Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 172 - 179)



  Q172  Chairman: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Committee. I am afraid in this room we are all rather separated from each other but we are delighted that you are here to give us evidence. We have seen the memorandum from the Mayor's office. Perhaps, just to kick things off, you would like to give your overall assessment of the Government's Climate Change Programme Review and in particular how it addresses cutting carbon emissions from transport.

  Dr Austin: Perhaps I will start. The document does show that achieving reductions in emissions from transport in the short to medium term is going to be extremely difficult. I think it highlights that even with all the proposed measures in place CO2 emissions will still stay about the same in 2010 as they were in 1990. We are pleased that there is a clear commitment to reducing CO2 and it identifies clear areas for attention but I think we would want to see a more aggressive approach to encourage modal shift and to reduce the carbon content of road transport fuels. In terms of the key areas that they put forward, in terms of modal shift we are pleased that the Government highlights investment in public transport as a critical element in strategy. In London bus use has seen a 40% increase in ridership and a 4% modal shift from cars to buses as a result of that investment. Investment really does need to continue, in particular in national rail which will see a significant increase in passengers over the next 20 years and does need a lot of investment. Mention is also made of the 20 million a year rail freight grants. We are pleased that is in but, again, more funding could be made available to encourage the further shift of lorries off the roads. Mention is also made of investment in travel demand management. Again, it is absolutely crucial in the short-term to encourage a shift towards sustainable transport. We are pleased that DfT have put forward 10 million over five years but they certainly need to be ready to commit significant amounts of funding once the demonstration towns have been completed and go out and implement on a much larger scale. The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation is a positive step forward. Biofuels account for 0.3% today and the target of 5% in 2010-11 is a step forward but we would like to see longer term targets to encourage a longer term commitment and potentially more challenging targets over the longer term to ensure that the proportion of biofuels increases steadily into the future. There is also the issue about the use of biofuels for public transport and the potential to have separate targets and we would like to see that because that is an area where Government has a much greater amount of influence compared with the private vehicles. Finally on that, developing technology required to support alternatively fuelled vehicles and the infrastructure required. On the issue of fuel efficiency of vehicles, again it is a step forward that the Government have reformed the company car tax, fuel benefit charge and the vehicle excise duty related to CO2 emissions and also the recent announcement to zero rate the A band cars is positive. However, there is concern that the vehicle excise duty differential is insufficient. For example, £215 for a diesel car at the highest level is not so much different from some of the most fuel efficient cars. We would like to see consideration of additional bands with significantly higher rates of duty and potentially wider differentials in the existing bands. We are also pleased that they are looking at sustainable distribution because the area of freight driving has the potential to reduce the amount of fuel used with better training. Certainly the Government needs to help promote the schemes and educate drivers to drive more efficiently. Transport for London is currently developing a freight operator recognition system which will do this and we are happy to share that information with Government.

  Q173  Chairman: That is helpful. Do you want to put that in a specifically London context and say how the GLA is tackling the question of cutting carbon emissions?

  Dr Austin: Certainly. In terms of the modal shift, I have mentioned the increased investment in buses which has led to a 4% modal shift from cars to buses. The additional investment and capacity increases in the Underground will also see the same sort of growth. On the travel demand management scheme that TfL has put forward, originally in 2005-06 they put about £13.9 million towards this and this is going to be doubled this year to £24.5 million and next year to £30 million. That will ramp up school travel plans, workplace travel plans and personalised travel plans where you target individuals to change their travel habits. We have also invested significant amounts of additional money in cycling, both in terms of marketing, advertising and training but also in terms of providing better facilities, such as cycle lanes. We did a study about three or four months ago and found that cycle lanes were the critical thing to encourage non-cyclists to become cyclists. Once they start to become cyclists they will continue and other issues will become more important.

  Ms Dedring: London as a purchaser has a significant role to play. Certainly we are thinking about how we can catalyse the development of markets by promising to buy X volume of buses as hybrid buses. One of the points you have made is how do we get to the 600 bus target. Just making an announcement to the market that our intention is for the fleet to be hybrid by a certain date, which is not something that we have done but is something that we are considering, would have a significant impact on giving a certain level of assurance to the market. That is the kind of place where I think London can play a significant role simply because of the volume of purchasing that it does. In addition, it can do that in conjunction with other European cities. There you start to get into the potential of getting some of the prices down for something like hydrogen fuel cell technology. One of the counter-arguments that I have heard is that London is different because it is more CO2 efficient, because of the nature of the density of the population and the nature of the activity. I guess one of the things that is worth mentioning is that outer London is very much like a lot of suburban areas in the UK so London's experience in the suburban areas is highly relevant to other parts of the UK, so we do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater when we say "London is not relevant for a Leeds or a Bristol".

The Committee suspended from 2.59pm to 3.12pm for a division in the House.

  Chairman: We will move on to buses, I think.

  Q174  Colin Challen: Bus use in London has increased greatly in recent years, whilst in the rest of the country it has diminished greatly it is true to say. What do you think are the most important features of London's success in promoting bus use?

  Dr Austin: I think there are a number. Firstly, there is the investment. Significant investment has gone in to increase the bus services in London. There has been a 26% increase in services so people know that buses will come along very soon, they will not have to wait so long. Allied to that there have also been significant improvements in bus reliability, partly as a result of things like the Congestion Charge, which has freed up traffic on central London's roads to enable buses to be more reliable, and partly to do with operating practices, recruitment of drivers, et cetera. There has also been a significant improvement in the quality of buses over the last five years. I think the average age of buses is about half what it was in 2000 and all the buses have CCTV and are wheelchair accessible. The other issue is fares. At the moment average fares on buses is the same as it was five years ago. Allied to that there have been policies to encourage specific groups to travel free, for example free travel for under-16s on buses came into force from last September. A recent survey showed that about 56% of those 11-15 year olds questioned were travelling less by car as a result of that policy. There has also been advertising, "You are better off by bus", so that has put the message that travel by bus is far better than it was and it is an acceptable way to travel around London. I know many people who five years ago would never use a bus who are now using it regularly and finding it a fantastic way to get around.

  Q175  Colin Challen: Can I just follow up on the issue of free travel. This April we have seen the introduction of free travel for pensioners and I assume that operates in London in a similar way as it would in the rest of the country. Does offering these free travel policies increase capacity or does it simply mean that bus companies reap a greater reward in filling up existing capacity?

  Dr Austin: It will do two things. One, bus companies will reap greater rewards as more people travel on buses and they are able to obtain income from that. Secondly, it is a question of whether it will encourage some people who previously would use their car for certain trips who now find it just as easy and cheaper to use the bus. Londoners have had free fares for disabled and elderly people for a number of years, so the recent trend is difficult to establish in London.

  Q176  Colin Challen: How do the bus providers measure the benefits of this? Do you have to register each journey or is it simply a subsidy to the providers?

  Dr Austin: In London it is based on the journeys. For example, all will have Oyster Cards so every time they go on and click their Oyster Card you know that a trip has been made so you are able to identify the number of trips. Outside London I assume the bus driver will press a button to say that is a concessionary fare and at the end of the month or whatever they will be able to total up the number of concessionary fares and presumably that will be checked by surveys to ensure that the drivers are not pressing the button hundreds of times more than they should.

  Q177  Emily Thornberry: Can I ask a question about the younger generation. Another thing that London does which is really innovatory is that we have got free bus travel for youngsters, so the idea is children get used to always travelling on the buses and it is cheaper for the parents to go out on a day trip on the bus because they do not have to pay anything for the children. You still have to pay for the Tube but kids can travel free on the bus. That is right, is it not?

  Dr Austin: Under-11s can travel free now on the Tube.

  Ms Dedring: The argument is the incremental cost effectively is zero because these are groups that tend to travel in the off-peak and because of that we would not be carrying very many people at that time anyway so there is a lot of spare capacity on the bus network, just as with the electricity industry, so you may as well get people on the bus and there is a perceived benefit to them but not a great cost to us since the load factors on the buses at that time are quite low.

  Q178  Emily Thornberry: Except you can travel free to school and that is obviously at peak times but that is clearly an advantage in itself to stop people travelling in cars.

  Ms Dedring: Exactly. It is the lesser of two evils.

  Q179  Colin Challen: In the design of routes, are you able to use the free travel issue as a lever with bus providers to get routes laid on where previously they would not have looked at them as a commercial prospect?

  Dr Austin: In London we regularly monitor the routes anyway and if there are requirements to increase capacity as a result of additional children going on the buses, for example, then additional buses are laid on. The types of trips for children and others will also be considered as part of the overall planning process. For example, if it is shown that a large number of people want to travel from A to C and they have got to go via B or whatever then that can be considered and adjusted accordingly if there is a case for it.

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