Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
220. The definition was in the Transport 2000
Act, though, was it not, Mr King? It was made very clear: local
authorities could use this in order to raise money, but they were
directly connected with congestion.
(Mr King) Yes, we have no qualms about that. We are
saying they should be more open about that because that will affect
the type of scheme.
221. Do you not think that both things are part
of the same project?
(Mr King) I think they can be, yes. To some extent
it is chicken-and-egg. You do need some revenue and income to
improve public transport, but we say that also, to sell it, you
need some improvements first to carry the public with you.
222. Concerns have been raised about the definition
of congestion in the 10-year transport plan. Do you share those
concerns and think it is important?
(Mr Holmes) I think congestion is very difficult to
define and we do not claim to have the professional expertise
that the Department has. I do not think you need a PhD to recognise
whether you are in a traffic jam or not. In a sense, we would
like to speak as a plain man, rather than in a more technical
sense. There are accepted definitions of congestion and, clearly,
as Professor Begg said, we lead the world in congestion.
223. Have you offered any suggestions on better
definitions on congestion? If you are saying in your submission
that there should be monitoring and measurement of what happens,
does that not need a more acceptable measurement or definition?
(Mr Holmes) Indeed, there does need to be a more acceptable
definition of congestion in order to be able to monitor what the
effects are. All I am saying is that we do not claim expertise
in this area, but there are plenty of people who do.
224. Mr King, do you think there is an argument
for government to provide resources for local authorities that
are introducing road charging for example, on the basis of future
income streams, so that investment in alternatives can be brought
(Mr King) I certainly think that could help, and particularly
if you come to this idea of a national technological framework.
If you want the technology to be similar in different cities in
order to facilitate that, I think some priming from the Government
225. Your organisation, as I understand, has
come under pressure for being too anti-carit says here.
(Mr King) Does it say that there?
226. Would you confirm and agree that the real
cost of motoring has reduced significantly over recent years,
and that the real cost of public transport is increasing?
(Mr King) There are so many definitions of this. Some
parts of the cost of motoring have increased, for example insurance
and parking costs, whereas fuel over the last two years since
the fuel crisis has kept relatively stable. In the motorist's
mind it comes back to something that David Begg said: if you had
a system that was more transparent and you were paying at the
point of use for the miles that you travelled, there would be
winners and losers. What we advocate is that under charging schemes
we looked at in our 2050 report, the winners would be those that
drive in the more rural areas, who might use their cars more because
there is no alternative; but they do not drive on the congested
roads. They would be better off because they would get a fuel
duty reduction. Those in the cities and those that have to use
the M25 might not be. We argue that the objective should be to
improve the infrastructure first.
227. We have touched on that but I want to press
you a little bit further on the issue of comparative cost, because
it is crucial, is it not? It is not only the provision of alternatives
but it is the comparative costs of the car and those alternatives.
All the evidence that we have taken from a wide range and number
of witnesses confirms that the real cost of motoring has significantly
reduced in recent years; but the real cost of public transport
has significantly increased. It would be interesting to get your
view on that. Do you agree with that or do you not agree with
that, because it is crucial to our considerations?
(Mr King) There is no doubt that the cost of public
transport has increased. I would argue that the cost of motoring
has stabilised. You have to look at the figures. The vast majority
of motorists never use public transport. We should not be in danger
in over-emphasising what public transport can do. For many people
in many areas, public transport is not an option; so it is not
a question of costs.
228. Can I ask you about cliff edges. Inevitably,
you have drawn a circle round the middle of London, and it may
or may not reduce congestion in the middle of it; but it might
increase congestion round the edge of the congestion zone. I have
always found that the worst congested roads are those from the
motorway network into the middle, where you are going through
various traffic lights and trying to feed in to central London.
Do you have a view about what impact congestion charging will
have on those who live just outside of the area?
(Mr Holmes) This is an issue that we have discussed
with Transport for London at some length. They have models which
claim to demonstrate that with congestion charging in central
London, radial movement by car through inner London will decrease,
and that therefore there will not be an increase in congestion
in inner London outside the central area, even though more people
are going round. We are not at all sure about that, because modelling
what happens in London is extraordinarily complicated. We notice
that the ring-road, which is the boundary of the central area,
is in some areas pretty inadequate, and yet a lot more traffic
will go on that ring-road. They can change it to some extent by
changing traffic lights. I would agree with the drift of your
question, that we are rather sceptical about whether conditions
in inner London around the central area will not get worse; we
think they possibly will.
229. You have mentioned that the Government
should have a technological framework. Does the RAC Foundation
have a preferred technical solution in terms of a congestion charging
(Mr King) We do not, but we believe it should be a
sophisticated system that could differentiate between congested
periods and uncongested periods. We feel that that again is essential
to sell the concept to the motoristif the motorist understands
that they are paying because they are causing congested periods.
The London scheme, obviously, is not that sophisticated, but we
have to start somewhere. Ultimately, we would like to see the
technology that can differentiate between type of vehicle, the
time of day and the level of congestion.
230. Do you have any views about what exemptions
should apply to such a scheme?
(Mr King) RAC Motoring Services have lobbied very
hard for exemption for their patrol vehicles because they have
argued that it helps to alleviate congestion. We do have some
concerns in some of the proposed schemes about disabled drivers
not being given exemption, and that should be studied in depth.
231. Last week I asked Transport for London
about the potential impact of the central London scheme on the
M25, simply because there is traffic that goes across London which
will choose not to do so. Transport for London were extremely
dismissive and said there would be no impact at all, or a minuscule
impact. Is that your view?
(Mr Holmes) I think it is probably right, if one goes
out as far as the M25. I think that if one looks at the North
and South Circulars on the other hand, the impact could be quite
considerable, because one is dealing with a very diverse pattern
and a lot of movements. I think there could be traffic which tries
to get round the central area by using these ring-roads. It is
very difficult to predict exactly what will happen.
232. By definition, does that not simply have
a ripple effect and the roads further out become busier? Would
that not affect the whole of the Greater London area?
(Mr Holmes) In principle, yes, but there are so many
movements in all directions that by the time it gets to the M25,
you will not notice. Other things will be more important.
233. Mr King, in the 10-year plan the congestion
schemes are a fairly integral part; they generate a substantial
part of the revenues to pay for it. In your view, if the 10-year
plan goals for public transport improvements are not met in full,
or in significant measure, is it possible to introduce congestion
charging schemes without doing real damage to city centres and
(Mr King) I think it makes it more and more difficult
because the public transport improvements are absolutely essential
for the charging schemes to become acceptable. For example, in
Bristol I have seen some comments that they do not think the scheme
could be introduced before 2007. The main reason for that is that
it will take that time to improve public transport. If there is
one message about charging, it is to get those improvements done
234. Is it your view that the plan is in a position
as of today that the improvements are achievable within a time-frame
that will make congestion charging possible, or have the various
projects in the plan slipped to a point where you would seriously
call into question the viability of schemes that are currently
(Mr King) Some of the schemes could go ahead, but
the 10-year plan does not list all the specific schemes. I think
the numbers envisaged in the 10-year plan are pretty optimistic.
235. Do those of your members who are opposed
to congestion charging have alternative schemes to offer, or are
they simply saying that the status quo is acceptable?
(Mr King) I think what they were saying when we polled
motorists in detail was that they do not want it to be another
236. I understand that, Mr King, but is there
any public acceptance by your members that congestion charging
may be the only way in which we can go forward, both in congested
cities and even our inter-urban motorways?
(Mr King) At the moment, motorists
are split 50/50. I read through about 300 responses to an article
in the RAC magazine, and they are about 50/50. In terms of public
opinion, that is why it is so important that they see that they
are getting something back.
237. What proportion of your members indicate
in any of your surveys that if they could they would switch to
public transport, that they are reluctant road-users?
(Mr King) I would say there is always a certain amount
of hypocrisy in some of these questions. When you ask where the
money should be spent, they say it should be on public transport;
but when you actually ask if they would use it, that is a quite
different question. We still have some work to do there to convince
many of our members to get out of their cars.
238. Does the RAC have any concerns about the
fact that the comparative costs in terms of proportion of people's
incomes of using cars continues to go down against increasing
costs of using public transport, and the impact that that has
on the environment?
(Mr Holmes) Our position is that one has seen that,
because of improving efficiency, the cost of buying a motor car
is in real terms a lot less than it used to be, and you get more
for your money; you get more sophisticated things and you get
safer cars. The position of our members is that the public should
benefit from those improvements in efficiency that come from manufacture.
Public transport is another issue. It will always be at a disadvantage
compared with the private car because of the labour costs and
the high capital costs. One deplores that, but that is a question
for national government to decide on its subsidy policy.
239. Mr King, if the Government decided to run
a very high-profile campaign to persuade the motorist of not only
the cost of motoring to the environment as a whole and to individuals,
but also that congestion charging may be the only viable alternative
that we are facing, would that make any difference?
(Mr King) We would sign up to that and support the
Government as long as they signed up to our charter which showed
that there were safeguards for the motorist. That would then build
the trust between the Government and the motorist that would be
essential. If the Government indicated that they would do that,
we would support them in a campaign.
Chairman: You have been helpful. Thank you very