Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
180. It seems to me very important that the
Committee should be quite clear. Do you accept that quite a lot
of congestion on motorways might be from commuter traffic?
(Mr Matthews) Certainly the evidence from a number
of the studies is that there is a significant amount of short
distance traffic on parts of the motorway network. Whether that
is commuter or not in a sense
181. Do you accept that a lot of it is short-distance
traffic, however you describe it?
(Mr Matthews) Yes, there is evidence for that.
182. Do you have within the agency any estimate
or any study which shows up the impacts of the national charging
service on the use of motorways and the control of congestion?
(Mr Matthews) No.
183. Do you intend at any point to look at the
impact of road user charging or are you simply wiping it out as
a means of managing already crowded roads?
(Mr Matthews) We would do so if we were asked to do
so by ministers in terms of taking forward either the thinking
or the implementation of charging.
184. When you are asked to assess particular
multi-modal studies which suggest charging for individual roads,
you totally ignore that element of the scheme because you have
decided that is a road you do not want to follow.
(Mr Matthews) We would look in the round at all the
possible impacts on traffic.
185. You "would look in the round".
That means you would estimate the effect of road user charges
on particular multi-modal schemes.
(Mr Matthews) No. At this stage it would not influence
the decision on whether to proceed with a scheme.
186. Supposing the scheme was a widening scheme,
not a new road scheme but a widening scheme. Are you telling us
that the impact of one possible management tool, which is charging,
will not be considered when you are looking at the impact of that
(Mr Matthews) What I am saying is that we have no
remit as an agency for that to be a factor.
187. Surely you decide the future of our road
network and you must be giving advice to ministers. Even if ministers
have decided to rule out one particular aspect, should it not
be in the interests of the taxpayer as a whole that you give alternative
schemes? You simply ignore all the aspects of road charging that
might come into play.
(Mr Matthews) It is not a question of ignoring it.
I do not make decisions on major investment.
188. You give advice, do you not?
(Mr Matthews) I give advice.
189. You give detailed and professional advice
based on the best management of your revenue and capital and the
country's needs. Is that not right?
(Mr Matthews) And I give it within a framework of
policy which is set by ministers. At the moment that does not
include considering road user charging.
190. So I ask you again. Even when a multi-modal
study produces several ways of handling a particular problem in
relation to roads, you will only look at one sort of scheme because
you believe that is what ministers want you to do.
(Mr Matthews) What we are being asked to do is advise
on how schemes might and should be delivered without road user
191. It is as specific as that.
(Mr Matthews) I have no remit to do otherwise.
192. You have not looked at a national scheme
and you do not intend to do so.
(Mr Matthews) I shall do so if I am asked to do so
by ministers and I have not been asked to do so.
193. In relation to the M1 study, the only option
you would consider, in spite of the fact that it recommends charging
be used as a method of reducing congestion and that widening the
road would not be necessary if charging were introduced, is going
ahead and widening that road.
(Mr Matthews) Ministers would make a judgement about
whether they wished to proceed in the short to medium term to
widen to meet the level of demand and capacity. That is the basis
on which we would advise them.
194. In your discussions about charging has
hypothecation ever entered into it, as the Mayor hopes to do with
his congestion charge, that the money is turned round and used
for public transport rather than put back into roads? (Mr Matthews)
I am not sure I can have a sub-set of a policy analysis when I
do not have the general policy analysis to undertake.
195. Do you have any evidence about whether
more damage is done to the economy by inter-urban congestion rather
than urban congestion?
(Mr Matthews) I do not personally, but I can certainly
try to help the Committee find any evidence on that. I do not
have it at my fingertips now. We do have some evidence of the
impact of congestion on parts of our network. How that compares
to urban congestion costs I do not know. It may well be available.
I am certainly happy to help the Committee find that information.
196. On inter-urban charging, the department's
guidance states that it would therefore be appropriate for the
studies to examine the contribution charging on selected corridors
and sections of the trunkroad network might make to the delivery
of the government's transport objectives.
(Mr Matthews) Yes.
197. But you rule out any question of even looking
at the effect.
(Mr Matthews) What I tried to make clear to the Committee
was that I have not been given a remit by ministers to bring forward
198. With respect, this is the guidance provided
to the studies on new ways of charging for transport and they
specifically relate this to inter-urban charging.
(Mr Matthews) And Ministers will doubtless want to
take a view as part of their gathering of evidence and thinking
199. But they have never discussed this with
you. You are working on a completely different policy and you
are quite clear that charging is not to be considered, therefore
you have not looked at an overall charging scheme, you have not
looked at alternatives for managing the road space, forgive me,
all the things we have been trying to get out this afternoon.
You are quite clear that even though the ministry say this in
the terms and conditions laid down for the studies, you are not
bearing it in mind.
(Mr Matthews) That is not a statement of policy; ministers
have been clear what their policy is on road user charging. That
was a request through the guidance that the studies look at the
issue of charging.
Chairman: Would you give us some extra notes
and the Committee will read them with great attention. We may
have other things we wish to discuss with you. Thank you for coming.