Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by the Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) (IB 24)

Introduction

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) was formed in 2012 by the merger of the Association of British Drivers (founded 1992) and the Drivers’ Alliance. It campaigns for a better deal for Britain’s motorists. It is a voluntary organisation funded by subscriptions and donations from members and supporters. It currently has around 3,750 members and 5,000 supporters on social media sites; factoring in affiliates would certainly bring its support to over 20,000.

The ABD receives no funds from public bodies or private-sector businesses, so is truly independent. It is a member of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations.

The ABD has responded to past Parliamentary, central and local governmental inquiries including giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee. It has made presentations to interested parties as diverse as local councils, the Danish Embassy and Sino-UK Trade Link on topics ranging from roads investment, congestion charging, road safety and speed limits.

The ABD’s national committee has agreed this response to the consultation, and solely wishes to comment on the roads aspects. This submission has not been previously published or circulated elsewhere.

Summary

The ABD has serious concerns about proposals to change of status of the Highways Agency into a company with possible commercial (i.e. profiteering) targets, the enablement of road tolling and the appointment of a watchdog with scant credentials for protecting motorists’ interests. It argues with evidence that such measures will not enjoy popular support and will most likely be detrimental to the interests of both motorists and non-motorists.

In particular, the commercialised regime of Highways England would raise the prospect of increased costs to motorists, increased prices of goods in shops and an impact on inflation and public transport fares. The ABD shares the concern of the Transport Select Committee about tolls forcing the diversion of traffic onto local roads; this stands to increase local congestion, road wear and accidents. It calls for the roads provisions in the Infrastructure Bill to be dropped and alternative measures to be deployed to improve the Highways Agency ’s performance , especially its delivery of what is regarded as a vital public service .


ABD Comments on the Infrastructure Bill

1. Of most concern to drivers are proposals for the Highways Agency (HA), which is responsible for the Strategic Roads Network (SRN) .

· The HA is to be made into a state-owned company (a ‘Go-Co’) called ‘Highways England’.

· A supervisory body/watchdog will be appointed

· Tolling is enabled.

2. The ABD has particular reservations about the road tolling aspect.

Experience shows that there is no popular demand for this; in fact, opinion polls carried out for the DfT and others have shown opposition rising to 75-80%. Popular referendums in Manchester and Edinburgh rejected road tolling by a majority of nearly 80%.

In 2006/7, 1.8 million people signed a petition against road tolling when the previous government sought to introduce it. Only 5,000 people signed a competing petition ‘for’.

3. In 2014, a n independent national opinion poll was carried out for the ABD over issues raised by the Infrastructure Bill, and the related ‘Cook Report’ that has driven government policy on the future of the SRN .

This independent poll reflected concerns where the SRN might be run by a company:

· 64% felt that if they had to pay tolls on roads that are currently free, it would affect their standard of living, and only 13% disagreed.

· 77% would respond to tolls by changing their journeys to untolled roads, which might be less suitable. Only 6% would not.

· By a margin of 64% to 17%, drivers had concerns about details of their private journeys being recorded by a new roads management company.

· By a margin of 62% to 18%, drivers might object to their personal data being used to target them with advertising. (This was not explicitly proposed in the Cook Report, but might be an example of the asset-sweating, made possible through outsourcing, particularly if the government were to allow "permissive" latitude, as noted in Parliamentary Research Note 14/65.)

· By a margin of 53% to 25%, drivers would not want transport ministers to offload responsibilities for our vital main roads to such a company, as hinted by the Cook Report.

· 71% felt they would be less likely to vote for a party that allowed roads that are currently not tolled to become tolled. Only 7% disagreed.

The ABD feels that elected representatives are primarily elected to reflect the concerns and views of the people. Five out of six journeys are made by car or van, and the number of drivers in the UK is estimated to be between 33-36 million.

4. The Infrastructure Bill would give the Secretary of State unqualified powers to effect tolling on roads on the SRN.

Therefore it would appear to clearly go back on the promise in the Coalition Agreement to rule out tolls and any preparation for tolls in this Parliament (source: .GOV.UK, 23 June 2011, qualified: ‘for cars on existing roads’).

This promise has already been compromised by attempts to toll the A14 in Cambridgeshire and the vague prospect of tolling roads that have been ‘improved’. The revived prospect of tolling the A14 as part of the SRN would undermine assurances given that its upgrade would be provided without tolling.

The Infrastructure Bill lacks any safeguards based on popular consent, such as a mandatory local or national referendum.

5. The ABD believes that road tolling would be unjust, as drivers already pay several times over for using the roads, and there is no case for increasing this burden.

It notes with concern the government’s intentions towards supplementary targets for Highways England - unspecified "business performance measures" (‘Road Investment Strategy: Performance Specification’, p7). Given the thrust of the Cook Report and the Treasury’s ambition stated in the 2012 Budget document - to make even more money out of drivers – this will not enjoy popular support.

It would be fallacious to believe that increasing the tax burden on drivers is necessary to support a road investment regime.

The planned £15.2 billion investment over a period of 6 years, approximately £2.5 billion a year is minimal compared with a tax take from drivers of over £50 billion a year, of which only around £10 billion is spent back on roads. The National Audit Office has warned that even this level of investment is not guaranteed.

This should all be seen in context: something in the region of £500-600 billion net has been taken from drivers since 1997. In truth, road investment has been paid for in advance, several times over.

6. A concern expressed as far back as the days of the Major government ( pre-1997 ) by the Transpor t Select Committee is that tolling would force traffic off major highways like motorways (statistically our safest roads!) and onto lesser roads. The experience of the London Congestion Charge and the M6 Toll Road is that drivers will actively avoid tolled roads.

The roads likely to receive diverted traffic are less likely to be lit, maintained or gritted. This cannot be good for road safety, especially for motorcyclists. Diverting traffic would stand to increase local congestion, road wear and accidents.

7. The wider public – including non-drivers – would also lose out as tolls would also increase delivery costs and the price of goods in shops, with a knock-on impact on inflation and public transport fares (which are inflation-linked).

8. The ABD has material concern over an assurance made in correspondence from a MP that the Government is setting up ‘new bodies’ to hold Highways England to account and protect the interests of motorists.

One ‘new body’ is really the existing ‘Passenger Focus’ body, to be renamed ‘Transport Focus’. This is a strange choice, as it has no experience of protecting the interests of motorists.

It has already taken on an outspoken road pricing advocate as board adviser, Mr David Leibling, who was on the GLA ‘Mayor’s Roads Task Force’. The latter body’s recommendations in 2013 could hardly be said to be sympathetic to the interests of motorists, as they raised the prospect of increased charges for driving and parking, measures to discourage car use, gratuitous road closures, the removal of road space and restrictions on parking space provision.

Passenger Focus is already consulting groups that exist primarily to make money out of drivers like the AA and pro-road tolling groups like the RAC Foundation and Campaign for Better Transport, the latter being very hostile to motorists and road expansion.

9. The ABD also concurs with the view of the current Transport Select Committee which reviewed the work of the Highways Agency in 2014. It conclud ed that the change of status is unnecessary and that performance improvements could be made through a better management approach.

The Highways Agency is already a practitioner of the Lean quality improvement methodology that has been effectively used in both public and private sectors.

10. In summary, the ABD believes that proposals to change the status of the Highways Agency and enable road tolling would jeopardise the interests of motorists rather than protect them, and calls on our elected representatives to amend the Infrastructure Bill to remove the relevant clauses.

January 2015

Prepared 6th January 2015