To be published as HC 872-iii

House of COMMONS



transport Committee

effective road and traffic management

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Paul Watters, MR Iain Reeve and Malcolm Bingham

Professor Phil Blythe, Robin Shaw and Mike Mackinnon

Graham Dalton, Simon Sheldon-Wilson and Assistant Chief Constable Nick Croft

Evidence heard in Public Questions 202 - 288



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Transport Committee

on Tuesday 7 June 2011

Members present:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)

Jim Dobbin

Mr Tom Harris

Julie Hilling

Paul Maynard

Mr John Leech

Iain Stewart

Julian Sturdy


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Paul Watters, Head of Public Affairs, AA, Mr Iain Reeve, Head of Strategy, Transport and Planning Services, Surrey County Council, and Malcolm Bingham, Head of Road Network Management Policy, Freight Transport Association, gave evidence.

Q202 Chair: Good afternoon, gentlemen, and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Could you please each give your name and the organisation you are representing for our records?

Malcolm Bingham: My name is Malcolm Bingham. I work for the Freight Transport Association.

Paul Watters: Paul Watters from the Automobile Association.

Mr Reeve: Ian Reeve, officer at Surrey County Council.

Q203 Chair: Thank you very much. Where would you say congestion is most serious? Is it more on local roads or strategic roads?

Malcolm Bingham: We believe it is a set of priorities that different freight organisations look for. Certainly, in the strategic road network, that is where we believe it costs the industry more money, but we recognise that there is congestion in towns and cities as well, but I think most freight operators see that and try and make arrangements around it. The problem is that unforeseen holdups on strategic networks are the ones that really catch the industry out.

Paul Watters: It is a mixture of both. Urban congestion has perhaps a different set of issues in terms of commuting and everybody wanting to be in the same place at the same time, whereas some of the most serious issues on the strategic network are incident-related or roadwork-related. There are pinch points on all of the networks, both urban and national. It is a mixture. It is different types of journeys and different types of congestion, but nevertheless it is still costing the economy.

Mr Reeve: I agree. Congestion is on both the national and local network. It is whenever there is a bottleneck or an incident which causes traffic to slow down. We found in Surrey that it can just as easily be one of our towns with a main A road running through it as it can be on the M25 or a large motorway, so I would say both.

Q204 Chair: Is congestion improving or getting worse? Could anyone give me any examples of something that has been made better-something that has improved?

Malcolm Bingham: The sort of initiatives that we have seen in managed motorways has given our members a lot of encouragement because for goods vehicle movement they have seen some more reliability in journey time. I suppose in one way, for the larger goods vehicles, the sorts of speeds that are controlled in those managed motorways are the speeds that they travel at, so it is giving them a greater reliability through those managed systems. Indeed, on occasion I have had comment from our members that, when there are roadworks set out and the speed is controlled during them, they seem to find a more reliable journey during that period as well.

Q205 Chair: Has that been effective? Have you seen good examples?

Malcolm Bingham: Certainly the M42 is well recognised in the freight industry as being a much more reliable road than it was in the past.

Paul Watters: It is fair to say we do get fewer complaints from our members about congestion, particularly on inter-urban roads. Some of this perhaps is not complacency, but we have traffic levels that are falling at the moment due to the economic situation. It could be that if we have a sudden resurgence of traffic we will see congestion return very quickly. On some of the urban routes conditions are just as bad as they have ever been. Statistics show that on local authority A roads, traffic speeds are averaging about 25 mph, and that is in the peak hours. Perhaps it is not surprising, but that has not shown much fluctuation over the years. We are probably in a situation where it is hard to predict what is going to happen in the future, but at the moment traffic is a bit easier. Also, the cost of fuel is having quite a big impact on driver behaviour.

Q206 Chair: What are the main complaints you get from private motorists, Mr Watters?

Paul Watters: It is particularly incidents. It is people who are held up for long durations making them late for appointments, where motorways have to be closed, but those closures can be up to four hours sometimes. That does impact on journey time reliability. We recently surveyed our members and asked them how much time they allow extra for incidents in a journey of 100 miles. A good percentage leave over an hour. That shows there is a degree of unreliability that they plan for, but that is only a journey of 100 miles so it is quite a short trip, really.

Mr Reeve: I would certainly agree. The picture over the last 10 years is of constant levels of congestion, constant levels of traffic and constant speeds. In Surrey, we have seen an increase of no more than 0.5% a year in the number of vehicles using our roads. What we believe has happened is that our roads have hit a saturation point where they are borderline unreliable. Drivers are not stupid. They do not keep adding themselves to an already congested road and making it worse; they look for alternatives. We think we are at the point where our roads are struggling to function and that is the point at which people will not drive on them any more.

Q207 Chair: Are people getting enough information about what is happening out there on the roads before they set out on their journeys?

Mr Reeve: We do not think they are getting enough. We are trying to give them more. I would like to talk to you later about a project that we are involved in, looking at giving motorists more information, because that is what we think is key to this. It is very difficult to build more roads. There is not much space left, they are very expensive and there is environmental damage caused by road building. It is about making the existing roads flow better. That is about giving information to people about when there is an incident, how they can get around it and if the conditions are going to be bad because the schools are coming back, to warn them days in advance. Information is fundamental to making the roads flow better.

Q208 Chair: What is the current position about the integrated transport project that you are involved in at the moment? Does it have funding to continue?

Mr Reeve: It does not have funding at the moment. It was a project that was being discussed between the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency and Surrey County Council about a year ago to look at information and traffic management around a section of the M25. Up to the Comprehensive Spending Review it was a joint project. After the Comprehensive Spending Review, its future is uncertain; it has no funding. We are in dialogue with the Department for Transport at the moment to see if we can resurrect it, particularly if we can make it a cheaper project because we recognise there are funding difficulties, but we believe this area is absolutely crucial.

Q209 Chair: At the moment you are having discussions with the Department to see which way it might go.

Mr Reeve: That is right. We are trying to see if we can change the scope to make it more affordable. The project as it was before was £25 million to £40 million, which I do not think is affordable. What we are looking for is something rather cheaper.

Q210 Jim Dobbin: My concern from a constituency point of view is the effect that heavy goods vehicles have on local communities and the impact they make on local communities. Just to describe my constituency, the M62-M60 goes right through the centre. I have one town on one side and one town on the other side. At a certain junction, 19, they come off and they go to distribution parks which are adjacent to those motorway systems. We tried to negotiate quite politely with the distribution park developers to try and ensure that their drivers knew which junctions to come off at, but that was very difficult. Even when the Highways Agency indicated that they should come off at a certain distance with boards 6 ft high with letters 10 ft high, they still came off at the wrong place, with the result that we had to introduce weight restrictions and chicanes to stop that. It would be much better if it was done in another way in actual fact. How do you get it across to the freight companies that this is really important? You cannot have heavy goods vehicles trundling through communities every two minutes 24 hours a day.

Malcolm Bingham: We have looked at a number of options of trying to persuade operators to use the most appropriate routes. Our firm belief is that operators should use the motorway trunk road network and the primary route network as main distribution patterns and only come off those to effect the point where they may want to go to a distribution park or even make a delivery. The difficulty with that is that sometimes the signage is not appropriate. I think I understand where your constituency might be because I have seen the signage that encourages people to use more appropriate routes.

But what we have seen over the last few years is individual drivers and indeed hauliers using things like satnavs that are not properly programmed for that type of vehicle. We looked over a number of years to see if there was a more appropriate satnav system. In fact, we have been asked by the satnav industry to look at that and we have tested a number of models and in the last year we actually recommended one which we have tested over a number of routes. We know that vehicles would not use an inappropriate route if they use that satnav system. The difficulty is that that sort of system costs about £400 to buy, and a driver might go to Halfords and buy one for about £60 which will not be programmed in the right way.

The data behind all of that are fundamentally important. We know there are weaknesses in that data right across the country and we need to see better data fitted into those systems so that they can be better and we can better provide on the satnav front. Additionally, also on mapping generally for freight industries, that database is fundamentally important. We do not have a national one, rather what we have is piecemeal across different local authorities and in different formats, and it is not suitable to feed into the industry to use.

Q211 Jim Dobbin: I understand the problem with satnavs. We all have these problems ourselves, but what I do not understand is the inability to read a sign that is quite clear and which quite clearly indicates that they do not come off at junction 19 but they go to junction 18.

Malcolm Bingham: We would support that policy as a responsible trade association and have always supported effective enforcement for those who do ignore that sort of signage.

Q212 Mr Leech: There is probably some fairly strong evidence, although some people would disagree, that, if you widen motorways or strategic routes, all you do is just encourage more cars. Would you agree with my assessment of that and would you say that active management control, for instance on the M42, is a better way of tackling congestion as opposed to just widening roads?

Paul Watters: I would say a bit of both. Some of the hotspots that we have on the network are solvable by engineering methods, by adding some lanes or taking a little bit of the hard shoulder, whereas some are not. Some cannot be resolved by simple capacity improvements. But there is certainly merit for some schemes to go ahead. Certainly some of the urban congestion is probably caused by just one junction that may sometimes create a knockon effect across a local network. So there is certainly merit in some engineering. Our members like hard-shoulder running on motorways and that is capacity gain, perhaps not for the long term. Members are prepared to adapt.

Q213 Mr Leech: By having that non-permanent capacity gain, by having a temporary lane at certain congested parts of the day, do you believe that that has an impact in terms of encouraging more cars on to that road or does it just deal with the congestion that is being caused by the existing traffic on the road?

Paul Watters: There is inevitably some pent-up demand that will be released if there is extra capacity, but the findings on the M42 have proved 100% that the case is worth doing in terms of incidents and also in terms of CO2, with vehicles running smoother. It may stimulate some traffic, undoubtedly, because of the extra reliability. But it is still regulated. It can still be slowed to add a little bit more capacity. It is a good system and it seems to work, but, yes, it will stimulate some trips. There are some trips that want to be made and it is better to have them made on motorways, for example, than on local roads to which drivers may well deviate if the motorway is offering a poor standard of service.

Mr Reeve: You are absolutely right. There is a danger by adding more capacity to roads and motorways that we create opportunities for journeys that did not exist before. We find that drivers and residents are driven by time constraints, so if they can live somewhere and still be able to drive to work, they would like to move further away from work. What people tend to do is look for cheap housing and a nice place to live. As you add extra capacity to transport, they live further away from the office. That is a fact we have seen many times. There tends to be an inbuilt time value to which people adhere. If you put in faster transport, they still travel the same length of time but they travel further, and that is more use of the roads. We have to use extra road capacity with a great deal of care. If we simply widen motorways, we will create additional journeys.

You are absolutely right to talk about traffic management. The M42 scheme and the managed motorway on the M25 are critical for making things work. I would also agree with Paul that there are some junctions and particular areas that cause a bottleneck. In those cases we can safely add infrastructure without creating a lot of damaging extra capacity. I would counsel you against suggesting widening every motorway because I think that will create more problems than it solves.

Q214 Mr Leech: What is the difference in impact in Surrey if you widen a road or you put an active traffic management system in place in terms of the impact that it has on your local roads?

Mr Reeve: What we are trying to aim for is journey time reliability so that when someone sets out for a destination they can plan when they are going to get there reasonably certainly. The difficulty we have is, of course, you do not know how congested the road is going to be. You set out half an hour too early, and often you end up arriving half an hour too early, but you had to leave that half an hour because you do not know how long the journey is going to take. If you focus on traffic management, on managed motorways, on measures which smooth traffic flow, you can take that element away and people can predict their journeys; freight companies can know when they are going to see their clients.

If you add extra capacity, what tends to happen is people think, "I can now make a journey I could not make before." That creates a new journey. We have a very specific example in Surrey. In a month’s time the Highways Agency are going to open a scheme called the Hindhead tunnel. It is on the A3. It is replacing a piece of single carriageway road on the A3. It goes through a village called Hindhead with a dual carriageway through a tunnel. In the short term, over the next six months to a year, that will bring nothing but benefits. You will be able to speed along the A3 from London and Guildford to Portsmouth much more quickly. You will not even notice that there is a village there. But over time people will say, "Ah, but now I can live south of Hindhead and commute to Guildford." You will get people making different decisions about where they live and that will create extra pressure on the road network. While we very much welcome these schemes and they do help at a pinch point and help tackle congestion, if we are not careful, they create extra problems elsewhere on the network and people change their behaviour patterns around it.

Q215 Mr Leech: What level of consultation is there with the county council when a scheme is being proposed by the Highways Agency that will have that sort of impact on your local roads?

Mr Reeve: I have to say the consultation with the Highways Agency is extensive. We were very closely involved in that scheme and we welcomed it because the problem that it tackles is one that we know needs to be tackled. What we are concerned is that, once that scheme is open, it will create additional problems at the next pinch point along in either direction.

Q216 Chair: How extensive is the consultation? Does it take into account that consequence?

Mr Reeve: Yes. Those factors were measured, and we knew, when we were accepting and agreeing to this tunnel, that that was one of the impacts that we would have to bear and that would need further work elsewhere down the line on other parts of the network to compensate for the extra traffic the scheme will bring.

Q217 Mr Leech: Obviously, that additional work that you might require as a county council has a cost attached to that. Effectively, work carried out by the Highways Agency then adds on a cost for you. How do you then prioritise these things to make sure that you are making the decisions about what your priorities are rather than having to prioritise things because the Highways Agency is making them a priority?

Mr Reeve: We have to prioritise the parts of the network that are under most stress or likely to become under most stress. Surrey is in a unique position. We have a very large portion of the motorway network. A third of the M25 runs through Surrey. Nearly half of our traffic is on motorways and trunk roads, which is much higher than the average. The motorway and trunk road network is very important to us and we know it causes problems on the local road network. That is why we were working with the Highways Agency and the Department for Transport on this joint project, because of all the local authorities that we are aware of, Surrey is the most acutely affected by motorways. Yes, it does cause us a cost.

Q218 Iain Stewart: My question is also to Mr Reeve. First, can I just check that your integrated demand management project is wholly within the boundaries of Surrey? Is it a specific project? Is it the sort of scheme where you could work with other local authorities jointly and thereby have some sort of economy of scale? Is that something you are actively pursuing with the Department?

Mr Reeve: Very much so. The idea was to test approaches that would then be rolled out to other authorities. The IDM project originally started looking at the entire M25 and was a partnership between the Highways Agency and all of the authorities around the M25. That did not work, and the project did not get off the ground. The Office of Government Commerce found that it was too unwieldy and there were too many partners. The Highways Agency and ourselves scaled it down to one authority, ourselves, from junction 8 to junction 11 of the M25, about a seven-mile stretch. But what we were looking for were measures which could be rolled out to other authorities. What we did not want was something that only worked in Surrey. We were looking for low-cost measures that would apply anywhere else in the country where motorways and trunk roads and local roads interact.

Q219 Iain Stewart: My concern is that, if your scheme works in your chunk of the M25, are you not then just going to shift the congestion problem further round the motorway?

Mr Reeve: That would be the case if we were talking about creating extra capacity, putting in more lanes. We are not talking about that. What we are talking about is giving drivers more information about problems on the network so that they can decide not to travel at that time, to travel later in the day or not to travel at all. The idea of the IDM project is, if we know there is a problem, to give people as much notice as we can hours before they travel or 40 miles away from the incident so that they can make a decision to go around it. But we are not creating extra capacity. We are not talking about extra lanes. We are not talking about hard-shoulder running. We are talking about better information, better signing to manage people around the problem. We do not think that will actually cause a problem for elsewhere. If anything, if there is an incident and our system can pick it up, tell drivers about it and they can defer a journey as a result, that helps everybody. It helps the driver and helps all the local authorities that the driver would have passed through.

Q220 Iain Stewart: May I ask the other two witnesses more generally, is there a problem between sharing traffic information between local authorities and, also, is there a good practice that we can look at to reduce that?

Malcolm Bingham: There is without doubt within our industry a growing appetite for information on traffic. The decisionmaking process for a freight operator to make that 300- mile detour or not is crucial because of the expense he is going to incur in doing that. Therefore, information is vital. We have good information on the strategic road network freely available and we have a service where we actively send that information out to our members on a daybyday basis. There are gaps even in that because we know on certain parts of the strategic network there are gaps in information. There are massive gaps in local highway authority areas and we struggle to get information. It is important also to have information in a timely manner because, if you have already loaded your vehicles, are you going to therefore unload them or decide not to send them out? It is a difficult decision for a freight operator. If you have good information in a timely manner, we know already freight operators are making those decisions to reroute or contact their clients and say, "It might be tomorrow before you get your goods."

Paul Watters: We did some research of our members about where they get their traffic information from. About 75% use local radio or Teletext before they leave home. When they are on the road, they obviously need further information if the journey changes en route. We asked them about the traffic button on the radio of their car. 80% said they had it but only 22% said they used it on regular journeys, and yet that can save you getting into a lot of congestion. There does need to be more awareness of the types of technology that exist already in many cars and also the means of telling you online as you are travelling, perhaps recorded messages that do not involve using the telephone, or information on variable message signs.

I do not think the Highways Agency has quite finished some of the variable message signing it is putting on to its strategic network. There are still some gaps in provision and yet that information is now extremely useful. There was a time when you would not see a long distance problem notified elsewhere in the country but now you do. You can be in Winchester and see that the M1 is closed, which in the scale of some journeys made on the strategic network is very useful because people can take a long deviation without causing major impact on the network.

Q221 Iain Stewart: I am primarily relating from personal experience, and I accept that information is helpful to a point. If you know the area and they say there is a problem on the A123, fine, you can work out a way round it. But what if you are in a part of the country where you do not know what other options there might be? If, say, the M1 is closed, what else do I do? As more and more cars have satnav technology, is there a technological advance that could offer realtime alternative routes?

Paul Watters: Many satellite navigation systems will already override your predetermined journey in the event of an incident. Again, that does leave you rather at the control of the satnav rather than of your own knowledge, skills and information. You have to trust the satnav, but, as we know, satnavs do not always give you good information. I think there should be a degree of caution, but certainly the technology is coming where a lot more journeys can be assisted in that way.

Mr Reeve: You are quite right to pinpoint the need for information. We think there is a hierarchy of information or a sequence of information. If you are travelling, you are on top of the incident and you are on the road, you need to be told why, because people get frustrated when they do not know what has caused it. If you are a few roads away or a couple of miles away, you need to be given information about whether it is worth diverting. Often it is not; waiting for the incident to finish is often the best way.

A few miles away, more strategic information might help you to avoid an incident altogether or you may decide not to set off. One of the issues we have been looking at is the longer incidents, the two or three hours or more incidents that happen around rush hour. We would like to get to people while they are still at their place of work to say, frankly, "Don’t try." I will give you an example. We had an incident a couple of years ago that closed the A3 through Guildford for 12 hours. Two lorries had crashed together and it involved a fatality. That caused immense problems. We did not have a ready mechanism to tell people, "If you are still in the office, frankly, stay there. Work a bit later. It is not worth trying to travel at this point. It really is difficult." That is one of the things that we want to get to so that we can warn people on the road or before they travel or, in some cases, the day before they travel. We have the Olympics coming up. Surrey is going to be hosting two cycle road races and we want to warn people several days beforehand that to travel on this particular day is going to be difficult and to give people a chance to find their way around it.

Technology can help. Some satnavs, as Paul says, can react to driving conditions. Not everybody has those. It is a problem if the satnavs direct everybody to the same alternative route because that same alternative route quickly gums up. In some cases you want people to sit where they are because that is the safest place to deal with them, but clearly it is an area we have to do more work on. The information is fragmentary. Surrey has a website that tells you what is happening in Surrey, but if you go outside our borders we cannot help you. No one is going to look at three or four websites as they work out their end-to-end journey across more than one county boundary. There is a lot of work we need to do in this area.

Q222 Julian Sturdy: How efficient do you think our road network is? How would you rate it-fair, good, bad-on an overall basis?

Chair: Mr Bingham, what would you say in relation to freight?

Malcolm Bingham: Is this a personal question or for my members?

Julian Sturdy: Your membership.

Malcolm Bingham: Our members think it is poor. It is poor when there is an incident when they cannot really see where there is an end point to it. My view is that the network works pretty well, but it is those major incidents that last for a long time that create the problems. One of our problems is the information that we get at the moment does not give us an accurate clearance time, from whatever source. We know that from the traffic information that we have been putting out already. That does not give the fleet operator a chance to make decisions about whether he is going to allow vehicles to go down that route or not. In that sense that is why, in that respect, it is poor.

Paul Watters: Our members certainly think it is poor, but it is only sometimes as good as the last journey you made and they may have a different view. But they certainly have experiences of severe congestion and it is hard to rate it. We often hear from people who have been abroad and they say their experiences are much better. But of course they often have parallel motorways, say, in France where they have a tolled network and a national network. We do not have the luxury of space in the UK and we have a very congested, very heavily used network. We shoved all our traffic on to motorways because we did not want it in urban areas and through villages, but that puts extra pressure on the network, understandably. It is a very congested network anyway and, compared to other European countries, it is one of the most congested in Europe. It is not surprising that they deem it to be fairly poor because there is always a lot of stuff going on around them, whether it is peak hour or even not on some of the routes.

Q223 Chair: Is this poor generally or poor in relation to incidents?

Paul Watters: In terms of driver stress, it is congested with a lot of traffic competing for space. I know of people who do change the hours of travel to travel at quieter times. But, for example, in the morning peak, the motorways now are very busy at 5 am; many years ago it would probably have been busy at 6 am. People adjust because the pressures are so great and so people are making compromises to adjust to our network, which is overloaded.

Mr Reeve: The term I would use for the network, particularly in Surrey, is "saturated". It works-just-when everything works. Roads naturally get to that level because drivers will not drive on an unreliable network. They will find an alternative. They will change the time of their travel, work from home, car share, or take public transport. Roads naturally tend to fill up to a saturation point where it is unreliable or borderline unreliable. It just about works and one more thing tips it over the edge.

Q224 Julian Sturdy: When you are saying "saturated", you do not think you can get any more efficiency out of the current network in Surrey.

Mr Reeve: We can get efficiency in terms of traffic management. We can get efficiency in terms of travel and travel demand, but it is quite difficult to get efficiency in terms of more vehicles through the road. In fact, what do I mean by travel demand? Because we have a saturated network our roads are unreliable. People react to that. As Paul has rightly said, they will leave early in the morning. People are leaving at 5.30 or 6 o’clock in the morning to avoid it. People also work flexibly. They will work from home or do anything they can to avoid travelling in the rush hour.

If you give them more capacity, they will go back on to the roads. What we can do is help the roads flow better, help journeys become more reliable and help them to find other ways around their travel needs. Surrey has a high proportion of people who work from home, work electronically or remotely, or work flexible hours because the network is saturated. People are not stupid. They do not add themselves to the roads and keep on doing that until we get gridlock. They look for the alternatives. A saturated network prompts people to look for alternatives. It works-just.

Q225 Julian Sturdy: On a slightly different tack if I can, this is more directed to Mr Reeve. Earlier on you talked about a new scheme-I cannot remember the name of the scheme, sorry-near a village where they had gone to a dual carriageway under a bridge and you felt that you would see an improvement for six to 12 months, but then people would look to move further out because their journey times to work would be better. Do you feel there is a bit of a lack of communication within local authorities about the future planning? I am not talking about individual applications as they come in during the eight or 12-week planning process. I am talking about longterm future plans and actual transport demand and transport needs, because, to me, it has to be fundamental that those two are very interlinked. I don’t know, from a local authority base, what your views are on that.

Mr Reeve: You are absolutely right: it is fundamental. That particular scheme has to be dealt with because the current traffic situation is intolerable. We have a dual carriageway through a main road from London to Portsmouth, one of our major ports, and it slows down to a single carriageway and goes through a signalised crossroads. That brings everything to a grinding halt. On a Bank Holiday it is murder. You can take 30 seconds to get through it or you can take 45 minutes; you just do not know. We had to do something. We were aware when we put it in, and I worked with the Highways Agency putting it in, that it would cause problems either side of it. It would cause problems at the next junction along and the next junction down. We planned that; we measured it; we got a rough idea of how much time we had before it started to build up, and we had worked with the Highways Agency for schemes on the next junctions along, the next problem point along, to resolve those, because we could not leave that signalised crossroads as it was because it was really a bad bottleneck. We just had to accept that, when the Highways Agency put this very expensive tunnel in, it would create extra problems. We felt the price was worth it but we did do long-distance planning and longterm planning.

Q226 Julie Hilling: I wanted to consider the smaller routes and I have a question around traffic calming measures and the effect that they have on the network. Obviously, I know that is about competing demand, but I am also interested in the consultation and discussions that take place about what should happen with those measures, should they be put in place, etcetera, with the traffic flow. I wonder if you could just talk me through a little bit of that.

Paul Watters: We get quite a lot of complaints about traffic calming, particularly road hump schemes, where it is always difficult to gauge correctly the need to consult, whether you consult locally, or whether you consult the road users who use the road. It is always a tricky one. But, undoubtedly, road hump schemes and traffic calming schemes do encourage traffic to use more appropriate routes because people do find, as the humps are designed to do, that they make the journey slightly slower and slightly more inconvenient. With appropriate alternative routes, road hump schemes and traffic calming schemes will do the right thing, but if they are illconceived or put in not to address a problem they can make things worse rather than better.

Getting the consultation right is very tricky, knowing who you are aiming the consultation at. But even people who want traffic calming sometimes regret that they did if they have a hump outside their house and then they experience a lot of noise. It also increases perhaps CO2 a little, with people accelerating and decelerating. It is not the cleanest type of traffic calming and it is far better to engineer a different route altogether, a different alignment, in a tidier way.

Mr Reeve: Our approach towards traffic calming is one of considerable caution. It is a classic dilemma between the resident and the motorist. The resident will often want traffic reduced outside their house. They want speed reduced and they are maybe concerned about road safety. The motorist does not want the jarring impact of vertical traffic calming-a lump or a bump. So we tend to put them in only at need, only when we have consulted thoroughly. We would naturally prefer what I call horizontal traffic calming, such as width restrictions and chicanes to slow people down rather than the lumps and bumps. But there is very little else that we can do to slow traffic down or dissuade it from inappropriate roads.

Again, we talked about a saturated network. One of the things people do on a saturated network is to look for rat runs, and that can mean you have a lot of through traffic going through residential roads that should not really be there. That is when you use traffic calming to try and get them back on to the main roads, but only as a last resort.

Q227 Julie Hilling: Something that one of my freight operators talked about was solutions that actually create more trouble, particularly for freight, for example roads that lorries can no longer turn into. I am not particularly talking about going through the housing estate, but certainly around my area there are some major roads that have chicanes and goodness knows what on them.

Malcolm Bingham: Most freight operators will look at their delivery areas, if you like, to try and use as suitable a vehicle as possible. It is not always possible to go down to very small vehicles because of the nature of the goods that are being delivered. Therefore, in the chicane area, when you are making local deliveries, and it might be just delivering the fridge or the washing machine, that sort of thing, that does create a problem. I support Paul’s point on CO2 and fuel usage as well. It increases the fuel to go through those systems. But most companies understand why they are there and train their drivers accordingly, if you like, to respect that.

In the early days of that type of traffic management we had more issues and certainly a number of vehicle defects were created by illconceived humps in the road, that sort of thing. But in recent years there has been a lot more thought put into it and I take Iain’s point about consultation with the residents and the operators.

Q228 Julie Hilling: Just one thing around travel in bus lanes. Again, a local freight operator said he thought freight should be allowed to travel in bus lanes. I know I have asked this of other witnesses, who have said no, that it is a very bad idea. I am just wondering what your view of that is.

Malcolm Bingham: Our position is quite straightforward. We do not believe that all bus lanes should be immediately converted over to lorries as well as buses, because where bus lanes are busy it is important that they maintain that flow and priority. But we believe there are a lot of bus lanes across the country that do not have that public service vehicle flow which could, in the right circumstances, be converted to a priority lane. We have seen some in Newcastle and Sunderland of late where priority lanes have been put in place to allow goods vehicles to use those lanes to help them effect their deliveries, particularly in peak hours. That is the issue.

Q229 Chair: Mr Watters, you are not very keen on bus lanes, are you, from your evidence?

Paul Watters: We would fully support a review of bus lanes. Many bus lanes were put in years ago and perhaps there has been no analysis of the level of services that are carried on those bus lanes now. Some of them would probably be far more effective as all-purpose traffic lanes or even freight lanes, or other sorts of dedicated lanes such as car share lanes. There is perfect scope to convert some bus lanes. In Leeds, there is a high occupancy bus lane that car drivers are allowed to use and it seems to make perfect sense. If people are to be encouraged to car share, they should be encouraged to use a smoother route.

Mr Reeve: Bus lanes are very emotive. Drivers look at them and think, "I would like to be in there, speeding past all these motorists and getting to the front of the queue." The reality is that bus lanes do not inconvenience drivers by anything like the amount they think they do. What generally happens in the bus lane is that it is put in before a junction and it is the junction which is the constraint on the traffic, not the number of lanes leading up to it. The problem we have with buses when we are trying to encourage people to use buses more is they think the bus journey is unreliable; it is going to get caught in congestion. What we are trying to do with bus lanes is speed up the buses, make them more reliable, and make them more of a credible alternative to the car. That is why they are put in and that is why it is bus lanes and generally not HGV lanes, because why would you want to give speed to the HGVs when they do not have the same competitive element against the car?

That said, we are keeping our bus lanes under review. We have only a couple. We are not wedded to them. We keep looking at them; we monitor them. But they are certainly not as much of a problem as drivers seem to think.

Chair: Mr Dobbin, there is time for one question and then we will move on.

Q230 Jim Dobbin: I would like a "yes/no" answer, quite honestly, out of pure curiosity. Has the toll road at Birmingham had any effect on the congestion going through Birmingham, either with regard to HGVs or private cars?

Malcolm Bingham: Goods vehicles use the toll road as a last resort because of the cost. If the normal M6 is congested to such a point that it might be worth their while to do so, then they will pay the cost. We have seen some companies negotiate with the toll operator of late and there are quite a few more HGVs using that road now because they have negotiated tolls that suit them for the journey.

Paul Watters: For the private car driver, it represents quite good value for money because it does avoid a very heavily congested part of the M6. Most people I speak to say that is wonderful and it is worth every penny they pay to go through there.

Jim Dobbin: I use it myself.

Q231 Chair: Mr Reeve, do you want to comment on that? There is no need to.

Mr Reeve: Surrey has no plans to introduce tolls and Birmingham is some distance away from us.

Chair: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming and answering our questions.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Phil Blythe, Chair, IET Transport Policy Panel, Institute of Engineering and Technology, Robin Shaw, Chairman of Learned Society, Chartered Institute of Highways and Transport, and Mike Mackinnon, Director, Capita Symonds, gave evidence.

Q232 Chair: Good afternoon, gentlemen, and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Would you please give your name and the organisation you represent? This is for our records.

Robin Shaw: Robin Shaw from the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation.

Professor Blythe: Professor Phil Blythe, Institution of Engineering and Technology.

Mike Mackinnon: Mike Mackinnon, Capita Symonds Consultancy.

Q233 Chair: How effective would you say the Highways Agency has been in managing congestion?

Robin Shaw: I would say, yes, they have been effective. Congestion obviously is a major problem. The capacity constraints are significant, but they have put very significant levels of investment and application of good techniques into managing that congestion. They have not eradicated that of course. We know that, and there are still plenty of problems for them to deal with, but I think it has been effective where they have intervened positively.

Q234 Chair: Are there any other views on the Highways Agency?

Professor Blythe: At times they took a long time to harness new technologies that could help in managing traffic demand, such as information technologies to provide real-time information to traffic control centres, and then the innovations we are seeing now such as the managed motorways. But in many cases, when they have been introduced, there has been a positive benefit and a reduction in congestion.

Q235 Chair: Mr Mackinnon, do you have a view on the Highways Agency?

Mike Mackinnon: No. I think they have done a reasonable job. The issues are more to do with the constraints on them and the focus that they are giving, rather than their actual performance and achievements. I think within those remits they have achieved it. They should have a wider remit and maybe introduce other things that are not just focused on pure instant delivery. Some of the longer-term requirements need some work and money spending on them.

Q236 Chair: What sorts of things did you have in mind?

Mike Mackinnon: Technology, if you like. They have the best detection so that we know more about their roads and the strategic road network, but there are more motorways than the trunk roads. There are no technical standards for the trunk road part-only for the motorway part. They have not completed data collection even on the motorway section at the moment. Obviously that will come in a programme, but it has been going on since round about 1985. It has taken quite a while to get there, but they obviously have restraints on money and what they are asked to focus on at any particular time.

Q237 Chair: You say in the written evidence you have given us that there are better ways than managed motorway schemes to deal with congestion. Are those the sorts of things that you are thinking about? Can you give us any other examples?

Mike Mackinnon: This is focused at what we believe the Committee were looking for, which was the road network. The strategic road network is only 3% of our overall network and it carries 30% of the traffic. In congestion, it is not only the motorways that get congested. Our issue is more to do with the fact that we think there should be a lot more going on in the all-purpose roads, parts of which belong to the Department but the other parts belong to the other 152 highway authorities, and how that could be better managed, giving people alternative routes.

Q238 Chair: Do you think there is a big problem in bringing coordination between the Highways Agency in relation to the strategic roads and local authorities in relation to other roads?

Mike Mackinnon: Yes, but not because anybody is doing anything wrong. The agency is set up with a pure focus and funding for roads. Other highway authorities are local authorities who have other issues on which they need to spend their money. There is not the same concentration or the same standards. I don’t just mean on technology but in terms of maintenance and road surface. We have all seen it. There is a disparity between our road network, but for a driver it is one road network. Why should it be any different? Why should an A road, a dual carriageway that is run by the Highways Agency, be any different from one run by a local authority?

Q239 Chair: Would anybody else like to make any comments about whether you think there is a major problem between the Highways Agency network and local authority networks in lumping them together? Is there a big issue there?

Professor Blythe: There is clearly a disconnect at times. The Highways Agency has experts on board and has a particular focus. Local authorities in many cases have pared down their transport expertise inhouse very much so that they do not have the same ability to deliver on projects. The interface between the Highways Agency and the local authorities has not always been as well managed as it could be. There are urban traffic management control standards for the urban areas and inter-urban traffic management standards for the inter-urban areas. The interface between the two is not as good as it could be and the industry recognises that that is something that needs to be worked on.

Q240 Chair: Mr Shaw, do you see any problem there?

Robin Shaw: There is a tension, and to a certain extent it has probably been created and exacerbated by the institutional arrangements that exist. The agency’s network has been consciously reduced, so the area it manages is down to very much the high-speed motorways and dual carriageway-instituted routes in that respect. They have been charged with focusing on dealing with the issues and the problems that arise from that part of the network. That is what their primary mandate is. Clearly, as has already been said, most of the time drivers don’t know whether they are on an agency road or a local authority road. It is just part of their route and they are not really interested in whatever the institutional arrangements are.

The funding arrangements are also very different. The resources available to the Highways Agency are obviously directly made available from the Department, whereas with the local authority’s resources it has to decide within its own priorities how much it devotes to improving or maintaining the highways. There is a disconnect there in terms of who does what, how it is managed and how the decisions are taken. There is a problem there and it should be addressed in that respect, yes.

Q241 Paul Maynard: As I understand it, the Highways Agency focuses on what is called the national strategic network. The use of the word "strategic" implies that the road has a function over and above merely being a piece of tarmac. Can I ask what you think of the concept of "strategic" in terms of our strategic road network? Do you believe there is an understanding at Government level of what is a piece of strategic road and what is not, because I am not sure I am clear what the difference is?

Robin Shaw: Can I start with that? The current network is primarily focused on making sure there are good high-speed connections between primary destinations, whether they are cities, airports, ports and the like. That is the focus of that priority strategic network. That is not, of course, representing everyone’s journeys and it is not of course representing very often all of anyone’s journeys, so there is a difference there between objectives. But it is very clear that that is the mandate of the Agency and that is what they are asked to look after and maintain and manage.

Q242 Paul Maynard: But would it be appropriate to reconsider that mandate? If I may use a constituent’s example, forgive me. When you reach the end of the M55 on your way to Blackpool, you have two choices. You can go up to the port of Fleetwood on the A585, which is a Highways Agency road, or, as millions of tourists do, you can continue on into Blackpool on a local authority managed road. Yet, to me, the more economically important and vulnerable road is the link into Blackpool, not into Fleetwood. I struggle to understand the underpinning of this debate, which is that we have our 3% of a strategic road network and our 97% of the remainder, but the 3% seems to me to be a rather arbitrary 3% based upon what I perceive to be some sort of economic rationale rather than usage.

Robin Shaw: Certainly it is not arbitrary. It was a conscious decision following a detailed review. Whether it is still the right network is obviously something which could be reviewed. It will have been down to traffic flows and destinations and it considered the priority of that traffic flow, but we probably all have our own view of what the priority should be as to our own journeys.

Q243 Paul Maynard: What are the other panel members’ views as to what those priorities should be?

Mike Mackinnon: Strategic networks are a good idea for the build. Operation is now quite different; that is what I would say. You need a strategic plan about where you are going to build roads, widen roads, and you need a rationale to do it. It seems quite sensible to have a body to do that. Whether that body could have more parties and whether they could be more formally connected than they currently are, that could be a separate debate, but operating the network when you have it goes back to probably the general discussion. It is a whole road network, even if you have built in separate bits by different people.

Professor Blythe: That depends on what the overall strategy for running the network is. Is it for providing from A to B destinations? Is it for the economy? Is it to try and minimise emissions? There are all sorts of tensions here that will affect why particular pieces of road are strategic. But there needs to be a more strategic view of connecting the whole road network together, ensuring that we have more seamless travel and use the best possible technologies and other techniques to manage congestion and the discontinuities in our road networks.

Mike Mackinnon: In our paper we mention a notion of what we call the managed road network. That is not the real name but gives you the concept. If you get a satellite navigation system, most of them-the later ones-will give you three routes. Most people on most journeys have two or three routes. Clearly, they cannot all be on the strategic road network. One of them could be, and in a lot of cases it will not even be the strategic road network. It will be a local authority network. That puts the whole thing into a different perspective and we believe we could do much better with the current capacity.

Technology would be part signing, lining, all the basic things. I am sure every local authority, if it had money enough to do it, could review its own area and make improvements to improve traffic flow on existing roads. It will also require some build because there are pinch points that may not have existed 10 years ago. It is not clear who does the overall review. It is just modification on modification, and maybe part of what this Committee is asking is should we go back to a blank sheet of paper and ask, "What do we want to do? If we are starting with this, would we run it the way we are running it?" I suspect the answer would be no.

Q244 Chair: But you can never actually go back to a blank sheet of paper because systems are there and people have responsibilities. Given where we are, who should be responsible for changing the way things are done? Is there a role for Government or is it local government, or who is it? What should happen now? You have all spoken about there being certain problems or lack of coordination and shared responsibilities. Who should take action now? Who has some suggestions?

Mike Mackinnon: In the paper we said we think there should be a more formal body. If you like, we create European standards by having a body of experts and interested parties. We do not do that with our roads. As has been stated earlier, the Department in its paper says it believes in localism. I think England is a unique network. I do not think we have localism as such. We have a network that serves cities and towns. It is a national network but we do not run it and operate it like that, and with 153 authorities it is hardly surprising.

Q245 Chair: Mr Mackinnon, you have put forward the suggestion for a concept of managed routes. Could you tell us how that would work?

Mike Mackinnon: Obviously it is a massive job, and, if we have not sorted it out with all the august people behind me, we are not going to do it today. But it just means you have to start off with a concept that there is more than the strategic road network. There is a road network, and in each area the strategic road network would be part of it and each highway authority would designate certain of its roads, if you like going back to the old A, B and C road concept. Some of these local authority roads would be given higher priority. They would get funded and institutionally run, and the standards that would run on them would be consistent.

20 years ago the Department, as it was then, used to set standards and issue advice about standards. It used to do development of traffic signals. That has all gone. There is nobody that has taken over that role. There is nobody with a mandate to do that any more. In that, we have also lost the concept of a market for suppliers to aim at. If you had a national network and then somebody wants to develop something to improve it, that is a big market that is worth somebody developing. If you have 153 slightly different things, it is very difficult to see how we are going to get major changes.

Q246 Chair: How would the Highways Agency and local authorities work together under that scheme or would you not have that distinction? How could it operate? Mr Mackinnon, do you have an answer?

Mike Mackinnon: I thought I would let somebody else speak. We put it in the paper. We think you could form a committee that would have all the relevant members on it. I do not mean all 152 authorities, but, if you like, representative ones that represent small and large highway authorities because they are quite different and their requirements are quite different. It would be the Department for Transport, Highways Agency and transport specialists. If you like, take away the Department being the sole arbiter of everything that happens because that is broadly what happens from our perspective.

Q247 Chair: Professor Blythe, how do you see this, or are there any aspects to this idea that could be taken forward?

Professor Blythe: It is important to come back to a point where the national strategic road network and the local road networks are coordinated in a better way. It is a role in which the Department for Transport and the Highways Agency used to be very proactive. The danger at the moment is that we are seeing that people are trying to use sticking plaster solutions to solve individual problems and in many cases that involves a small scheme or introducing technology in a local authority area, whereas we know that, if there is a coordination and a number of local authorities in conjunction with the Highways Agency are coming up with a bigger strategic scheme, you could generate additional benefit for that. With there being so many local authorities in the UK, each of which could select its own scheme, the ability to have standard specifications and guidance that they could follow would be extremely helpful.

Localism is fine. It allows the local authorities that are proactive and have expertise inhouse to go away and do some great things, but it leaves a large proportion of the local authorities as alsorans who really do not have the capacity, capability or knowledge to take up those benefits. They are the ones that will suffer.

Q248 Chair: When you say they do not have the capacity, are you referring to current resource problems or is it something bigger than that?

Professor Blythe: It is resource, knowledge and the guidance to be handled in introducing such schemes, particularly those that involve intelligent transport systems and new technologies. They just do not have the capability to do that, so they are left further and further behind, while the few great examples of authorities that do go forward working with the technology go further and further and further. There is this gulf occurring because that is a black hole that the DfT and the Highways Agency used to fill by providing those guidance notes and those specifications that all could follow and could go to a supplier and say, "If you meet this type of approval and this specification, then we know that your technology is interoperable with others."

Q249 Chair: How could this change?

Professor Blythe: Bringing the necessary authorities, the local authorities, the Highways Agency and Government, along with suppliers, together to work to redress this disconnect we have at the moment. It really is there, and in talking to most industries you find that this is inhibiting them and inhibiting local authorities now.

Q250 Chair: Mr Shaw, how do you see this?

Robin Shaw: First, route management as a concept is not new. It has been around for some time and there are plenty of good examples of it being implemented. We are touching here on an issue where perhaps in England, and there is a distinction here between the rest of the UK, the extremes between the agency and the local highway authorities have perhaps been accentuated by constitutional and institutional changes. You have a large number of small highway authorities now compared to the old original county highway authorities.

You asked how that would be changed. Of course, it is primarily in legislation, so it would have to change and be driven by this House in terms of changing that. If you wish to change the institutional arrangements and the set-up, who is responsible for those highways is actually embodied in statute and the responsibilities are there in statute. Obviously, the Department then does make decisions in terms of delegating its roles to the Highways Agency and it defines what it wants the Highways Agency to do, but at the very bottom level it is actually within the statute.

Q251 Chair: Do you think some of the problem is because there are smaller authorities?

Robin Shaw: The issues we are talking about here have been accentuated because of the fact that we have moved to a large number of small highway authorities, we have one Highways Agency, and its role has been consciously restricted to the high-speed motorway and dual carriageway network. You have that tension and it has been made worse, yes. It is still something that can be dealt with, obviously, by full consultation as long as the people concerned are incentivised and required to do it.

Q252 Paul Maynard: Just following on from that, would you therefore agree there might be a case for trying to assess our road network not on a local government level but perhaps on a regional level and be able to identify a regional network of roads, a network perhaps more important than the culdesac round the corner from me, and that there might be a role either for a regional body, a traffic commissioner or some such role, or maybe even the integrated transport authorities in some areas taking on more responsibility for the roads in their areas? Is it trying to shift it up one level from the very small local government body and down one level from the large Highways Agency?

Robin Shaw: As you said earlier, there are plenty of origins and destinations which are not currently the termination point on the high priority strategic network. There is obviously a significant part of the network and a significant part of people’s journeys which either are partly on that high-speed network or perhaps not at all. At the moment that responsibility is down to very local levels. We know, with the size of local highway authorities, many of those journeys will cross several boundaries and that must therefore create a situation where the management of that route is rather broken up in terms of its arrangements. What one local authority might consider as its priority-a town or community perhaps-is not necessarily the priority for someone who is travelling the whole route, which I think is where your thoughts are coming from. Clearly you could have a different institutional arrangement looking at that. You could have regionally based highway traffic authorities or whatever. Joint traffic authorities have been proposed in certain areas, and obviously in the metropolitan areas you have something like that in terms of the public transport already. There are some models out there for looking at this, and that probably would be the way you would have to go to make the change and the behavioural change that is necessary.

Q253 Paul Maynard: What are the positive reasons that we have kept with the old system of 153 highway authorities? There must have been a reason why we are still where we are. Is it inertia?

Robin Shaw: No, it is not. It has changed several times. When I started out, as a profession, we had a much smaller number of large county highway authorities. It is a change which has occurred in my lifetime.

Q254 Jim Dobbin: We have talked about the local authorities’ highways departments and Highways Agency and others, but we have not really mentioned the impact that the other big agencies have: the utilities, for example, water, electricity, gas, and the lack of coordination of roadworks. For example, there is very often just one repair following another in the very same area. Is there not an issue of lack of cooperation and planning there? Is there not something we could do to try and do that in a better way?

Robin Shaw: I can start on that one. Obviously there are problems in certain areas. There are also some examples of very good practice where the utilities are working together and making sure that they do minimise the disruption. Sadly, we all need the services that these people provide, and certainly the demand for the services of telecommunications contractors has become exponential in recent years. Most of the time they do have to dig a hole in the road in order to lay in their service provision when actually we would like them not to have to do so.

The coordination role has been looked at, and legislation has been introduced again in my working life to try and change and improve the way that that is dealt with. There are financial regimes and penalties in place if utilities do not comply, and highway authorities have recently been given more powers to police that. It is early days yet to see how much difference that will make, but I do know there is an awful lot of work, perhaps unseen, that does go into the coordination of these activities. Obviously, if you as a driver come across a piece of roadworks which you did not know about and were not forewarned about, you do not know how much work has gone on to ensure that maybe two or three activities carry on at the same time while that essential piece of work is going on. It is difficult to be judged in every situation, but I do agree that more could be done.

Professor Blythe: It is an issue that has been raised in some recent reports on national and critical infrastructure and how telecoms, water, energy, etcetera, interact. There is a recognition that there needs to be more coordination. There is quite a lot of work going on in that space, but at the same time if you dig up a road, a strategic network, and you shut it for a while, the delay and the cost to business is really significant. Maybe some of that can be addressed in other ways.

I remember the day that the congestion charging in London was launched, TFL was monitoring all the roads on the outside of the congestion charging zone. They saw a water van turn up to dig up part of the road just outside the congestion charging zone and they stopped them digging up for the day, although they claimed it was an absolute emergency. Apparently, they did not turn up again for nine months to complete the job. That is how much of an emergency it was. There are issues and there are things that could be done better, clearly.

Q255 Chair: Thank you. Mr Mackinnon, did you want to add anything to that?

Mike Mackinnon: The only thing I have to say is as a practitioner-surely we could do with better coordination. Health and safety is obviously an important subject. We take a lot of our carriageway out and we have lane rental schemes. Maybe somebody could look at a more innovative way of doing some of these roadworks so that they might last longer but have less impact rather than rush in and cause major chaos. There is always going to be a balance with that.

Q256 Julie Hilling: I am struggling to grasp what you are saying that we should be doing. Mr Mackinnon was saying that we should bring people together to discuss how we should manage it all together. What are some of the solutions that should be put in place in your view? What is it about? How can we make the whole of the network better?

Mike Mackinnon: The fundamental thing that is missing is that we do not have realtime data of our network. The Highways Agency has the best data on part of its network. In the Department’s report, they accept they have to do congestion monitoring using speed, which is not effective. If we want to manage the physical carriageway we have, we need to know what is happening in realtime, not just when we have incidents, although it becomes more important in incidents. If you are going to put vehicles on to another road, you need to know what is going on. Say you have a major problem. If you divert it on to another road, it might be closed. At the moment we do not know.

There is a lot of data around and it is kept in separate camps. Why can’t we bring it together in a more cohesive way and then fill in the gaps, which obviously is expensive and is going to take a while, but, again, if you had some priority on your roads, your routes and all the rest of it, you would have a plan that you could work around? That would be the biggest single thing that we think could happen, plus some small improvements with signing and traffic signals.

If we want to reduce carbon reduction, we are going to have to review our traffic signal algorithms because they are built on a concept of probably 20 or 30 years ago. We have done some small improvements, but there has been no step function innovation. We are going to have to give priority to some routes, which is going to disadvantage others. It is going to be uncomfortable, but, if we want to achieve that, those are the kinds of things we are going to have to look at.

Q257 Chair: When you say "different camps", you mean different authorities-highways authorities, local authorities?

Mike Mackinnon: Yes. We have Traffic Masters. There are a variety of fleets. There are all sorts of people with data, but we do not bring it together. Because we have started off with a notion of having to sell data and all the rest of it, the issue is what does the country want? This data are available and the institution-

Q258 Chair: What type of data are you referring to?

Mike Mackinnon: Traffic data. Freight operators know where their vehicles are at any one time so they can tell you what the journey time is on a route. You do not necessarily have to put equipment in the road, which is what we currently do. The agency put in loops; the local authority put in loops. There are all sorts of detection means. If we had electronic licence discs we would probably solve the whole problem. You do not need to know which vehicle, but you would know how many vehicles were travelling where and at what sort of speed. There are lots of technological solutions, but we should not get too excited about technology. It is about institutional funding. It is about the fairly basic stuff that we have not done.

Chair: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming and answering our questions. We have a lot of food for thought there. Thank you.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Graham Dalton, Chief Executive, Highways Agency, Simon Sheldon-Wilson, Director of Traffic Management, Highways Agency, and Assistant Chief Constable Nick Croft, South Wales Police, ACPO, gave evidence.

Q259 Chair: Good afternoon, gentlemen. Welcome to the Select Committee. Could you give your name and your organisation, please, for our records?

Simon Sheldon-Wilson: Simon SheldonWilson, Director of Traffic Management for the Highways Agency.

Graham Dalton: I am Graham Dalton. I am Chief Executive of the Highways Agency.

Nick Croft: I am Nick Croft. I represent the Assistant Chief of Police Officers Business Area for Roads Policing.

Q260 Chair: Could you tell us the main reason for congestion on Highways Agency roads?

Graham Dalton: There are two predominant reasons. Probably the main one is volume of traffic and dense traffic just slowing things down, which is one popular view of congestion. The other one is the impact of incidents, whether they are very minor ones from a bit of debris in the road causing people to slow down or stop or the very serious ones that require a carriageway to be closed.

Q261 Chair: You will have heard witnesses talking to us earlier this afternoon about problems after there have been incidents, whether they have been major or minor ones, and the time it takes to restore traffic flow. Mr Croft, what is your view on the role of the police or other traffic officers in dealing with this?

Nick Croft: The Police Service prior to 2004, when the Traffic Management Act came in, was obviously very concerned about the role that police played, especially after fatal accidents or serious collisions or other problems where we had to shut roads. We have worked closely with the Highways Agency, especially since traffic officers were introduced, to make sure that we do everything we can to work together to make sure those closures are limited. One of the issues we have is that we represent Her Majesty’s Coroner when we are investigating road deaths and we have quite a stringent protocol which we work to, which occasionally means that roads get closed for some time when we are collecting evidence to present to determine the cause of a crash. We have just carried out quite a detailed review jointly with partners to look at how we can speed this up and make sure that roads are open faster without losing the evidential value, certainly from a policing perspective, of the best evidence that we can get.

Q262 Chair: Is it realistic to reduce the time involved in major incidents?

Nick Croft: Yes, it is. We can make better use of technology. There is a potential to negotiate with coroners to look at the evidential standards that they require. We know there are issues on coordination and how we coordinate with our Highways Agency colleagues, in particular on motorways. That can be very important. Again, it can be very important how the local police forces interact with the traffic authorities locally when they are not roads that are managed by the agency.

Q263 Chair: We have also heard comments from people talking to us today and before today about a lack of coordination between the Highways Agency and local authorities on managing roads where the two types of roads come together. Do you think that is a major issue, Mr Dalton?

Graham Dalton: To be fair, you have heard a number of views. There is an aspect of the role of the Highways Agency that has not really come out in discussion thus far, which is not just about managing the immediacy of congestion and traffic today, but it is around the planning regime and meeting longterm planning and the role that the Agency has in consultation with local authorities, previously with regional assemblies, and hopefully with LEPs once they are established, on guiding and shaping development, because motorway junctions especially and trunk road junctions are very attractive places for developers to put in either commercial or retail development. That is an area particularly where we have worked very strongly with local authorities and with planning departments at authorities to try and build into new planning consents the policies that will drive use of transport and try and lock in at that stage alternative means of access or alternative transport to get to these developments, such as bus services to serve out-of-town business parks. That is an important area where we work very closely with local authorities.

When it comes to traffic management and the here and now, for the immediacy it tends to be the big urban authorities that have realtime traffic management and control rooms. We work very closely with the likes of Transport for London because we have a number of motorways that feed straight into London and stop at the end, and then Transport for London pick up. We are monitoring those, and particularly when something goes wrong there is an immediate liaison between control rooms to manage it in that way. At 7 o’clock at night, when something has gone wrong on the road leading into a town and it is an authority that does not have an active traffic controlling function because it has not set it up, then there is very little one can do.

Q264 Chair: How big an issue is this? Is this a big problem?

Graham Dalton: Part of the answer is through the development of how we manage our network. As Mr Croft pointed out, until five or six years ago, the Police Service carried out, fundamentally, the traffic management function on all roads. I now have traffic officers, and Mr SheldonWilson manages our traffic management capability on motorways in England. We have an oversight in our control rooms of all the trunk roads, but, indeed, the police are the first responders on those. That is something that we have developed over a relatively short period of time as the network has become more congested. Some local authorities are dealing with more congested networks and having to do it, but with regard to the rural authorities, for example, it is a question of whether they could justify spending the money and either the investment in assets or the response crews and teams to go and do something. It is something that comes with the growing density of traffic.

Q265 Julian Sturdy: This is specifically to the Highways Agency. Do you feel that the network area that you are now covering has been reduced too much over the past decade through detrunking of certain A roads? I know it is easy in hindsight, but do you think it has been reduced too much?

Graham Dalton: The last major review was in 1998, if I recall rightly, which is 12 or 13 years ago. It was about three years ago that we finished and the last bits were detrunked. The world has changed quite a bit in that time. There are undoubtedly some bits that, if one were to look at it fundamentally again with a will to change, you might change. I know Ministers in this Government have looked at the purpose of the strategic road network. Listening to some of the discussion earlier, they have been fairly well defined, but there is a strategic road network to serve the big urban or economic centres, to serve the big ports and airports, the gateways and, of course, picking up the crossborder bit, the A1 north of Newcastle is the link-up between Newcastle and Edinburgh. That is about right. There is a question of how we get on to what we call the primary routes, if you like, the bits of dual carriageway that are not trunk roads but might feel like it to anyone using them. As technology has grown, we start asking the question not about who owns it and this absolute ownership, but whether, with the sort of traffic management and coordination oversight we have, there is a way we could roll that out more widely to those bits of route that merit it and start managing the traffic on primary roads without necessarily changing their status or ownership.

Q266 Julian Sturdy: Basically, you are saying that you would manage, potentially, some of what could be deemed as the strategic highway network that is still under local authority control. That would stay under local authority control but you would manage it more as part of the overarching function.

Graham Dalton: It is something to look at. You may be aware there is a review of the Highways Agency going on at the moment and what they should do. You talk about the boundaries, but we have this capability in the traffic management function, which on trunk roads especially is a monitoring function. We have cameras increasingly over bits of the network. We have the loops and detectors. We are picking up traffic flow. It is not everywhere but we have a better monitoring and coordinating function. It is a question of whether you could do that without going into a full retrunking exercise. That is the sort of area we should explore, but it is only when that piece of road is ready for some investment on it, to put the technology in, or to bring it to one place to manage it better.

Q267 Paul Maynard: Can I ask Mr SheldonWilson about the highway traffic officers because obviously they are a relatively new appearance on our roads? Some call them traffic wombles and think they are quite nice and cuddly.

Graham Dalton: We don’t.

Q268 Paul Maynard: Others don’t. In the period since they were introduced, what positive difference do you think they have made to the free-flowing nature of our roads and has that been quantified in any way?

Simon Sheldon-Wilson: As Mr Croft said there, the Traffic Officer Service is still relatively new. It was introduced in 2006 and it has been rolled out across the whole country. The very visible aspect of the Traffic Officer Service is the onroad service that we see patrolling the network. Behind that, we have seven regional control centres and the National Traffic Control Centre that is monitoring the network performance. Those regional control centres are looking after the entire strategic road network of all-purpose trunk roads and motorway routes. It is a Traffic Officer Service on road. There is a recognition of the expertise now that the Traffic Officer Service has in clearing incidents quickly. We have dealt with or we have attended 318,000 incidents in a year. A fair proportion of those-somewhere above 90%-are addressed and dealt with by the Traffic Officer Service, which traditionally would have been dealt with by the police. Because we are a dedicated function, in terms of dealing with debris, broken down vehicles in the live lane and non-injury accidents, our traffic officers are able to deal with those immediately without the need to call in the police.

There are two benefits. First, we can respond to incidents quickly and clear them, which prevents secondary incidents and congestion. The second benefit, of course, is that police resources are then released to do other policing activities, which is a wider benefit to which Mr Croft would refer.

Q269 Paul Maynard: Has there been any quantitative analysis done of input and output that would justify their introduction, because clearly they have not come free of charge?

Simon Sheldon-Wilson: Yes. It has offset some of the cost of policing. There was some research done a little while ago which tested out the benefit of the Traffic Officer Service against the incidents where we felt the Traffic Officer Service would have a benefit, i.e. those where there would be no police interest. The research suggested there was about an 11% improvement in traffic flow, i.e. a reduction in congestion as a result of the traffic officers doing their work

Q270 Chair: How do you get information to people travelling so that they are aware of conditions and possible congestion and possible problems? How is that done?

Simon Sheldon-Wilson: I referred to the National Traffic Control Centre, which is a centre we have located in Birmingham which monitors the whole of the strategic road network. We are in the process of replacing that with a new function called the National Traffic Information Service, which will start from September of this year when the existing PFI contract expires. The National Traffic Control Centre monitors the entire network through loops, through automatic number plate recognition, through CCTV capture, and processes all of that data in the centre, analyses that data for what we call abnormal congestion events and then provides that information out to customers through a variety of means. Traditionally, we have used things like the Traffic England website where we have put out live traffic data. We have direct feeds to the media-to local radio and major broadcasters. We have moved the technology on now with things like iPhone apps so that people who have access to mobile technology can access realtime traffic information as well.

You heard earlier as well about the strategic signing on the network. The National Traffic Control Centre will place variable message sign information across the network in a wider sense. Someone travelling from the north of the country who may be travelling to London will get information some distance away about an incident that is happening if we believe that they will be affected by that incident when they arrive in that area. So there is some intelligence in how and where we place the information. But our aim is to make information available to people before they leave for their journeys so that they can choose the route they take or whether to make the journey at all, and people who are on their journey have access to live traffic information through variable message signs and other devices.

Q271 Chair: Mr Croft, do you have any ideas about how this could be improved from your point of view or do you think the system works effectively?

Nick Croft: I think the system works well. Some of the issues for us which other people have touched on is how people access the source of that, because there is information on the internet, on mobile phones and in a lot of places, but some people just do not know where to find it. A really important issue is how we market that because we find, as people have already said as I have been sitting here and listening, that, if people know initially, up front, that there is a problem then they will plan an alternative route. The earlier they can get that information has to be better. We would strongly support anything that promotes how people can access that kind of information. Traffic Wales are doing a very similar thing across Wales.

Q272 Julie Hilling: I just wanted to follow up on that because it is about how people find out that information, particularly if you are travelling, because I do not think you would approve too much of people going on their mobile phones, having a look at their app to see what the traffic is. The other thing is about realtime. I recently travelled back up to the north-west. I am getting signs in London telling me the M6 is closed. Actually, I do not want to know that when I am in London. I want to know if it is going to be closed in three hours’ time when I get to it. In fact I diverted and it was open. There is that question about how we can do that better, how we can get the information out there and how we can make that real. The other thing about information is that quite often you see congestion signs and then when you get to it there is not any congestion, which means that you start to ignore the information that is there. I am talking particularly about the roadside signs.

Graham Dalton: There are two areas to talk about there. If the M6 is closed and you are just leaving London, we are dammed if we do and we are dammed if we don’t. But it is getting something up on the signs and encouraging people, hoping people will tune into radio and use that TP button-the travel button-on the radio. We have very good traffic radio broadcasting, probably 18 hours a day, seven days a week now. That is something that has changed in the last four or five years. It is getting weekend coverage as well from local broadcasters and using it. With local radio stations it is very good and you do get that update.

We get a strategic sign up-and it might be you or it might be a truck operator-saying the M6 is closed, and if it has been put up like that it will be a serious incident. It will be police led, probably with a serious injury or possible fatality, and probably at that stage they do not know whether it is going to be shut for two or three hours or seven or eight. It is worth getting it up there at least to make that alert. The one thing we have not done, and I have raised this with my own staff a couple of times, is to put something up to say it has reopened. Is that giving out too much information? That is one we have not got quite right.

There is the other bit where we talked about congestion ahead. Using lots of data and trying to keep cost-efficient, we use automation as much as we reasonably can. A lot of the variable message signs are connected up to detection loops in the road that detect slower moving traffic, either very high numbers of vehicles, which implies it is about to slow down just through the sheer volume of vehicles, or it is just slower moving. It puts up a warning and a lower advisory speed limit plus "Congestion" or "Queue ahead". That is automated. That in itself can just ease people back and it eases the block. Sometimes, the fact that you are not seeing congestion there just means that it has worked and eased it. I know it looks a bid odd. The real purpose of that is to stop this business that we do not get so often, which is people steaming up, not knowing, and just running into the back of traffic. Then you get the rear end shunts which cause delay and closure. They are two very different types of information. Tuning that automated data so that it is right most of the time is still a bit of an art and we have still got more to do with that.

Q273 Julie Hilling: Can I ask about driver behaviour as well? There is that question about how much driver behaviour leads to problems. What can we do about it, Mr Croft?

Nick Croft: It is a huge, huge issue. It is always going to be big, isn’t it? The kind of things that annoy people-you have all been there as drivers, I should think-are the road rage, undertaking, bad lane discipline for those people that generally drive carefully, and the majority of our motorists do.

To pick up Graham’s point there, if you look at the role of the variable message signs to slow people down and stop the sudden breaking, then the concertina effect and sometimes a completely stationary carriageway, before variable message signs the police used to do a thing called tailback where a police vehicle would reverse up the hard shoulder with the rear flashing red lights on. It is effectively performing that same role, giving people that warning.

Driver behaviour is something that contributes to people’s frustration. It contributes occasionally to congestion where people will cut in on people and they will undertake. There are enforcement methods that we can employ and some of them are automated ones. Some police forces now are extending the role of the casualty reduction cameras to ones where they are prosecuting for mobile phone offences, no seat belt offences, dangerous driving offences, etcetera. That is something that some forces are doing and we are looking with interest at those kinds of results to see if that is impacting on driver behaviour, because the early indications are that it is making a bit of a difference. ACPO would say that there is empirical evidence now that, where you have traffic enforcement cameras of whatever kind it is, be it time distance cameras, single flash cameras or casualty reduction mobile speed cameras, whether they are doing speed enforcement or other offences, there is a deterrent effect and speeds will come down, casualty rates drop and compliance goes up.

Q274 Julie Hilling: Is there more that we should do about teaching people how to drive on motorways? It is not part of the driving test, is it? Should we have another compulsory bit in the driving test, for instance?

Nick Croft: It is something that the Police Service have commented on quite a lot over a number of years. Something that seems to indicate there is some value in that is the Pass Plus scheme where young drivers can go on to that scheme and learn how to drive on motorways; they will have tuition on fast roads which they can now drive on and then they will get a reduced insurance premium as a result of doing that Pass Plus course. Also, there is some evidence to suggest that once they have done the Pass Plus course, they are safer drivers, less likely to be a young driver who kills themselves or passengers in their car, because you cannot get away from the fact that the major group of fatalities in the UK are people aged between 16 and 24. They are disproportionately represented, other than motorcyclists.

Julie Hilling: Males.

Nick Croft: And males, yes. Statistically, you are absolutely right.

Q275 Chair: Are onthespot fines, as suggested by the Government, a good idea?

Nick Croft: We have mechanisms now where we can fine people. We think there is some value in that there is a political debate that has raged around the Police Service about whether you are going to let police officers collect money at the roadside from motorists. The Police Service will say you should be able to trust police officers to do that, but there are a number of concerned bodies that will say other countries will show that that leads to corruption and it will lead to other forms of problems that we do not want. Personally, I think that there is value in that, but we need to make it as simple as possible because the countries that do it find that, occasionally, it is a very bureaucratic process to take the money from a motorist and make sure that that gets channelled into the right places.

Q276 Chair: Could there be an issue as well about the use of discretion as to which motorists were fined and which were not?

Nick Croft: Absolutely. But the basic premise of British policing is that police officers should be able to use discretion. ACPO would say that there is a body of the public that think there is no discretionary policing at all now. That is not true. Chief Police Officers encourage their police officers to exercise discretion. I always speak to my police officers and staff about the fact that, if they can get someone into education rather than punishment, that is a far better route, because, again, our research shows that where you take an educative-type approach it is far more effective than one that just punishes someone. We have schemes in place like the National Driver Rehabilitation scheme which retrains people. We have speed awareness courses which stop people having three points on their licence if they go through the course successfully. We believe they are very effective diversionary measures and should be pursued more.

Q277 Julian Sturdy: I would like to touch, if I could, on the 2+1 lanes. I do not know whether you think at the moment, given the economic climate, 2+1 lanes are an effective way of cutting back on congestion. I know the Highways Agency do have a few 2+1 lanes in operation, don’t they?

Graham Dalton: You are talking two lanes one way-

Julian Sturdy: Yes, sorry.

Graham Dalton: Are you talking about tidal flows?

Q278 Julian Sturdy: Yes. You have two lanes going one way and one lane going the other. Rather than an expensive carriageway reconstruction, you are using the existing carriageway to create another lane on some of the major A roads.

Graham Dalton: There are some bits of trunk roads, a bit of the A303 in the south-west to my mind, where I recall alternate bits of the centre lane are used alternately in either direction. I am not sure what the statistics are for that. That was a development from having a third lane which could be used in either direction. It was generally felt there was a bit of bumper-to-bumper fighting it out, and the casualty statistics were quite high. For high-speed roads, for which we are responsible, the general sense is that, even though most of these have been built, there is enough land there. You can use retaining walls or whatever at the side. We just segregate the lanes and have segregation, with central barriers.

Q279 Julian Sturdy: They do that on the continent, don’t they? They have 2+1 lanes on the continent with segregated barriers.

Graham Dalton: I am not personally aware of those, but I can quite understand that happening and presumably staggering it so there are some overtaking opportunities. But central reservation barriers are the key to stopping those crossovers, stopping those high velocity, high-impact incidents and they become more lightly damaged only.

Q280 Julian Sturdy: Is it something the Highways Agency have been looking at?

Graham Dalton: Not particularly. Our main effort is improving capacity. There are the three sorts of schemes we are doing. There are the managed motorways and the hard-shoulder running, which is getting this additional capacity on existing motorways which we were talking about earlier. There are trunk road schemes. Again, one talked about earlier was the A3 and the bypass through Hindhead. It is bringing that section of road up to the same standards as the road either side. The A46 in Nottinghamshire up into Lincolnshire is 20-odd miles going from a substandard single carriageway to a full dual carriageway route. Then quite a bit of effort is put into the small schemes that ease the bottlenecks: things like junctions and putting traffic signals on junctions or the slip roads around them, just to ease those queues. Those are the sorts of schemes we do.

Where it is trunk road improvements, the ones we have done recently are going from a highly substandard single carriageway, probably with gradients and horizontal curves on it that reduce sight lines, and just building a new one. There is not a lot to be gained by just putting a hit-and-miss 2+1 lane on there.

Q281 Julian Sturdy: On the safety issues, Mr Croft, just going back to this 2+1, is that something that would concern you for highway safety?

Nick Croft: The only time it becomes a concern from a policing perspective and on behalf of the Ambulance and the Fire Service is when we are trying to access scenes. On managed motorways, for instance, with regard to the M42, which I led on the policing side when I was head of the Central Motorway Police Group, we were concerned at the very start of that about how we would access carriageways at the times when all four lanes were shut. That has proven to be something we need not really worry about because it is very carefully managed and the lane closures, when they are put on, are very carefully done. I went across to Holland with a representative from the Highways Agency to see how the Dutch do it because they have been using it successfully for years. I saw it used superbly there. The only time we have a worry for the development of it in the UK is where we have very long sections of motorway. For instance, on the M42 around the Midlands, most of the junctions are very close, so we do not tend to get very long tailbacks. Our only concern would be where we have four lanes of stationary traffic over 12 miles between junctions. It is how you get the emergency services to people. If it is a matter of life and death where, very unfortunately, minutes can make the difference between someone living or dying where their airway is blocked, for instance, we need to get people there quickly. There is just, I suppose, an element of caution for us to say how we make sure we can do that. There are ways round it, but we just have to make sure that when we go for those schemes, we are going into them with a full knowledge of how we access the route at times of crisis.

Q282 Chair: Would you say that the managed motorway schemes have been successful in reducing congestion?

Graham Dalton: Yes. Again, it is about reliability of journey times. We have talked at length about the M42 scheme, Mr Croft just referred to it. Earlier this year we opened a section of the M6 just north of Birmingham, having opened a section of the M6 at the southern end of Birmingham a year ago. I think you are getting some of the feedback coming from the heavily congested section just north of where the M5 and the M6 come together. People are saying, "It’s great. I can leave home 15 minutes later in the morning." It is just getting that steady flow through. It is the variable speed limit and the use of the hard shoulder that is letting traffic flow through.

Q283 Chair: Is it limited on how far this could be used? Mr Croft, in the written evidence you sent us, you were very critical of extending this to some of the other motorways. Just now you said there were other ways round the problems you identified. Are you sure that there are other ways round it, because it doesn’t look like it from the way you are putting it?

Nick Croft: It goes back to making sure that when there is a problem we are absolutely joined up in the way that we approach the management of that scene. As long as all of the emergency services are working in the same way, they are viable options. Certainly from a policing perspective, because the congestion now is not there, we are not getting the tailgating and the minor collisions that we used to get. From a policing perspective, there are much fewer serious accidents on managed motorway sections than we used to see. It is quite noteworthy really. I do not think there has been a fatal accident since the M42 managed motorway was introduced.

Q284 Chair: Have there been any incidents that have tested whether the emergency services could get to scenes of accidents quickly enough where the hard shoulder is in use?

Simon Sheldon-Wilson: With regard to the number and severity of accidents on the M42, which is where the motorway has been managed the longest and therefore we have the most data on it, it has reduced. There have still been incidents on that network. As Mr Croft said, we work very closely with the police and other emergency services. Because the level of control we have over the motorway is very strong, when incidents do happen we are able either to close the hard shoulders to make it into a hard shoulder again or close other lanes because of the technology we have to provide access to the emergency services. The feedback we have had is that, while there have been incidents and fortunately no fatalities, there have still been some serious incidents. We have not had an issue where we have not been able to get the emergency services to the scene in a prompt way using the technology we have to control and move traffic back off the hard shoulder and allow the emergency services access to it that way.

Q285 Chair: One of the frustrations motorists complain about is when they are driving maybe on a motorway, maybe on another road and a lane is closed off or there are very slow speeds in operation there and the motorists cannot see the reason for it. Mr Croft, that is something that you identified in the evidence you sent to us, if I am correct. I think it was from your statement. Who decides what the lane speeds will be and who decides when the lane is closed off?

Nick Croft: The Highways Agency manages those roads.

Q286 Chair: So it is the Highways Agency to whom I should be addressing this point. Mr Dalton, do you decide which lanes are closed off and which speeds should be reduced?

Graham Dalton: For roadworks, yes, we do. We manage a schedule of roadworks, which is just a very large database, so we know who is intending to go out and do what and when. Particularly for the longer-term roadworks-and this is where it is on for days, weeks or months at a time-we certainly endeavour on the core parts of the network to maintain the same number of traffic lanes as we had previously. If anyone is familiar with the M25 widening that has been going on for two years now, we have maintained three lanes of traffic each way right through both peaks of the day, right through the day, but some of those lanes are narrower. We have put in a speed limit, normally a 50 mph limit. That means that heavy goods vehicles and cars are running at the same speed so you get a better utilisation of the space because there is not this car traffic trying to keep out of lane one or even just keep in the righthand lane because they do not want to be with the trucks because they are slower. The throughput tends to be smoother and average speed cameras have been very effective in this, just getting that smooth traffic flow through. It gets more traffic through, and it is safer for the work force because we have fewer incursions into the work site and the ones that do happen are less severe. We have to remember that we really are putting people out working very close to some very fast-moving traffic. It is those together.

In a number of those cases we keep the speeds on even when people are not working, partly with the cost of setting it up and taking it off, but because there is still this business of mixing different types of traffic with different permitted speeds otherwise and just keeping that capacity and traffic moving through steadily. It feels a bit slower, people do not always like it, but a lot of the feedback we get is that they realise they are not getting the queuing generally to go into roadworks. Overall, again, they have had a predictable journey. It has cost them a few seconds but it is only a few seconds.

Q287 Jim Dobbin: I have just a silly question. If there was a sustained period of economic growth, do you think there would ever be a time when we would have to limit the number of cars that families have?

Graham Dalton: That is always the question, isn’t it? Mankind has a fantastic ability to adapt and cope with pressures put on us. I have quite a faith in some of the technology coming to part of our rescue. You were hearing earlier that people adapt their working day and their travel patterns to demand. This is not just roads. This is rail, aircraft and moving around to adapt to demand. Would we get to a mandatory "Thou shall only have one car and only use it on Tuesdays"? I think it will be a slower process of getting there.

The question would be which bit goes first. People will adopt the system that works best for them, and when they find there is an alternative mode of transport or an alternative time of travel or working in a different place they will adapt. That will affect their travel patterns and behaviour. It will slow down possibly on urban roads first, which becomes a tipping point, before I will worry about it on our network.

Q288 Chair: Capita Symonds put to us the concept of managed routes. Is this something you are familiar with and do you have any views on it?

Graham Dalton: They came to talk to me beforehand. There is an element which is not dissimilar to what I was describing first about doing some more management of some more primary routes. We have urban traffic, and managing traffic in the urban situation is quite a different task to managing on fast, long distance motorways and trunk roads. They are different sorts of roles.

I have described the development of technology. You had witnesses just before us saying that not all the Highways Agency network is fully covered yet. That is right; there are gaps. The gaps are not too bad. We are trying to look at the use of cheaper forms of technology and cheaper forms of picking up vehicle flow data that help. Commercial companies with trackers fitted to vehicles use those trackers as devices also saying where the traffic is flowing and there are commercial companies that use that information to give traffic data.

That level of investment, fitting that technology, which is quite expensive, has not happened on primary routes and those going into the urban areas nearly so much. Urban traffic management has been substantially about traffic lights and traffic control systems, which are quite different from tracking traffic flow. I think it will grow, and local authorities face the challenge of how they start investing in that technology and find cheap applications of technology to invest in. That is quite a challenge for them. It is quite a challenge for the supply market in how they find the products that use modern communications, that do not have to be hardwired in, do not involve putting up big steel gantries and use lightweight equipment fixed to lamp posts which just pick up traffic data. The time when that investment goes into those primary routes is the first consideration because it will be quite expensive to do.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.

Prepared 14th June 2011