Transport Watch UK Focusing on UK's Traffic & Traffic Systems

Topic 1, Transport policy (2000)

The Labour Government’s 10-year plan has, as a key feature, the transfer of people from cars to public transport.

The targets for passengers were to increase bus use by 10% and passenger rail use by 50%. What effect can that have? The figures are as follows:

  1. Car use is forecast to rise by between 12% and 20% over the decade ending 2010 (National Travel growth forecasts)
  2. Bus/coach travel accounts for 10% of motorised passenger-km. If that rises by 10% i.e. to 11% and if half the difference of 1% comes from car users then car use may be reduced by half of one percent.
  3. Rail accounts for 6% of motorised passenger-km. Hence, if rail use rises by 50%, i.e. to 9% of current motorised passenger-km and if half the 3% difference comes from car users then car use may be reduced by 1.5%.
  4. The combination of the above means that, if the Government’s targets are met, car use may be reduced from a high forecast of 120% of the value in the year 2000 to 118%; a change so trivial that it will pass unnoticed

Meanwhile the cost of rail modernisation alone is now over £70 billion. That is a huge sum, which needs to be given a context both as to the amount and to the use to which the investment would be put. E.g.

  1. £70 billion is sufficient to build the residential accommodation for a city of 1.5 million people - more than £1,000 for every man woman and child in the country, or about 3,000 for every household.
  2. National statistics show that only 1.5% of all motorised journeys go by rail. Those journeys are predominantly in the South East and to London. Hence, for the rest of the population, a rail journey is a rarity.

In parallel with that the following bar chart, taken from Focus on Public Transport, shows how passenger-km have changed over the decades. The chart shows that there has been little change in rail use since 1952, or in bus use since 1982. What is striking is the twelve-fold increase in car use since 1952. That is one reason why it is difficult to believe that buses and trains can ever attract people out of cars - Most of the car journeys are entirely new. They would never have happened without the car. Instead people would have stayed at home. Hence, it is probably unrealistic to suppose many of those trips may now be divert to public transport.

Alternatively consider the dispersed land use we now have. The use is dispersed because of the private car. A dispersed land use is impossible to serve efficiently by bus let alone by rail and tram. After all, if there are 10 housing estates and 10 industrial estates there would need to be 100 bus routes if the housing and industry were to be directly connected. That is never likely to be economic.

For all those reasons the 10-year plan was bound to fail, and at very high cost to the nation. That is not to say public transport does not have a place, but clearly that place is no longer centre stage.

What is the alternative for clearly traffic congestion imposes very large costs on society, causing frustration and delay most days to most people?

There are two options, which compliment each other, namely congestion or distance charging for the use of the roads, and car-share schemes. There is also the third option of expanding the capacity of the road network.

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