Commons Gate

Taxes and charges on road users (HC 103-iii)

Transport Committee 28 Jan 2009

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Evidence given by:
2.45 Transport for London: Michele Dix, Managing Director Planning, Greater London Authority Kulveer Ranger, Director for Transport Policy, Mayoral Team
The SPARKS Programme
Nick Lester, Chair of the SPARKS Network & Corporate Director of Services at London Councils
3.30 Local Government Association
Councillor Shona Johnstone, Regeneration Transport Board Nottingham City Council
Jason Gooding, Project Manager Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council
Councillor John Walsh OBE, Leader of the Conservative Group
4.15 Highways Agency
Graham Dalton, Chief Executive
Ginny Clarke, Director of Network Services & Chief Highway Engineer.

Q289 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I think, Chairman, we should put it on the record that we did invite the Mayor to come and he was unavailable. I think it is unfortunate because obviously the panel we have got before us are very reticent to go on about future policy, whereas I am sure Boris would not have had that constraint! Looking at the technology which is being used, if you were starting again would you be using GPS? Would you look at a totally new technology?

Ms Dix: If we were starting right now we would probably think about using tag and beacon technology. Certainly we did a lot of trials of different technologies in London and their suitability for application in London. This is since the original scheme was introduced. All these trials were done sort of 2005, 2006, to understand whether the technologies which were being advocated by others would work in London. We were concerned whether or not if we had GPS technology the number of satellite readings, the accuracy of picking people up on a particular road would work in particularly Central London where we have got a lot of high buildings. So some early trials did not convince us that it was ready for a link by link charging system. We looked at tag and beacon, which was to read vehicles as they came in the zone or different locations in the zone in order to automate the scheme more and the results of those trials were much more compelling.

Q290 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The Committee visited the Netherlands and obviously we had deep discussions about their scheme and they are going for the GPS scheme. One of their objectives, the main objective, is to reduce congestion. I accept they do not have such a number of high buildings, but I think it was Mr Ranger who said billing people out. Surely that is the way forward, sooner or later, whether we get Galileo or whatever? The technology you have got now is rapidly becoming out of date, is it not?

Ms Dix: We can use the camera technology which exists now to introduce the billing system which Kulveer is talking about. If we want to introduce accounts we can use the camera system we have got available. If we want to introduce more flexibility in the system we would have to move to a new technology such as tag and beacon. If we want to get to a distance based charging scheme, whether or not you would want to invest all that technology just for the Central London area and all ticked by time of day when in fact congestion in fact exists all day long, it might be inappropriate to have a complicated piece of technology if you have got a simple problem. If there was ever a need to look beyond Central London and have a wider distance based charging scheme, then you would need to improve the technology, but if you want accounts right now you do not necessarily need to change the technology.

Q291 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My final question: do you think the sort of Congestion Charge around a city like we have got in London and like they have not got in Manchester has had its day? After the referendum in Manchester, do you think that if we go forward it is going to be a national charging scheme?

Ms Dix: I think the referendum in Manchester and also the recent vote in London about the western extension, the vote in Edinburgh and the on-line petition on charging which we had point to the fact that the acceptability argument is not being won and the rationale for introducing these schemes has not convinced people necessarily that they are the right way forward. So if we had a national scheme would that make a difference? It would only make a difference if you were introducing it and taking something else away.

Mr Ranger: Could I add to that? Going back to some of my original comments, I think we have to look at schemes and how their benefits then get eroded and whether people still see a value in them. I think public transport in London is exceptional in terms of the amount of choice and it makes it unique in terms of why the Congestion Charge was applied to Central London. So in different areas of the United Kingdom it would be difficult because of the uniqueness of London as an area. We have to take into account over the oncoming 10, 20 years and further - I think some of you may have seen the Mayor’s document Way to Go, which is looking to present an initial vision for discussion and how we see transport in London. That is looking at some of the major infrastructure we are looking to deliver, such as the line upgrades on the Underground, Crossrail, the cycling revolution bike hire schemes and maintaining and improving the bus network there already is. All of those, plus just the construction periods for those and projects like Thameslink, will have a huge bearing on how we see traffic and congestion in Central London. So we are trying to understand the impact of all those schemes in their periods of delivery as well as in their periods of operation, and then where does congestion sit and how do we deal with it through that period of time. That is some of the work which we are looking to do through the development of the new Mayor’s transport strategy in conjunction with revisions to the London Plan.


Q313 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Mr Ranger, you worry me somewhat, your enthusiasm! I am aware of the issue about the re-phasing of the traffic lights. That was to give pedestrians more time. I just get the impression that the motor car is going to be given more precedence under the new administration than the pedestrian. I suppose it could be argued that the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square held up the traffic, but it is a massive improvement for London and I understand that the plans for Parliament Square have been abandoned. Have we got a new situation where the motor car is being given precedence again over the people who walk and live in London - apart from cyclists, of course?

Mr Ranger: I would like to put your mind and the minds of the rest of the Committee at ease. We are not pro the motor car. There is no sort of policy here that says we want people to drive more. There is a policy which says we do not want London to come to a grinding halt. We want to be as efficient as possible with the road space that we have because it is not just cars that use it, there are buses, cyclists and everybody else who uses that environment and really we want to at least mitigate the impact of a lot of things that are happening over the next four, five, ten years which will impact on our ability to get people to move through our city. I am quite concerned about the level of diversions and the level of construction and the impact on all the work that is happening on the Underground, the construction of Crossrail, the construction of Thameslink and the construction for the Olympics. It is an unprecedented time in terms of the level of works which are happening in our city and I and the Mayor are quite keen that we make sure that London continues to move and be able to move through that period of time. The way to do that will be to look at what we can do to mitigate how road space is being used and we see that we need to improve the flow. So if that means that people can move a bit quicker -

Q314 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Across the crossings?

Mr Ranger: No, in fact the re-phasing of traffic lights is without any impact to pedestrians. That is the key there. We are not looking to have a significant impact on pedestrian crossing time. In fact, we are also lobbying and have had discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport and DfT on bringing in countdown signalling, which provides more certainty in terms of - I do not know if the Committee has heard of this - where you see a number as it goes down in terms of how much time you have. It is currently considered to be a blackout period which provides uncertainty, "Should I cross or should I not cross?" But the countdown system has been used in a number of cities, including San Francisco and across California. It is successful and actually can improve safety by 25% where it has been implemented. So there are schemes such as that which we are looking at, as well as turning left on red lights. We need to look at providing policy solutions which can provide space on our road network, but then we look to use that space as mitigation for diversions, for moving people onto bicycles, for improving the urban environment. That is where schemes such as Shared Space, maybe not Parliament Square, but definitely Exhibition Road - I do not know if the Committee is aware of that particular scheme, where you would look to have more people sharing the actual road surface, pedestrians, cyclists, buses and car users. Those are the kinds of ambitions we have. That scheme and Shared Space itself can also provide lower travelling speeds in 25 miles an hour zones. So there are many things coming through. As I say, the key to all of these ambitions and these policies is to ensure that they are complementary and not competing with each other in eroding the benefits they may provide.

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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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB