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

Memorandum by the Institution of Highways and Transportation (TYP 47)


  1.  The Institution of Highways & Transportation (IHT) welcomed the publication of the Ten Tear Transport Plan (the Plan). For many years, transport has suffered from under-investment, short-termism and stop-and-go spending. During this time transport policy failed to adequately consider the appropriate roles for the different modes or to provide appropriate funding for them. The Plan is seen by the Institution as an opportunity to put right these deficiencies, to raise confidence in the industry to invest in and develop its resources, and to invest in transport on a medium to long term, multi-modal, basis.

  2.  The Plan is primarily a financial plan that allocates resources to different aspects of surface transport infrastructure and operations. Although it does predict demand for travel under different investment scenarios, it is generally weak on examining the response of travellers to different policies (service supply, costs of travel, location of activities and land use). In addition, it does not attempt to predict the situation between years 2000 and 2010. It is likely that, even if the Plan succeeds completely by 2010, travelling conditions will deteriorate for most of the period before the effects of the Plan's investments become apparent.

  3.  A significant weakness is that the Plan provides mainly capital funds and depends on substantial levels of assumed private sector investment. Many local authorities are finding that they do not have the revenue funds, and hence numbers of staff, to utilise these capital funds promptly and effectively. We face a situation where local authorities are "capital rich" but "revenue poor", presenting increasing problems for scheme development, public transport support and maintenance. This is a separate and additional issue to the question of whether there are sufficient trained professional staff, particularly in transport planning and project management, to plan and implement the programmes required under the Plan. This is particularly true of "integrated transport projects" where, compared to traditional construction projects, goals are often more ambiguous, there are more significant external environmental pressures and, above all, the needs of individuals affected by the proposals have a greater influence on the project.

  4.  An analysis of the Plan by Martin Richards (Richards, 2000 for the "Nottingham Conference") shows that the reality of the increased funding provided by the Plan is much less than is suggested by the headline figures. Richards questions whether the proposed funding is sufficient to achieve the results needed. Subsequent events on the rail system, where private sector confidence is threatened, support his conclusions.


Road—car and truck

  5.  For all journeys except very short (under one mile) and very long (over 350 miles), road transport is dominant for both passengers and freight. Given the current pattern and locations of land use and activities, which have been planned to be easy to serve by road (car and truck), it is difficult to foresee any significant change in this situation during the next 10 years. However, marginal changes are possible, leading to larger changes over a longer timescale.

  6.  The fundamental challenge for road transport over the next 10 years is to match demand for road space to available capacity. Without the Plan, traffic is forecast to grow 22 per cent nationally. Growth will be higher in rural areas and on motorways and inter-urban trunk roads, and lower in the cores of urban areas. While the Plan provides funding for some increases in capacity, particularly by treating bottlenecks and widening some motorways, congestion can only be reduced if traffic growth, particularly on inter-urban roads and radial roads approaching cities, is significantly less than it would be without the Plan. Many professionals are concerned that insufficient is being done to control demand for road space, for example through price mechanisms, so that congestion will not be reduced as predicted by the Plan. Congestion is primarily caused by the number of cars competing for road space. To date, local authorities have been reluctant to initiate congestion charging or work-place parking levy schemes, and ways to encourage local authorities to introduce more schemes to attract motorists from cars are needed.

  7.  In recent years, DTLR surveys of journey speeds show that speeds in English urban areas have changed little, but that on many inter-urban trunk roads, speeds fell by over 10 mph (that is, about 20 per cent) in the three years 1995 to 1998. This was particularly the case on the approaches to the larger cities. Congestion stress maps for the trunk road network in 1996 and 2016 from the White Paper show that, without the Plan, by 2016, conditions on most of the motorway network (particularly the M1/M6 and M62 corridors) will be as bad or worse than conditions were on the M25 in 1996. The results of speed surveys on trunk roads for 1999 to 2001 are due shortly. Many professionals believe that, unless much more is done to manage demand, we are facing a situation of increasing congestion, increasing journey times are greater unreliability of travel times.

Road—public transport

  8.  Given that travel patterns are largely set by land use and the locations of activities, the only ways to reduce the amount of car traffic, and hence congestion, is to persuade people to make more use of local facilities and to make more of their journeys by public transport—bus and metro/tram. In each case, these changes will only happen if the desired behaviour is seen by the motorist to be in their best interest. Making local facilities (including employment and schools) more attractive than larger, more remote, facilities is outside the remit of a transport plan, but is fundamental to managing the transport system. This is why—notwithstanding the pressing need to streamline delivery processes—care is needed in the on-going review of the planning system to ensure that the integration of land-use and transport planning is not compromised.

  9.  Many, but not all, motorists would be willing to use public transport for journeys where it provides a better service than they could achieve for themselves using their own car. This will only be possible for journeys along heavily-travelled corridors where there is sufficient demand to justify a frequent service, where priorities allow public transport to achieve quicker journeys than the car, and where the locations of activities match a pattern of efficient public transport routes (see Planning for Public Transport in Developments, IHT 1999). For many cross-town urban journeys, and for almost all rural journeys, buses will never be able to offer services that are more attractive than using the car. However, for journeys from low-density areas to urban centres, car to a Park & Ride interchange (quite possibly on a green belt site, unfortunately) can offer an attractive service, where public transport is reducing traffic on those parts of the road network that are most congested, and the car is used where capacity is available and the bus cannot compete.

  10.  The requirements for attractive public transport that can compete with the car are: bus priority measures to avoid congestion delays; frequent service (headways probably no more than about six to eight minutes, so no timetable is needed); high quality vehicles and well-trained staff; and, affordable fares—at least for regular travellers. The combination of the Plan funding and bus quality partnerships/contracts is a good start, but fares nearer European levels are needed if buses and metros are to attract European levels of use. This does not appear to be possible under the present regime for the regulation of bus services.

Road—walking and cycling

  11.  Funding for walking and cycling—and the acceptance of the need for a National Walking Strategy—are to be welcomed. But there are real technical problems in producing attractive environments for walking and cycling. For walking, in some areas, it may be necessary to reverse the priority that has been traditionally given to moving traffic over pedestrians. This requires a new approach which, inevitably, will take time. Furthermore, walking is only attractive for short journeys, and already 77 per cent of all journeys under one mile are made by walking (NTS 1998/2000). To switch many more journeys from car to walk will require people to switch destinations from remote to local facilities.

  12.  Cycling should not be regarded as similar to walking. It is a different mode, used for different journeys, and requiring different provision to make it attractive. It is potentially much more of a competitor to bus and car for journeys of up to at least five miles. To increase the modal split to cycling requires, above all else, that cycling be made objectively much safer and be perceived to be safer. It is far from clear that this is likely, even with the funding provided by the Plan.


  13.  For the past 30 years, road freight companies have been used to journey speeds increasing as the road network and freight vehicles improve. They have exploited these gains by reducing the number of distribution depots and by serving larger areas from each depot. It is these changes that have steadily reduced the transport cost element in most goods. In recent years, however, congestion delays have started to increase and the reliability of journey times has reduced. To overcome this, wherever possible, freight distributors are operating off peak, particularly at night.

  14.  Distribution managers have seen that the Plan promises to reduce congestion, and are using this to base their depot location plans on current journey times. If this does not prove to be the case, the road freight industry will find itself with a depot network that cannot serve the required areas at the lower speeds implied by increased congestion.

  15.  It may be possible to give commercial vehicles (coaches and trucks) priority lanes on trunk roads (as mentioned in the Plan) and priority access at junctions, to avoid the penalties of increased congestion. The inevitable result of such policies would be further increases in congestion for cars.


  16.  While rail moves only a small percentage of passengers and freight nationally, for certain niche markets it has a larger modal share and contributes significantly to reducing road traffic. The primary case is traffic into central London, where rail is the dominant mode. Other niche markets are inter-city passengers, particularly over distances greater than about 100 miles, and some specific freight movements. However, apart from the approaches to London, it must be appreciated that traffic on the railway is much less than road traffic. Even large increases in rail traffic would correspond to only a few years of growth of road traffic. Diverting freight from road to rail will need interchange depots near the trunk road network, unfortunately quite possibly on green belt sites. Using railway land in cities for interchanges would draw goods vehicles into cities where they would otherwise not go, which is the last outcome required.

  17.  The rail network is close to capacity in many places, and also needs much investment to make up for lack of investment since 1945. Some professionals fear that the funds needed for rail improvements will be taken from the road budget, which would undermine any chance of reducing congestion and of reducing traffic casualties.

  18.  The Plan anticipates large injections of private finance in the rail system. In the current difficulties in the rail industry a reality check must be kept on whether the predictions can be achieved and, if not, what needs to be done. One also has to question how rail can play a substantially larger role in personal travel given the high fares faced by passengers in the UK, particularly family groups (who could otherwise use a car), and those who need to travel at relatively short notice.


Congestion charging and workplace parking levies

  19.  At present it appears that eight congestion charging and 12 workplace parking levy schemes in cities outside London is optimistic. If the initial schemes are successful, these numbers may be achieved by 2010, but too late to have much effect on travel behaviour and investment. There is a need to find ways to make these schemes more attractive to local authorities and, particularly, to elected members, the general public and business.

  20.  Congestion charging and workplace parking levies should only become operational after attractive alternatives to car travel are in place. Developing these alternatives puts back the start date of charging schemes. Initial charges will probably be modest to avoid political backlash, so at first the schemes will raise revenue but probably not affect behaviour very much. This, again, will delay their potential to reduce congestion. Finally, the largest increase in congestion is likely to be on inter-urban trunk roads and the approaches to major cities. Some, at least, of these areas are unlikely to be much affected by urban charging schemes.

Skilled personnel

  21.  There is a serious shortage of experienced professional personnel, particularly transport planners. This, plus the lack of revenue funding to enable appropriate staff to be employed at attractive salary rates, is already delaying delivery of the Plan improvements. There is clear evidence of this in some of this year's Local Transport Plan Settlement letters and gradings for Local Authorities (as reported in Local Transport Today, 3 January 2002).

  22.  In this respect the Government could help professional Institutions like IHT promote initial and continuing professional development and vocational qualifications, and help to promote "transport management" as an attractive career.


  23.  Reducing congestion is certainly an important target, though it should be accompanied by improving the reliability of journey times. Also, at present, it is not at all clear how congestion is going to be measured and monitored. Modal shift targets are probably more appropriate than numbers of journeys by rail, bus, walk and cycle. These targets should certainly be regional, and indeed could well be much more specific—for example, targets for modal split along specific corridors at particular times of day. These specific targets can be made more realistic, can be better related to local policies and measures, and can be better monitored.

Integrated transport policy

  24.  Overall, the Plan appears to be seriously optimistic with respect to the extent to which motorists can be persuaded to use modes other than the car, the objective performance of the transport system can be improved and congestion can be reduced. It is likely that the level of investment will need to be greater and local authorities will need more revenue funding to manage the Plan programme. In this respect, a reality check will also need to be kept on the impacts of the introduction of a Single Capital Pot for local authority capital investment (particularly in respect of road safety and highway maintenance).

  25.  It is also possible that the regulatory regime for buses may need to be changed to make possible services of European attractiveness in terms of quality and cost.

  26.  Streamlining statutory and delivery procedures (yet safeguarding accountability and community involvement) is important, including modernising compensation arrangements. The Institution will be responding to the Government's Planning Green Paper, and associated proposals, in due course. There is also thought to be some merit in examining the effectiveness and outcomes of the multi-modal studies to check that the process is cost effective, and that the outcomes are affordable and deliverable.

Contingency Planning

  27.  The Government would be well advised to develop contingency plans to cover failure of elements of the Plan. It should also develop projections for intermediate years between 2000 and 2010, to be prepared if travel conditions deteriorate before they improve. It should also develop scenarios for travel to, perhaps, 2025 or 2030 to ensure that the Plan is taking the transport system towards a situation that will be desirable and sustainable in the longer term. By 2030, land use policies would have had time to have effects, technology will have changed many aspects of road travel, and the ageing population and rising prosperity will be changing some aspects of travel demand.


  28.  There is growing evidence that the general public are increasingly dissatisfied with the level of service offered by our transport systems and infrastructure. Timely and cost-effective delivery of noticeable improvements is crucial.

  29.  The Plan is a welcome and positive move away from the curse of short-termism which has dogged transport investment over so many years. As such, it should be commended.

  30.  What is now needed is delivery of better day to day transport operations and maintenance, delivery of the major road and rail projects which are necessary to keep Britain moving, and delivery of a coherent joined up transport strategy for the years ahead. This means providing better choices for all modes, including buses, walking and cycling.

  31.  There is no quick fix, and it will not be easy. Accomplishing what is necessary in transport is not possible in one electoral term. That is why the key issues have been ducked for so long. But transport is crucial to the social, economic and environmental well-being of the nation. Far from being seen as "humdrum", transport is increasingly looking like the defining issue for the Government. The Plan provides a good overall strategy, and there have been some successes, but we need sustained investment (both capital and revenue), top-level political commitment to improving our transport systems and infrastructure, better policy presentation, and an unshaken determination to do what is necessary.


  32.  The Institution of Highways & Transportation (IHT) represents over 10,000 professionals working in highways and transportation in the public and private sectors. It promotes professional excellence as the leading learned society dealing with urban and regional transport systems and infrastructure at all stages of the project life cycle. We would be delighted to present oral evidence and answer questions if the Committee would find it of value.

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