Taxes and charges on road users - Transport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



  Q300  Ms Smith: And outer London might have challenges which are more similar to other places outside of London?

  Ms Dix: Yes, absolutely.

  Q301  Ms Smith: I think you have made the points I would have made. You also said, Mr Ranger, the ultimate question may be, as you go through your work, where does congestion sit. That was what you said. Does this mean in fact that there may come a point where you would actually want to review the operation of the Congestion Charge in Central London? Is this the long-term aim of the current review of the Congestion Charge?

  Mr Ranger: No, we are not looking to review the Charge itself in terms of whether it should be there. I think we are looking to see how other policies sit around it so that they are not competing with it and they are not eroding the benefits you are getting for paying your £8 to travel in the Congestion Charge area. I think the man in the street or the person in his car would start to feel it inappropriate if they are having to pay for something which does not provide the benefit that they thought they would get.

  Q302  Ms Smith: What kinds of benefits do you think you may be able to provide to the Congestion Charge user?

  Mr Ranger: I think that is where if the number of vehicles actually coming into Central London is lower or decreasing then obviously the element of flow in traffic should be either decreasing or stay the same, not increasing, and that is what we would be looking at as a measure. On top of that, we do bear in mind that there is going to be an immense level of activity in terms of construction regardless of what happens around roadworks that will happen in terms of Crossrail and the line upgrade for Thameslink and Olympic deliverables as well, so we will have to bear those in mind when we look at what happens with traffic flow.

  Q303  Graham Stringer: Have there been any areas, which I would expect to be just immediately outside the Congestion Charge Zone, which have suffered increased pollution or increased congestion?

  Ms Dix: It was a big concern before the scheme went in. People thought all that would happen would be that traffic would divert outside the Congestion Charge Zone into the areas immediately around it. None of the monitoring has picked that up. Quite a lot of the diversion of trips actually took place with people moving from car to public transport, to cycling or walking, and if there was any diversion of traffic which was otherwise going through the middle of the Zone some of that was actually captured on the Inner Ring Road, whereby we did adjust the signals around the Inner Ring Road so that it could take more traffic around because less traffic was crossing to go in. So we were able to do that without actually affecting congestion on the Inner Ring Road, in fact that got better, and some of the longer distance traffic we could not spot. It might have gone to the M25 or somewhere, but you could not actually pick it up on the monitoring. So the answer to your question is, no.

  Q304  Graham Stringer: Just to go back to the original point, is it six years this February this scheme started?

  Ms Dix: Yes.

  Q305  Graham Stringer: So in round terms we have taken £1.5 billion out of people's pockets over that period for a scheme whose objective was to reduce congestion and congestion is the same. Does that mean that the project has been a failure in its own terms?

  Ms Dix: I would say for three of those years congestion was reduced. It was only in the latter part of 2006 that we saw this more marked erosion of congestion. I would also say that since a large part of that was attributable to these utility works, which would have happened anyway because everybody wants the gas mains and the water mains fixed, then what one would need to compare is what life would look like with the congestion charging scheme versus life without the congestion charging scheme.

  Q306  Graham Stringer: Which you can never do, can you?

  Ms Dix: Yes. The difficulty is the person in the street is not going to make that comparison. We have done that comparison theoretically. If you took away the congestion charging scheme, congestion would be far worse than it is observed today, so I say there have been benefits for the Central London congestion scheme. There have been benefits in terms of reduced CO2, there have been benefits in terms of reduced air quality emissions, and those were all positive up until about 2006. So if you looked at it over the six years, yes, there has been a net improvement. It is just that we have started to see an erosion if you simply compare life now with life as it was, but if you compare life now with what life could be like now without the scheme there is still a benefit.

  Mr Ranger: I agree that we do have to live in the real world, though, and we see a world, as Michele says, where roadworks do happen. We have to take into account construction and I find it quite difficult to understand that previously competitive policies were not taking into account the effect they would have on traffic and the benefits of the Congestion Charge. So in terms of our administration, we are very focused on looking at policies, looking to be balanced and working with each other complementary to the benefits of the Congestion Charge, hence the emphasis on smoothing traffic flow and everything we can do around that.

  Q307  Chairman: Have you had any instructions from the new Mayor to change the way policies are put forward, such as having more coordination on roadworks? Have you been given any different instructions?

  Mr Ranger: Yes, the instructions are very clear. We will provide copies of this document for all Members of the Committee, but the Mayor has been very clear. He is a road user himself, he uses his bicycle everywhere he goes, so he, much like every Londoner, feels the experience of roadworks, of traffic light re-phasing or better implementation of street technology, the erosion of road space, and so he wants to see coordinated policies on these areas which are considerate to the impact on each other and the overall flow of traffic.

  Q308  Chairman: How much of the money which is raised from the Penalty Charge Notices goes back to improving the conditions, improving delivery facilities and improving kerbside facilities?

  Mr Ranger: I could not give you the exact figures but I am sure we can provide those for you.

  Q309  Chairman: Is there a policy to do it?

  Mr Ranger: There is a policy to look at the reinvestment of the Penalty Charge because, as I think Michele mentioned, there is a statutory obligation that that money goes back into providing transport benefits.

  Q310  Chairman: But not specifically in that area?

  Mr Ranger: On the road surface, is this?

  Q311  Chairman: Yes, money from the Penalty Charge Notices. Is there a policy to put revenue from that into conditions which would alleviate the problem of people being able to park?

  Ms Dix: Absolutely, in the sense that all the policies on which the money is spent from congestion charging, for which there are net revenues, go on improving transport in London. Other PCNs that we issue for offences outside the Congestion Charge do not generate net revenues, they cover the cost of the enforcement. In Congestion Charging, revenues include PCNs and revenues, which come from the Charge, are all put into this pot called "Net Revenues" and that has to be spent on a series of measures which were listed as part of the original Congestion Charging Order. Some of that is on improvements to roads, some is on improvements to bridges, some of that has been spent on improvements to developing freight strategies to help businesses.

  Q312  Chairman: So it is a general pot?

  Ms Dix: It is a general pot, but we have to list each year where that money has been spent. As Kulveer said, 82% of it or so tends to go on bus improvements.

  Q313  Mr Martlew: Mr Ranger, you worry me somewhat, your enthusiasm! I am aware of the issue about the re-phasing of the traffic lights. That was to give pedestrians more time. I just get the impression that the motor car is going to be given more precedence under the new administration than the pedestrian. I suppose it could be argued that the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square held up the traffic, but it is a massive improvement for London and I understand that the plans for Parliament Square have been abandoned. Have we got a new situation where the motor car is being given precedence again over the people who walk and live in London—apart from cyclists, of course?

  Mr Ranger: I would like to put your mind and the minds of the rest of the Committee at ease. We are not pro the motor car. There is no sort of policy here that says we want people to drive more. There is a policy which says we do not want London to come to a grinding halt. We want to be as efficient as possible with the road space that we have because it is not just cars that use it, there are buses, cyclists and everybody else who uses that environment and really we want to at least mitigate the impact of a lot of things that are happening over the next four, five, 10 years which will impact on our ability to get people to move through our city. I am quite concerned about the level of diversions and the level of construction and the impact on all the work that is happening on the Underground, the construction of Crossrail, the construction of Thameslink and the construction for the Olympics. It is an unprecedented time in terms of the level of works which are happening in our city and I and the Mayor are quite keen that we make sure that London continues to move and be able to move through that period of time. The way to do that will be to look at what we can do to mitigate how road space is being used and we see that we need to improve the flow. So if that means that people can move a bit quicker -

  Q314  Mr Martlew: Across the crossings?

  Mr Ranger: No, in fact the re-phasing of traffic lights is without any impact to pedestrians. That is the key there. We are not looking to have a significant impact on pedestrian crossing time. In fact, we are also lobbying and have had discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport and DfT on bringing in countdown signalling, which provides more certainty in terms of—I do not know if the Committee has heard of this—where you see a number as it goes down in terms of how much time you have. It is currently considered to be a blackout period which provides uncertainty, "Should I cross or should I not cross?" But the countdown system has been used in a number of cities, including San Francisco and across California. It is successful and actually can improve safety by 25% where it has been implemented. So there are schemes such as that which we are looking at, as well as turning left on red lights. We need to look at providing policy solutions which can provide space on our road network, but then we look to use that space as mitigation for diversions, for moving people onto bicycles, for improving the urban environment. That is where schemes such as Shared Space, maybe not Parliament Square, but definitely Exhibition Road—I do not know if the Committee is aware of that particular scheme, where you would look to have more people sharing the actual road surface, pedestrians, cyclists, buses and car users. Those are the kinds of ambitions we have. That scheme and Shared Space itself can also provide lower travelling speeds in 25 miles an hour zones. So there are many things coming through. As I say, the key to all of these ambitions and these policies is to ensure that they are complementary and not competing with each other in eroding the benefits they may provide.

  Q315  Ms Smith: I just want to explore some of the reasons why the Congestion Charge has not worked perhaps as effectively in the last two years. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps there are more vehicles on the road than has been the case before. What is the reason if that is not the case?

  Ms Dix: The primary reason is because the capacity of the road network has reduced. The number of vehicles on the road now is no different from the number of vehicles on the road two years ago. So traffic levels, the number of vehicles on the road, are still lower than they were before congestion charging. They are lower by 20%. So the Congestion Charge has stopped 20% of traffic coming into the zone.

  Q316  Ms Smith: That has remained constant?

  Ms Dix: That has remained constant. If we had not changed the road network on which those vehicles run—not necessarily us changing it, but if things had not been done to the road network to reduce the amount of road space which is available for those vehicles, we would still see the congestion benefits. So if the capacity or the road space that is available was unchanged, we would still see a 30% reduction in congestion. But what has happened is that every time someone goes along and digs up a road and provides a sort of blockage and perhaps takes one lane out, that reduces the amount of road space available. So the cars that are there, even though there are fewer of them, go slower. Every time someone builds a building and takes the pavement and a bit of road space away, again that takes some of the capacity out. So a lot of that has been going on, particularly in the last two years, but on top of that, as Kulveer says, policies have been introduced whereby we have perhaps taken some road space away without really realising the full impact of it on the network because it has been done in this piecemeal fashion and it is the additive effect of lots of that. So what we are saying is that traffic levels are still low, but the amount of road space available for them to use in Central London has shrunk, probably by about 10%, and that is why congestion has gone up.

  Q317  Ms Smith: You have used that phrase "taking road space away". Who has taken it away? It seems to me you are hinting that there is a number of authorities doing that.

  Ms Dix: There is a number of people responsible.

  Q318  Ms Smith: Is it the boroughs that are responsible in some cases because of planning decisions, is it Transport for London where it has put bus lanes in? Can you perhaps just list the three main examples which add up to this 10%?

  Ms Dix: The utility companies for one, so Thames Water and the gas companies who have to do essential works because they are renewing the mains. They are not doing it for fun, they are having to dig up the roads, but in digging up the roads they take road space away and even though it is not for ever (i.e. they fill them back up again) the effect of that is on the network.

  Q319  Chairman: I think it might be helpful if you could send us a note telling us the different areas in which this has happened, who has been responsible and how you estimate the impact on congestion levels.

  Ms Dix: I would be happy to do so.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 24 July 2009