Friday 4 June 2010

A Broken Transport Policy

We have a new Transport Minister in Philip Hammond and the motorcentric press are excited.  He has been reported in The Guardian as saying that he will 'end the war on motorists'.  Who though is waging war on whom?  It is not motorists who pay the full price financially, legally or in terms of casualties for the damage they inflict.  On holiday this week I saw an angry windscreen sticker proclaiming 'Back off the motorist'.  Where can I get a bumper sticker proclaiming 'Tax me properly when I drive' or 'Enforce the law against me whn I transgress'  or 'Deter me properly from killing or maiming when I am behind a wheel'?
Mr Hammond does not cycle (he drives a Jaguar), nor does he understand that care needs to be taken around and room given to vulnerable roadusers.  He apparently believes it is for cyclists to make cycling safer.  Oh and speed cameras are just not sporting, so no more funding for local authorities for those (especially not those devious average speed cameras which make it harder to evade detection by slamming on the brakes when you see the flourescent yellow camera and tell-tale road markings).
The latest decision of Mr Hammond is to order a review of the exisiting plans to order more train carriages (ones which were to have had more space for cycles).  Apparently a decline in rail passengers is predicted due to the recession so funding for railways is to be cut.  Causes for a decline in rail passengers are not hard to find in economically straitened times.  We have the most expensive trains in Europe.  To give an example, I need to attend a meeting in Exeter on Monday morning; I do not know how long it will last so cannot pre-book the train.  The fare is £150 2nd class (50p/mile).  The running cost to drive would be around £60 at 20p/mile.  Driving would take around the same time but with no time spent waiting for a train or connection   No wonder people are abandoning trains for their cars.  There needs to be an incentive to choose the less damaging mode of transport.
Equally a commute from where I live into Central London costs around £20 by train (33p/mile) so cheaper to drive even with the congestion charge.  The reason many people take the train is because it is marginally faster and because parking is scarce/expensive.  In the event that people are persuaded to adopt a more sustainable form of transport, others will see the freed up roadspace and freed up parking and make choices based on simple economics.
For those reasons it is essential first that roadspace is reallocated from the motorist so that success in discouraging car use does not result in temptingly freed up roads, and second that taxes on motoring are increased and/or road charging introduced with more sustainable methods of transport subsidised so that the economics are not quite so powerfully in favour of the car.
In relation to the reallocation of roadspace, I pay for the roads through my taxes and so do you.  They are not financed by the motorist.  Often, particularly in densely populated areas but also in rural areas where by-passes have been built, a number of roads lead broadly the same way.  Why not erect barriers that only cyclists and pedestrians can pass every few miles on some routes so that motoring is only for access and is restricted in speed to 15 or 20 mph?  Or look at exisiting dual carriageways with a view to devoting one side only to motor traffic?  Some roads designed for motorists, some for cyclists, removing the dominance of the car on at least some roads for the first time for 100 years.  The roads are already there, so this could be no more expensive than the hopelessly impracticable cycle facilities now provided at such expense.
We need imaginative solutions to our transport problems, not a harking back to the era when the car was even more clearly king than it is today.


  1. It might help if people were encouraged not to compare the cost of public transport to the cost of fuel in their car, as it always makes public transport look bad. I'm not sure how you came to the driving cost used in the post above but I hope it took into account the share of the car's initial cost and maintenance fees spread across the whole of its life, combined with a share of the vehicle excise duty and insurance and then the cost of the fuel added to that also. The problem is that such calculations are hard due to the amount of variables and the fact that you don't know how long the car will last/cost until after it has gone and how far it will go in its life. Surely there must be a way to produce a reasonable estimate of cost per mile which doesn't hurt the image of public transport.

    Making the trains cheaper would also be nice though. Maybe also making a bigger point of the fact that you can read/work etc on a train but you can't (or at least shouldn't) do that whilst driving a car. Plus you could have a few pints after the meeting, before going home if you please, building a few bridges.

  2. Some very fair points, Mr C, which would usually sway me (and no doubt many others) in favour of the train. However most people have access to a car and will incur the standing costs if they leave the car in the garage. It is very ambitious to seek to persuade people to give up the car altogether so the economic calculation will usually be between the additional costs related to the specific journey. Rail costs are so high that some car hire websites point out that it is cheaper to hire a car for a specific journey than take the train. It seems to me that cost must be a major explanation for why we apparently no longer need new carriages, whilst the roads are choc-a-block.

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  4. I think what might help people to give up the car altogether is to do the total cost of ownership calculations as I suggested in my previous post, giving a monthly cost. If people see what percentage of their income is being eaten by what is essentially just a luxury item which has gotten out of hand they may be willing to do something about it. I'd guess (with help from the A Most Civuilized Conveyance blog, bearing in mind that motoring is cheaper on the US) the average person with a car spends somewhere in the region of 15% of their effective income on the car. This would be higher for those who are poorer, despite buying cheaper cars. That 15% could look very unfriendly when you think of it as time spent at work, 6 working hours of a 40 hour working week to pay for the thing you use to get to work and back. Thats 13 days spent at work every year. Thats a lot of money for convenience. The time saved by the convenience of owning a car is lost by spending time working to pay for it.

    From a non-car owning perspective, the idea of looking at train travel costs (which I agree should be lower) from the perspective of having already incurred the standing cost of a car is a bit like bemoaning the high price of hiring van from the perspective of already owning a van and incurring the standing cost of the van. The van hire service isn't really aimed at those already owning a van, and currently our railway network isn't really aimed at those already owning an equivalent (car). I can see that owning a car would be useful sometimes, and so would owning a van. Most people don't see the point in owning their own van because the amount of times you truly need it are pretty limited, and they wouldn't justify the expense. To me the car is the same. My circumstances help to make this easier for me than for some, but a lot of people could lose the car and be barely inconvenienced.

  5. "I pay for the roads through my taxes and so do you. They are not financed by the motorist. "

    This statement is incorrect. The revenue raised from fuel duties alone is more than is spent on 'transport' as a whole, let alone just the roads. Adding vehicle excise duty means that motorists pay considerably more than the roads cost.

  6. I did post URL's to the relevant revenue and spending statistics to support my last comment but the commenting mechanism has deleted them. :-(

  7. I stand by my comment. There is no hypothecation of fuel duties or VED. Transport is paid for out of general taxation. The idea that motorists pay for (and somehow therefore own) the roads is a pernicious doctrine that needs to be corrected at every opportunity.

  8. In response to BruceH's comments, fuel duty does indeed raise a large sum (£25bn - source IFS). That is more than the roads cost to maintain, but it is not more than the roads cost.
    You're ignoring:
    a) the capital value of the land;
    b) the opportunity cost;
    c) cost to public health of pollution and road crashes;
    d) cost of climate change.
    I'll ignore the last two because they're pretty well-understood and well-documented issues.
    The value of the land that is under tarmac is huge. Land the size of a parking space in London is worth upwards of £20,000. Business rates or council tax would be payable on the land if it were used for residential or commercial purposes, so there's lost revenue there.
    A house on a busy highway such as the A3 is worth considerably less than a similar house in the same area, so there is considerable loss of value caused by the presence of the road to nearby properties.
    Of course, roads do add value as well, because residents and businesses need access and need to travel, so I'm not arguing that we could remove every road without any economic effects. But by the same token, London has a chronic shortage of land, so it is not correct to ignore the value of that land or the blight that roads have on the nearby area when considering the cost of road transport.