Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. Did you make many changes to your plans during the course of the consultations?
  (Mr Elphick) Not really. I do not think so. We had three consultations. We had a lot of discussion with the main parties involved which are clearly the dean and chapter, the university and the other main occupants on the Peninsula. Relatively few compared to the problems in London. But we got a general agreement that what we were doing was the right idea. We then had a full consultation exercise—you have the leaflets for that—and then as part of the road charging requirements we had to do a three month consultation on the order. So there have been various consultation periods that we have gone through and I would say as that has gone on you develop more and more public support for the idea if people think it is a good one. That is basically what has happened. By the time the scheme came in we had pretty well full public support for it.

Mr Donohoe

  41. If the figure stays down as low as 90 per cent reduction you are not going to be able to raise very much revenue, are you? So to support what are you going to put in its place is not going to be able to be sustained for very long.
  (Mr Elphick) Yes it can, in fact. The capital cost of the buses was born out of the local transport plan so that is not part of the revenue requirement and probably the running costs are about £120,000 a year maximum. At the sort of level we are talking about we are going to get an income from charging of probably £55,000 or so. There are also the fares we get on the buses. The fare is very low but it will bring in over the year a reasonable amount, annual income over the year from charges and fares may get up to £90,000 or thereabouts. The difference, if there is one, will be met from the on-street parking charges. It all comes in terms of the integrated package of parking and traffic management measures in the town centre; they all work together. I anticipate that bus use will go up, although, in fact, the success of this scheme is perhaps that the charging does not. The less we make in charges, the more successful it has been.


  42. Who benefits most? With all these kind people doing public opinion surveys for you free, what has been thrown up? Is it the businesses that are benefiting most or is it the people who want to go shopping in the area, or is it those who want to go to the cathedral? Who is actually benefiting most?
  (Mr Elphick) Incidentally, it is free on Sunday for obvious reasons. It is only Monday to Saturday, ten to four. The two things which perhaps spring to mind are the people who object to paying a charge for using the highway. It is the first time it has been done and it did come as a bit of a surprise to some people, particularly on the first day. Really, even within the first three weeks, my feeling is that we have a public acceptance of that. I think we have had on average about one person per day who has refused to pay the charge. If they refuse to pay they can pay by six o'clock or they are subject to a penalty charge of £30. The other group probably are the businesses, mostly the smaller shops on Saddler Street itself, who have had to re-arrange some of their servicing arrangements. They cannot come in, particularly during the peak periods from eight to ten and three to five, when previously they could. But those were the times they were causing the most congestion in what is a very narrow street. You can imagine people coming to work, to the university, going to the cathedral et cetera mixing in with loading and unloading between eight and ten in the morning. We have changed that. They can come in early; they can come in late. They can actually come in during the day, but if they do they have to pay the access charge. I think that is the general drift of it.

  43. I want to come on to Bristol. Did the council take part in trials of electronic road charging with the intention of introducing a similar system into Bristol? Mr Rawlinson?
  (Mr Rawlinson) The council has indeed taken part in a couple of demonstration trials. The ELGAR trial and the INTERCEPT trial using electronic road charging. The reason we did this is because we are familiar with the schemes in Trondheim and in Rome where electronic road user charging is used. Very successful technology has been in existence for something like ten years. It is a very flexible system and worked very well in the trials in Bristol. We think it is the way forward.

  44. Was it the smartcard?
  (Mr Rawlinson) It was a smartcard and an on-board vehicle unit and beacons on the roadside. We are also experimenting with variable positioning satellite technology as well.

  45. What are the advantages and disadvantages of introducing a more technologically advanced system?
  (Mr Rawlinson) What I can say are the advantages. I do not know much about disadvantages because the Trondheim scheme and the Rome scheme are very successful. So as far as I can see there is not a tremendous amount of disadvantage but the advantages are that they are tremendously flexible. You can use them for different areas, different times of the day, different journey purposes, and so on. As far as the disadvantages go I have yet to see too many.

Mr Stevenson

  46. You referred to two trials, Mr Rawlinson. According to our information the ELGAR trial suggested a 15 per cent modal switch to public transport if there was a charge of about £5; the INERCEPT experiment suggested a £3 charge would provide a reduction of 10 per cent in private cars. I understand you are proposing a £1 to £2 charge which is significantly lower than either of those. Will this really have the effect that you are looking for?
  (Mr Rawlinson) I can answer from a technical point of view and then perhaps someone else can answer from a political point of view. You are quite right, of course, that the correlation between the level of charging and traffic reduction is absolutely there. I think everybody recognises that it is a £5 or £6 charge that you need in terms of driver behaviour to try and get that sort of magnitude of reduction. In Bristol it was decided to go for a £1 to £2 charge in early years leading to a £4 or £5 charge in later years simply because of political acceptability. I think there is some concern that to come in immediately with at £5 charge—although it would meet the traffic reduction targets and remove the through traffic—would give some concern. What I would say is that we have only been able to model this hypothetically on computer modelling so far. What it has demonstrated is that even with a £1 charge—one of the primary objectives is to remove through traffic from the central area—that this charge will remove traffic from the central area.

  Mr Stevenson: Very quickly, in the context of the last part of that answer, is this really designed to reduce congestion or is it a revenue raising exercise?


  47. I think that is over to you, Councillor Holland.
  (Councillor Holland) Yes, shall I take that one because I think that one of the contexts of this is that we have worked very closely through consultation, we have the support of the Chamber of Commerce within Bristol for this strategy, and I think that that is partly because they recognise that there are actually two functions of the policy. One function is to raise the revenue to be able to accelerate the delivery of improved public transport. The other is obviously to restrain the demand on the city streets, particularly in peak times. That is because they acknowledge the cost of congestion.

Mr Stevenson

  48. What sort of assessment has been done in terms of modal switch from car to public transport and/or reduction in congestion on a £1 and/or £2 charge?
  (Mr Rawlinson) Again, it has only been modelled by computer because the real trials have not yet come in, but what we demonstrated was that with the £1 we are getting something like a 45 per cent reduction in peak period traffic into the central area, which was something in the order of 12,000 vehicles that have been removed from the 30,000 that were currently coming in. With a £5 charge we are getting 17,000 vehicles removed out of the 30,000 that were coming in. So there is quite a substantial increase in the reduction of traffic. The public transport will be getting something in the order of between a five and ten per cent increase. What I would say is that the results are very similar to what they experienced in Trondheim and what they got in Rome. There is something like a seven per cent increase in public transport and a ten per cent reduction in traffic in Trondheim with a very similar charge. And again in Rome reduction was 20 per cent decrease in traffic and a six per cent increase in public transport.


  49. Did you say Trondheim in Norway?
  (Councillor Holland) Trondheim.

  50. Well this Committee looked at those schemes and they were really rather more than that in the long run because although they had a very flexible system of charging which altered during the day and altered according to various functions, nevertheless I thought it was rather more than £1 a time.
  (Councillor Holland) It was introduced at 10 krona which, at the time, was about £1 (that is ten years ago). The interesting thing about the Trondheim scheme is that actually public support after the scheme had been in place grew; people could see a very clear correlation between what they were paying for and what they had been offered, what that was going to buy for them, which in their case was an improved road scheme. Indeed, after ten years—which they committed to have it in for—it went to public consultation again and retaining it was supported.

Tom Brake

  51. I have a question for Mr Rawlinson. To what extent, if any, have your plans about introducing an electronic scheme been affected by the fact that there is not any government guidance on road congestion charging or, for that matter, workplace charging. That is a question which could also equally be addressed to the other councillors.
  (Mr Rawlinson) You mean in terms of the technology. One of the things that Bristol is very fortunate in is that we are leading a number of European consortia which are investigating technology and looking at compliance and standards and interoperability, and so it goes on. We have a fairly good steer on the type of approval the government may eventually come up with. But what we are doing in Bristol is—we are a couple of years away if it comes in—we are sitting on the fence and watching what develops so clearly we will take the best practice that is available at that time.

  52. Is there a risk that if guidance is introduced you might then have to modify whatever scheme you choose to introduce?
  (Mr Rawlinson) We are working with the government through the Charging Development Partnership, and one of the things that the Charging Development Partnership is looking at is system architecture and the type of approvals they will be giving. Therefore I think we are working in conjunction with the government, so it is very unlikely that we would actually be putting in a system that the government would not approve.

Mr Syms

  53. Can I ask Councillor Holland about the impact on business. She mentioned the Chamber of Commerce. The Broadmead Centre has been under some pressure over the years by Cribbs Causeway. Cribbs Causeway now has Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and a number of other people. Are you not concerned that with this added charge it really is going to displace a lot of business out to the outskirts where there is a lot of opportunity to shop?
  (Councillor Holland) Not at all. And just to correct you, Marks and Spencer did not move out of the city centre, they also operate in Cribbs Causeway but they have stayed very much in the city centre and are, indeed, looking for larger premises in the city centre. I think that that almost answers the question. But in any case, the Broadmead expansion plans which we are working with Land Securities and Hammersons Bristol Alliance is a half a billion pounds expansion to Broadmead and those plans are well known with the Broadmead board and with the Alliance. In fact, we were only talking to some of the top people in the organisation earlier in the week and were fully open about this scheme. Of course, one of the benefits of the Broadmead expansion is that where you currently have the Tollgate car park at the bottom of the M32 as you come into Broadmead, that car park will actually be extended. It will be outside the ring and flagship stores within the Broadmead expansion will be right against that car park. I think we can show that it is a balanced approach where we want to keep part of the city open for tourism, leisure, retail all of those things, but we want to attack that particular problem of congestion in the peak hours.


  54. I want to ask you about bus services because, after all, one of the easiest ways of improving general transport is to improve the bus use. But you do not have any control over private bus firms, so how are you going to do that?
  (Councillor Holland) We have a quality partnership with First who are the majority supplier in Bristol, with about 95 per cent of the services being run by them. We are continuing to work very closely with them on show case routes, on improving bus priority measures; we have opened a new park and ride this year and there are more park and rides planned for the five years of the LTP. As I say, it is a balanced approached where we are trying to bring in those improvements at the same time.

  55. So how would you gauge your success in due course?
  (Councillor Holland) We have obviously got our local targets as well as the targets that are set for us by the Government in terms of reduction in congestion, in improvements in air quality (which is a big issue in the city now, we have 150,000 of the city's 400,000 residents living in our air quality management area). Those sorts of things are the things, I think, that keep the level of support quite high for radical measures because people know that we cannot carry on as we are. So those are the measures, I think, and watching very closely. If it does not work—it is similar to what the Mayor has said in the London situation—then we take it out. We are not going to continue to work with it if it does not work, but if the investment carries on, congestion and pollution are reducing, then I think we would say that those are the things that Bristol people have said they want to see out of this scheme.

  56. Yes, but to abandon a major scheme because it is not working would entail a certain amount of extra expense, would it not? Would there not be a view from your rate payers that this might not necessarily be the way to proceed? Mr Rawlinson?
  (Mr Rawlinson) What we would hope is that central government would fund the road scheme in the first place.

  57. So you do not mind abandoning the tax payers' money, but the rate payers' money you want to hang on to. I am not disagreeing with this political view, Mr Rawlinson, it is just that it is unusual to hear local authorities being quite so open about it.
  (Mr Rawlinson) Certainly it is quite common practice for traffic management schemes, for example, to be tried and modified. I think the first stage would be to try to modify what was there before we actually decided to abandon things. I would certainly think that to meet the statutory obligations on the local authority in terms of the Road Traffic Reduction Act, we would have no option but to look at some form of progressive restraint, like road pricing. Indeed, what we are saying in terms of government targets, to get down to their seven per cent reduction in growth, you have to go for something as solid as that. Hopefully, if the public agree with us—as they have in Trondheim—they can see the benefits and hopefully there will be no need to take it out.

  58. Councillor Edwards, you wanted to comment?
  (Councillor Edwards) On the point of public ownership of bus companies, it is something that people can overlook.

  59. Not very often, Councillor Edwards.
  (Councillor Edwards) You get a real sense of partnership in actually bringing about change for better public transport when you have one of your major providers publically owned. Nottingham City Transport have just re-organised, re-branded, cut ten per cent in service mileage (I have to say) so that they can get an investment programme in place by 2010 whereby all their buses will be ready for low floor access and Disability Act standard. In the year that it has been in, we have increased the patronage of our city transport services by one and a half per cent. Buses are very important. It is overlooked sometimes with the more glamourous tram company solutions which again in Nottingham we are very pleased about. Public ownership does mean real effective partnership in terms of delivering better public transport solutions.

  Chairman: That seems to be a very satisfactory note on which to end. Thank you very much.

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