Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
Hugh Noblett, Nich Brown and Jack Semple
29 March 2011
Q1 Chair: Good
morning, gentlemen, and welcome to the Transport Select Committee.
Would you please give your name and the organisation you are representing
for our records? I will start at the end here.
Hugh Noblett: Hugh
Noblett, Cadence Driver Development.
Nich Brown: Nich
Brown, Motorcycle Action Group.
Jack Semple: Jack
Semple, Road Haulage Association.
Q2 Chair: Thank
you. What would you say are the main causes of congestion and
how does congestion affect the members of your organisation? Who
would like to start on that one?
Hugh Noblett: If
I may start, possibly, it is the problems of driver behaviour
and a lack of knowledge, possibly, of the Highway Code practice
which is the main problem. We were on the motorway yesterday and
there was a gantry sign saying "Please do not hog the middle
lane", and yet almost every driver apart from us was ignoring
it, which was causing problems to all other road users.
Q3 Chair: Mr Brown,
would you like to tell us what you think are the main causes of
Nich Brown: In
our opinion, the main cause is simply the volume of independent
travel that is undertaken by vehicles that are larger than necessary
for a trip. Whereas we understand that not everybody has a choice
of vehicle to use, because the statistics show us that most car
journeys have less than two people in the car, that is a lot of
road space that is being used not necessarily for any good purpose.
It affects our members in two respects. First, with
motorcycles, because they are very manoeuvrable vehicles, which
take up a lot less road space and are able to use parts of the
road that other vehicles are not necessarily using, it means that
we are able to percolate through the traffic reasonably well.
It is the higher level of risk that is caused to us through volumes
of larger vehicles, especially where those larger vehicles don't
have good visibility for the driver, whether it is a car with
large Apillars obscuring the view ahead or a goods vehicle
where, because it has a solid trailer, it is not able to see all
the way round it. Our members have to be very conscious of where
they position in the road so that they can be seen.
Jack Semple: I
would say it is the volume of traffic for the available road space,
particularly the number of cars on the road. If you look at the
34 million vehicles, most of them are cars. It is the time when
people travel, particularly again cars, and the way we have structured
aspects of the economy.
Looking at the existing infrastructure, the number
of accidents we have obviously has a big impact on the predictability
of journeys and the amount of time on major roads that it takes
for the police to clear an accident, if it is a major incident.
In urban areas, in particular, there is frustration at the extent
of roadworks and the congestion that that adds.
Also, we are getting more and more concerned about
the local plans and the creeping reduction in available road capacity.
In terms of roadworks and road maintenance, I think the deterioration
of the road network condition, particularly in local roads, is
storing up some real problems of congestion for the future.
Q4 Chair: Is congestion
affecting UK competitiveness?
Jack Semple: From
my members' point of view, undoubtedly. I don't think the congestion
has deteriorated. It may even have eased slightly in the last
couple of years with the recession. But, for example, just to
take London, we have members who would say that a medium-sized
lorry in the school holidays probably does about £100 to
£120 more productive work simply because of the reduction
in congestion that exists in London because of the school holidays.
We don't take goods down to a baseline of no congestion, but if
you factor in the major and predictable congestion, that adds
fuel cost, driver cost and vehicle cost. In terms of just the
road haulage industry and transport of freight, a huge amount
of costs is a result of predictable congestion and it affects
the cost of moving goods in the UK.
Q5 Chair: The
Government have said that they are considering a lorry road user
charge scheme. Are you aware of exactly what is being proposed?
Jack Semple: We
have an idea.
Q6 Chair: Is there
anything you can tell us about it? Do you think it will be effective?
Jack Semple: I
think it will make little difference to congestion.
Q7 Chair: Did
you say "a little" or "little"?
Jack Semple: Little.
Q8 Chair: "A
Jack Semple: Little,
if any, difference to congestion. I think it will make no discernible
difference to congestion. The lorry road user charge will exist
primarily to impose a charge on foreign trucks for using our roads
and to make the tax difference between foreign trucks and UK trucks
a little more even. I think that is the purpose of what the Government
has in mind. So, in terms of congestion, it will do little. Actually,
I am not sure that any form of charge would do a great deal, because
the lorries are there to provide a service to business and you
don't run a lorry, in London for example, unless you have good
reason to do so.
Q9 Iain Stewart: I
noticed in Mr Noblett's recent evidence that one option you suggest
for alleviating congestion is to improve traffic light phasing
to ease flow rather than obstructing it. In urban areas, do you
think that, on average, the current phasing of traffic lights
does hinder and cause congestion?
Hugh Noblett: I
think it does.
Q10 Iain Stewart: You
think at the moment it does.
Hugh Noblett: I
think it would assist traffic flow to get the light phasing right
and possibly vary it, depending upon the traffic flow and the
time of day. Maybe overnight deliveries might assist. Certainly,
overnight deliveries might well reduce the daytime congestion,
obviously with the heavy lorries. I find personally that, certainly
in the rural areas, where lorries are restricted through the speed
limit and the laws, you get somebody overtaking very slowly and
then you get a build-up of congestion behind those lorries. Obviously,
they have delivery time problems as well as delivery times in
the suburban areas. I think traffic light phasing might well assist.
I am not saying it is the entire answer, but I think it might
Q11 Paul Maynard: This
is a question addressed to Mr Semple. Listening to all three
witnesses so far, you have clearly been keen to point out how
different modes of transport dominate or utilise road space. In
the case of Mr Semple, I was interested by your statistic about
how there were 35 million vehicles, of which only a small minority
were HGVs. Can I just probe that a little further? Thinking of
the bottlenecks on our motorway network, what proportion of traffic
using a bottleneck at peak hour, in your view, would be HGV versus
Jack Semple: It
depends very much on the location and the bottleneck. It is very
hard to generalise on that. In some areas it will be greater than
others. The industry does what it can to avoid bottlenecks, particularly
on the motorway network.
But one point I would highlight is that the HGV is
at work, doing its work, whereas the car driver is going to and
from work, so he has a very much more period-specific movement.
The truck is on the road for up to nine or even 10 hours a day
doing its job, and it may be that it has no alternative but to
be on the road at that time to get from one place to another.
Q12 Paul Maynard: Would
you agree, though, that one of the major delays motorists find
or one of the frustrations they experience is when they are travelling
along, say, a three-lane motorway and there are two lorries going
at 50 mph or 51 mph, one slowly overtaking the other, causing
quite a long backlog very quickly on some of our high density
motorways? Would you agree that that is an observable problem?
Jack Semple: I
am not sure that I would describe it as a problem particularly
on motorways. I think it is an issue. One of the lorries is likely
to be doing 56 mph because that is the governed speed of the truck.
You have a lot of longterm roadworks where the Highways
Agency controls the traffic speed at about 50 mph. The traffic
moves efficiently in terms of the volume of traffic moving through
the roadworks and there would be an argument for saying that that
is the case also on motorways without roadworks.
Having said that, to have a truck pulling out and
staying running parallel when he is doing the same speed as the
truck in the inside lane is not acceptable, particularly on roads
such as the A14, where you have a dual carriageway. We are very
strongly opposed to that. It is not acceptable for a driver to
run parallel to the driver inside. Quite often, it is a foreign
driver, but quite often it is also a UK driver. We are urging,
and we are again going to be urging, our members to make sure
that drivers don't do that. It is a small minority, most of the
time, on dual carriageway roads.
Q13 Paul Maynard: How
could that be stopped? Is that selfdiscipline?
Jack Semple: I
think it is industry discipline. We have to get to the stage where
it is unacceptable in the haulage industry for that to happen.
Q14 Mr Leech: How
important are speed limits in increasing or decreasing congestion,
and is it the speed limit or is it people's lack of adherence
to the speed limit that causes the congestion?
Hugh Noblett: If
I may answer this one, I think it is a variable system. In my
work, the big issue is that, yes, you require speed limits to
control society to a certain extent. But, of course, if you find
an empty set of roadworks and you have a 50 mph zone on it, then,
of course, people are going to disrespect it or ignore it. Therefore,
the variable speed limits do work because they segregate traffic.
But I still think it creates an awful lot of frustration because
they can't see the reason for the roadworks, particularly if there
is no work force around.
We have a classic example on the A46, up in the Midlands,
where obviously they are doing the transport. People are trying
to do as much work as they can to get the traffic to flow better,
but you still have a safety issue up there. Yet, if it is empty
at 3 o'clock in the morning, you still have a speed limit imposed.
Certainly, on the motorways, it does work in places.
Q15 Mr Leech: I
wasn't specifically thinking about variable speed limits on motorways.
I was thinking about 20 mph zones as opposed to 30 mph zones and
people going in and out of the different speed limits or between
30 mph and 40 mph.
Hugh Noblett: I
think it comes down to human behaviour and the attitude towards
them. The attitude is one of the hardest things I am dealing with
as an individual coach with our company. I think it is getting
the attitude changed, which is a monumental task.
Q16 Mr Leech: What
I think you are saying is that people moving from a 20 mph zone
to a 30 mph zone, or the other way round, should not have any
impact on congestion as such.
Hugh Noblett: Exactly.
Q17 Mr Leech: Does
anyone else have a view on that?
Nich Brown: Speed
limits are meant to be appropriate to the place that they are
governing. 20 mph zones, if they are done correctly, by definition,
are areas where vehicular traffic is being discouraged anyway.
So congestion within those areas should not be an issue if the
local authority has set the speed limit right and set its usage
Similarly, with other urban speed limits, it is a
question of what the available road space is very often, because
our towns were not built for large volumes of vehicle traffic.
They were built for horse and cart and foot. With smaller modes
of travel like bicycles and motorcycles, there is less of an issue.
The larger vehicles tend to spend a lot of time stationary, which
obviously wastes a lot of fuel and doesn't get anybody anywhere
But I agree with Hugh that this is very much down
to driver behaviour and it is as much about choosing the right
mode of transport for a journey or even deciding whether that
journey is necessary at that particular point in time. But, as
we have more and more vehicles on the road, unless we build more
and more roads, there will be more and more problems. Even if
we do build more and more roads, all that does is to encourage
more traffic to go on them. I think that is fairly well proven.
Jack Semple: The
one area of congestion as far as trucks are concerned that is
avoidable is when you get a good A road and lorries are limited
to 40 mph. That causes unnecessary delay for the transport industry
and a lot of frustration for following drivers, but apart from
that I wouldn't disagree.
Q18 Mr Leech: Can
I ask what your definition of a good A road is?
Jack Semple: If
you look at roads such as the A1 or the A9, and there are a number
of link roads in Somerset, for example, where you have a speed
limit for trucks that was designed for a different age, where
commercial vehicles were completely different. The trunking agreement
at one time up to Liverpool on the M6 was 28 mph for a lorry because
that was the employerdriver agreement. We have moved on
from that, and there are a lot of roads where a 50 mph limit would
be much more appropriate and safer.
Q19 Mr Leech: Can
I just ask why you think it would be safer?
Jack Semple: Because
drivers get very frustrated following a 40 mph lorry on an A road.
Q20 Mr Leech:
You think that slow lorries encourage bad behaviour from other
Jack Semple: I
think there is an argument there. The Conservative Party, in opposition,
made the point that they were concerned that there was a road
safety risk in lorries doing an unnecessarily slow speedmuch
slower than other vehicles on the road.
Hugh Noblett: Can
I come in on this one and support Jack? I know him personally
outside, but that doesn't matter. We have a gentleman who drives
a lorry for a wellknown company next door to us. One of
his biggest issues, in fact, is the lack of knowledge of the British
Highway Code, and the lack of ability to read English in a basic
form is one of the problems as well. They can't read road signs
eitherbridges etc. We are coming down to probably the fundamentals.
Nich Brown: I think
another issue is the setting of rural speed limits on single carriageways.
A lot of those carriageways have now been limited to 50 mph. A
lot of trucks, because they are governed to a maximum of 56 mph,
if they are carrying a heavy load, and because the kind of roads
they are on very often have steep inclines on them, can't necessarily
achieve the maximum speed. You generally end up, then, with a
lot of cars behind those vehicles that can't move forward. That
creates a tailback and a lot of frustration.
The trouble with fixed speed limits is that they
are a very blunt instrument, whether we are talking about congestion
or safety. A local authority setting a 50 mph limit on a rural
single carriageway is working to a set of criteria. Local people
may agree or disagree with how they have interpreted those criteria.
But, ultimately, what we have there is a speed limit that has
been set for a set of circumstances that won't always prevail.
You get a lot of frustrated traffic that can't move forward because
the speed limit is a blanket speed limit and it is actually perfectly
safe to exceed the speed that has now been set in some circumstances.
But, of course, because it is a fixed speed limit
Q21 Chair: So
it is the fixed nature of that.
Nich Brown: It
is the fixed nature. We don't have the technology yet to allow
for changing circumstances.
Q22 Kwasi Kwarteng: There
are quite a lot of problems and we all recognise those, but, apart
from road pricing, which is an obvious route, are there any simple
solutions that you think the Government have overlooked that you
have found in your experience? Is there any low hanging fruit,
as it were, in regard to this situation?
Nich Brown: For
motorcycles, we have something that is high on our agenda, which
is access to bus lanes. When I was working in local government,
I was one of the officer team that allowed access to bus lanes
in Bristol. That experiment was proven to be a success. Motorcycles
have continued to use bus lanes in Bristol now since the early
The difficulty is that the numbers involved in proving
the safety case for that are so low that a lot of the experiments
come out as statistically uncertain. But there have been a number
of experiments since and there have not been major catastrophes.
There has been an awful lot of opposition to it, and there is
an awful lot of resistance, at political and officer level in
some local authorities. Our feeling is that, if motorcycles were
allowed access to bus lanes, and that was the common practice
and people were trained to expect it and to use them properly,
that would make a big difference in urban congestion for our users.
The other thing that we would say, to pick up a point
that has been made before, is that a lot of people travel at the
same time for the same purpose because of school or for work.
If we have a more flexible approach to where we work and when
we start and finish work, that can take a lot of stress off the
roads at particular times of day.
Jack Semple: I
agree with that last point. The RHA also wants greater access
to priority lanes, high occupancy vehicle lanes, bus lanes, whatever.
In that context, you should look at an HGV as a freight bus. There
is not an alternative; it is generally well loaded; it is not
a single-occupancy vehicle. This is a case that is gaining some
influence in local government and we have had some success with
that on the basis that it improves movement of HGVs, doesn't particularly
impact on buses and slightly improves movement of cars as well.
The underlying principle is that we should make more
use of available space. The most glaring example is the M6 toll,
where we have built this swathe of tarmac through the countryside
to relieve congestion on the M6 and it is grossly unused. We have
put one proposal in our paper to pump-prime the movement of lorries
over there. If there is a major incident between 4 and 11, I think
it is, on the M6, why not have an agreement with the operator
of the M6 toll, open up the tolls and move the cars along there
on some shadow tolling agreement?
Q23 Chair: How
often does that happen?
Jack Semple: It
doesn't happen at all at the moment.
Q24 Chair: How
often is there an incident in the situation where you would like
Jack Semple: There
is congestion quite frequently, but I think every other week there
is a major incident.
Could I make two other very brief points? I think
there is a lot of work that can be done by road authorities and
the Highways Agency in improving the efficiency and the speed
with which they undertake repairs, taking on board the fact that
when they are closing a road or part of a road there is a major
impact on the economyand on pollution, for that matter.
We have had examples on the A303 where we have persuaded
the Highways Agency to change a closure at Willoughby Edge from
six to eight weeks down to two weeks. There was a closure on the
A38 last night at a place called Edithmead that was supposed to
run for five nights. We objected and they are doing the work in
one night. A lot of work can be done like that. We are encouraged
with the response we are starting to get from the Highways Agency,
but more could be done by the HA and, I believe, also by local
road authorities around the country.
Finally, with regard to the police, we understand
that there needs to be a proper investigation when there is an
accident, but there needs to be a much clearer idea about the
impact that an extended closure has. We would be interested to
see what the benefit is that the judicial system and society gets
from a major closure against doing the job more quickly, which
appears to happen elsewhere in Europe.
Q25 Kwasi Kwarteng: Just
following up on what you were saying about Europe, have we had
any successes in this area in the last 20 or 30 years or are there
things that we were bad at that we are now good at? Has there
been any improvement in any aspect of this problem?
Chair: Have there been
Jack Semple: With
regard to the movement through major roadworks and improved traffic
flow, I have the impression that major roadworks are managed better
than they were. Local street works, my members tell me, are still
a major cause of inefficiency, and they feel things could be managed
Nich Brown: I would
agree with the point that was made about the major roadworks.
Q26 Chair: Mr
Brown, can you give us any examples of where things have been
Nich Brown: Yes.
I think it comes down to the way that the Highways Agency manages
the approach to major roadworks. It is very heavily engineered
now. There are a lot of cones, there is a lot of advance warning
and the traffic flow is managed much better than it was.
What you find, conversely, is that, on more local
roads, especially where you have two lanes running into one, we
still have this problem of behaviour where vehicle users will
see a sign saying that the road is about to narrow 800 metres
ahead and immediately everybody gets into the lane that they know
they will be allowed to use, instead of filtering alternately
when they get towards where the obstruction is. There is definitely
a road user behaviour issue there. It would be completely inappropriate
to try to use those heavy engineering methods that the Highways
Agency are able to use on the trunk roads. There are a number
of human behavioural educational aspects to this about people
thinking about how they use the available road space.
Q27 Chair: At
the moment I am just trying to focus on examples of where things
have actually been done betterthe achievements on that
Nich Brown: I think
anywhere on the trunk road system where there are planned major
roadworks, things work better now than they did.
Q28 Chair: Mr
Noblett, can you give any examples of where things have improved?
Hugh Noblett: I
still believe it comes down to individual behaviour in terms of
how we are dealing with
Q29 Chair: Is
there an example you can give us of where things have improved?
Hugh Noblett: Pardon?
Chair: I am looking for
examples of where the situation has improved.
Hugh Noblett: A
typical example would be where you get this rather greedy or selfish
behaviour where you might well get a business driver, who will
come down the outside
Chair: But where is it
improving? Can you give examples of where it has improved?
Jack Semple: The
managed motorway programme has been put in without a huge amount
Q30 Jim Dobbin: My
constituency has the M62 going right through the middle of it
and I have some very large distribution parksone in particular.
Heavy goods vehicle congestion has been the bane of my life over
the past number of years because the heavy goods vehicles always
leave the motorway at the wrong junction and they end up going
through the local community every two minutes over a period of
24 hours. Even when the Highways Agency put up massive signs saying,
"Do not use junction 19. Use junction 18", which will
avoid the local communities, they never did that. We had to put
weight restrictions on and chicane the route to the distribution
park. How do you resolve a situation like that? Utilities have
just moved in to lay some new lines and they have had to lift
the chicane and it is back as bad as ever again. How do you get
that cooperation from drivers?
Jack Semple: Forgive
me, I am unfamiliar with that specific instance and I would like
to follow up with it. Was there any communication through a freight
quality partnership or through the users of the industrial park?
Jim Dobbin: Yes, that
Jack Semple: I
would be interested to see how successful that was and what the
process was. Normally, we would suggest that you negotiate with
the shippers and receivers of the goods, as well as with the hauliers,
as to what route to follow. Could I follow up as to what happened
in your example, where the process worked and the extent to which
it didn't work and might it work better?
Q31 Jim Dobbin: Just
to follow that through, don't you think a solution to this would
be to get more freight off the roads? Do we need more interchanges?
Jack Semple: There
are no more trucks than there were. In fact, there are fewer trucks
than there were 20, 40, 50 years ago, despite the fact that the
economy and the population have grown and so on. There are tensions,
inevitably, and it is a question of managing those tensions as
best we can. The distribution park on the one hand is providing
employment and is ensuring that the people in that area and elsewhere
get food and clothes to wear, and we need the vehicles to deliver.
Even were you to move substantially larger volumes
by railand there is always a degree to which one goes by
one mode or the otheryou would build in substantial cost.
You still have to deliver the last mile, where the people are,
by truck. You can shadow the motorway network by rail, but at
the end of the day you have to take the goods to and from the
Q32 Iain Stewart: In
looking at a whole range of options for behavioural change and
for management change, I am just trying to put it all in context.
What overall reduction in congestion or, looking at it another
way, what increase in road capacity are we looking at attaining
here? The reason I am asking is this. Can we solve congestion
on our roads just by all these measures in the round, or do we
also have to look at additional road capacity?
Nich Brown: I think
it very much depends on what your definition of congestion is.
For most people the definition of congestion is, "I can't
move as fast as I want to." But, looking at it more objectively,
there are definitely geographical locations and times of day where
the traffic is practically gridlocked or moving much more slowly
than is optimal. We can identify ways in which we can move people
and goods around more intelligently, but it is probably unlikely
that you will ever get to a stage where everybody is entirely
happy that the road ahead of them is clear.
Jack Semple: I
would say that we do need more road capacity. We need to ensure
that the capacity that we have is managed more effectively than
it is at the moment, but I think we do need more capacity. A number
of the measures that are identified in the Department for Transport's
paper in January are good ideas. We have always thought we need
a fresh approach to working, to what generates the traffic. But
the concern of a lot of industry going forward, if George Osborne
is successful, as he said last week, in bringing back manufacturingand
you might add the process industryto the country, is that,
in terms of lorries, for example, we are going to be seeing more
demand for transport although we will be reducing global carbon
emissions, because we will be producing more locally and, hopefully,
in a green manner.
Long term, it is very difficult to see a reduction
in demand for transport, but we have to work for that. No Government
seems to want to have substantial improvement in road capacity,
but I think we need some improvement and we need better management
of what we have.
Q33 Chair: You
see that as the solution to congestion on the roads: more capacity
and better management is required.
Jack Semple: More
capacity, better management, and better management of the reason
why people travel. For example, there is less traffic on a Friday;
everybody notices that now. There is less travel on a Friday because
more people are working at home. If we can have a more intelligent
use of the roads, that has to be an important step forward, given
that most vehicles on the roads are cars with one person in.
Q34 Paul Maynard: What
benefits do you think have been brought to improving traffic management
by the gradual proliferation of Highways Agency traffic officers
on the roads?
Hugh Noblett: Coming
back to driver behaviour, which is my forte, you have to change
the attitude of the individual motorist. Locally, we find very
large lorries having great difficulties. They block the roads
up; they have a job to do; they have deliveries to do and they
have to follow on to the next delivery. So you still get congestion
even in a minor way.
Q35 Paul Maynard: What
benefit have Highways Agency traffic officers brought to the roads?
Jack Semple: Our
members have no great problems with the traffic officers. They
encourage the police to call the recovery operator promptly in
the case of an accident, which is always useful. We have suggested
to the Highways Agency, and we have had a positive response to
this, that they look at, say, the top half dozen incidents involving
trucks on the motorway network each week and produce a report
about what has caused it so that truck operators and motorists
can see what the problem is and perhaps the traffic officers can
assist with that.
Q36 Paul Maynard: You
mentioned earlier the issue of post-accident road management.
I was just wondering whether you can give us any examples of how
they manage them better in Europe. Am I right in thinking that,
in Germany, they prioritise much more highly the reopening of
the road rather than the judicial investigative aspects?
Jack Semple: That
is my understanding. There was an awful accident on the M25 a
week or two ago, for example, when a car transporter went over
the road. But the M25 was closed for the best part of a day. The
question is what the net cost-benefit analysis is of that. My
understanding is that that wouldn't happen in Germany and I think
they have a very robust approach to the judicial process in Germany.
Hugh Noblett: May
I return to the roadworks problem? This is slightly out of my
remit, but I believe that rolling roadworks is now law in France,
and maybe in Europe. Instead of blocking off five or 10 miles
of roadworks where nothing appears to be being repaired, in Europe,
you get one piece of road blocked and then it goes on to the next
one. That is also another reason probably for reducing the congestion.
Rolling roadworks, I believe, is the law overseas.
Chair: Thank you very
much, gentlemen, for coming and answering our questions.