environmental and safety factors in consideration when developing their plan.

  13.  The competition was originally piloted with the 1,500 schools that were part of BSM's Ignition programme. While cycling was perhaps seen as the top solution, walking was considered by some schools to be an integral part of a school travel plan. A "buddy" system (with older students accompanying younger ones on the school journey), safe houses (where students could go in any difficulty) and cheaper food in the canteen for those that walked to school were among the more innovative walking solutions proposed. RAC Motoring Services produced a best practice leaflet with hints and tips from the winners and ideas for further action as a result of the competition the first time round, and this was circulated to every secondary school in the UK.

  14.  We have developed our educational initiatives in close co-ordination with DETR, DfEE and Sustrans and believe that this partnership approach can reap significant benefits in terms of promoting alternatives to the car. Indeed, transport and health issues are top of the Government agenda and there may well be further interest from the private sector. The closing date for Grass Routes 2001 competition entries is April. We will be more than happy to share with the committee any best practice ideas generated.

Government Affairs

January 2001

5   RAC Report on Motoring 2000. Back

6   Car dependence: a report for the RAC Foundation for Motoring and the Environment (Oxford, 1995). Back

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