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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)



  220. How many of them are dependent on congestion charging being brought in?
  (Mr Nimick) I do not think any of them are dependent upon congestion charging being brought in. I think, within the Government's own Plan, they believe that up to 20-25 per cent of the causes of congestion could actually be tackled by the use of local charging and similar arrangements; but the Plans themselves stand alone. It is also probably worth emphasising that it is 25 new lines rather than 25 new schemes, because a lot of the schemes that are under way at the moment are, in fact, extensions of existing lines.

  221. So your understanding of the financing of the schemes is that they are not dependent upon congestion charging schemes being brought in?
  (Mr Nimick) Correct. My understanding is that they are totally dependent upon an appropriate business case being prepared, and, if the business case suggests it, going ahead on that basis.

  222. And you would say, Mr Leeder, that the time taken to get a scheme to fruition and funding is, what can we say, six years, if that?
  (Mr Leeder) I think six years would be a reasonable kind of estimate, and that actually is a lot faster. If you talk to our colleagues at the PTEs, I am sure they will have told you, if you have not spoken to them yet, that the timescales are very long. Now the Government have set a much clearer process. Our concern, on Light Rail, as Light Rail promoters and operators, is that we are gaining straws on the camel's back slowly but surely, and there has always been a regulatory creep towards a Heavy Rail form of regulation for Light Rail, which increased costs, and often is not appropriate. And that really is weakening the business case for these schemes; because, once what are effectively tramways become classified as Heavy Rail, the costs of that subtle change are enormous, and the business case can often fall away, and that is one of the reasons why the schemes get locked in a kind of development loop.

Andrew Bennett

  223. They could slip to Guided Bus and then be cheaper, could they not?
  (Mr Leeder) They could; and I think we are very much of the view that we ought to have a vision of Rapid Transit, and we ought not to be too hung up probably about what kind of wheel the Rapid Transit vehicle runs on. This morning, the Bradford Guided Bus Way opened, and that is effectively a Rapid Transit scheme, but it does not have steel wheels, it has rubber-tyred wheels.


  224. But the disagreements about Guided Bus versus Light Rail are not really mechanical ones, are they, they are on rather important transport planning aspects; for example, there are certain areas where you could not possibly do a Guided Bus scheme, it would not be physically acceptable?
  (Mr Leeder) Absolutely.

  225. So we are not just talking about a question of the construction of the system, are we?
  (Mr Leeder) No. It is an "or", not an "and", as far as Guided Bus is concerned. The important difference with Guided Bus, compared with Light Rail, is that for Light Rail you need an inch of track for every inch of route, whereas for Guided Bus you do not, because the vehicle can operate off the guideway track; so, therefore, it has the advantage of being able to be implemented in stages, and you can actually phase in more of the guideway, more of the Rapid Transit route.

  Chairman: You must read our Report on Guided Buses, Mr Leeder.

Chris Grayling

  226. Can I continue on the Light Rail front. It seems to me, and it has been a matter of frustration to me, as a great supporter of Light Rail, that so little has actually happened. We are two years beyond the opening of the Croydon system, there are no extensions immediately in sight there. Manchester has been open for a decade and there has been very limited extension. How much difference do you think Light Rail, in your experience, can make to congestion, because the relative costs of a Light Rail system, compared with a Heavy Rail system, the discrepancies are so great that it seems to me that there is a distinct lack of ambition in using Light Rail, rather than a level of high ambition?
  (Mr Leeder) It is a very complicated picture. Light Rail can be an inappropriate mode, if it is being used, effectively, as a very expensive, conventional bus, and we have seen some disappointing results in terms of Light Rail patronage in those kinds of circumstances. We have also seen some extremely good results on Light Rail, and I cite particularly things like the Lewisham extension of the Docklands Light Railway, which clearly has had very excellent patronage growth, and the first two lines, the Altrincham and Bury lines, in Manchester. In a previous guise, I was involved in Heavy Rail planning, and I am one of the few people perhaps who have been involved in all these modes, and we looked at a number of conversions of Heavy Rail lines to Light Rail. Now one of the problems that we face, as operators, with our colleagues in the PTEs, is that, because of the enormous growth in rail patronage, and particularly rail vehicle movements, there are problems in inserting an even more frequent service of trams through Heavy Rail infrastructure. And there are also problems on a number of lines where it would have been perhaps possible a few years ago to envisage the Manchester-type conversion of an infrequent, Heavy Rail train service to a very frequent tram; the base loadings on the railway service were low. We now find, on a number of these urban lines, that patronage is actually very high, and therefore the Light Rail case has been weakened, in that sense, because you have got a lot of people to shift already on the Heavy Rail. Now, having said all that, I am personally of the view there are quite a lot of bits of the current Heavy Rail network, perhaps in places like Glasgow, as well as in the West Midlands, in Greater Manchester, that could be converted very sensibly to Light Rail.

  227. How much should we look at blue skies? The Government is talking about 25 schemes over the course of the 10 Year Plan period, you are doubtful that that will happen, according to your submission. But if we look at blue skies, what it is actually possible to achieve, if there was a real drive to push for Light Rail, what is the potential for it?
  (Mr Leeder) Off the top of my head, I would think you might perhaps be able to go 20 or 30 per cent more ambitious than that, if you concentrated on Heavy Rail to Light Rail conversions; but there are real constraints which are around the ability of the planners to plan the things, the constructors to construct them. And I think perhaps a more clearly planned sequence of projects would be beneficial, because the process of actually setting up the SPVs each time, rebidding the project, all of these things are barriers to continuous process. And what Manchester is trying to do is to pioneer a process of network development that means that every time a new route is planned you do not have to go through the whole process again; they have got, effectively, a raft of three or four lines they are proposing. That might help a bit. I think the thing that we would have to emphasise about Light Rail is, even if that figure were to be achieved, or bettered, in terms of the total public transport picture, we are talking about a big increase on a very small number. And, at the moment, Light Rail is a minority mode, it is an important minority mode but it is not going to be decisive, in terms of the total 10 Year Plan situation, even within many of the conurbations that are proposing quite large Light Rail networks.

  228. If you look at London, particularly, one of the questions that always sticks in my mind is, if you look at the level of money that will be required to build Crossrail, and look at what that could generate in terms of Light Rail schemes around London, which would be multiple, ten, 20 times the 20 schemes, theoretically, around London, in your experience of the schemes that are there already, would a major programme of building Light Rail around London be a potential solution to the congestion problem in the outer doughnut, rather than the inner part of the doughnut?
  (Mr Leeder) TfL have a pretty ambitious raft of Light Rail and Rapid Transit, some of which is Bus Rapid Transit, proposals, and I think they are pursuing a very sensible course; it is really the course that the Parisians have followed for a number of years, of developing Light Rail and Heavy Bus priority, sort of Bus Rapid Transit routes, in the orbital areas. I do not think we are able, really, at CPT, to give you any sense of the relative cost/benefit performance of Crossrail versus a raft of Light Rail schemes. I think what we can say is probably the London Light Rail schemes have a sense of offering good value for money. I do not think we are able to comment on the Crossrail cost/benefit case.

  229. Finally, do you actually believe that Light Rail is being pushed ahead as fast as it should be, or do you believe that actually opportunities are being missed by taking too much time to get to decisions?
  (Mr Leeder) There is certainly scope to go faster, by a comprehensive look at all the barriers to scheme implementation, of which there are a number, starting with the Transport and Works Act, the funding mechanism, the regulatory creep, there is a whole number of things that we think are—


  230. What do you mean by "regulatory creep"; you have twice used that phrase?
  (Mr Leeder) It is the tendency for Light Rail schemes to slip into the definition of Heavy Rail, and then get caught up with a load of things which were intended to deal with Railtrack.

  231. You will give us a note on precisely what?
  (Mr Leeder) Yes, we can.

  Chairman: Thank you.

Mr O'Brien

  232. How much increase in bus patronage outside London will rely on road user charging schemes, do you think?
  (Mr Leeder) The current planned growth really does not depend on any assumption about road user charging, it is a conservative estimate, based on what the industry thought it could deliver under its own command. Road user charging, clearly, would be beneficial, because I think it would enable more schemes to be funded, it would tip the balance of pricing and level the playing-field between bus and the private car, and would certainly enable that target to be bettered. We think that particularly the outside of London target is currently rather conservative for bus patronage growth, and the extension of Quality Partnerships, which may or may not exist within a road user charging environment, will enable a much higher figure to be targeted.

  233. What figures are you looking at then in bus usage over the next . . .
  (Mr Nimick) We have had some very good examples, which have been independently audited. In the West Midlands, Line 33, which was part of a Quality Bus Partnership scheme, saw initial growth of 20 per cent in patronage, 18 months later it had reached 40 per cent, and the survey found that at least 10 per cent of those were new users that were shifting from the car. That is a good example of where Quality Bus Partnerships, proper policing, proper priorities, really work. In Nottingham, in the Claverton Connection, there has been a 29 per cent growth within one year, and 48 per cent over two years, and they reckon that 25 per cent of those new users are people who have shifted from cars. So where you have a good Quality Partnership between local authority and operator, and where you have good quality bus priority systems which are effectively enforced, then enormous increases can be seen, well above the Government's overall target for outside of London.

  234. And that is without charging?
  (Mr Leeder) Yes, it is.

  235. Having regard to the fact of traffic to school, in particular, cars, and also to workplaces, what reasons have the Government given to your organisation for not expanding the Fuel Duty Rebate to school buses, work buses or coaches; what is the reason that they have given for not extending the rebate on fuel, having regard to the fact that we are wanting to reduce the number of children being taken to school in cars?
  (Mr Nimick) Indeed. We have not been given a reason. We have approached the Government on a number of occasions over the past few years, in order to try to extend the scope of Fuel Duty Rebate into other areas, including coaches, which provide a lot of the school runs, of course. We have made some progress and we have an agreement in principle with the Government at the moment to extend Fuel Duty Rebate to express inter-urban coaches, and that particular proposal is with the Treasury, as I understand it, for the moment. But we have still yet to make any progress on a more general extension of Fuel Duty Rebate to the coaching industry, in particular.

  236. Have you discussed this with the Treasury then, or the Department?
  (Mr Leeder) The current status of the total debate on Fuel Duty Rebate is that CfIT has been charged with conducting a study, looking at the total arrangements for the bus industry, including Fuel Duty Rebate. They, in turn, have appointed consultants, and are conducting a very large-scale, an extremely in-depth study, I think it will be the most comprehensive look at the economics of the bus industry, probably, I would think, ever, but certainly for 40 or 50 years, that has tackled this issue, and we have applied a lot of analysis and research to it. Now that report will make recommendations about Fuel Duty Rebate, including in the realm of home to school transport.

  237. My final question is that, any rebate on Fuel Duty for local buses, can we be sure that the benefit will be passed on to passengers?
  (Mr Leeder) I think we can, under the current arrangements, because the structure is incentivised in that way; you cannot ever make money by driving a bus round just to collect the Fuel Duty Rebate, you have to attract passengers. And so the passenger income is terribly important. But the CfIT work is actually looking at a much wider range of options, including a greater shift to per passenger incentive, and that, of course, would be another way of ensuring that all of the benefits follow the passenger and flow through to the passenger.

  238. Including reduced fares?
  (Mr Leeder) Or high levels of service, or whatever it is that would encourage more passengers to travel.


  239. We are talking about quite large sums of money, are we not, £300 million?
  (Mr Leeder) Yes, indeed.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 11 March 2002