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Tuesday, July 14, 1998 Published at 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK

UK Politics

Better late than never

Coaxing people out of their cars will be an uphill struggle

Punctuality is not a word you would associate with public transport in Britain - and delayed publication of the Transport White Paper, due out next week, just underlines this dismal reputation.

[ image: Simon Montague: BBC Transport Correspondent]
Simon Montague: BBC Transport Correspondent
The BBC Transport Correspondent Simon Montague examines how the government is likely to tackle the thorny issue of a disjointed transported system and projected overload of Britain's roads.

Until a decade ago, the belief was that growing traffic congestion could always be overcome by building more roads. But as the Conservative government doubled its roadbuilding programme, in "Roads to Prosperity" in 1989, planners realised that even spending £2bn a year would not keep pace with traffic forecasts.

[ image: The future for roads looks bleak]
The future for roads looks bleak
Finally, in 1994, the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA) concluded that building new roads simply generated more traffic, and was therefore largely self-defeating.

Integrating trains, planes and automobiles

For Labour, reducing traffic congestion and pollution is a top priority. The Government wants a high quality, integrated transport system, in which it is easy to change between different modes - road, rail, bus, air - to persuade more people to make journeys by public transport. Ministers say the plan is not to be "anti-car", but to promote choice.

The White Paper will set out policies for improving all forms of transport.

In cities, it is expected to:

  • promote traffic calming,
  • pedestrianisation,
  • safe routes to schools,
  • bus priority
  • and "quality partnerships" between bus operators and local councils.

For motorways and trunk roads, it is likely to include:

  • a new Roads Regulator,
  • regional traffic control centres
  • and a motorist's charter.

On rail there will be a new Strategic Rail Authority, taking over the role of the Franchising Director.

Where's the money coming from?

The fundamental question is how can local authorities raise new money to tackle traffic congestion. Two key proposals are expected:

  • road pricing - charging motorists to drive into city centres at peak times;
  • and a tax on parking spaces at work and out-of-town shopping centres.

[ image: Ministers say they are pro choice, not anti-car]
Ministers say they are pro choice, not anti-car
Both will probably take years to introduce; Britain's only road pricing pilot scheme in Leicester could still take seven to ten years to go city-wide. Without new money, many of the White Paper measures may simply never happen.

The White Paper will potentially mark a watershed in UK transport policy, ending forever roadbuilding "to meet demand", giving new priority to public transport, cycling and walking in cities, and reducing car dependency. But changing society's attitudes to transport could still take a generation.

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