'FOR decades in Britain, under governments of all complexions, transport has been the Cinderella department. Yet transport in all its forms is vital both to a successful economy so that goods and people can be moved efficiently, as well as being vital to delivering choice and diversity for all citizens, and we need to be much more creative in finding solutions to the problems we have.
One of the biggest problems faced on our roads is congestion. The latest statistics show that traffic levels rose by another 3.8 billion vehicle kilometres, with more congestion meaning even more time and money lost by businesses and by the economy on our roads. The other problem this brings is its impact on the environment. Transport is one of the single biggest and fastest-growing producers of greenhouse emissions. If we are to begin to tackle global warming, we have to put emissions control at the heart of transport policy. Any strategy that does not recognise this self-evident truth is doomed to failure.
However, virtually everyone now accepts that it is impossible simply to build our way out of trouble with new roads. Even if we ignored the environmental costs, the plain fact is that we have nowhere near the cash required. Therefore, the Liberal Democrats believe there must be a presumption against new-build for roads unless the cost benefit is overwhelming. A more holistic approach is required that addresses the problems of rising traffic levels and inadequate public transport as a single problem.
The Liberal Democrats believe we need a charging regime for car use – not car ownership – which reflects both congestion and need.
In the medium to long term, we should be charging vehicles on when and where they use our roads, taxing the use rather than ownership of cars This means scrapping Vehicle Excise Duty and replacing it with the fairer system of road user charging, which – research has shown – whilst keeping the overall tax take at the same levels as at present, would reduce congestion by 50%, at the same time as making 80% of journeys cheaper. This would bring particular benefits to rural drivers who at present actually pay more for fuel than in other areas, but where a public transport alternative simply doesn’t exist.
We supported the Government’s plans to put off any increases in fuel duty in the present climate of volatility in the oil markets. However, there are changes that can be made more immediately. The Lib-Dems have been supportive of recent changes in company car taxation, based on CO2 emissions, and we have no plans to make any further changes to this at the present time. We would, however, extend VED based on CO2 emissions to all vehicles. Drivers of the least polluting vehicles will benefit from reformed VED by paying less tax, whilst those who drive vehicles with high emissions will pay a little more.
Towns and cities with congestion problems will be encouraged to consider congestion charging as a method of tackling gridlock. Congestion charging should be introduced at the discretion of local authorities. Local authorities would be allowed to borrow against future revenues to invest in public transport.
Improving the road transport network and road safety is dependent on recognising the importance of engineering enforcement and education. Appropriately designed and well maintained roads can help to reduce the number of accidents.
Speed cameras also have a proven track record in reducing road casualties and we support their appropriate use. In local government, councils of all political persuasion are supportive of their use to improve safety in local communities. There is nothing wrong in principle with reviewing the upper speed limits for motorways but any increase must be accompanied by stricter enforcement. The first priority must be to properly enforce speed limits and we believe that speed limits in urban areas should be reduced.'
By John Thurso, Shadow Transport Secretary, Liberal Democrat Party