The major road network (HC 533-iii)
Transport Committee 8 Jul 2009
Evidence given by: Kapsch TrafficCom AG: Sharon Kindleysides, Managing Director; The Institution of Engineering and Technology: Professor Margaret Bell, Science City Professor of Transport and the Environment; Local Authorities' Technical Advisors Group: John Elliott, Secretary for Transport Committee
Q188 Mr. David Clelland: When we are talking about it [the major road network] being adequate for the needs of the UK economy overall, does that apply to every region? Is it adequate in every region or are you talking about a global situation?
Professor Bell: I think you can argue that there are areas and sections where you need additional capacity but I think in the future we need to invest in the economic potential that motorways offer by using innovative ways in producing people movements, in having buses that are able to provide office facilities so that businesses can use the time that normally is spent driving, whether it is in full flow or congestion, for improving the economic situation and investing in it.
Q189 Mr. David Clelland: That is to do with the use of the roads rather than the roads themselves. In terms of the actual road infrastructure in each of the English regions, do you feel that each region has an adequate road infrastructure?
Professor Bell: There are areas, certainly in the east/west cross north of the M62 and in the north towards Scotland, where there needs to be considerable investment to improve the economic growth in those parts of the country.
Mr Elliott: Whether that should be done by roads or otherwise is another moot point. I think in some areas we might have an excess of infrastructure and this has encouraged too much road movement and particularly car commuting movement on the strategic road network, which cannot be matched in the urban areas. That is one of the big problems at the moment, that the trunk road network is assessed completely differently from the local road network and local transport systems and TAG authorities, mainly urban authorities where we have highway responsibilities. Generally we have managed as well as we can be expected to manage to reduce traffic under the existing rules but we have had the strategic road infrastructure put in which has generally added to our problems rather than taken away from them. I am not saying a small bypass might not be needed somewhere. I am not saying that we do not need more access roads, but, for instance, adding to the M25 I think is quite big public money that would make matters no better at all within a very short space of time.
Q199 Mr. David Clelland: The RAC suggested to us that the spending on roads provides a far higher rate of return that other types of transport spending. Would you agree with that?
Mr Elliott: No. I think this is really the modelling and economic assessment that are structured the way they presently are. You can change those assessments very quickly. Certain members of our group, senior officers, say, "We will get the assessment to stack up, okay?". In the early seventies I worked on the Archway Road, an infamous road scheme and on the next section for consultants. We changed an assumption on the minor road network that the speed should be 24 miles an hour instead of 22 miles an hour, or the other way round; it was two miles an hour difference and that changed the assessment from no benefits to good benefits, and this was only on the minor roads so it had no real bearing. Just that minor change changed everything. There are so many assumptions in the assessment method. Even the speed/flow relationship - as you get more traffic, obviously, it gets slower and slower, and there is a limit to how much you can put down a road. I suggested in our evidence that it is around 2,000 vehicles per hour. The road safety limit is something less than 1,800, but the assessment method assumes that you can carry on filling a road up to 5,000 vehicles an hour per lane, which means that each vehicle would be about three feet long and would be travelling at totally unrealistic speeds. There are so many assumptions in the modelling that have created these economic values and I think they are pretty suspect. I am not saying we do not need something to assess between different schemes but at the moment I think it is very suspect.
Q225 Mr. David Clelland: So how do you deal with a problem like the A1 western bypass around Gateshead, which I am sure you are familiar with, which gets very congested and it does not have a hard shoulder, so you cannot have any hard shoulder running? Do you think that problem can be resolved by public transport?
Mr Joseph: No; I think it can be resolved by a range of measures that deal with the local transport in that area, freeing up that road for genuine long-distance traffic that needs to be on it. That is fundamentally where we are coming from. You will find that a lot of the vehicles on the A1(M) have one person in them and even a small change in which you have car sharing widespread, say, organised through a Tyne and Wear-wide car sharing scheme, would make a difference to the vehicle occupancy. In other words, you would get more people in fewer vehicles on that stretch of road and that has hardly been tried. It has been promoted by Mr Clabburn and his colleagues. It has not been subject to any serious government work.
Mr. David Clelland: Is there any evidence where that has had a real impact on communities anywhere else?
Q226 Chairman: Could you give us one or two specific examples?
Mr Joseph: I can quote from Seattle in the States where they have a team of people who focus specifically on improving car occupancy. They monitor car occupancy which is something we do not do in this country. We collate it but we do not monitor it, and they have put in place measures to improve it, so they work with local businesses to encourage them to have car share schemes. They have HOV vehicle lanes in the centres. They have 200 miles of HOV lanes in Seattle itself. In this country I think we have about five miles in total.
Q227 Chairman: Are there any examples from here?
Mr Joseph: There are lots of examples but they are all done on tiny budgets. Devon has the highest per head of car sharing in the country and they spend typically about £20,000 on promoting it and they have about 9,000 members. Nationally in the UK we have 350,000 members and we save about 40,000 trips per day, but that is done on our social enterprise budgets which are tiny.
Q228 Mr. David Clelland: But, apart from Seattle, do you know of anywhere in the world this has had a major impact on traffic congestion?
Mr Joseph: Depending on whether you look at HOV lanes or just promoting car sharing generally, if you are looking at promoting car sharing to businesses, as my predecessor sitting in this chair was talking about, there are lots of examples where companies have taken this seriously. One company had a 70% reduction in car use to their site by promoting car sharing.
Q229 Mr. David Clelland: Yes, but what was the impact on traffic congestion in that area?
Mr Joseph: Locally, massive; collectively, across a whole area, minimal, but at the moment it is all being done by individuals rather than being supported centrally by government.
Q230 Chairman: Mr Joseph, have you any examples of where this has made a significant impact?
Mr Joseph: Yes. The Highways Agency have some examples because they have been doing a programme of work with employers surrounding the trunk road network. For example, they have done a travel plan with the Cambridge Science Park which now has 45% of people cycling to work and larger public transport use. A lot of the people on there were previously on the A14 which was congesting there. There is some good experience from Northern Ireland where the Department of Regional Development have told me that they have been promoting park and share schemes on the outskirts of the city. I do not know how that has progressed; that was a few years ago, but that was a scheme that was being promoted by the Northern Ireland Government at one point. The point we would make is that all of these things have so far been tried on a small scale. It needs to be done on an area-wide basis. The evidence is that where we have done some area-wide work of this sort, notably in the sustainable travel work that the Department for Transport has been funding in Darlington and Worcester and Peterborough, the numbers suggest that you have a significant increase in public transport use and an appreciable decline in car use across the city in those areas by every school having a school travel plan, large-scale household information for those that want it about the alternatives available to them, working with a lot of employers and so on. The final numbers on that will be out later in the year but I understand from talking to the researchers that the numbers show that if you compare, say, Darlington, with equivalent sized towns in the region, they had declines in traffic and car use compared with other towns by doing this and the Department for Transport is now rolling that out to a sustainable travel city. The problem is that all of these are being done on tiny budgets compared with the cost of major road building.
Q231 Chairman: What you are saying is that they do have impacts.
Mr Joseph: They have impacts.
Mr. David Clelland: Can you let the Committee have evidence on that?
Q232 Chairman: We will be interested if you can send us some evidence.
Mr Joseph: We can certainly send you the evidence from both the Highways Agency and the Department for Transport.
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
The full transcript may be read here.
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