Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Go-Ahead Group Plc


  1.1  The Go-Ahead Group PLC (Go-Ahead) is one of the leading providers of passenger transport management services in the UK. Operating in the bus, rail and aviation services sectors, Go-Ahead employs around 20,000 people and undertakes almost 700 million passenger journeys each year. With a turnover in excess of £1.2 billion, Go-Ahead's customers include Transport for London, BAA, major airlines, local authorities and the Strategic Rail Authority. With the recent award of the Integrated Kent Rail Franchise, Go-Ahead will become the largest London commuter rail operator and the number of people employed by Go-Ahead will increase to 24,000.  Details of each of the companies within the Go-Ahead Group are provided in Annex A.


  2.1  The public transport services provided by Go-Ahead have a very positive impact on the environment by providing millions of passengers with a reliable and cost-effective alternative to private cars and so massively reducing the carbon and other emissions and road congestion that would otherwise be generated. However, Go-Ahead also recognises that its operations also have adverse impacts on the environment, most notably its contribution to climate change and air pollution caused by the carbon dioxide and other pollutants generated by its vehicles and premises. Go-Ahead is committed to minimising its impacts on the environment and has demonstrated this commitment by trialling a number of alternatively fuelled vehicles and also by achieving significant, quantifiable reductions in emissions per kilometre travelled by its extensive fleet of diesel vehicles over several years. Go-Ahead publicly reports on how it is managing its environmental impacts in an annual Corporate Responsibility report. The latest report covering the year 2004-05 and all previous reports can be viewed at:

  2.2  The Go-Ahead Group welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Environmental Audit Committee's (EAC) consultation on Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transport as a further demonstration of its commitment to achieve a continuous improvement in its environmental performance.


  3.1  The Go-Ahead Group shares the concerns of the EAC that the objective of achieving a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 1990 levels by 2010 will be jeopardised by increased levels of carbon emissions within the transport sector. Go-Ahead believes that although technological advances will ultimately lead to the development of low carbon fuels and vehicles, most "techno-fixes" are long term and at best, only partial solutions to reducing carbon emissions. With the real cost of motoring in the UK declining, there is clearly the danger that any reduction in the amount of carbon emitted by individual vehicles will be offset by the ever-increasing number of vehicles on the road. Furthermore, the current lack of any clear consensus about which low carbon technology will ultimately "win" and the knowledge that whatever system or systems are adopted will be more expensive than existing petrol and diesel technologies for at least the foreseeable future are also very serious obstacles to the development and take up of low carbon vehicles.

  3.2  This is certainly not to deny that technology has an important role to play even in the short term. Diesel/electric hybrid vehicles, such as the buses that Go-Ahead, in partnership with TfL are currently trialling within London, could potentially achieve carbon emissions reductions of between 30-50% compared to conventional vehicles. However, Go-Ahead is firmly of the opinion that the most significant short term improvements as well as the ultimate long term transition to low carbon transport, must involve changing the behaviour of the public to achieve a modal shift away from private car use in favour of public transport.

  3.3  Buses and diesel trains between them account for less than 3% of the total carbon dioxide emissions generated by transport in the UK, yet clearly have the potential to significantly reduce the overall amount of carbon generated by transport as well as reducing road congestion, by providing an alternative to the use of private cars. Quite simply, the most immediate and effective means by which the DfT in particular and central and local government in general can reduce carbon emissions from transport is to use a range of incentives, including demand management to restrain the use of private cars, to make public transport more attractive than the use of private cars. This approach should be complimented by ensuring that there is adequate support available to public transport operators to help them manage the transition from conventional diesel vehicles to the alternatively powered vehicles of the future. This support should include ensuring that there is sufficient information available about the relative costs/benefits of the various emerging technologies to enable informed choices to be made. Diesel power is well-established and cost-effective and any technology that replaces it will be significantly more expensive, so fiscal measures will also inevitably be required to encourage the take up of new, low carbon fuels and vehicles and the associated infrastructure necessary to service them so that operators can continue to provide public transport that is essential for the environmental, social and economic well-being of the UK.


  There are several specific strategic issues raised by the EAC when announcing their enquiry that Go-Ahead, as a public transport operator, would like to address, including:

  4.1  What realistically the DfT could achieve by 2010 and 2020 in terms of reducing transport-related carbon emissions, and the role that demand management should play in doing so;

    —  Ensure that clear advice is available of relative merits/costs of emerging technologies.

    There is a real danger of a repetition of the old VHS v Betamax problem with emerging low carbon transport technologies. There are so many different competing fuels and technologies in different stages of development that as yet, nobody can say for sure what a low carbon transport network is really going to look like in 30 years time. In the meantime, within the bus industry at least, diesel is well established, proven, cost-effective technology that through advances in engines and exhaust treatment systems is in many respects far less damaging to the environment than previously. Consequently, so as far as bus manufacturers and operators are concerned, there is an understandable reluctance to embrace the emerging technology until there is a better understanding of where it will eventually lead—a wait and see strategy as opposed to a possibly precipitous and career-defining punt on the wrong option. To counter this reluctance, the DfT must ensure that clear advice is made available on the relative merits/costs of the emerging technologies so that manufacturers and operators can make informed choices.

  4.2  What specific steps the department should now take to reduce road transport carbon emissions and congestion over the next decade.

    —  Use fiscal incentives to reduce the use of private cars and so encourage use of public transport.

    In recent years, although the cost of fuel has risen significantly, the overall cost of motoring in the UK has been declining. Pricing is clearly not the only reason why people will choose to use private cars in favour of public transport, but it is clearly a very important reason and the DfT could influence the behaviour of the public and encourage the use of public transport by the use of a range of targeted fiscal (dis)incentives including:

(i)  The introduction of road charging (when technically feasible) or the extension of congestion charging schemes similar to that in operation in central London.

        Charging motorists for every mile they drive on all public roads or to enter specific areas will clearly redress the balance between the cost of motoring and the cost of public transport. Additionally, the reduced road congestion that will result from such a modal shift will enable buses to provide a more reliable service because they will be less subject to the unpredictable delays caused by congestion. Road or congestion charging should not be introduced as a replacement for other transport related fiscal measures such as fuel duty of vehicle excise duty so that it is effectively cost neutral.

(ii)  Reducing fares on public transport.

        Fares paid to travel on public transport are the most obvious cost to those using the services. Reducing the level of these costs by direct subsidy would send a clear message to the public that the use of public transport is preferable to private cars, especially when seen in conjunction with the increased costs that would apply to the use of private cars if road pricing, congestion charging or other fiscal dis-incentives were introduced. Subsidies are already paid to public transport providers to operate some train and bus services but this is to make them commercially viable. If fares were to be reduced below existing levels to achieve additional environmental objectives, such as reducing carbon emissions, further subsidies will be required to ensure that these services remain commercially viable. Fare subsidies could be paid for by re-investing revenue raised by demand management measures.

(iii)  Ensure that differentials between Vehicle Excise Duty bands are sufficiently wide to send clear pricing signals and influence consumer choice and exempt buses from VED.

        Changing the basis of the VED system so that charges are based on carbon emissions was clearly positive but the existing differentials between VED bands are so small that they have no effect on influencing consumer choice when buying vehicles. VED band differentials should be increased significantly so that there is a clear financial dis-incentive to purchase vehicles that generate high carbon emissions. As buses contribute to an overall reduction in the levels of carbon emissions, this role should be recognised by making buses exempt from VED.

    —  Extend the use of bus priority measures to minimise disruption/delay to bus services caused by congestion and enforce existing bus priority measures.

    Even low carbon buses, such as existing diesel/electric hybrids will generate unnecessary emissions if the routes on which they operate are so congested that they cannot operate efficiently and spend a high proportion of their working time idling or crawling from stop to stop. The level of carbon emissions as well as other pollutants emitted will obviously be magnified where conventional diesel buses are operated. The DfT, in partnership with local authorities could achieve an almost immediate reduction in all emissions generated by buses by extending the use of bus priority measures such as bus lanes and ensuring that those priority measures that are already in place are not abused by other road users. As well as directly reducing the emissions generated by buses, priority schemes will also ensure that the bus services will improve because the buses will be less susceptible to delays caused by congestion. This will in turn attract more passengers from their cars. Two Go-Ahead bus companies, Brighton and Hove and Metrobus have worked successfully in close partnership with local authorities in recent years to implement bus priority measures that have both resulted in significantly increased passenger numbers.

  4.3  Whether the overall funding available and spent in support of the strategy is adequate in view of the environmental challenges DfT is facing.

    —  Increase investment in rail infrastructure to improve reliability and capacity.

    Delays, over-crowding and the general "feel" of train stations are frequently cited as reasons for using private cars instead of trains. The individual Train Operating Companies have a duty to operate their services and invest in the infrastructure for which they are responsible to maximise the number of passengers using the services and so can address some of these issues directly. For example, Southern is currently investing £1.2 billion in various improvements within its franchise area that have lead to significant performance improvements. However, carrying out improvements on other areas of rail infrastructure, such as signalling, electrification or to increase the capacity of the track, are the responsibility of other industry partners, particularly Network Rail, that are essentially funded by central government. Only increased funding from central government will allow these bodies to make the necessary investment to upgrade infrastructure and increase capacity to reduce delays and improve the passengers' experience of rail travel.

    —  Ensure that vehicle purchase and associated infrastructure grants are available to offset the higher costs of buying and operating low carbon vehicles to encourage take up.

    Low carbon buses are very expensive and in financial terms alone cannot compete with conventional diesel buses on purchase price or running costs and will not be able to do so for the foreseeable future. Diesel/electric hybrids on the market at the moment cost 50% more conventional diesel buses and a prototype hydrogen fuel cell bus costs five times as much. Although fuel costs will be lower, these will be offset by higher overall operating costs as well as increased infrastructure costs such as new fuelling systems. Essentially, without grants set at realistic levels to encourage the purchase of such vehicles there will not be a market for them and manufacturers will not produce them. Consequently the target of 600 (20% of current annual total) or more low carbon buses coming into operation each year by 2012 will not be met. Therefore, the closure of the Powershift and CleanUp programmes as well as the delay in setting up the Low Carbon Bus Programme sends entirely the wrong message to vehicle manufacturers and potential buyers alike.

    —  Ensure that any targets or timetables applicable to bus operators that are set for the introduction of low carbon buses are financially as well as environmentally sustainable.

    In principle, Go-Ahead has no objection to the setting of targets and/or timetables for bus operators to introduce low carbon buses to replace conventional diesel buses. However, any such targets or timetables set must take into account the increased purchasing and operating costs that will apply so that rate of investment that is required is financially as well as environmentally sustainable.

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