Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
WEDNESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2002
380. How far does it change people's behaviour?
(Mr Dawson) In the Californian situation, and this
is where it is more socially progressive, people can still use
free the road to the left of the premium lane, and what we find
is the typical American uses the lane about one day a week when
time is at a premium.
381. You have not answered the question really.
How far can you extend the rush hour?
(Mr Dawson) It is about 20 per cent by extension.
382. In how many areas of the United Kingdom
do you think it would be possible to build in the extra lanes?
(Mr Dawson) This is where we are still in the area
of, if you like, exploring pricing, whether it is congestion charging
or any other form of pricing.
383. So it may be that even in real life the
Californian example has not a great deal to offer us.
(Mr Dawson) It may not have but there are 360 miles
of widening in the current 10 Year Plan, and that actually illustrates
there is a fair degree of freedom on the inter-urban network to
384. Could the AA clarify an apparent discrepancy
in their evidence? In your five priority action areas you say,
"provision of quality alternatives to the car and truck by
improving bus and rail services", yet in your memorandum
you seem to be questioning the expansion of the rail network.
(Mr Dawson) Let me reconcile that at once. Public
transport has natural markets and it must win the markets into
and out of cities, between city centres and around big city centres
which it naturally ought to win. The object of policy is to try
and stretch that so it goes beyond what the free market would
have it winning. The point where it becomes economically unthinkable
is when you are trying to make public transport compete with the
car, for example, on criss-crossing journeys around the town and
country. There is no feasible system of public transport where
it can do that, but there are high density corridors where it
can and should be the preferred mode of transport for most people,
as it is for example when things are working well in and out of
385. You said earlier that you want road tax
to be reduced or fuel tax to be reduced if this form of charging
came into place, but surely one of the reasons for it coming into
place is to have established new projects which otherwise would
not be built?
(Mr Dawson) That is a very shrewd point you make.
There are two ways of and two reasons for changing the charging
regime or introducing a new one. The first is, as happened with
graduated road tax, a revenue-neutral change to discourage gas
guzzlers and to make smaller, cleaner cars more economic. The
commercial vehicle consultation which the Treasury has embarked
on at the moment is another example of reducing road tax and introducing
distance-based charging. Another proposition that the consumer,
the customer, might actually listen to is one which says, "If
we introduce this charge, we will give you better service."
The Dartford Crossing is an example of tolls going up and a facility
being provided, but the Dartford Crossing also provides the great
warning about anything involving Government. We had a parliamentary
promise that the tolls would cease on the Dartford Crossing once
the capital cost was paid off and the maintenance fund established.
What do we have now? We have draft orders published to continue
the tolling for peripheral reasons nothing to do with the Dartford
Crossing. This is the pattern across the world. Unfortunately,
when we come to pricing and charging in transport, because we
have governments involved who will not honour the pledges which
were given five, ten, 15, 20 years ago, we get into an era of
people not trusting the promises they have given, which makes
it so much more difficult to reform the system.
Chairman: It is difficult to trust politicians!
386. Congestion charging. Whether it is the
congestion charging model described from Singapore or the tax-raising
model described from Oslo, one of my concerns about the placing
of congestion charging in schemes in city centres like London
is that it will displace traffic and simply cause congestion outside
the congestion-charging area. Is that your view as well?
(Mr Dawson) Yes, our view on the London congestion-charging
proposals is simply that the information we have on it, from the
projections reported to us, is not enough for any reasoned person
to take a judgement on whether this will work or not. Our main
concern, I think, is the diversion to the London Ring Road and
then the ripple-out effects beyond the London Ring Road. That
is a serious concern. One of the economists who advises us suggests
that the benefits may be one-quarter of what Transport for London
are suggesting, which means in the end it just is not worth doing
because the revenue cost is more than the benefits, and the direction
of this displaced congestion is your major effect.
387. As you have said, the revenue congestion
charges, given what appears to be the objective in this country,
certainly within the 10 Year Plan, were an essential element of
the financial effort being put into achieving budgets within the
10 Year Plan.
(Mr Dawson) I would probably dispute that that is
a realistic assumption in the first place, because the revenue
coming in from the central London congestion charging, in comparison
with what is needed, is very small, and even if you multiply it
up by the small cities around the £2 charge inevitably, for
example, you are not talking about huge volumes of money. It actually
begs the question, and hopefully the Treasury will, in a sense,
learn from the consultation with the heavy goods vehicle industry.
We really need to talk about how we pay for our infrastructure
and differentiate taxes on motorists from schools and hospitals,
which is a matter perhaps of political debate, if you like, and
charges for service. We really do need discrete funds which make
sense. All the Government is doing at the moment is being incredibly
opportunistic: "Ooh, there's Dartford. Perhaps we could carry
on tolling there and nobody will notice. Same on the Mersey, same
on the Forth. Perhaps we can get away with London congestion charging.
If we give lots of concessions, people may not notice that Parliament's
social scheme was originally to manage congestion, its main effect
actually is to raise a little bit extra on the budget." Let
us have a grown-up debate with the British public and actually
say, "We need to pay for the transport system, we are going
to reform it and we're going to have proper accounts, properly
overseen by an independent body and have, if you like, the Government
as tax collector and distributor of funds as well."
388. Who else can you have as tax collector
except the Government, Mr Dawson?
(Mr Dawson) I think that is the distinction I am trying
to make: that a tax for schools and hospitals is perhaps something
for the tax collector. A charge for service delivered , as we
see at Dartford, if you want to take the Dartford model, is actually
paid to the people who deliver you the service.
Chairman: That is a nice point of debate on
which doubtless we could all spend many hours.
389. I have one final question, if I may, which
is on major road schemes. In 1997 77 authorities had budgets for
£5 million plus projects which are typically about road improvements,
bridges and so forth. In the last couple of years that figure
is down to below 30. What has been the consequence of that? Do
you believe now, in the budgets you see going into local transport
plans, that that trend is being reversed or not?
(Mr Dawson) I think that again the great thing about
the Government's 10 Year Plan is that we can begin to ask for
a rational assessment of what the impact on safety, on congestion,
on CO2 reduction and general environmental improvements is of
making those investments. Certainly a lot of the work of the AA,
the DBA and the Transport Road Safety Research Institute is beginning
to grab hold of the information that we now have to point out
where the worst blackspots actually are. I think one of the things
that will emerge very clearly out of this is that over half our
deaths on the roads are outside built-up areas, ridiculously focussed
on single-carriageway roads of the type that you have identified,
where, if you like, bypass schemes relieving communities of traffic
and cutting the killed and seriously injured toll is their prime
objective. I think these schemes will look very, very much better
when we get a true handle on the cost of not doing what needs
to be done.
(Mr Billington) Could I comment briefly on this point.
I think the answer to your basic questionare they spending
enough nowis no, there is not enough. They are not in fact
going to deliver the necessary facilities. One important side-effect
of that is that resources and skills in the transport field have
fallen to very low levels, and there will be great difficulty
in actually achieving much more by way of delivery. This, I think,
is a major theme or major concern about the 10 Year Plan, that
the transport industry is not at all as it used to be in the great
days of building roads extensively. Local authorities have run
down their transport resources to a bare minimum, there are very
few contractors now operating in the transport field, and to crank
this up again will take a long time. It is a business which builds
up slowly, it feeds on skills. There is a dearth of the relevant
skills at present. People have moved out of transport into other
areas, and unless steps are taken positively to rebuild the skill
base and the resource base, there is no prospect of delivering
what the 10 Year Plan proposes.
390. That would apply, for example, with things
like the multi-modal studies, would it?
(Mr Billington) Absolutely.
391. What effect are they going to have? Are
they going to slow things down even more?
(Mr Billington) There is a particular further point
about multi-modal studies of course, that they will recommend
transport developments, but those will then have to go through
the full planning process. They start as though they have just
been newly conceived. They will be designed, they will go to public
consultations, despite the fact, as I say, that they have already
been to public consultations, but they will go through the normal
public consultations, orders will then be published, and they
will go to public inquiries. This is a process, as the 10 Year
Plan recognises, that takes 10 years plus on average. There is
a hope that it might be reduced, but we have been trying to reduce
it for years and in fact the public inquiry process has become
longer and longer as time has gone on. So I think there is a very
real bar to delivering anything of the 10 Year Plan's objectives
coming out of the multi-modal studies within the ten-year horizon.
(Mr Dawson) We will send the Committee a report which
we have commissioned from Mori, which actually looks into this
issue in the round with the industry. I think you will find it
very interesting. We have timed it so that it will be arriving
hopefully before the end of your inquiry.
Chairman: That is very helpful. I am grateful
to you, gentlemen. Thank you very much indeed.