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

Memorandum by David Banister (TYP 29)


  Transport is in crisis as people engage in the daily challenge of getting to work or to school, and as the public transport and road systems strain under the demands being put on them. In addition, there are the many other essential and non essential activities that people wish to engage in. The system is becoming totally unreliable with relatively "small events" (eg an accident or signal failure) causing huge disruption and delay. People are becoming increasingly resistant to paying more to travel, whether it is through higher fares or through higher fuel prices. In this thought piece, it is argued that the notion of a paradigm shift in transport is misplaced, and that the reality is much more simple, namely that in the recent past (since the 1970s), there has never been sufficient investment in the transport infrastructure, either to maintain and replace the existing networks, or to invest in new links (Banister, 2002). Throughout this period, the Transport Ministry has been a weak player in seeking government resources, and it is the Treasury that has kept control over public expenditure, with transport receiving a relatively small share of available funding. But even the Treasury, perhaps the main culprit in the recent history of under investment in transport has conceded (HM Treasury, 1999) that we have "an overcrowded under planned and under maintained transport system".

  The amount spent on the transport infrastructure as a proportion of GDP has always been less than 1 per cent, with one or two exceptions when it reached 1.21 per cent of GDP (1993-94). Typically though, the levels are around 0.5-0.7 of GDP, which in turn is far less than the EU average[2] (EC, 2001). The short term future looks bleak, as most measures of congestion suggest that things will get worse rather than better, even if the optimistic perspective of the Transport 2010 document (DETR, 2000a) are accepted (Table 1).

Table 1


Cars per km of road
Vehicle kilometres per km of road

  Source: Based on DETR (2000a)


  The resilience of transport planning to fundamental change has been apparent. Many authors (eg Owens, 1995, Vigar, 2001) focus on the "predict and provide" paradigm as being the dominant force over the last 30 years, but this is an oversimplification. There have never been enough resources to provide for the expected levels of demand, and difficult decisions have always had to be made. It is fair to say that road investment has received the major proportion of available resources, so that public transport has been disproportionately disadvantaged. Perhaps a more appropriate characterisation of this period of transport policy has been the "under investment" paradigm, which has affected all public services in the UK. It is not really a transport paradigm, but a policy paradigm, where the Treasury has ruled supreme for the whole of this period, from the early 1970s when external agencies (the International Monetary Fund) imposed restrictions to more recent self imposed restrictions to reduce public expenditure borrowing requirements. Many of the transport plans submitted to government were "bidding" documents for funds. There was no great expectation that all the "bids" would be successful, but local authorities were placed in a competitive position and had to be seen to get their fair share of the limited funds that were available.

  If this "under investment" view is accepted, then many of the subsequent events seem to fall into place. The forecasts developed seemed to be optimistic and the costs also tended to under estimated. Both factors would suggest that a stronger case was being put forward for investment that was really the case. As a consequence, some investments took place and outturn measures made a poor match with expectations (Skramis and Flyvbjerg, 1997). This in turn might lead to refinements in methodology, but a stronger case for rejection of subsequent bids for further investment.

  Similarly, influential reports (eg the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment) draw attention to the weakness of evaluation methodologies (1978), the concept of induced travel (1994), and the questioning of the economic impacts of roads (1999). In each case, greater uncertainty is introduced into the analysis process, and it becomes harder to prepare a clear and unambiguous case for investment. This in turn leads to delay in decisions being made and strengthens the argument for less investment in transport. Other committees (eg the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 1994 and 1997) have attacked the whole process from the environmental perspective, suggesting that there are strong environmental reasons for not building more roads, and for encouraging even greater levels of mobility.

  However (almost ironically), although the Treasury has not been generous in investment decisions on transport, it is dependent on transport for a variety of important revenue flows that are continuous and increasing. This means that it should be encouraging more car based travel with large vehicles as this would enhance these revenue flows. In 1998-99, the Treasury received £26,430 million in revenues from fuel tax (split 60 per cent on petrol and 40 per cent on diesel) and vehicle excise duty. This was equivalent to about £1,000 per vehicle per annum, and it amounts to over 10 per cent of total exchequer revenues.

  It is no wonder that the transport planner feels frustrated and defensive, as they are in a no win situation. Starved of resources for investment and unpopular with the motoring and travelling public, they have increasingly relied upon other means to reduce levels of congestion. The development of traffic management schemes was instrumental in squeezing a greater capacity out of a given transport system at a minimal cost. Such schemes also had benefits in terms of the local environment and they were later adapted to give priority to public transport. However, there must be limits to management in terms of additional capacity, even though a new lease of life has been derived from the creative use of ICT systems to obtain even greater capacity out of the system.

  The next stage was to develop demand management schemes to allocate priority or to substantially raise the costs of travel within a given system. Again, there has been substantial success here in introducing parking charges, in discussing the possibility of road pricing, in creating traffic calmed areas and home zones, and in giving priority in transport networks to public transport and cyclists. Again, these schemes are low cost, and have the added advantage of creating new revenue streams to central and local government.

  The most recent set of measures have been to look at the means to reduce the need to travel through a combination of transport and planning strategies. It is here that reductions in trip lengths, the greater use of local facilities, and less use of motorised forms of transport have been discussed. Location policies, densities, settlement size and patterns, and mixed use developments have all become important, as does the involvement of all stakeholders in contributing towards traffic reduction targets through company transport plans, transport blending, and awareness programmes targeted at particular users.

  This approach has important implications as it may even reduce the revenue streams to the Treasury, as there will be less car based travel. However, the Treasury can recoup any losses through raising existing taxes, through the expected growth in travel, and through imposing more taxes on transport (eg on air travel). But even here there are "rumblings" of discontent and government cannot afford to be seen as anti-motorist. Apart from the political implications, the importance of transport to government revenues cannot be undervalued. It seems that the transport agenda has been overtaken by the greater Treasury agenda, and that the "under investment" paradigm needs to be replaced by an "investment" paradigm.

  The Transport 2010 document has attempted to do this through giving a commitment to transport that takes it out of the annual cycle of resource allocation (DETR, 2000a). But if this commitment is unpacked, several important questions still remain unanswered:

    —  Is the Transport 2010 commitment sufficient to bring the existing network up to appropriate standards for the 21st Century?

    —  How much money then remains for new investment?

  The role of the private sector in contributing to this commitment is substantial. What happens if the private sector contributions are not forthcoming?

  If the intention is to give a choice to travellers, is there the capacity available in the public transport system to accommodate the potential increase in demand from car drivers? The dominance of the car mode is clear, particularly outside London, and any substantial switch in transport mode will have enormous implications for public transport (Table 2).

Table 2


Percentage of Trips
Public Transport (of which rail)
Car Driver
Car Passenger
Non Motorised
Greater London
Metropolitan Built up
Other Urban >250,000
Urban 100,000-250,000
Urban 50,000-100,000
Urban 25,000-50,000
Urban 3,000-25,000
Source: National Travel Survey 1997-99.

  Underlying the current thinking on transport planning are two fundamental premises. If it is agreed that the main problem facing transport in the UK is a lack of investment in transport infrastructure, alternative sources of investment capital are important and may provide part of the solution, but it is increasingly apparent that this money is not a replacement for public expenditure. It is likely to be forthcoming only where there are clear and sizeable returns, or where the levels of investment are relatively small, or where a substantial amount of the risk is underwritten by Government. The expectation in the 1990s that the private sector has a major role to play is unrealistic, and has contributed to a further deterioration of the transport infrastructure through further delays in decision making. The second fundamental premise is that people and firms want to travel at ever increasing speeds between places. The main objective of the transport planner is to reduce travel times. This thinking has resulted in longer faster journeys being made as people increasingly switch to the car to make journeys to destinations that are further away. This is consistent with the arguments for widening choice for those with access to a car, but not consistent with environmental and social objectives.

  The logical conclusion to all this line of thinking is towards total gridlock, not just on the roads, but in terms of analysis approaches, and institutional and organisational structures. We are rapidly reaching the limits of transport planning as capacity is increasing only slowly, and as there is an increasing resentment to the use of economic means to substantially raise the costs of travel. Even the measures to reduce the need to travel may only delay the inevitable, as the underlying desire for mobility increases. There seems to be little evidence that underlying attitudes to the high mobility car dominated culture are changing.


  The picture portrayed is pretty dismal, yet there are glimmers of hope. In the past the main emphasis has been in addressing the problem of congestion, through increasing network capacity, through traffic management, and through shifting the modal split towards public transport and green modes. The focus here has been on the symptoms of the problem (ie traffic) rather than the causes of the problem (ie the distributions of the origins and destinations). Reducing the need to travel begins to address the causes of the problems through developing an understanding of how decisions on locations for housing, jobs, shops and other facilities influences the travel patterns. Such approaches use methods from demand management and the development process to explore the transport implications. There are also benefits in terms of social justice (accessibility for all) and in terms of the ecological implications (less car dependence).

  Such thinking relates to new notions of travel time, not just the reduction of travel time, but also the reduction of travel time variability. Acceptable travel times should be related to all activities and transport planning should explore the means by which the robustness of the system can be enhanced. For example, bus travel time could be made shorter and more reliable through giving the bus exclusive rights of way in urban areas over their entire route length, or at least in the sections where they are subject to delay. However, the boundaries of time have been relaxed with the new instantaneous society as meetings (social and business) can be set up at will, and many individuals now think in terms of how far they can travel within a given time. Such thinking is central to the private perception of opportunity, freedom and choice. The private perception needs to be modified by a public awareness of the implications of unlimited opportunity, freedom and choice, particularly in terms of the environment and for those without such a choice.

  Two points are relevant here. One is that many of the choices being made by individuals can and should be local ones, so that the total amount of travel can be reduced. This means providing a range of options for local participation and a willingness to use them.The second related point is that quality of opportunity is an essential precondition to use. It is here that the investment issue returns, as much of the investment in public transport has not been in quality, as can be seen at the interchanges and the lack of flexibility in many of the ticketing and information systems. Choice is more than having an alternative. It relates to the quality of the alternatives, not just in terms of the travel experience, but in the quality of the interchanges and the ease of travel more generally.

  There seems to be a lack of trust in government institutions, as there is an engagement in discussion rather than action. For example, when money for roads is reduced the resources for public transport are not increased (Vigar, 2001). Attitudes tend to be defensive with a retreat into the comfort of well established priorities rather than exploring new ones, so that alternatives are either ignored or marginalised. Even though there is agreement concerning the limitations of existing thinking, there does not seem to be the political or professional will to change priorities. Perhaps all interests are caught in the dilemma that results in no action being preferable to some action (which may influence them adversely). But no action only gives a short term respite, and we are now living with the longer term consequences of inaction and under investment.

  Some would argue that this impasse has resulted from a lack of communicative rationality in transport planning (Willson, 2001), and that language and discourse should be at the centre of any new approach. Others suggest that the dilemma presented above produces an insoluble situation which is not addressed by communicative planning (Voogd, 2001), as social interests (welfare) are in conflict with individual interests (personal utility). Here it is argued that we must go beyond the social and self interests, and the indulgence in communicative rationality. These important issues divert attention away from the main issue, which is how can we progress the total gridlock in thinking, towards actions that have vision, financial support and accountability.

  The way ahead must be to resolve these three determining factors. In the transport sector, it is the financial issue that is most important, so that the backlog of under investment can be redressed. The proposal put forward here has three main elements to it:

  1.  The need for investment—it is clear that massive new investment is required in the UK to replace and enhance the available transport infrastructure, but the processes for scheme evaluation seem to delay that investment. Future large scale projects should be seen as part of the vision for transport, a new document produced every 10 years looking forward to a planning period (10 years) and further (25 years). This document can be a broad statement of policy, as the recent White Paper demonstrated (DETR, 1998), but it should also contain details of the major investments to be undertaken, principally at the national level. Again, the Transport 2010 document (DETR, 2000a) went part of the way, but it did not make specific commitments in terms of itemised projects relating to roads, rail and air. The UK needs a national transport strategy within which the relevant agencies can then operate.

  Examples here include the role of high speed rail in the UK, the need for additional airport capacity in the South East, charging for cars on motorways, freight route networks, additional road capacity, building roads in tunnels, and fuel pricing. Once the policy has been debated as part of the Government's strategy, then analysis is undertaken to support the best means by which these objectives can be achieved. Targets related to the quality of life can be established as can other targets for the use of particular modes, accessibility and the environment. Such an approach can cascade through the regions to the cities and communities. At each level accountable politicians set the agenda through their vision statement for transport and development, not just in terms of the general strategies, but in terms of specific proposals, and a structured programme of work over the next five-10 years. Success would be judged on what had been achieved as outcomes and as achievements of the targets set.

  Some progress is being made here with the publication of the Government's Green Paper on Planning (DTLR, 2001a) and the daughter document on New Parliamentary Procedures for Processing Major Infrastructure Projects (DTLR, 2001b). However, it is important that the new procedures on major infrastructure (including transport) projects should be open and accountable. The current review of the 10 Year Plan (DETR, 2000a) by the Transport Sub-committee needs to consider these wider questions, and it does not augur well that a review is already taking place when the 10 Year Plan has only been in operation for a year.

  2.  The means to finance the investment—part of the problem of non-achievement has been the reluctance to finance projects through the public sector. It is here that a fundamental reassessment of the options is required. It is clear that the present mechanisms do not work and that there is an impasse between the different agencies. The experiments with the private sector through the Public Finance Initiative (PFI) have not worked, but there is a much greater potential through creative use of public private partnerships, where success can be evaluated in actual outcomes (IPPR, 2001).

  Here it is argued that the private sector has a key role to ensure greater efficiency in project management, but also in project evaluation and selection. It is really trying to bring in private sector skills to facilitate project construction, management and operation. The big question still remains over whether the private sector should also pay for the investment, bearing in mind that the cost of capital is likely to be high for them (as opposed to Government). And even if they do finance part or all of the investment, there is still a public liability to pay back the investment with profit over time.

  There seems to be several options available for financing transport investments:

    —  Through loans from the European Investment Bank and grants from the European Coal and Steel Community (which provided funds for the Channel Tunnel), and the European Community Regional Development Funds and the Transport Infrastructure Fund;

    —  Through transport bonds and other long-term investments (using pension funds)—these are extensively used in Japan and are being discussed with respect to the financing of the reconstruction of the London Underground;

    —  Through tax incentives to the private sector by making their capital contributions tax deductible;

    —  Through tolls and road pricing, as is the case in Singapore, in several Norwegian cities, in Central London (being proposed), and in the Birmingham Northern Relief Road;

    —  Through shadow tolls on existing inter urban motorways;

    —  Through employment taxes (as in Paris and other French cities) or a tax on petrol (as in Germany and the USA).

  In addition to these examples, there are other possibilities which do not seem to have been extensively used in the UK:

    (a)  Auctioning projects—the public sector carries all the early risk by taking the project through the decision process, including public inquiry, land acquisition, environmental evaluation and compensation, so that the project is ready for construction. It is then auctioned to the private sector for construction, financing and operation.

    (b)  Value capture—where part of the financial benefit gained by the land developer or the community at large is recouped to pay for the investment. Such an approach has been used in Japan where the low profit infrastructure projects are combined with higher profit commercial projects to facilitate the investment. Alternatively, developers could be given "development rights" at accessible points on the new infrastructure which they have helped finance.

    (c)  Public enterprises and local authorities could opt out of the Treasury financial controls provided that they could fund investment through revenue streams. This has been achieved in Manchester with the funding of airport developments, and it allows local authorities (and other public sector organisations) direct access to the capital markets (IPPR, 2001).

    (d)  Transport bonds could be used to raise capital from institutions and individuals to pay for investment, with returns being paid over a long time period. This type of investment has been used to finance the reconstruction of the New York Subway, and is one option for the London Underground.

    (e)  Profit sharing between the public and private sectors—is a partnership where risks and returns can be established and agreed in advance, so that there is a convergence between the two sectors.

  There seem to be many possibilities for financing investment outside the conventional public sector or private sector models. The difficulty seems to be to establish the most suitable package of financial instruments for each project, and the necessary skills to negotiate it so that the risks and returns are shared. An early agreement is required on each project as to the roles that the public and private sectors should play individually and in combination. The boundaries between the public and private sectors are already becoming blurred and it is now time for a fundamental reassessment.

  3.  Accountability in investment—transport is an intensely political subject and one that many politicians would prefer not to draw attention to. But the time for a defensive strategy has passed and it is essential that politicians at all levels promote transport investment as part of the much needed improvements in public services. However, such a top down approach needs to be made more accountable. The vision statement would be part of the manifesto (Stage 1) and the details elaborated in the proposed "new" form of the 10 Year Plan. It is at the detailed analysis stage (Stage 2) where decisions are made on priorities, alignments, finance, management and ownership that suitable mechanisms need to be put into place. There must be a process of involving affected communities and citizens so that decisions can (where possible) be based on consent.

  The decision process also needs to be transparent so that community and individual rights are not compromised. The consultation processes need to involve all parties, and to allocate clear responsibilities and roles. This means a full disclosure of information (even if the private sector is involved), representation of affected parties in the decision process, and their involvement throughout the implementation of the scheme. Openness, together with much more generous compensation packages, is a key component of a consensus based approach to decision making—a discussion paper on compensation is being prepared by the DTLR. In the past, delay (and non investment) has been seen as a legitimate outcome of the participation process, but this is no longer a reasonable option as the investment is urgently needed.

  Partnerships are required both on the financing of investment and on the involvement of people in shaping the future transport system. Some of the right signs are emerging (eg in the Urban White Paper, DETR, 2000b), where local strategic partnerships will involve the local authority, all service providers, local businesses, community groups, and the voluntary sector to develop a community strategy with priorities, monitoring, targets and a coordinated approach.


  Action is required at all three levels identified. The top down vision is the responsibility of politicians at the national and regional levels with support from visionary thinkers. The detailed implementation and involvement brings all relevant parties together in a forum where they are prepared to discuss all the issues openly. The intermediate funding elements provide the crucial link between the policy and the implementation, and again this is where decision makers and the movers (and shakers) in the public and private sectors must establish the means and mechanisms to translate visions into real projects.

  The debate is over, and it is now time for action. It is inevitable that there will be experimentation, and the role of good implementation has strong demonstration effects. This is clear, whether the scheme involves a new high speed rail link or a road pricing scheme in London. But it must also be realised that not all decisions are market based. Even if it does result in transport operating more efficiently, it might not be democratic. But it does seem that many transport services can be provided by the market, but accountability is important, hence the role that institutional approaches to public policy might have in encouraging community and corporate involvement and local empowerment. Decision making and implementation can operate as one, through both formal and informal processes (as in the Netherlands), by creating interest, awareness and debate with all the involved parties. Such a debate also needs to be urgently generated in the UK.


  ACTRA (1978) Trunk Road Assessment, Report of the Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment, London: HMSO.

  Banister, D (2002) Transport Planning, London: Spon, 2nd Edition.

  DETR (1998) A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Cm 3950, London: The Stationery Office.

  DETR (2000a) Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, London: The Stationery Office.

  DETR (2000b) Our Towns and Cities: The Future—Delivering an Urban Renaissance, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, London: The Stationery Office.

  DTLR (2001a) Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change, Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, London, 12 December,

  DTLR (2001b) New Parliamentary Procedures for Processing Major Infrastructure Projects, Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, London, 17 December,

  European Commission (2001) EU Energy and Transport in Figures 2001, DG TREN in co-operation with Eurostat, Brussels,

  HM Treasury (1999) Treasury comprehensive spending review, London: The Stationery Office.

  IPPR (2001) Building Better Partnerships, London, Institute for Public Policy Research, July.

  Owens, S (1995) From "predict and provide" to "predict and prevent"? Pricing and planning in transport policy, Transport Policy 2(1), pp 43-50.

  RCEP (1994) Transport and the Environment, Eighteenth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Cm 2674, London: HMSO, October.

  SACTRA (1994) Trunk Roads and the Generation of Traffic, Report of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment, London: HMSO.

  SACTRA (1999) Transport and the Economy, Report of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment, London: The Stationery Office.

  Skamris, M and Flyvbjerg, B (1997) Inaccuracy of traffic forecasts and cost estimates on large transport projects, Transport Policy 4(3), pp 141-146.

  Vigar, G (2001) The Politics of Mobility, London: Spon.

  Voogd, H (2001) Social dilemmas and the communicative planning paradox, Town Planning Review 72(1), pp 77-95.

  Willson, R (2001) Assessing communicative rationality as a transportation planning paradigm, Transportation 28(1), pp 1-31.

2   In 1999, the EU invested Euro 80 billion on transport infrastructure investment or 1 per cent of GDP. Over the 1985-96 period, Italy (population 57.7 million) spent Euro 9,914 million per annum, France (population 59.1 million spent Euro 11,886 million per annum, and the UK (population 59.5 million) spent Euro 7,058 million per annum (1994 prices). The figures for Italy and France are 40 per cent and 68 per cent higher than those for the UK. Back

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 27 May 2002