Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 361 - 379)




  361. Gentlemen, thank you for coming this afternoon. Would you be kind enough to tell us who you are?
  (Mr Dawson) I am John Dawson from the AA. On my right is Bert Morris from the AA.
  (Mr King) I am Edmund King from the RAC Foundation.
  (Mr Billington) Bill Billington also from the RAC Foundation.

  362. Do any of you have any brief comments you would like to make?
  (Mr Dawson) The thrust of what we want to say is, after a very long time awaiting it, we very much welcome the Plan and the pledges to reverse the decline, and in particular the associated pledges on finance without which the Plan is just vapourware. The key question which our members are concerned with is just how quickly will things improve so they actually notice a difference in their daily journeys.

  363. Do you wish to comment, Mr King?
  (Mr King) The RAC Foundation also welcomes the 10 Year Plan and wants to draw attention to the continuing dominance of road transport and the increasing pressure on the road network, and we feel that is an important aspect. I would like to draw the Committee's attention to a 1995 report on car dependence that was actually edited by Professor Phil Goodwin. What that showed is a graph about car dependence, how dependent people are on the car. At the top end there are 20 per cent of journeys which are totally dependent on the car—it might be the disabled person in rural Suffolk where there is no bus or train network. At the bottom end there are 20 per cent of journeys which are currently made by the car which could fairly easily be made by other means—walking to the local shop, the newsagent, cycling, the things we have heard about before. In between, there are 60 per cent of journeys, some could be made by car, some by public transport, but at a cost. Public transport might cost three times as much, it might take twice as long, but the lesson in terms of implementing the 10 Year Plan for this is that you do not want blunt policies and you want to target the policies in the different areas. So for the 20 per cent of short journeys, yes, walking, cycling, may provide, but for the car-dependent journeys road transport will be essential. In the 10 Year Plan our concern at the moment is with implementation. We believe that the multi-modal study process will actually delay some of the implementation of schemes in the 10 Year Plan, and that is a major worry for us. We also have concerns about the actual planning process taking too long, both for road and rail schemes an average of 10 years. We know that is being addressed elsewhere but it is a major concern. We also feel that the consultation process with the multi-modal studies actually covers quite a wide public consultation, but then if there are proposals which come out of the multi-modal studies we have to start that process again and there is further public consultation. We would like to see some streamlining within those processes. The final point is that we are concerned about a skill shortage within the transport industry, and my colleague, Bill Billington, can give members more details on that, as he has written a report on it.

  364. Can I ask you, if you do not believe that the 20 urban charging schemes to deal with congestion are going to be implemented, how many do you think will be?
  (Mr Dawson) Probably a relatively small number, possibly even down to zero.

  365. That is quite a small number.
  (Mr Dawson) Exactly. The point being, how many schemes of this sort are implemented worldwide after something like 35 years of discussion. The problem is that the theory is quite appealing, the practice is something quite different and when you work it out they do not seem that good an idea after all. Let me give you an illustration: in London, road charging has been heavily sold on improving public transport, less than 10 per cent of the benefits, even on the Mayor's figures, actually flow to public transport users.

  366. But that surely depends on decisions taken by those who get the money. You could rebuild the whole of the Underground system on congestion charging if you were to devote the cash from the London-take surely?
  (Mr Dawson) I think, Chairman, you have put your finger on the question. What is the purpose of congestion charging? Is the purpose of it to manage the system better with a revenue-neutral flow, which is the Singapore model, which is the only city in the world which has actually implemented it, or is it a tax to raise revenue to do desirable things? If you take it that the objective of the London charging scheme is to raise revenue, it will raise maybe £140, £200 million, it will spend about half of it running the system and all the gubbins. If you think that is an efficient way to raise money and give local democracy taxation powers, that is fine, but that is not the legislation Parliament passed.

  367. You reckon that half of that will go in the cost of running the scheme, but that has not been borne out by other schemes, has it?
  (Mr Dawson) There are no other schemes to look at.

  368. There are some in Scandinavia.
  (Mr Dawson) In Singapore, which is a true text book congestion charging scheme, motorists were given a refund to compensate—it was a revenue-neutral scheme—for the new charges. So their road tax dropped and they had to pay direct charges. That is a true congestion charging scheme out of the text books. In Oslo, for example, the scheme was there to raise money. The economists will tell you that is a revenue-raising scheme, there is a 24-hour cordon, the money is raised and in that case the pledge was that it would go to build new tunnels and bus lanes and infrastructure schemes. What we are seeing in Britain is the typical muddle where actually the charging is there to raise revenue. That is not a congestion charging scheme, and I put it to you that it is not the purpose for which Parliament gave local authorities the powers.

  369. Supposing you are right and we fail and in fact we finish up with this small figure of zero actually being implemented, what is the alternative?
  (Mr Dawson) What is actually happening worldwide is quite interesting. There is not this interest in city-centre charging that there was in the 1960s because the real congestion is actually on the strategic arteries in the approach to city centres and around city centres. What you are seeing is a new pattern emerging in places like California of "hot lanes". These are lanes which are put alongside the artery where you have to pay to enter, or if you are a bus or you are carrying a lot of people it is free. In Versailles in Paris, for example, currently under construction is the Versailles Tunnel where the tolls will be higher in peak periods than they are in off-peak periods, so it will be £2 to use the 10 km tunnel in the off-peak period and £7 to use it in the peak. The environmental benefits are really quite considerable, because the space that is relieved by putting the road underground allows you to hand it over to buses and great amenities. It is a kind of win, win, win solution. You can see this from Melbourne to Paris. Even our own Birmingham Northern Relief Road is a scheme of that version, where the tolls will be higher in the peak periods than they are in the off-peak periods. That is congestion charging as it is being implemented in the real world across the world. The British version of tolls around cities is not actually the normal international pattern.

Mr O'Brien

  370. The 10 Year Plan envisages building trunk roads, widening roads and by-passes. This will obviously generate further car involvement. Is there another way of doing that?
  (Mr Dawson) One of the really important things about the 10 Year Plan is that we have to grow up a little bit with it. Just look at the analysis. It tells us that if we do this, if we build these by-passes, improve these trunk roads, we will have the consequence of generated traffic, and then as grown-ups we have to start putting together packages to achieve what we want. It is an outcome-based plan. So, for example, the reductions in CO2 in the real world will come from enforcing technology to be cleaner and more efficient, and that is represented by the EU ESU (?) Agreement where there was this very vigorous reduction in carbon emissions required of cars. The Plan and the analysis say that the trunk road investment element will reduce congestion on the inter-urban network by some 13 per cent, and that the carbon emissions as a result will grow by 0.1 mega tonnes, which is actually very much less than the EU ESU Agreement.

  371. Are you saying we can build our way out of congestion?
  (Mr Dawson) No, I am saying we have to look at what are the outcomes we want. This is where the Government has it right. We want to reduce congestion, and we will reduce congestion by some road building at bottlenecks, rail improvements, local tram schemes, and all the rest of it. It is a package and it has to be focused on each area.

  372. But with the building of trunk roads and the widening of roads, particularly in the South East, the idea is to build our way out of congestion. Can it happen?
  (Mr Dawson) I would want to extend the argument on pricing back into it and turn the question round. If in Paris they can actually build themselves out of a problem by a mixture of tolling and tunnelling, that is in a sense building the way out of congestion, but there is also an environmental gain in doing it. In every location you have to work out what is the balance of advantage, what can this road sustain. We have been probably too cheap in the way we look at situations.

  373. You are suggesting we go to Paris and see how it works there?
  (Mr Dawson) I have actually been down the hole in Paris to see it.

  Mr O'Brien: I am thinking about the Committee going.

  Chairman: He is offering you a way of ingratiating yourself with the Committee, Mr Dawson.

Mrs Ellman

  374. The Plan assumes that motoring costs will go down, would it not be better to keep them constant and put money into public transport?
  (Mr King) We have a slightly different emphasis here when it comes to congestion charging and cost. The RAC Foundation has embarked on a major study called Motoring Towards 2050, and, okay, that goes beyond the 10 Year Plan but it is very important. We actually feel in the longer term that cost is a very important element of supply and demand, and we certainly will be looking much more openly at congestion charging and at toll roads but perhaps giving back some money in other areas. For example, for the rural Scottish driver, they may get a reduction in their vehicle excise duty or the tax on fuel, but the money would be made up with the charging schemes, so they may be better off. But the motorist who is using the busier roads at busier times may be charged more. We believe that in the longer-term this is the way ahead. There is no doubt that currently public transport is expensive and, for many motorists, the rational choice is to take the car.

  375. How would a system of charging more on busier roads work?
  (Mr King) That system would work by rationing due to congestion. If the roads are not busy, the charge is lower or indeed zero. Therefore it would make people think twice about certain journeys in peak periods.

  376. Who would decide which roads and which tolls?
  (Mr King) That would be dependent on the rates of congestion.

  377. But who would take the decision?
  (Mr King) The Highways Agency would take that decision with Government.

Andrew Bennett

  378. If you want to change people's behaviour, how much extra do you have to charge in order to persuade someone like yourself to come back half an hour later or go in half an hour earlier?
  (Mr Dawson) What we see in California is actually the real life operation answering your question. What they have to do to keep the thing sweet is change the tolls by hour of day by direction of travel and by day of the week.

  379. What I am after is a simple answer. In this country how much dearer do you have to make it?
  (Mr Dawson) I was going to give you the range. I have given you the £2 and £7 for the Versailles Tunnel which is the off-peak versus peak rate. In California, for example, a typical toll would range from between 2 dollars and 7 dollars for the same trip.

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