Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 99-119)


12 JANUARY 2005


Q99 Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. Would you like to identify yourselves, for the record?

Mr Sangster: Good afternoon, Madam Chairman. My name is Marc Sangster. I am Director of Strategy for National Express Limited, which is the coach division of National Express Group.

  Mr Lambden: I am Mike Lambden, Head of Corporate Affairs for National Express Coaches.

Q100 Chairman: Do you, Mr Sangster, have something you want to say before we begin?

  Mr Sangster: No, we do not have any opening words, but I would like to add that Mike is our expert on this subject and I am very much here to support him. So he will be leading our submission.

Q101 Chairman: We always like to see faith in those that are responsible for public relations. Mr Lambden, did you want to say anything to start, or may we go to questions?

  Mr Lambden: Go to questions, please.

Q102 Chairman: Do you agree that it is impossible to build our way out of congestion without limiting traffic growth?

  Mr Lambden: We do. We think that is a true statement: that it is very hard to build our way out. There are, as has been said earlier, certain pinch points around the strategic road network which will need adjustment but, overall, I do not think that we can build a huge amount of more roads. It takes too long and it is not practical in some cases. In other cases, although previously the RAC colleagues were saying that you could build motorways, it is also getting in and out of the cities that is the other issue. If you have more traffic going along the motorways inter-urban, they still have to get in and out of the cities—where some of the worst congestion is.

Q103 Chairman: Has the coach industry done any estimate of the building it would require to deal with points of congestion?

  Mr Lambden: I am sorry?

Q104 Chairman: The amount of extra building it would require.

  Mr Lambden: No, we have not gone into that.

Q105 Chairman: Do you think that road pricing is inevitable?

  Mr Lambden: We do not out and out welcome it. We have a cautious response to it. We think that there could be advantages in using it as a method of controlling demand. As other people have said earlier, there is not an unlimited supply of roads to run upon and it should be used, if it is used, as a way of making sure that you can deliver, from our point of view, a good, reliable service for our customers.

Q106 Chairman: So you would not be against its introduction. Do you have any theory of when that ought to be?

  Mr Lambden: I think that it is unlikely it will be within the next ten years. As was said earlier, there is the technology of getting it into place and how you fit everyone's vehicles with equipment. To fit equipment to our vehicles could be quite quickly done, linked in with things we already have on board the coaches.

Q107 Chairman: Such as GPS?

  Mr Lambden: Yes, things we are fitting at the current time. GPS and our new in-house tracking system we are introducing in the near future.

Q108 Chairman: Is that a management tool so that you know where your coaches are at a particular time?

  Mr Lambden: Yes, and providing real-time information at all times to drivers.

Q109 Chairman: Encouraging them not to stop in the wrong places?

  Mr Lambden: In part, yes.

Q110 Chairman: Have your views as a company changed over the last five years in relation to road pricing because of something like congestion charges or the M6 toll road?

  Mr Sangster: Are you asking me, Madam Chairman?

Q111 Chairman: Yes, I was.

  Mr Sangster: I would not say changed as such, but I think that we recognise increasingly the problem of congestion, and we have probably formalised our views more than we would have if you had asked us that question a few years ago.

Q112 Chairman: You have said that you thought the Government ought to make you exempt from road user charges. Did you get an indication from the Government what their response was to that?

  Mr Lambden: No, we have not heard anything in that respect, but we do not pay congestion charging in London. We think that is a precedent.

Q113 Chairman: So really you were extending what happens now in relation to one particular scheme, and using that as an example of how you should be allowed to be exempt. Is that it?

  Mr Lambden: Yes, we are.

Q114 Ian Lucas: Do you pay a toll on the M6 toll road?

  Mr Lambden: We do, yes.

Q115 Ian Lucas: Could that not be a precedent too?

  Mr Lambden: It is not under the Government's control, is it?

Q116 Ian Lucas: But as a general policy? Why do you think you should have an exemption?

  Mr Lambden: We believe that if the Government is committed towards public transport and encouraging the growth of public transport, we should be given every incentive to help people to travel. We deal with a lot of people who are less fortunate in terms of their income. We participate in the DfT scheme for the over-60s and the disabled concessionary fares scheme, and people value the service which we give as an alternative to other modes of transport.

Q117 Ian Lucas: Do you, as an organisation, have a view on any alternatives to road pricing to control congestion?

  Mr Lambden: As I said before, linked to that, one of the issues is getting in and out of cities. If you keep building more and more car parks and make it easier for people to get in and out of cities, I think that people will continue to drive. It has been demonstrated in a number of places that just putting up car park charges—although the congestion charge in London seems to have a very positive effect in controlling traffic, car parking charges do not. People just seem to pay it. There are also other things which cause congestion, such as the building of out-of-town leisure facilities and retail parks. Business parks alongside motorway junctions are putting severe pressure on some of the junctions. If planning consideration is taken to the full and that sort of thing is avoided, it helps public transport to serve it in the local community better but, secondly, it stops all the issues of everyone coming to one junction and causing pinch-point problems.

Q118 Ian Lucas: Have you made any assessment of what effect the introduction of a road pricing scheme for cars would have upon your business? About the number of additional passengers you might secure? It would be good for you commercially, would it not?

  Mr Lambden: There are a number of items attached to that. Probably the first is that if you can make the journeys more attractive, improve reliability and improve the journey times, you will encourage people to use the coach more. Secondly to that, yes, there is the added incentive that you may get people out of cars. Clearly that is the target market for us. The question was asked earlier whether we should have it for free. Pragmatically, we rather doubt that we will get it for free, but what we have to balance up as a commercial organisation is how many extra people we can gain for what we might pay out.

Q119 Ian Lucas: Do you think that you would get more passengers?

  Mr Lambden: We believe that we would, yes.

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