Saturday, July 01, 2006

UK Transport Policy

This page discusses my efforts to change the UK transport policy.

It began with:

UK motorists getting bad deal

What is the total stopping distance of a car travelling at 40mph according to the highway code?

I often find myself pondering why motorists are given such a hard time. They have to pay very high, rising petrol prices (most of which goes towards tax for Labour to waste), high road tax (more money for Labour to waste), MOT, parking (most of which goes to local councils), parking fines and speeding fines (again giving money to the government) and various other costs associated with driving.

Yet the attack doesn't stop there. Mr Livingstone has a lovely CONgestion charge running in central London (which gives more money to the government) and in legal terms drivers usually get the blame when they collide with anything or anyone.

Perhaps a more fundamental attack is on the actual road layout itself. Across the UK road narrowing campaigns are taking place and "traffic calming measures" are going everywhere. Speed cameras, number plate monitoring cameras and general surviellance cameras line the motorways. Traffic lights are being designed to slow traffic down.
Bus lanes are increasing rush hour congestion and parking has become either impossible with all the yellow, red and white lines or when you can find somewhere, very expensive.

On all sides the motorist is getting squeezed. Yet I believe that this is not helping the population because everybody needs to travel and increasing motoring costs means increasing inflation and don't get me started on what Labour is doing to our economy!

Anyway the arguments against cars are as follows:
1) Pollution!
Eveybody is complaining about global warming and the solution politicans are offering is to increase driving costs. They have also attempted to improve public transport but with a single bus journey now costing £1.50, have not really given any incentives to use (other than making driving harder). My solution would be either cars powered by biofuels and other renewal energy sources (make it compulsory for garages to sell green fuels and for new cars to have engines that support them) or a scheme to offset pollution by planting trees along roads or to lower the cost of public transport so that it is at least equal in cost to using a car for an eqivalent journey. I also believe better provisions for parking bicycles would help.

Notice that most of my suggestions do not penalise the driver in any way. We've had enough of that already.

2) Congestion!
Ken Livingstone is making congestion worse! Its a deliberate policy to slow traffic down and make driving unpleasant. Therefore any suggestions he has I mostly ignore. My first action would be designing roads to get traffic moving. Identify and remove bottlenecks and up the speed limit on motorways to 80mph in normal conditions, but give harder penalties to people who, for example, drive at that speed during foggy conditions - e.g. dangerous driving.

Public transport needs to play a role and become cheaper and, where possible, faster. Also as mentioned before better provisions for bicycles would be helpful.

3) Road safety!
Here is where everybody has different views. Campaigners seem to think the answer is too ban cars, lower speed limits and drivers seem to think "get out of my way stupid pedestrian". Essentially my policy here would be to separate cars and pedestrians as much as possible and remove unnecessary road street funiture. I think bridges over roads, pelican and zebra crossings are the best way of dealing with this. However education needs to be given to pedestrians and children in particular to look before they walk in the road.

I think part of the problem is that drivers do not respect speed limits because in most cases they are inappropriate. Therefore I would increase speed limits in most places, but lower them in danger areas, such as crash hotspots, dangerous corners, near public buildings (e.g. schools and hospitals) and anywhere pedestrians are likely to be.

Road safety is an important issue, however is not an excuse for tax and excessive road restraints as Labour uses it for. All parties must realise the roads are a dangerous place and respect them. If a driver drives at 60mph outside a school at 3.10pm on a thursday afternoon, send him to jail for stupidity. Likewise if a school child runs into a road to get a ball without looking blame the kid and the parents and the school for failing to educate him properly.

What was the point of this post? Basically to get people to think differently about driving and the problems with cars. Current political policies are highly ineffective as is shown by the high number of people caught speeding every year, the ridiculously slow speeds of traffic in our urban areas, the high number of road fatalities and generally the poor design of our roads compared to the rest of Europe and the world.

For more information check out:

Answer= 36 metres or 120 feet (12 metres thinking distance and 24 metres stopping distance)
Posted on 5th August 2006

The next post is:

"GATE BRITAIN" warning from The Mirror

What is the concentration of Co2 in the atmosphere?

Two days ago I described some of the issues facing motorists and the public about cars.

Today "The Mirror" is running an article called "Pay-as-you-go roads vision"

The article basically states that if the transport secretary gets his way Toll Gates will start emerging at various locations across the UK, drivers of higher polluting vehicles will face a significant tax hike, speed limits along motorways will be lowered in an effort to "cut pollution" (maybe I should be getting more vitamins or something because that doesn't make sense to me), more congestion charging zones will be added and satellite road charging will be introduced along with various other measures.

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! None of those measures are positive. Sure it may stop people from travelling and increase inflation, erode more of our privacy and make driving more difficult, but in the long term, those measures will just turn into a not so stealthy tax on freedom.

If you haven't already, check out my previous post on the subject where I offer suggestions for dealing with pollution and congestion. Douglas Alexander is rapidly becoming a target for a new letter!!

"As of 2006, the earth's atmosphere is about 0.038% by volume (381 µL/L or ppmv) or 0.057% by weight CO2." From wikipedia
Posted on August 7th 2006

That was followed with:

"Gate Britain" part 2: The letter

I am pleased to announce that I have sent a letter to Douglas Alexander about the issues raised in the previous posts here and here.

Below is a transcript. I will of course update the blog with any feedback I recieve and I hope it has a positive impact.

"To Douglas Alexander,

I am writing in response to an article by "The Mirror" which discusses requests by MPs for you to take action to address the issues of congestion, pollution and global warming. I am concerned that the policies being proposed are both inherently negative and also dangerous to the long-term economic prosperity of Britain.

Firstly according to "The Mirror"
you proposed to add level of toll roads and congestion charging zones to large parts of the UK. However unlike in London there are many locations where there is no viable public transport alternative for business commuters. This means that the charge instantly becomes a transport tax. Only the wealthiest will be able to afford to travel and the rate of inflation will soar. The United Kingdom economy is almost entirely focused on tertiary and qua-tertiary sectors and if the costs rise too high, footloose businesses will relocate even more, forcing unemployment up.

Instead your policy should focus on speeding up journey times, improving public transport services and pricing them competitively against the car to promote usage.

People need to travel and your job is to facilitate and assist people in achieving this.

The article then discusses plans to increase taxation on vehicles that release more CO2. I accept that this is not entirely a bad idea but once again your policy is incomplete. Where is your policy on getting cleaner biofuels into UK petrol stations? Why has the Labour government increased the rate of tax on biofuels to the same as levels on regular petrol? Why have you not demanded that car manufacturers offer cars powered by renewal energy? The article states you have pledged 10 million into the technology for toll boths and that by the next election the Labour party will have passed laws on this. Instead of pursuing this quick fix tax policy why not create a legacy of your own by addressing some of the above questions.

At this point in the article I was baffled by a statement "They also want 70mph speed limits on motorways and trunk roads cut or rigorously enforced to cut pollution." Cutting speed limits, road narrowing, and generally slowing traffic down does not cut pollution, it increases it. Using more eco-friendly engines or cutting down the number of motorists may help, but considering we are talking about the motorways where people make mostly essential, long distance journeys, all lowering the speed limit would achieve is decreasing the capacity of the road network and increase journey times; another negative policy.

Raise the speed limit along motorways and other areas where there are few pedestrians and decrease them to very low levels when cars are in close proximity to pedestrians such as along high streets and near schools and accident blackspots, especially at certain times of the day to reflect road conditions. Use common sense. Just slowing traffic down is not a sustainable long term policy, and in reality highlights failures at all levels of government in managing traffic. People do not respect the current speed limits because the transport department does not respect people.

Bob Roberts continues by addressing your policy on road charging which it is claimed will help reduce congestion by reducing the number of journeys people make. However is your department being manipulated? I believe the long-term aim of the Labour party is to use road charging to track people by satellite by making it compulsory for everyone to have a black box in their car, giving the state the ability to monitor exactly who is where. Also in your reply you cannot state: "There will be protection against abuse" because as we have seen with virtually all previous intrusive legislation, the Labour party extends it and removes safeguards. And what happens if a party such as the BNP come to power?! If you value privacy and the ability to travel without being recorded oppose this legislation.

The final aspect of the article I will address is the airline fuel tax. Alternative engines and Biofuels appear to be the ideal answer. Do you have the courage to implement a positive transport policy for the remainder of your time in office?

Thank you for reading and I eagerly await your reply,

Posted on 7th August 2006

And then came:

UK Transport policy update - Department of Transport response.

I am pleased to announce that the Department of Transport has responded to the letter I sent to them. The reply is well written and courteous, and I do get the underlying sense that the woman partially agrees with me (maybe it is just a hope...).

Here it is (names excluded):

"Dear Sir,

Thank you very much for your letter of 7 August to the Secretary of State on the subject of road pricing. I have been asked to reply. In your letter you raise a number of concerns in response to a newspaper article.

// Thank you for taking the time to respond, especially considering the pressures on the department of transport recently. //

As you will appreciate tackling congestion is a key long term priority in transport because it affects us all. It causes frustration to people stuck in traffic jams. It is bad for business because it disrupts the delivery of goods and services. And it affects people's quality of life.

// ....and it is bad for the environment because it causes pollution... //

It is a growing problem, especially around our major cities, where businesses and jobs are concentrated. As the economy grows, people want to travel more and travel further than they did before. If we do nothing, the problem will get worse in the next 20 to 30 years.

// miss out the possibilities of Teleworking and the impact of the population size, but I agree it is an important issue and that is partly why I wrote to you. I don't believe any government should bury its head in the sand and hope a problem will go away... //

The Government is exploring the scope for developing a national system of road pricing - in line with its manifesto commitment.

// Its a quick fix solution to a problem that requires a long-term, sustainable, integrated policy. It might reduce congestion, but that will only be because people cannot afford to travel. I thought the idea of socialism was to help the people, not just tax them (or is this the new labour I've been hearing so much about)? //

This could mean charging on the basis of distance travelled with the charge varied according to how congested a road is. A Feasibility Study, published in July 2004, said that a national road pricing scheme had the potential to reduce urban congestion by nearly half, with about 4% less traffic using the roads at peak times. So a relatively small number of people changing the time that they travel, or travelling in a different way, could lead to a significant improvement in congestion.

// *sigh* According to data released by the Unlimited Jargon friends club, if you wear a hat, you are 40% more likely to experience a windy day. How many other alternatives have been considered? //

However, implementing a national road pricing system would be a massive and complex task. This is why to start with the Government has decided to focus on local pilot and pathfinder schemes, and support local authorities as they develop schemes which will test systems in different areas and establish what works.

// Perhaps you should replace "what works" with "what makes money". //

In your letter you raise the issue of public transport outside of London. Under the Transport Act 2000, for at least the first ten years, local authorities have to use the revenues raised by any road pricing scheme to help deliver their Local Transport Plan (providing the scheme comes into effect by 2011). After this time the local authorities’ share of net revenues can be spent as specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State. No decision has been made on what might be included in any such regulations. However, we are working with local authorities to enable the development of road pricing pilots that offer a fair deal for road users and work to the overall benefit of the places where they are implemented.

// Instead of working with on small scale community projects to improve an area, you are proposing creating an extremely complicated, bureaucratic system that will infringe on the public's privacy and make travelling more costly, which in turn will probably increase the English North-South economic divide. //

The Government is committed to improving public transport; it remains a key priority for us. Since 1997, spending on transport infrastructure has more than doubled.

// And yet clearly it hasn't solved the problem.... //

We have funded, and continue to fund, many local public transport schemes. The Crawley Fastway (a guided bus scheme) and Durham Park and Ride are recent examples of new schemes funded by the Department. We have also funded some very large rail projects, including updating the West Coast Mainline, which enables tilting trains to travel at 125mph - delivering much faster journey times. We are also investing in the Channel Tunnel rail link and upgrading the ticket hall at London Kings Cross.

// Whilst I support several of the policies mentioned, it is important to place Britain in context with the rest of the world. Japan has fast trains. Most of Europe has fast trains. The UK is still a long way behind and ticket prices are very costly during peak times (inhibiting travelling further). //

Furthermore, when local authorities bid for money from the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) to implement road pricing schemes, they will be required to tell us what complementary transport measures they are proposing. It is for the local authority to determine what these measures will be, but it could include measures such as real-time information systems at bus stops, improvements to bus services or redesigning the road space to encourage more walking and cycling.

// I hate to be a spoil sport, but I think the fares from bus journeys should pay for upgrades to the stops, not car drivers. //

You also raise concern about the effects of a road pricing scheme on people travelling to work. The Government recognises how important it is for people to be able to get around, and that is especially true for those on low incomes who need to travel to work. We are certainly not trying to price these people off the road – indeed under some possible schemes they might pay less than now in motoring costs. What road pricing should do is to encourage some people to change their travel arrangements, perhaps by travelling a little earlier or later, by car-sharing, or by using public transport where that is an option. Not many people need to change their journeys for us to have an impact on congestion. All of the pilot schemes for pricing will assess carefully the impact on all groups, including those on low incomes, to help design the best arrangements.

// A good point. Low income families will be penalised more under the new scheme, especially those who live outside expensive urban areas and commute every day. According to you "not many people need to change", which is a little contrary to what you said earlier...I thought congestion was a major issue. If only a few people need to change then there is less of an argument for road charging than before. //

The Government is also actively promoting fuel efficiency. The Graduated Vehicle Excise Duty and the Company Car Tax are now both linked to vehicles’ carbon emissions. Motorists can save up to £210 in VED, and thousands of pounds on their Company Car Tax bill if they choose clean, low-carbon vehicles. Colour-coded energy efficiency labels for new cars, modelled on those for household white goods, were launched in February 2005 and are now in most UK car showrooms. These enable consumers to make informed and environmentally friendly choices when they buy a new car. The 2002 Powering Future Vehicles Strategy sets out the Government's policies to encourage the development and uptake of clean, fuel efficient vehicles.

// This is hardly solving the problem. What you've done here is increased tax on the wealthy (who will probably just ignore the increased costs) and on families. The labels are a good idea, but clearly not widely publicised (especially compared to the "think" campaign.) //

You suggest in your letter that speed limits should be adjusted according to the number of pedestrians in the area. The Department keeps all national speed limits under constant review to ensure they remain appropriate. In 2001 we considered raising the motorway speed limit but concluded that the increased risk of accidents and severity of those accidents far outweighed potential benefits. Particularly as police enforcement thresholds are 10% plus 2mph of the speed limit. This effectively means that enforcement may not begin until vehicle speeds exceed 79mph.

// Yet in Germany (where many motorways have no speed limits, but instead strict dangerous driving regulations) road accidents have been falling dramatically over the past decade ( Once people in Great Britain accept that travelling by car is still an essential part of today transport policies, then maybe we'll be able to move forward. //

Local authorities are responsible for setting local speed limits, including speed limits by time of day. It is for them to decide when and where local speed limits may be changed. The Department published new guidance to local authorities on setting local speed limits on 8 August this year which will further assist in their decision making process.

// That still doesn't address my point of separating pedestrians and motorists. It doesn't even come close. //

The Department’s aim is to achieve safe, appropriate vehicle speeds that will reduce accidents and the risk of accidents and increase use by pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians.

// Increase use of roads by pedestrians? What kind of speed limits are you thinking of? //

Finally you raise the issue of black boxes and their affect on the privacy of individuals. We are conscious of these concerns and safeguards will need to be considered as we design any scheme. There are several ways to design a road pricing system - there are different types of technology and different ways of billing and paying. We need to work through the privacy implications of each of the options and it is too soon to say exactly how reassurance will be applied in any specific scheme. What is clear is that, as a minimum, the normal legal protections concerning the use of personal data would apply to all road pricing schemes, be they local or national."

// The data protection act is already under attack from central government. As previously stated no reassurances can be given. //

Yours sincerely,

BUT WAIT A MINUTE, what about the points I raised in my letter?

-There was a complete omission of any discussions of biofuels. I believe they have great potential (in a medium term time period) to solve many of our problems. If only 5% of drivers were to use biofuels, it would be the equivalent of taking 1 million people off the road. Brazil has done it. Actually (as the department of transport has used it above) according to the Labour Party manifesto The "government will continue to support technological innovation to reduce carbon emissions such as hydrogen fuel-cell buses in London."

-Public transport outside London (and especially in rural areas) is completely inadequate (lets face it, one or two buses a day is not going to be enough).

-Many people in rural areas are already on low incomes and this tax could drive them onto state benefits. However the government's "clever" solution is to adjust the price of travelling down certain roads so rural areas will be cheaper apparently (but what about second home owners or city commuters?). They also want to make cities expensive (What about low income migrants stuck in council accommodation?). Perhaps the answer is to tax based on earnings, but then there is no point in having road charging. Whatever way you spin it, it doesn't make sense.

-Public transport is overpriced in virtually every part of the United Kingdom. For regular travellers driving is significantly faster and cheaper and more comfortable than waiting for a bus. You can also carry lots of luggage in vehicles. The letter avoids discussing the price of public transport.

-In my letter I mentioned businesses may move away from Britain as a result of the inevitable increased costs. Those that do believe they can still make a profit will pass on costs directly to consumers (reducing the disposable income of everyone further). There is no mention of this in the letter either!

-On the issue of road charging all signs suggest the decision has already been made, even though the department of transport acknowledges how complex and unwieldy it is.

-As expected, the letter fails to outline what safeguards will exist.

In summary, the arguments for road charging (reduction of pollution and congestion) could be achieved far more effectively with the requirement of fuel efficient engines in all vehicles, the use of biofuels and other renewable energy (how about a solar panel on every car to power the air conditioning?), small scale local schemes by people who know their area, competitively priced public transport and better designed, more efficient roads to get people completing their journey's faster. There is also an argument for decentralisation of goods and services and generally reducing the need to travel.

Thank you for reading and I hope *you* will now reassess your approach to transport.

Posted on 19th September 2006

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home