New deal for road users 21 Jan 2009

Road users deserve a new deal and urgently, according to Professor Stephen Glaister, Director of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation speaking today at the conference ‘Driving Forward Our National Network’ (21)*.

Professor Glaister will explain that motorists are getting an unreasonable deal because they pay forty-five billion pounds a year in road taxes, but only nine billion pounds is re-invested in the road network. This has resulted in increased levels of congestion and more unreliable journeys. Professor Glaister argues that this needs to change.

He will explain that traffic has been growing at a rate of 1-2% per year, which adds pressure to already overstretched roads. The current economic downturn is expected to dampen traffic growth in the short-term, but new government forecasts** suggest that when the economy recovers, traffic growth will return at a similar rate, due to future population and economic growth.

Professor Glaister will argue that contuing to do very little is a highly unattractive option. Eighty-seven per cent of adults believe congestion to be a serious problem in the UK and over three-quarters of adults believe it is important for the government to tackle congestion in relation to its other responsibilities***. Left unchecked, the rising cost of congestion could waste an extra £22 billion worth of time, every year in England by 2025 and increase costs to business by over £10 billion a year****.

Developing public transport, although vital will not reduce the need for road investment or solve the problems of traffic congestion or greenhouse gas emissions. A previous Foundation paper***** found that a billion pounds of public transport fare cuts would only reduce car travel by less than half a percent. This is because public transport will only ever be suitable for certain trips.

According to Professor Glaister, fuel tax reform is central to achieving a more efficient and fair use of the road network. Charges that are relevant to car use rather than car ownership are needed. The cost of carbon needs to be clearly defined and then enforced in all energy uses.

Drivers are too often left in the dark about the service they are getting from their roads in return for the vast amount they pay. Better information on congestion and the frequency of traffic jams is required to protect the general public interest.

Commenting on the Department for Transport’s most recent plans for roads ****** Glaister will welcome Government’s recognition that:

  • Cars and lorries are essential to modern life-styles, to the functioning of our economy and to quality of life;
  • Road traffic is likely to continue to grow at 1-2% per annum;
  • There are already severe shortages of road capacity which has created longer average journey times and less predictable journeys;
  • There is a strong case for providing new capacity and consistent investment;
  • Increasing unreliability causes particular dissatisfaction to the public.

Professor Glaister will hail the £6bn investment in road capacity as a step in the right direction, but will voice concern about the wholesale development of hard-shoulder running, as a short-sighted substitute for widening or new route developments.

Professor Glaister, Director of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation says,

‘The Government’s most recent announcement on roads is a step in the right direction, but it is inadequate in dealing with the overall roads problem. The plans focus exclusively on the UK’s motorway system, which ignores the severe problems faced by the nation’s suburbs.’

‘Hard shoulder running is a short-term measure rather than a proper alternative to widening or developing new routes to suit growing needs. Active traffic management has to be done diligently to meet safety requirements, which has significant cost implications. When this is taken into account, hard shoulder running has little advantage over road widening, particularly where improvements to junction capacity are concerned’.

‘A new deal for road users is required. Motoring taxation should be transparent and fair and road development should be based on a proper, long-term strategy.’

* The conference ‘Driving Forward Our National Network: Tackling congestion and improving the UK’s trunk road and motorway network: What are the policy tools needed to achieve this?’ is taking place on Wednesday 21st January 2009 at Bircham Dyson Bell, 50 Broadway, London. For further information see:

** DfT forecasts

*** DfT (2008) Public attitudes to congestion and road pricing

**** DfT (2008) Roads – Delivering choice and reliability.

***** RAC Foundation (2008) Public Transport Effects on Road Traffic: Potential and Limitations

****** DfT (2008) Roads – Delivering choice and reliability and DfT (2009) Britain’s Transport Infrastructure Motorways and Major Trunk Roads.