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

July 2004 - bus lanes, Railway Subsidy and fuel, Toll roads and congestion charging, speed limits and cameras

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Posted by Paul F Withrington on August 16, 2004
Subject: Transport-Watch news and comment July 2004

Bus lanes and the reserved lanes on motorways

The Times Monday 5 th (and others) reports that the government is considering reserved lanes for cars containing more than one person, as in the USA. There followed a letter on 7 th pointing out that in the USA such lanes are under review because they cause congestion e.g. taking 25% of the road space while carrying 7% of the traffic.

We comment : we have bus lanes which are substantially empty, doing little but cause congestion for remaining traffic. It would be sensible to open such lanes to lorries and cars containing more than just the driver. That may encourage car sharing, an option that may be much more effective, and a fraction the cost, of attempting to force people out of cars into buses. That is because (a) a 10% increase in car occupancy may very well reduce car traffic by the same amount whereas the 10 year plan's target of increasing rail use by 50% and bus use by 10%, would reduce car traffic by perhaps 2% from the level it may otherwise have grown to, an effect so small it would be difficult to measure. (b) public transport is incapable of serving the dispersed land use we now have. (c) A diesel powered family car containing the national average of 1.5 people is more fuel-efficient than a bus containing the national average of 9 passengers.

Reorganising the railways and its subsidy

The first sentence of the White paper on the Future of Rail says, "The railways are a vital public service". That sentiment is repeated in "The Future of Transport" and in the SRA's annual report. In support, the latter lauds "everyone's railway", a document that proudly points out that " nearly half the population of Britain uses the train at least once a year " - demonstrating at a stoke doublethink on a mammoth scale.


  1. the Transport Committee has been touring rural railways to find there are one-carriage "trains" once in two hours on widths sufficient for two lane motor roads. Paved those rights of way would extract perhaps 10,000 vehicles per day from the adjacent road networks - generating new axes for development across the nation.
  2. subsidy to rail, including capital never to be repaid from fare box, is running at between 20 pence and 40 pence per passenger mile. Hence a return from London to Birmingham costs the taxpayer between £45 and £90. Add the fare (£20 to £44) and compare with the current Megabus offer of (from) £1 city centre to city centre. We comment , no wonder regional rail services are at risk.

Separately from that the 30,000 crushed rail commuters that alight in the peak hour at Victoria Main Line (London) may envy the 30,000 seated coach passengers approaching the New York bus terminal also in the peak hour. Those coaches require only one lane 3.2 metres wide. The trains at Victoria require 4 tracks each way.

We comment , why is it that the Government, along with those paid up to £500,000 a year to advise, ignore the facts so comprehensively? Let us at least hope that if rail services are to be withdrawn from cross-country routes then those invaluable rights of way will be converted to roads managed to avoid congestion so that express coaches may replace the trains.

Fuel consumption (of rail) and digging them up

Top Gear on Sunday 11 th made fun of the railways lobby quoting Professor Kemps finding that the private car is more fuel efficient per seat-mile than the train - see also the June News. The Top Gear presenter James May, writing in the Motoring Section of Telegraph on Saturday 17 th , takes that a step further. He called for the railways to be converted to roads, relegating real railways to the hobby section e.g. the attic - where he keeps his toys.

Anti-car or what?

New Civil Engineer of 1 st July reports a Danish architect Jan Gehl commissioned by London's Mayor claiming that car dominance is preventing full use of the capital damaging commerce and preventing environmental improvement. As a result pedestrians do not linger and enjoy.... Transport-Watch comments - let us hope the report also acknowledges that the car has greatly extended choice and the sense of freedom for most people.

Telegraph of 7 th (Philip Johnston, home affairs) reports that parking and other fines have topped £1 billion a year of which £380,000 is "profit". Motorists' organisations criticise that particularly because of the negligible effect on congestion and the punitive attitude of parking wardens - probably on bonus.

A Toll roads, taxes and congestion charging

Widely reported is the proposal for a new toll road from Birmingham to Manchester. The Telegraph's editorial of 7 th criticises tolls on the basis that the motorist has already paid some £42 billion year via fines and taxes. We here note £42 bn amounts to £1,400 for each of the 30 million vehicles currently licensed.

The White paper The Future of Transport majors on congestion charging. However that cannot be in place before 2014 and the cost will be high - the Road Pricing Feasibility Study provides the wide range, £10 billion to £62 billion, plus £2-5 billion a year running costs against a congestion cost of allegedly £12 billion per year.

(The Institute of Public Policy and Research report (Press release 18 th July) advocates congestion charging to replace road tax. Tony Grayling for the Institute says the money raised should not be used for new roads because they cause damage to the environment and generate more traffic. The effect, would be to increase road taxes for high mileage users and those driving in congested areas and to decease taxes on other motorists leading to a net increase of £16 billion per year, cutting traffic by 7%).

We comment - congestion charging is only worth considering in congested areas. Elsewhere abolishing road tax and increasing fuel tax would be a far cheaper option. Additionally there are major civil liberty issues since the system will track vehicles by time and location holding out the prospect of system-wide enforcement of speed limits etc. Also - a side effect may be to divert activity to areas where there is no congestion, e.g. away from town centres. That would make public transport a less viable option than it now is. As for the effect of new roads on the environment - we note that the train and bus very often use more fuel per passenger-mile than does the car.

Speed limits, cameras and safety campaigns

A letter by a Mr Smith writing in the Chronicle and Echo, Northampton, provided - "are there any plans to revoke the 20 mph speed restrictions near schools during the holidays and on Sundays when the schools are empty, and if not why not"?

We comment ; school children are about for perhaps 40 minutes a day outside schools for perhaps 35 weeks in the year, representing 175 days or less than half the year. At those times traffic congestion and lollypop men reduce driving speeds in any event. Hence these signs do nothing but create driver stress and a whole new raft of speeding offences while wasting taxpayers money and cluttering up the streets. The signs should be removed forthwith along with the rash of other unduly low limits that have spread across the county.
Click here for our article on - Speed cameras, speed humps, and speed limits

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