Out of the jam: reducing congestion on our roads - Transport Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Maximising the capacity of existing road space

1.  Our recent inquiry, Bus Services after the Spending Review, concluded that bus services are an important and valued form of transport for many people, enabling them to participate in employment, education and voluntary services, and to access health services and shops. Bus lanes are an important means of supporting local transport, and if well designed, bus priority measures can also make a substantial difference to our congested roads. (Paragraph 10)

2.  We recommend that the Government publish early next year a detailed assessment of traffic flow on the M4 in the year since the bus lane was scrapped. If the evidence shows that the bus lane contributed to faster movement—taking account of all travellers—it should be reinstated. (Paragraph 13)

3.  We can see no reason why Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 should not be fully commenced to enable local authorities to deal more effectively with moving traffic contraventions and we recommend that the Government bring this part of the Act into force, by 2013. (Paragraph 16)

4.  We agree with the Government that the 'managed motorways' approach should be implemented on other parts of the strategic road network, but are realistic in recognising that the approach may not alleviate the whole problem of congestion. Also, we share concerns with the police about safety on stretches of motorway where junctions are widely spaced and where the use of the hard shoulder by motorists could prevent emergency vehicles from reaching accidents. The Government needs to address how to manage congestion on stretches of motorway where the 'managed motorway' approach might not be appropriate. In addition, we expect the Government to monitor the effectiveness of the managed motorway approach as it is extended more widely, with particular reference to cost and safety issues. (Paragraph 21)


5.  The Government clearly has a role to play in working with highway authorities to identify the latest forms of intelligent traffic management systems and how such systems can be used effectively and promoting joint procurement projects, principally through bodies such as the UTMC Development Group. We are disappointed, therefore, that the main means by which local authorities could identify suitable intelligence traffic management options, the ITS Toolkit, is now unfunded. In the absence of an up-to-date ITS Toolkit best practice is likely to be lost, and local authorities will be less likely to benefit from Intelligent Traffic Management schemes in helping to tackle congestion. The very nature of ITS, the need to maximise value for money and the need to make the most of limited, skilled resources make coordination between local authorities especially important. We recommend that the Government should renew its funding of the ITS Toolkit, or a successor project aimed at assisting highway authorities in identifying and procuring the most up-to-date and appropriate intelligent traffic management systems and in accessing available technology. The Government should work more closely with those involved in Intelligent Traffic Management systems, including the Highways Agency and local authorities, to ensure that there is greater collaboration and sharing of best practice. (Paragraph 25)

6.  Highway authorities are legally obliged to monitor how they perform their traffic management functions: however, most fail to do so. This is an unacceptable situation which the DfT must address. The DfT should be more proactive in calling on local authorities to publish their traffic management performance measurements. We recommend that the Government require all highway authorities to publish traffic management performance measurements, by the beginning of 2013 at the latest. (Paragraph 29)

7.  We recommend that a leaflet should be sent to drivers, when they apply for their tax disc or driving licence, to highlight existing sources of detailed travel information—including information provided by the Highways Agency—and to remind drivers to use the 'traffic programme' (TP) button, which cuts into the radio to give accurate, up-to-date travel information. (Paragraph 31)

8.  The DfT should: decide what real-time travel information should be made available from local authorities and the Highways Agency to motorists and what should be provided by the private sector; identify barriers to collating and disseminating information; and develop a strategy for delivering that information, including the route for overcoming those barriers and the scope for public/private collaboration on deployment, giving examples of best practice. (Paragraph 34)

Minimising the number and impact of events on our roads

9.  Useful work is being undertaken to develop and promote good practice in minimising the number and impact of road and street works. We recommend that the DfT, working with the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee (HAUC), should ensure that examples of best practice are disseminated to highway authorities and utility companies. (Paragraph 37)

10.  The Government should commission an independent assessment of the London and Kent permit schemes, as was agreed by the previous Government. This assessment should assess whether the initial permit schemes are following the right approach and make recommendations about improvements, in order to inform other local authorities considering implementing their own permit schemes. The Government should also put in place arrangements to monitor the uptake of permit schemes and the variations between local authorities' approaches. (Paragraph 43)

11.  Our predecessors were not convinced about the merits of lane rentals, and we are yet to be convinced that the scheme is the best way of tackling congestion from street works. We recognise the potential of lane rental to target more directly changes in the behaviour of utility companies, which will potentially reduce disruption. However, we also recognise the fact that there will be costs attached, which will be passed on to customers. We want reassurance that the scheme achieves the right balance. The Government should monitor the London lane rental scheme, in order to assess its wider application. (Paragraph 49)

12.  The Government should study ways of ensuring that local authorities' own works on roads are subject to the same rules and penalties as the utility companies' works, so as to produce the same improvements in reducing disruption. In such circumstances, the Government should explore the possibility of ways of ensuring that resulting fines are not simply a transfer of resources from local authority department to another, rather than being a real incentive to change. (Paragraph 48)

13.  We support the Highways Agency in its joint initiative with the police and the Home Office, to speed up the time taken to clear major roads, following an incident. We particularly support the Highways Agency's work in analysing the regional variations of motorway closures. The review was published in May 2011, but some of the recommendations will not be taken forward until December 2012. There needs to be continued commitment from all parties, with maintained urgency in addressing all of the outcomes of the review. (Paragraph 50)

The relevance of the Highway Code and road user behaviour

14.  Welcome though the Road Safety Partnership Scheme undoubtedly is, we question whether there are sufficient funds for highway authorities to take up successful schemes more widely, especially when road safety funds are no longer ring-fenced and local authorities are under financial pressure. Furthermore, we again urge the Government to prioritise work on making the driving test more rigorous, in order to ensure that young drivers are better trained and safer. We made recommendations on this in March of this year and our predecessors also made recommendations in 2007. We are not persuaded that the Government is prioritising this issue and we will return to it in our forthcoming inquiry into the new strategic framework for road safety. (Paragraph 53)

15.  The Department for Transport should take steps to make the Highway Code more readily available to all road users, in particular more experienced drivers and cyclists. The Government should work with the various road user groups to promote better adherence to the Highway Code. The DVLA website should clearly link to the Highway Code, for all those applying for or renewing a driving licence. A leaflet drawing attention to the Code, highlighting any recent changes, should be posted to drivers with tax disk or licence renewal letters and other correspondence. The Department should consider options for a free Highway Code 'App', which gives useful and new information about The Highway Code, and other ways in which new communication media could be utilised for this purpose. These cost-effective recommendations would go a long way to disseminate information included in the Highway Code and help improve driver behaviour. (Paragraph 56)

Responsibility for managing the road network

16.  We recommend that the DfT should be more proactive in ensuring that highway authorities work together to manage the road network. Indeed, the Prime Minister agreed to take a personal interest in ensuring that regional perspectives are maintained. Working with the Local Government Association and other relevant institutions—such as the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT), the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE)—it should ensure that best practice, in the way local authorities manage the impact of their road management decisions on surrounding areas, is collated. Such information could be published online, to inform local authorities and to facilitate the exchange of best practice between them. The DfT cannot wash its hands of the strategic management of the road network by simply devolving that responsibility to new and untested Local Enterprise Partnerships. (Paragraph 64)

17.  We can see some benefits in Capita Symonds' "Managed Route Network" proposal, but we envisage there being significant governance issues in separating the ownership and management of a local road and in agreeing who would manage (and provide finance for) such a network. We recommend that a working party should be formed, composed of the Government, the Highways Agency, representatives from local authorities, including ITAs and the private sector, to make recommendations to Ministers about how to establish a broader managed network, in order to tackle road congestion more efficiently than is possible today. (Paragraph 67)

18.  We urge the Government to take up this opportunity to fund Surrey County Council and the Highways Agency's joint working partnership, with their revised Integrated Demand Management scheme. There is a good case to be made for such funding—provided that the promoters can show that the scheme is delivering a measurable and cost-effective impact on congestion—not least in encouraging other local authorities to work in a collaborative way with the Highways Agency and the DfT. The DfT must prove that it is fulfilling its leadership and co-ordinating role, and financial support for this initiative would be a positive application of that role. (Paragraph 69)

19.  The DfT must ensure that it maintains its role as the strategic overseer of the road network. The Government review of the Highways Agency should consider the Agency's role in assisting and supporting local highway authorities, making the most of the Agency's knowledge and experience. This could include sharing best practice on the management of major roads, including access to available technology, the impact on roads of planning decisions, and collaborating in research and supporting the development of common technical standards. The review should also look at how the Highways Agency's collaboration with local authorities can be improved, in order to integrate more comprehensively the management of the road network as a whole. (Paragraph 72)

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Prepared 15 September 2011