The great car conundrum



24th May 2002

Christine Seaman – Director, South London Partnership (CS)
John Trayner – London General Buses (JT)
Alison Broom – Head of Merton Street Management (AB)
Cynthia Hay – Capital Transport Campaign (CH)
Sir Alfred Sherman – Roads Campaigner

Chair: John Ellison + 34 Participants

Q1: If the railways are non-viable, and given that 80 per cent or more of us actually travel by car, should we not turn them into roads providing excellent access through and between our cities and towns?

AS: The fact is that we are slaves of history. The railway began in the 2nd quarter of the last century and dominated transportation for the rest of the century. Even immediately post war, the mix was 40% train, 40% bus and 20% car. Today railways are anomalous, very capital intensive and more ten times more costly on a fuel/mile ratio than a car. Today 85% of journeys are by car and 7-8% by train or bus. Railway subsidies are still more unjust because it is better off people who use them, while taxpayers pay foour times over for use of their cars. In theory it would be a good idea to cut down railways expedditure. Probably cannot within London as politicians, journalists and other Professional people travel into London by train so we are unlikely to get much change.

AB: Our legacy is a particular network of road and rails in this part of London. I believe that the London Rail system is most efficiently used in its current form. For radial national roads it is unpalatable to change.

On taxation, we should look at the wider economic conclusions - whether the costs are fair, where the costs of road building do not take account the price in congestion and environmental costs. Unfortunately in Britain, transport planning has not made these transparent. One area to spend more on is maintenance of our roads. In Merton the backlog is £20 million. If money is spent on masintenance, there is less to be spent on cyclists and cycle lanes for instance.

CS: Debate is always being played between pro-public transport and pro-car lobby – no sensible discussion on how we can make the best use of what we have. The South London Partnership wants to invest in orbital transport to give people a realistic choice – sadly at present there is not much choice, you have to take the car.

JT: The answer (to the question) is no. If railways were turned into roads then we would see the biggest nightmare we have ever faced. A train into London olds upwards of 1,000 people – yet most cars have one person in them. Where would all these cars park. Agrees with CS that we should get the better out of what we have at the moment- we need better integrated transport building on more buses and the success of light rail schemes and Tramlink.

CH: . If railways were decommissioned you would get gridlock and buses would slow down. As statistics show, 85% of London commuting traffic is by train/tube.

Floor: I cycle into London every day – if made safer, a lot more people would. Now 4% fewer people cycle than 1 year ago – there should be direct cycle routes along the railway lines.

AB response: Cycling is a more friendly form of transport but people are concerned about safety and facilities at work in terms of comfort (changing, etc.). As a city we are not investing enough in the needs of London as a whole, the level of investment in cycling is very small.

Floor: But Government does not now allow motorists to drive a moped with a car license - it should be made easier again. More home working would cut congestion.

Question 2 – Since it is accepted that polluters should pay, surely the motorist must be obliged to pay for his own car? And will the inevitable result of expanding our existing road network be exactly what it has always been – still more cars, congestion and pollution?

JT: We are approaching (road) gridlock in 20-30 years: we are not far off it now. In 1993, a standing committee came to the conclusion that if you build more roads there will be more cars. Now we are at saturation point and there are more cars waiting at home that would take advantage of any increased availability. Therefore, have to use existing space more wisely.The bus is the only short-term solution while trains and light rail schemes are developed.

CH: The Government is kind to the motorist. The real cost of public transport has risen by more over the last 25 years than for cars.

CS: There is a lot more we can do to make roads more effective – a lot of anti-congestion measures, like road humps, add to the amount of pollution The polluter should pay but think that motorists are currently taxed very highly. Newer cars are less polluting, but congestion remains the big issue.

AB: This week the (Merton) Council announced its continuing help towards promoting the Tramlink extensions from Mitcham to Tooting and from Morden to Sutton. The existing route to Croydon has seen a 20% shift in usage.

CS: Across South London six (tram) schemes were considered of which four are now under scrutiny including the two in Merton. Congestion is a major issue in South London but thpugh we have proved these scheme’s worth they are far down the list of the Mayor’s priorities. He is focusing on West and Central London– the scale of under investment is a major issue for South London:

AB adds there is a conflict between inner and outer London. Inner London getting a lot of attention but outer London not key for the GLA or TfL. This is very unfortunate as outer London is experiencing bigger problems than central London. It is difficult to turn this around.

JT: sees this issue more simply. London market has many variables, there has been a 7% increase in bus rider ship and the tube is at capacity. There will continue to be more buses and enhanced services over the next year.

Q3: Does the panel believe that congestion charges, more taxes, higher fines and penalties can ever be effective in driving the motorist off the road? And if indeed traffic is reduced by 10 to 15 per cent in London by Ken Livingstone’s road charging plans next year, do we have a public transport system in place capable of taking up the strain.

JT: Usage is up. Unless additional capacity is provided the plan will not work. The date is set for February 17th 2003. An additional 200 buses will be provided, some new routes, reliability measures or enhancements to existing routes. This will provide 7,000 to 8,000 additional journeys. Even if motorists switch for one day a week there will be a benefit. Remember how smoothly the roads run in school holidays. Buses are the only solution to provide a short term fix. In the future, trams and light rail schemes alongside rail will provide solutions.

CS: really uneasy about the congestion charging proposals. People drive through London from necessity not choice, for example, small business users – do they pass on the charges or not – they may go out of business. And what of the roads immediately outside the charging area?. Effects of a single blockage are felt a long way out.

Chair: commented that in the rest of Europe subsidies to buses run at 70% here around 35%.

JT response: subsidies here are continuing to rise but we are still under subsidised. Fares are key to encouraging people: but fare structures are too complex, hope they are simplified. Next January we may have one flat fare across London – maybe 80p or 90p.

AS: Subsidies are paid for from taxes. Who pays? The motorists are obliged to fund other peoples’ ravel – it seems to me to be inequitable. Most people who own cars travel by train and bus as well: very few people would give up owning a car. We are creating an economic mad house of tax and subsidy. The Socialist theory is that public transport is good and motoring is bad: the persecution of motorists is a class struggle. We are always talking about getting to work but leisure creates the biggest percentage of car use.

Chair: proposes each panellist two principal improvements to create a road transport system to temp the motorist from his car

CS: 1) Cleanliness 2) Efficiency , greater integration .

JT: 1) Integration, public consultation: 2) Money invested more wisely

AB: 1) Better Information 2) Safety/Security

CH: 1) Accessibility for the least mobile) 2)More express buses

AS: None: shouldn’t the objective be to shift travel away from central London?

Audience voted on six of the above categories: maximum of two votes each:
Integrated Transport: 23
Information: 12
Safety; 8
Cleanliness: 7
Accessibility: 5
Express buses: 5

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