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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
How can we improve UK transport?
The government's much-heralded 10-year transport plan has been attacked by MPs as "incoherent" and "incomprehensible".
A damning report by a select committee says the £180bn plan, first mooted two years ago, is vague, confused and poor value for money.
It also warns that if the government continues with the transport policy it is currently following, Britain's gridlocks will actually worsen - not improve.
Senior Tories are already calling for Transport Secretary Stephen Byers' head.
Does the UK have the worst transport system? What should be done to improve the ailing network? How bad is your journey to work? Should Mr Byers resign?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Barry Slaytor, UK
I travel the A2 route from Camberwell to Lewisham everyday. I find that during school holidays the journey time is cut in half at least. Maybe a school bus system could work so parents picking up their children do not clog up the roads. How about making schools start earlier and finish earlier.
How about not allowing lorries and trucks into town centres between 8am and 6.30pm? Have less one-way systems, more traffic lights so that the traffic gets spread out as opposed to clogged up in one area. A tax on car mileage - the more you do the more you pay and a tax on house holds with more than two cars.
The crucial problem with transport policy in the UK is fiscal. The Government collects £billions in taxes on petrol. It is in their interest to have as many vehicles as possible with engines running for as long as possible. The Chancellor has no intention of allowing anybody, least of all Byers, from cutting revenue from vehicles. This Government may posture about delivering transport improvements but their hidden agenda is to increase the number of cars, increase the number of journeys and increase the congestion, thereby maximising taxation revenues. Don't be fooled - Prescott & Byers will be well rewarded for their diversionary tactics while Brown takes the plaudits.
We do seem to be in a Catch 22 about transport. The UK really does need someone who will make hard choices with a radical view of the future. But we seem to sack these people when their policies come into play. The average person in the UK seems to want it both ways. Make up your mind.
The Transport in this country is in ruins. There has been an under investment in transport for a long time and privatisation has only made things worse. Everything is geared towards profit making rather than efficiency and safety. There is simply no accountability. The railways are dangerous. Public transport is poor because of cost and time efficiency and the congestion on the roads and motorways is getting worse with every passing year. The solution to the problem is create tram systems within busy cities such as the super tram in Sheffield. Make motorists pay for entering city centres and toll bridges on busy motorways. Changes have to be made.
The focus of plan is all wrong, with the focus being on how do people commute rather than why do people commute. I used to drive 60 miles a day to work and back because the property near my workplace was just too expensive. The Government needs to work more closely with the private sector on making local housing more affordable for employees. Only when employees are within a reasonable distance from their workplace can you begin trying to sell alternative means of transport.
Once again we have a transport problem that is most prevalent in the South East of England dictating the policy towards cars for the whole country.
By trying to price cars off the roads in Chelsea the government is pushing people off the road in rural Wales, Scotland and the quiet bits of England.
The mass transit system in this country is worse than useless in the cities, it is totally non existent in the sticks.
If you live where it's congested, pay tolls, don't expect people living away from the problem to pay for it.
The key to improvement in cities has got to be the use of the bicycle. I remember going to Berlin 12 years ago and was greatly impressed with the network of cycle paths and the fact that you could even take your bicycle on the U-Bahn (equivalent of the Tube). When I lived in London I used to cycle almost everywhere. It was a bit scary at times with aggressive drivers, but it was normally quite easy to get away from the congested and polluted main roads. It was quicker than driving and more pleasant than the Tube even in the worst weather conditions! Cheap, green, healthy - what better solution?
I always find it amusing that the Government is to blame for the fact that nearly 70% of journeys under two miles are now undertaken by car. But of course, it must be someone else's fault - otherwise we would have to accept responsibility individually, and that cannot possibly be right.
National Bike Week starts 17 June - if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem.
Allow one car per household, any more get an increasing (say 25%) levy on them. I see lots of houses that look more like car parks these days. The only way to clear the roads in to cost people out of the market
I have stopped contracts in London (I live in Winchester) because driving wasn't an option and the transport system of late trains and cancelled services put my travelling to 5 hours on a working day. I believe the public transport system should be nationalised and the government made to pay to get it to the European standards. After all it was the government (retrospective) who have failed to keep spending to bring it up to European standards.
The only way to cut congestion is to tax the motorist very heavily and put the money into free or very cheap public transport. There are several ways of taxing the motorist more: congestion charging, a tax on new cars, additional fuel duty or a tax on homes which own more than one car. These should all be considered and a combination may be best. Combined with incentives to people to work from home or to live near their workplace instead of commuting and free or cheap school buses we could certainly make a difference. Building more roads will just increase traffic and destroy even more countryside and make global warming worse. We can either act as ostriches or act to make driving as anti-social as smoking is now considered.
Why not spend a few quid improving communications links and encouraging companies to use remote workers, or "teleworkers" as they are sometimes called. I have worked in awful offices for years travelling miles on usually hideous public transport to do a job I could easily do from home if we didn't have such third world internet links and such set-in-their-ways employers. Imagine it! No more commuting and no more quasi-fascist uniforms of suits and ties!
Edward Millington-Jones has such a good idea. I am one of the apparently antisocial people who live in Surrey and work in Central London. Would he care to provide me with the £300,000 or so it would cost to trade my house for something of a similar size anywhere near my work? Even so I am one of the more fortunate ones - had I been trying to buy a house now I would be looking even further out. From a London perspective what is needed is the same level of Tube coverage south of the river as exists to the north. From a national perspective, how about something like the French RER that runs around (and across) Paris? Or a ban on heavy transport using roads during rush hours? Organised school transport (supervised, so people don't need to use their cars to avoid the bullies)? Longer trains, and more of them. So much can be achieved using what we already have, without paving over even more of the countryside for the government's latest experiment.
It is not just the Government that is to blame for our transport nightmare we have to take responsibility ourselves. The car brought us freedom to live away from the cities, shop in out of town shopping centres and send our kids to schools at the other side of town. In return we have gained concrete countryside, urban sprawl and pollution and smog. We have not got the space for road systems like the USA or the density of population in a confined area for mass transport Hong Kong style. We must wake up to the realisation that we determine our own journeys. Live closer to your place of work, shop locally and impose tolls and road charging on those that are not prepared to change their ways. To live in Surrey and work in the city is plain madness and is damaging our environment both aesthetically and in terms of pollution.
Steve Lewis, UK
Like most things important to the nation, transport, NHS, education all suffer from the limited attention span of an elected government i.e. they only think about the next 4 years. As a result you get limited vision, half-implemented policies and blame for the previous administrations' efforts. Therefore these "critical" infrastructures MUST be taken away from the control of government as they will not get any better. Just look at the billions thrown at each of these and the lack of any tangible worthwhile results. What ever "bodies" are set up to control these areas should be independent of the current government.
I have to travel all over the UK by train or car and both are bad. However, I would sit in traffic for 3 hours in a car than spend 2 hours in a train! If you want to clear up congestion have a proper integrated transport policy (i.e. no more privatised buses) and promote the use of motorbikes and push bikes - also stop all cars from parking 150meters around schools and only allow lorries on the inside lanes of motorways between 05:30 and 10:30 - but drop their road tax. And spend road tax and petrol duties on road/rail/bus improvements.
The whole debate seems typically British and negative. Living in Los Angeles, where there is absolutely no public transport, smog, road-rage and no solution other than to drive a car, London seems like a dream. The solution in LA for decades has been to simply add lanes. Now they are talking about a second layer on top of the most congested motorways. The reality is the London underground is very impressive and very affordable. There are always large numbers of people who would rather be in a traffic jam in their own privacy, than use public transport.
When I try and catch a bus or train I find them cold, smelly, uncomfortable, cramped and expensive. The toilets and other facilities at the stations are always closed before the last vehicle leaves, the staff are scruffy, unhelpful and uncaring, the public transport lines close at 9pm, there are no early morning or late night public transport links - and those are only a few of my complaints! Most of these could be fixed quite easily. Come on the UK Government - wake up and get on with it!
The first thing is to get rid of Stephen Byers. How long do we have to put up with such gross incompetence? It might help if he knew how to drive!
It does not take an expert to realise that the problem lies in the poor level of public transport which is, in some areas, prohibitively expensive and is generally inadequate. I think that the first step is to add more bus lanes.
My bus journey to work (along the Hagley Road, Birmingham) is so bad that I travel to work an hour earlier than I need to, in order to avoid a 7 mile journey in excess of an hour.
Last year my husband and I moved to Australia and returned to the UK ten months later for a visit. We were both shocked at how badly the transport system had deteriorated. The volume of traffic on the roads were unbelievable, but this is not surprising - what choice is there if you have work or other commitments? It beggars belief that the Government hammers on about encouraging people to ditch their cars to alleviate this (and for a "greener" Britain) when they are not willing to solve the high cost and poor performance of public transport. I think it's time for the Government to admit that rail privatisation has been a failure, and seek to re-nationalise it.
Cycling could replace many car journeys and receives little mention in the transport strategy. In the UK 72 per cent of all journeys are shorter than 5 miles and 46 per cent are shorter than 2 miles. These distances are ideally suited to cycling. In the UK, only around 2 per cent of journeys are made by bike, compared with some 27 per cent in Holland. The reason is not, as often claimed, that the country is flat. In Holland most roads have safe and well-designed cycle paths to separate cars and cycles, junctions are designed with cycle safety in mind, and traffic laws give greater rights to vulnerable road users. The result is that cycling is a pleasant and efficient means of transport, and hence widely used. Another benefit is that the cities are quieter and less polluted.
By contrast the roads in the UK continue to be designed with no thought towards cycle safety, and Britain's motorists are often careless and aggressive towards cyclists.
Radically improving the transport system doesn't require "blue sky" thinking, just take a trip across the channel to where it's already working!
Following a recent a visit to the UK and driving some 3000 miles may I suggest that if you rid the roads of semitrailers etc. and transferred all freight to the rail, it would free up the roads for faster public transport and provide the railways with an increased income in order to improve the rail system too. As a bonus pollution levels may decline too.
All this government will say to this report that their 10 year plan is a joke is "we blame the Tories". Well we are all getting tired of this same old record when they fail on anything. Another task force proposal blown out of the water again.
David Russell (UK) - to comment on your points, we have been underfunding the railways in this country for about the last 40 years, so it is rather ridiculous to try to blame Stephen Byers, someone who has only been doing the job for about a year! Yes we do lag ridiculously behind our European neighbours. The reason for this is simple: For years now we, as a population, have elected governments who had policies of running down public transport. We as a country wanted this, or we would have not voted for them.
The amount of tax we pay on fuel is high, but it is not significantly higher than the rest of Europe. Our "road tax" (i.e. the tax disc) is actually significantly lower in cost than in mainland Europe, and in terms of other taxes, notably income tax, we pay far less than the other European countries.
Bringing these taxes up to the same levels would allow us to have public transport on a par with these countries. The problem is that we are also a nation of cheapskates - we want all these nice things but we want them handed to us on a plate for free.
And in answer to your question "Where on God's Earth is all the money going?" the answer is quite simple: It's going towards paying off the massive debts that have accumulated over the last 20 years due to taxes being cut year upon year.
I am Labour and always have been but I think that Stephen Byers should definitely go as the present policies on transport are an absolute disgrace. We in this country cannot seem to get our policies and we lag ridiculously behind our European neighbours. Considering we were the birthplace of railways we are the graveyard of them these days and we need to get our act together. Tolls on motorways are not the answer as we are already taxed excessively on fuel and road tax. Where on God's Earth is all the money going!!!!!?
It's all well and good suggesting that people don't use cars, but for some of us there is no option. Where I live, myself and my partner have to drive in opposite directions to get to work. My route in particular is much too far to cycle, and could never hope to be covered by public transport. Options? One of us give up work? However there are people who could and would use public transport if it were economic and reliable. Don't tax the driver who has not choice, but make alternatives affordable around the cities, to encourage drivers who can to leave the car.
We've always known this government lacks any analytical brains amongst its members. This report proves it. Birt is there merely to give the impression that something is being done.
Blair's request for "Blue skies" thinking is revealing. They all have their heads in the clouds when it comes to forming a coherent transport policy.
The UK attitude towards car drivers completely perplexes me. We need to build better roads and cleaner cars. If MPs bothered to look at England's many rural communities, they'd see that public transport is not a viable option for most people in the UK. There isn't even room for shopping bags on most buses. And yes, there is a bus service where I live - it operates on Sundays.
Easy,get on a plane and go to Japan.They KNOW how to do it.
I agree with other people here that there is a huge difference in London between sitting in your car listening to music and being comfortably hot or cold than being on the underground where it is baking hot and where it is absolutely packed. They can put any amount of tax they want on the car but until they make the underground more, or equally comfortable to the car, I won't be getting out of it. Additionally I belive that the Taxation system for transport is completely un-fair. Petrol Tax should be used on mending the roads, building new roads and planting trees. Public transport funds should be used to build public transport. Why on earth should people outside London have to pay for its traffic congestion.
Terry and Clive should be cautious in admiring the public transport in Japan and Hong Kong. Japanese railways may be superb (especially the Shikansen) but they also have the world's worst traffic jams - try Nagoya or Yokohama at rush hour. Similarly Hong Kong has a marvellous tube (the MTR - made in Derby), but it only serves the North Side of the island and south side Kowloon. Just try to get to Aberdeen or Repulse Bay without a car on a Sunday or even worse travel up to the New Territories. Britain's transport may be fair to poor but other countries do have real transport issues too.
All the planners should be sent to Hong Kong for a week and forbidden to hire a car. That incredibly dense, crowded city is a delight to traverse without a car. The multiple forms of transport - all very affordable - include trams, buses, microbuses, mass transit (the MTR), rail, taxi, and shanks's pony. Even walking around the more highly congested areas is further improved by buildings connected together by elevated walkways. The City of London is an Edwardian nightmare by comparison.
The current state of Britain's transport infrastructure is simply the result of two misguided policies: under-investment in public transport, and appeasement of the road haulage lobby. Until both of these causes are addressed, the situation can only get worse.
The plan is as incoherent and incomprehensible as Blair's reasons for not firing Byers. As this goverment has made the incoherent and incomprehensible its trademarks we should not be surprised by the findings of the select committee. Neither should we be puzzled by Byers' improbable survival on a career life-support system personally tended by Blair himself.
The only guaranteed way of cutting congenstion is to increase the cost of motoring. It does not work instantly as people have no alternatives, but in the medimum term as people move houses and move jobs some of these people will make their decisions in a way that cuts their car usage.
This policy may not be popular, and is certainly not equitable as it affects the less well off more, but it will work - the laws of economics rarely fail.
I only drive in London, so I can only comment on this city. All rat runs are either closed or made most difficult to drive through. Probably they want to make life of the three people living along that road quiter.The only effect this has, is that everyone is standing in trafffic for much longer on a road the goverment wants you to drive on and it can take you more than triple the time. That is what I call 'freedom'. It is also not an environmentally friendly move. Yes, I could take the tube, but I'd rather sit an hour for a three mile journey in traffic than on an unairconditioned/unheated dirty loud rumbling train. There is no other city/country in Europe that has public transport in such a desolate state as London. Who ever promises roads, 21st century public transport has got my vote...
If our road traffic engineers/planners design inner-city and town road systems purposely to cause congestion, then yes we will remain in gridlock. They need to learn to make traffic flow, but all they have in their toolbag are items to make traffic stop. The businesses in the towns moan because of the convenience of out of town shopping, when the first representative in the town is a traffic warden. The car is with us, as there is NO research into alternative modes of transportation for mankind, it is here to stay. So I say to the town planners... stop building elements into road systems to create congestion, get rid of the three buses blocking the highway in front of me carrying five persons each. Embrace the car, develop it further and deal with it.
I am an ex bus driver, I don't believe that the public transport system of this country will not improve until not only cost but speed is addressed. If I have to get the bus to work, (Dukinfield to Manchester Airport) I have to leave at 06:30 to arrive for 07:45 to start work at 08:00. We need more peak time buses with more direct links with less time waiting for connections.
The biggest inhibitor to getting motorists out of their vehicles is a lack of a coherent alternative.
Bus services need to be improved. Just compare bus services in Scandinavia with the UK. In Scandinavia they have clean (inside and emissions) and comfortable buses, with enough room to put your shopping, easy access for disabled people and plenty of space to put a pram. They're even heated and comfortable when it's cold outside. Then go to Germany and France and import their railways. Don't run our railways for profit, run them for the people. Again introduce comfort and accessibility so that disabled people and mothers can use the service. Improve bus and train services so that they run several times a day, even to remote areas. Look to America to import their school bus system - one bus would replace as many as 30 cars in the morning rush hour. Then when we have a reliable public transport everywhere measures can be put in place to reduce the number of cars on our roads.
I work in the middle of a major shopping centre which is 12 miles from my home. I looked into getting public transport to work. There is no direct bus or train route and I would have to take a series of buses which would cost far more than going by car and would take about one and half hours to travel those 12 miles. If the government want to get people out of cars give us some alternatives!!!!
Transport policy has always been about the major transport arteries into and between large towns and cities. This has meant a constant neglect of the rural transport infrastructure and the cross-country travel that is vital to a significant minority of the population.
What is needed is an open debate where the politics are taken out of the equation and an agreed public plan put in place providing a real 10-15 years infrastructure review and rebuilding.
Living in Manchester, where we still suffer the legacy of being the first city to deregulate its public transport, I do not find it hard to believe that yet another government has got it wrong. When a bus picks me up from my house takes me direct to work, without waiting in the rain and being late and being over crowded and being expensive and stopping every 150yds then maybe, just maybe.. If the purpose of most local councils is to slow traffic down, then they have succeeded in this also, by turning two lane roads into one lane roads and painting them different colours and putting in speed bumps - everywhere, without even repairing the road in the first place. The best form of transport left is the bicycle, but they do not even pay road tax, yet they get more of the road designated to them than the cars these days. The motorway system. Well, they have not even begun to tackle that problem.
I have lived in Southampton for 20 years and although the traffic has increased in that time it is the inept planning of the system that causes the gridlock. We have the most traffic lights of any European city. It seems to work though because I won't take my car into the city now, but to get to work requires I take 2 buses for a journey of about 3 miles. Its quicker to walk in Southampton.That's progress!
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