A new survey has found that more than 70% of motorists want an independent roads inspector to safeguard their interests and without one only one in 10 would trust the Government to act fairly.
Speaking at a future of transport: a network for 2030, staged by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which advises government, RAC Foundation chairman David Holmes said: ‘The UK has the worst road congestion in Europe and there will be 45% more traffic by 2030. About 60% of people support road pricing if the proceeds go to improving transport, but only one in 10 people trust government to act fairly.’
Speaking at the same event, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling was cautious about an early commitment to distance charging.
He said: ‘We’re not going to have a Big Bang change for all cars at once – people know enough about Government computers to know that would be a disaster.’
Computer failures affecting everything from air safety to benefit payments for children have stung the Government, which is to introduce distance charging for trucks whose miles covered are recorded on tachometers.
The transport secretary sees increasing use of satellite navigation as the technology route to introducing the change for fleet drivers and private motorists.
Despite the need for early and rigorous consultation, Darling has ruled this out until after the general election which is highly unlikely before May at the earliest.
He said: ‘We need to engage in argument but it’s not the best time before the election. Potentially, there are huge benefits but the technology will not be available for 10 years.’
Darling said good transport was essential for the economy and the existing network was designed for traffic of 30 or 40 years ago, putting it under severe pressure.
He is aware of the controversy distance charging will trigger because, without safeguards, it would shift the cost of car use away from conurbations to rural areas where people have to travel further for work, schools and many amenities.
Darling said: ‘We must learn from our mistakes, such as short-term planning, and ensure the investment is sustained. America has 10-lane highways with traffic moving nose to trail, and we must avoid that here.’
Investment in UK road building has increased, and he wanted better use made of the road system, which was why teams would be recruited to clear damaged vehicles more quickly after accidents.
The M6 toll route (around the heavily-congested Birmingham area) had been ‘pretty successful’ and might be extended north to Manchester.
‘We will have to choose between widening the M6 and building a new route running parallel with it,’ Darling told delegates.
He also considered work-based schemes, such as car-sharing and employees leaving cars at home one day a week which in theory could cut rush-hour traffic by 20% each week day. ‘It is better that these things start locally and then, if they work, they can for all of us,’ he said.
On air pollution, Darling said: ‘There is a conflict between people wanting to move around and protecting the environment. If transport policies kept people at home, that would be wrong. We have to strike a balance and I am acutely aware of environmental impact.’
The engine cuts out when the footbrake is applied at 4mph or slower and restarts automatically when the driver’s foot is lifted off the brake – independent tests have shown a 25% fuel saving.
The transport secretary’s aides said he would not drive it because PSA was a conference sponsor (so, too, was Shell).
PARKING at rail stations is often inadequate and it was impossible to find out whether a space would be available before driving there, RAC Foundation executive director Edmund King said during a debate at the conference.
King said: ‘If the government wants integrated transport, this is the sort of thing that must be addressed.’
Speaker Stewart Francis, chairman of the Rail Passenger Council, said: ‘We need a more joined-up transport policy and an end to car park charges being increased by stealth.’
Another speaker, Roy Wicks, director general of the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive Group, said: ‘Rail operators have built multi-storey car parks at Leeds and Sheffield, and a lot of long-distance commuters use them.
Other topics covered at the conference included: