Has transport been left out in the cold?

Claire Haigh
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Reflecting further on this week’s 2012 Autumn Statement by Chancellor George Osborne, a few things come into sharp focus.

The cancellation of the planned 3p rise in fuel duty may have been one of the Chancellor’s most popular decisions, but it comes with a hidden price for many.  Welfare claimants and jobseekers have been hit by real terms cuts in benefits, and the consequences of promoting car travel at the expense of public transport are very serious – especially when you consider that nearly half of workless households have no access to car.

We can be sure that more cuts will be on the way.  The Government still needs to find an extra £10 billion in 2015-16, and of the various Government departments, transport is particularly exposed.  It is of course positive that Government recognises the importance of providing transport infrastructure, however, with the increased focus on capital spending there has been an accompanying squeeze on revenue which is bringing unintended consequences to the rest of transport system.

Buses are especially vulnerable and have generally fared worse than other transport modes in recent cuts, in spite of the fact that bus commuters generate £64 billion in economic output.  Research by the University of Leeds revealed that last year 11% of bus commuters were forced to turn down the offer of a better more productive job due to lack of a bus service.  Government should take note here.  Recent welfare-to-work figures have been disappointing, and buses are fundamental to getting to people to work.

There is also the very real risk that in the rush to provide infrastructure fundamental principles of transport planning are being overlooked.  As Professor Phil Goodwin has commented recently “No doubt more things will be built, but they will be the wrong things, in the wrong place, at the wrong time”.  And the economic benefits of transport infrastructure projects typically do not outweigh their costs for 20 to 40 years.

Reading through some of the supporting documents, it is however encouraging to read that the Government intends to publish a Door-to-Door Strategy “to support a well-connected, smart and sustainable transport system that works for everyone”.  There are many low cost interventions which would go a long way to supporting the Government’s drive to improve transport infrastructure and support economic growth.

What we need is to make best use of existing capacity, and to provide improved transport for those who need it most to get back to work and to get the economy moving again.

Image by: Sherpa_536

3 Comments

Ray

I think fuel tax rises have become politically unsustainable and are too high for those who really need a car.
People should be required to pay the full economic costs of car parking and should not be allowed to park in a way that obstructs roads or inconveniences or endangers any road users.
People should be required to drive to high standards eg Inst Advanced Motoring and they should be required to have black box recorders for accident investigation – like Londpon’s police.
Some people would then drop out of driving. A big reduction in crashes would help bus a great deal. by reducing random congestion. Crashes are a big cause of congestion as looking at bus company or WY Metro twitter feeds shows

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Dave H

From very limited straw polling, and car club surveys, the delivery of a significant boost to household disposable income, from facilitation of travel choice and door to door travel is clearly indicated.

Cycle-rail-cycle commuters om the Home Counties are ‘saving’ up to £8000/year on their ‘commuting’ costs, whilst cutting up to 2 hours from the 4 to 6 hours of time* spent unproductively each day travelling to work *(true journey time for a door to desk commuting journey).

The Belgian (and to a lesser extent the Go Northeast) schemes for car scrappage also show the initiative that would drive change, and boost household disposable incomes by £2000-£3500/year with no requirement to increase the National Wage bill, or individuals’ Tax Codes.

This initiative also has potential to greatly boost the roll-out of fuel efficient and electric vehicles, though car sharing clubs, and likewise boost cycle use for shorter local trips.

Central and local govenermant can play a part here as well, by offering optional membership of a car club and a bike share/hire scheme as an employee benefit, with HMRC treating the £50-£80/year membership fee as de minimis as a benefit in kind, and facilitating the purchase of taxi, car club and bike hire, for travel to work through the same process as buying rail and bus travel.

Finally as a very radical move we should return to the 1930’s regime for management of on-street parking. Roads should be provided and maintained SOLELY for the movement of traffic. At a stroke in most urban areas this will reduce the areas of carriageway which need to be repaired by around 50%.

There would be no need for yellow or red lines, or signage, removing clutter and cost, and no disputed parking fines. Areas of road not required for moving traffic could be turned into small parks, mitigating the impact of heavy rain (flash flooding) and mitigating CO2 generation (photosynthesis), or returned to the owners of the solum (generally the frontagers), or where appropriate to a company who contract to maintain and manage the areas as car parking.

There remains the benefit in kind, worth between £1500 and £6000/year that remains untaxed by HMRI for millions of employees, and which is income not seen by millions more, who are not offered a free parking space at work. Realising the revenue from this might also mitigate the cost of providing road capacity which lies deserted and empty outside just a few hours every weekday. Wonder if anyone dare take that step!

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Richard L

We know that bus travel can support economic growth by reducing peak hour congestion which costs the UK economy an estimated £11 billion annually.

Making the bus more financially attractive through the tax system to commuters especially outside London where car travel is less problematic and expensive is key to driving down the cost of congestion.

I feel there needs to be more lobbying of government by public transport and sustainable travel groups calling for a relaxation of the HMRC guidelines in order to enable employers to offer an attractive salary sacrifice scheme for annual bus tickets which provide zone / network wide travel. The tightening of rules in 2010 meant that only home to work tickets would qualify and futhermore the employer would be required to financially supporting the particular bus service serving the workplace.

The Cycle to Work tax free scheme has boosted cycle commuter figures. A more viable bus scheme which financially incentivises mode shift from car to bus by workers I feel would be a game changer.

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