This budget completely ignored public transport


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4:06 pm - March 20th 2013

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by Andy Allen

As usual, transport debate around the Budget has been dominated by fuel duty. The decision to leave fuel duty at its pre-Budget level was no surprise, it is important to note that there were no parallel measures to help those who rely on public transport.

Train users will see a continuation of the decade-long policy of above inflation fares rises. Bus users have seen fares rise by a third in the last five years, and things could get worse with financial support from both central and local government under threat.

While fixing fuel duty will garner some positive headlines, when you couple it with rising costs in public transport it begins to look socially and environmentally regressive, locking people into car dependency and punishing anyone with no access to a car.

Elsewhere, the threatened long list of major road schemes which government intends to support was once again absent. But the ducks are being lined up.

revious announcements have drawn the planning system’s teeth where schemes deemed to be of national importance. Local Enterprise Partnership and Local Transport Boards have been put to work drawing up lists on favoured transport project – the majority of them so far announced being roads.

Now we have a £6bn infrastructure spending pot available in 2015-16. The next stage will come in June when more details of spending plans are announced.

Rather than going for big new roads, to makes more sense for road users and job creation if we tackled the £10bn maintenance backlog.

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Andy Allen is from the Campaign for Better Transport

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Reader comments


Isn’t it policy to reduce public transport subsidies?

Currently there are large subsidies for public transport and considerable taxes for car owners. I would rather see no subsidies for public transport and taxes on cars being set to cover the costs of Government spending on raods and associated costs.

Don’t forget one subsidy that is unchanged-free bus passes for pensioners.

Fungus: both rail and roads are heavily subsidised as neither train tickets or vehicle duty cover the full costs of either. The rest is paid for out of the tax pot. Therefore it is good to question the priorities in where that money goes. Just putting the money into big road projects encourages more traffic with all its problems to environment and health is not good whereas putting more of it into public transportation can reduce some of the problems that unending road building has brought.

Rail was ignored in the budget because the high level output specification (infrastructure plan) for control period five (2014-2019 spending for Network Rail)is currently under review at the ORR. Osborne wouldn’t intervene in that process. The Franchising system is currently borked so he can’t force spend through the TOCs either.

Fares will continue rising above inflation to reduce the public subsidy because poor taxpayers in North Wales shouldn’t be subsidising the wealthy commuter who works in central London and lives in Surrey.

Give it a rest.

Even though some people are opposed to new road building, not maintaining our existing roads is a false economy. The public transport that does not run on rails still needs decent local roads. It eventually costs us more to clear the backlog that short term budgeting has forced onto others. The UK has poor public infrastructure compared to other countries because this type of mentality has reigned supreme over many decades. Patch the potholes on roads up on the cheap or resurface the road when it should be resurfaced. Which option do you think the type of public officials and politicians the UK is blessed with will choose? The road engineers say a road should be resurfaced every 12 years and we now averaging resurfacing them every 25 years. No surprise that they are falling apart. Do things on the cheap and you pass the problem to someone else. The same type of mentality that prevailed after the Second World War when we built lots of cheap crap social housing rather than fewer good ones.

A culmination of factors have created a conflux for our local roads. Decades of underinvestment and maintenance budgets cut because some local authorities ideologically prefer spending on other stuff. Make some staff redundant and do less stuff or cut maintenance budgets, which do you think they chose. Heavier vehicles on the roads at the same time as a couple of severe winters has exposed the road network underinvestment. Now when we need to spend more than ever just to bring things up to standard all budgets are under pressure.

I am very much in favour of localism and opposed to central government statism. However, just handing extra central government money to local authorities for road maintenance is no guarantee the money will be spent on roads and pavements. They will spend the money in accordance with their personal prejudices. Unfortunately the local authorities need to relieved of the responsibility for maintaining local roads. A national agency should be set up with Vehicle Excise Duty and a share of Fuel Duty hypothecated to fund the work of the agency. The hypothecation of duties looks like the only way to get money properly spent instead of spent on the preferences of politicians.

6. gastro george

@Richard W

I don’t see that ever happening. The Treasury and politicians in general hate hypothecation, as it reduces their own flexibility.

The problem with road maintenance which, as a cyclist, I’m all too aware of, is one of decades of cuts to local government funding. Much of their expenditure is hypothecated, in the sense of being legally enforceable, so under-funding causes them to cut discretionary areas – and road maintenance has always been a prime and soft target.

@5. Richard W: “Unfortunately the local authorities need to relieved of the responsibility for maintaining local roads. A national agency should be set up with Vehicle Excise Duty and a share of Fuel Duty hypothecated to fund the work of the agency. The hypothecation of duties looks like the only way to get money properly spent instead of spent on the preferences of politicians.”

Your initial localist instincts probably need some refreshment.

The major routes between cities/large towns are via motorways or trunk roads. Trunk roads deserve a capital T because they are special; this used to be noted in road signage but the difference now is in who pays and maintains. Motorways and trunk roads are the responsibility of the Highways Agency (an English map of the network can be viewed at:
http://www.highways.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Highways_Agency_Network_Map_-_November_2011.gif ). Note for example, that east of Lincoln there are no trunk roads! Trunk roads rarely pass through cities.

All other English roads are the responsibility of the local authority. This includes many primary routes (A and B roads displayed on green road signs as the route from X to Y or Z). Clearly, responsibility also covers streets and avenues which are less heavily used and where we can cope with poorer surfacing standards by driving more slowly.

The network used by the Highways Agency is effectively one created in the 1960s. It does not reflect that many primary routes have become part of the national network. Thus the solution should be to face reality and adopt more primary routes as trunk roads.

This solution eliminates the need for hypothecation (although the claw back from local authorities is a negative, one-off form). It means that more primary routes are expected to meet Highways Agency standards and that there is a single point for complaint.

A downside is reduced democracy. A group of local authorities have produced a plan to change the primary route a hundred yards away from where I live; it is a major challenge for them to convince road users that more bus lanes will be an advantage to the community, and even harder if they don’t “own” the road.

Note: Scotland and Wales differ a bit. I *think* that general principles apply.

And I’ll wrangle their necks to get a story.

9. Derek Hattons Tailor

@3 VED is a very small part of the cost of owning a car. You pay tax to buy it, you pay to register it, pay tax to insure it, pay tax to put fuel in it and pay tax to maintain it. I object to pedestrians and cyclists asserting the “right” to use the roads – and annexing large swathes of it – when they pay no such taxes. And outside London, public/alternative transport has almost no effect on car use, it just makes congestion worse.

The cost of public transportation is rising way too fast. The article http://www.squidoo.com/workshop/public-transport-vs-luxury-chauffeur-car talks about the crazy alternatives we will be left with if we don’t change things soon.


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