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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 215 - 219)




  215. Gentlemen, it is always a pleasure to see familiar faces. Would you like to introduce yourselves?

  (Mr King) I am Edmund King, the Executive Director of the RAC Foundation.
  (Mr Holmes) My name is David Holmes, Chairman, and I am a Member of the RAC Foundation's Public Policy Committee.

  216. Do you want to say something before we ask questions?
  (Mr King) Firstly, we welcome this very relevant inquiry and are grateful that you have asked for our views. Contrary to some public perception, the RAC Foundation and indeed many motorists are not actually opposed to congestion charging, as long as the conditions are right. Indeed, our recent report, Motoring towards 2050, looking ahead, did find that we would need charging on a proportion of the network at certain times of the day if we are going to keep congestion at current levels, and that it did not really matter what we did to public transport. The only alternative was quite substantial road-building, which, in the urban environment that we are looking at today, is almost impossible. However, on public opinion, which you referred to before, we feel that this is absolutely essential for charging schemes to work. We have proposed that there should be a charter that government or local authorities sign up to. It should be a watertight charter that should cover things like privacy, cost of charge, implementation and transparency; and it should be audited independently.

  217. Independent of the motorist or the Government?
  (Mr King) Both. We have actually called for an independent roads inspector because we do not have any independence when it comes to the roads network, where we do to some extent on the railways—one can claim compensation for journeys, et cetera. We feel this is crucial if we are to get public acceptability because in all our polling, if you ask motorists outright, "do you support congestion charging?" they say "no". However, if there are conditions—if it was linked to a reduction in fuel duty, 76 per cent would support it. Even if it were linked to improved public transport, and better reliability of the network, 71 per cent would support it—so if the conditions are right, and if people can trust the Government and the politicians. That is why we need the charter. It is also essential that the Government develops a national technological framework. We do not want different schemes in different cities, using different technologies so that you need different black boxes in your car. Ultimately, there will need to be a European standard for that. We also feel that assessment of schemes is essential, both before and after, with an independent audit. Our point is that charging is not a panacea for all our congestion problems, and that other schemes should often be looked at first—better public transport, park-and-ride, co-ordination of road works and traffic lights. That is absolutely essential. In some cases charging will be required, but not on its own, as part of a package. You might need to improve a ring-road before charging. Our concern with London, which we hope succeeds, is that there is nothing up-front that motorists can see that will make their lot better. Struggling in today on a Thameslink train, when we had twenty of us standing in the corridor by the door and when, after the first stop, no-one else can get on the train, is appalling. Trying to struggle on to the Victoria Line in peak conditions today, and having to wait for three trains, is appalling. The last thing you want is to squeeze motorists off the road into those conditions. We believe that to sell it you have really got to get some of those improvements in public transport first.

Mrs Ellman

  218. Mr King, you have just said that you do not want to see different schemes in different cities; but is that not inevitable when we are in something new, and cities will inevitably experiment?
  (Mr King) I am sorry, I did not express myself very clearly. I would like to see a national framework for the technology, but there will be differences in different cities because obviously the conditions are different. In London, the majority of people use public transport and in Bristol they do not. So within that package, you would have differences. In Bristol, could there be a park-and-ride on the M32 to encourage motorists to get out of their car before they go into the centre? That would not be relevant to places like York. The technology and the framework should be governed by the Government; otherwise, we will have a mishap. I think we have to treat London as an experiment. It is not very technologically advanced.

  219. You suggest in your paper that local authorities will have to decide on their objectives and imply that they should either have congestion reduction as an objective or revenue-raising. Is it not inevitable that local authorities, once they have established a new revenue stream, will want to keep that?
  (Mr King) We were saying that people should be clear about the objectives, and rather than just talking about charging as a solution, ask what you want charging to do. Some of them may see it as raising revenue to increase public transport; and others may see it as a deterrent to traffic growth; but they need to be open, up-front about this, to—

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Prepared 27 November 2002