The Government has some tough decisions to make if it wants to avoid one thousand miles of severe congestion – which also increases CO2 emissions – by 2041, according to a new RAC Foundation report based on research from a leading transport research team.
‘Roads and Reality’ concludes that new road capacity will be essential whether or not national road pricing is introduced, and dispels many myths about road transport which have distorted the policy debate. The report also demonstrates that road users are the only energy users currently paying the full cost of their carbon emissions; and that cars will continue to get greener and cleaner towards 2050.
Roads and Reality:
• Calls for a radical new approach to road transport planning
• Reveals the damage that failing to act is doing to the economy and society
• Challenges lazy thinking and policy-making based on myth and prejudice.
The research shows that growth in population, numbers of households and incomes will drive rising demand for travel. The report concludes that by 2041, car ownership will be 44% higher, while car traffic will increase by 37%. The results have been developed alongside the conclusions outlined in the Eddington Report published in December 2006 and the horizon of 2041 has been used because major investment and behavioural change in transport take a long time. The tough choices for Government on the inter-urban and strategic road network are outlined as:
• Do nothing and let congestion and wasted time match demand to the supply of road space
• Build or widen more roads without road pricing
• Introduce some form of road pricing without additional road building and use the price mechanism to determine who should use the roads where there is insufficient capacity or
• Rely on a combination of road building and road pricing – the building to provide for the growing demand for travel and the pricing to ensure efficient use of road space.
The analysis shows that, with or without road pricing, Britain needs investment in roads at an annual rate of about 600 Lane Kilometres – around the average level of road building achieved in the 1990s. The research argues that the best balance of economic benefit is secured if road building is combined with efficient pricing, because mobility would be enhanced while congestion would be reduced. It would also be fairer: the extra capacity would reduce the price to road users, and travel by car would be affordable for more people on low incomes.
Based on the transport and economic modelling the study argues that:
• As additional strategic road capacity is added, flows on the main roads increase and journey times will fall. Building an extra 600 Lane kilometres p.a. between 2010 and 2041 would yield substantial benefits in journey times and reliability.
• Efficient pricing on its own would provide for only 85% of forecast growth in traffic on strategic roads. Pricing without road-building will just drive poorer people off the roads.
• Road investment combined with a fair system of pricing would result in higher economic return, because mobility would be enhanced while congestion would be reduced.
These conclusions make generous allowance for the costs of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, noise, accident risk and road construction.
The report confirms that national road pricing could help to get the most efficient use out of the system. But it is not a substitute for investment and the Foundation warns that public acceptance could still be a major political obstacle. Any pricing scheme could only be accepted if it is guaranteed to be:
• Fair, with charges based on the cost of travelling in congestion
• A different way of paying, not a way of paying more – other motoring taxes must fall if pricing is introduced
• Overseen by an independent body
Some of the transport myths debunked by Roads and Reality include:
• New roads don’t just fill up with traffic: whilst they do generate some traffic, they also reduce congestion and remove traffic from less suitable, less safe roads.
• Roads don’t take up large areas of land: trunk roads carry a third of total traffic and occupy just 0.16% of the country.
• New roads have little effect on climate change: freer-flowing conditions and cleaner, greener cars are expected to reduce total CO2 emissions.
• Public transport, important in its own right, can’t solve the problem: cars carry 86% of passenger traffic, and 65% of domestic freight moves by road. Doubling the uptake of public transport would have only a minimal impact on congestion.
One of the report’s authors, Professor Stephen Glaister of Imperial College, said: “The modelling suggests that the Government cannot use the possible future introduction of road pricing as a reason to ignore the need to improve the strategic road network. If national road pricing has been put on the back-burner, more urgency is required for intelligent investment decisions now to keep the county moving in the future.”
The SMMT has urged government to consider the RAC Foundation report’s conclusions on national road pricing and road building.
“Congestion benefits no one, not the private motorist, not business and certainly not the environment”, said SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan. “This report makes the point that transport policy designed to deliver freer-flowing traffic, as well as investment in cleaner cars, will drive down CO2 in the years to come.”
SMMT welcomes the call for a new approach to road transport planning and the challenge to what the RAC Foundation describes as lazy thinking and policy-making based on myth and prejudice. In addition, the report reinforces the point that road users are the only energy users currently paying the full cost of their carbon emissions through taxation like VED and fuel taxes.
Christopher Macgowan added, “Like nuclear power, investment in road infrastructure and road pricing might seem to be a taboo subject. But that would be entirely wrong. If, as part of an integrated strategy, will bring clear benefits like lower CO2 and better traffic flows, government should consider its merits carefully.”