Thursday, February 22, 2007

Shi*s that pass

After all that and I missed it! The webcast, I mean. That's what happens when you hold events when most folk have work to do (or kids to pick up). But I guess it's too much to expect any 'we're listening' consultation to take place when the majority of folk you in theory should be listening to, and may be interested in hearing what you have to say, are free.

Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue.

For a start, the full text will is on the website at

But here it is anyway. I've decided to cut&paste and go through as if I was taking part. Of course I can comment, but I can't get any answers (let's see if any of mine - or those of major concern to the many misguided fools who signed the petition - appear), so I'll have to simply offer a commentary.

Moderator says: Hello and welcome to our road pricing webchat. We've had over 5000 questions so far. The minister will be with us for an hour or so from 1600 GMT and we'll get through as many as we can. Clearly, with so much interest in this webchat, many people will not get their questions answered. But we have tried to select questions which best represent the concerns people have. The full, unedited transcript of the session will be posted on as soon as it finishes.

Dr Stephen says:
Hi. Thank you for taking part in this web chat. Unfortunately we've had about 5000 questions so I can't answer them all but I'll do my best to pick questions that reflect everyone's concerns. Also if I don't answer your question don't worry because we will read it later and take on board your comments.
Steve Ladyman

Why does 'pick questions that reflect everyone's concerns' not fill me with confidence. Come to that, 'take on board' gives me a sinking feeling, too. The first can be probably be translated as 'mainly mine that I get pinned down on anything, especially porkies', and the second '... and push off into the sunset, Viking-king style, to burn and sink without trace'.

M Davies: I remember Brian Clough once saying that when he had an issue with a player, he sat them down, had a chat and then after 5 or 10 minutes they decided that Brian was right. Isn't this exactly what is going to happen with your "debate"? We'll all sound our reservations and then you will decide you were right all along.

Dr Stephen replies: I promise this is a real debate. If we don't convince the public then road pricing simply won't happen. But if it doesn't then we have a real problem because we know congestion is going to get a lot worse despite all the 'conventional' plans we have to deal with it and so far no-one has come up with an affordable or practical alternative - but perhaps the debate will throw up some ideas.

So far, I'm not convinced. A good one to start with, coincidentally.

: Most people do not travel out of choice - they travel out of necessity. Surely the existing figures quoted for what congestion costs are already a "congestion charge" - if the congestion is too much people will look to alternatives, and if there isn't an alternative will people reconsider if the journey is actually worth making e.g. people don't and won't sit for 4 hours each day to get to and from work - they will look for an alternative.

Dr Stephen replies: In fact the research we've done shows that about a quarter of people who drive in the rush hour on the worst congested roads have choices but often end up sitting in traffic jams! But still people do - that is exactly what we have found. At present they just don't feel there is sufficient 'incentive' to change their behaviour and travel earlier or later or car share etc. That's why we say road pricing will give them that incentive and our models show we only need 4% of people to change their behaviour to get a 40% improvement in congestion.

'Research we've done shows...' Hmn. Without seeing it it's hard to comment. It's also hard to see why people would sit in a jam if they have choices, unless those choices are worse or do not fit their needs. Pricing is not an incentive to do something, it's a penalty for not doing it by my way of seeing things.

Claire: As an infrequent motorway user I am always stunned that I am met by the same problem- Lorries. I used to visit my sister in Wales quite often and the only delay ever was due to lorries overtaking other lorries blocking two lanes.Has anyone else thought of tackling this issue? Many other countries have freight on rail only and this seems to work.This will not negate the need for haulage companies- just make them a bit smarter about how they work.

Dr Stephen replies: There is a trial going on restricting overtaking by lorries on certain stretches of road. We also have a grant system in place to encourage freight onto rail and water. Again it is part of the solution, but not all of the solution.

Where did Lorries come into it? But they are part of the problem; just not one that has cropped up in anything I've seen before. In a volume jam I can't see how their overtaking or not makes much difference, but if things are moving it is an issue. I seem to recall it was a requirement that they are speed restricted caused this problem. Actually sticking them on the inside lane sounds fine to the Clarkson in me. I just don't see how it will get policed effectively... like mobile phones. For that you need bobbies on the beat, not robots.

Liz Cooper: Could consideration be given to encouraging companies to encourage their staff to work more from home, thus reducing journeys during peak hours?

Dr Stephen replies: You are right - flexible working is a must and encouraging more of it is already part of our plans and has been taken account of in the sums we've done. We help companies have travel plans, we even insist on this type of plan before new developments go ahead. It is part of the solution but only a part and road pricing will give people an incentive to take advantage of flexible working when it's offered.

I'm encouraged. And having decided to work form home how do I get compensated when I do have to travel from the place that has no alternative means of transport to my car? There is promise here, but the devil is in the details. What is pain, and what is no gain other than tax per mile revenue to the Treasury.

ken sidwell: Will motor cyclists be exempt from road pricing as they do not cause congestion and the emissions are considerably lower than cars and commercial vehicles? Also, as motorbikes help cut down congestion and enviromental damage will this be an area that the government will look at promoting and help dispel the negative image given to the motorcycle fraternity?

Dr Stephen replies: Certainly they should pay a price that reflects the fact they take up less room. Whether that is a discount or an exemption is a subject for debate.

That's a no then. Sounds pretty firm for things just being considered.

Dan McIntyre: In his email response to people who signed the road pricing petition, the Prime Minister explains that investment in public transport has doubled since 1997. This seems a sensible way forwards to me. However, despite all this investment, trains are *still* notoriously unreliable, crowded, uncomfortable and expensive. I can't recall a single journey I've made in the last year that was not delayed. As for buses, it costs me double to come to work on the bus compared to what it costs me to drive. Surely if the government wants to cut congestion it should make public transport affordable, reliable and comfortable. I have a feeling you're going to say that's what you are doing, though from my perspective (and that of many others) I can't see any noticeable improvement at all. I would be interested to hear your response to this.

Dr Stephen replies: We are planning to spend £140bn of central govt money in the 10 years up to 2014/15 on transport. We spend £2.5bn a year subsidising buses. £90m a week on trains. We have spent £8bn upgrading the west coast main line. We are spending £200m on fast trains for the CTRL Domestic Service. This is paying off - we carried 1bn people on the trains last year, bus patronage is higher. We are also working with operators to make bus and train services more reliable and comfortable.But despite all this we still predict congestion will be 25% worse by 2015.

Fudge vs. facts. So the last 10 years were doing what, how and why should the next 10 be any different?

Mr G Brook: I would have thought one of the more practical answers to road conjestion is to quadruple the price of fuel. This would remove the need to have all the technology solutions and civil servents to manage it. It would promote fuel efficient engines and biofuel engines, and would effect by proportion those who use the roads more. It could be implemented over night and the additional revenue could be used for public transport. Simple! What is the minister's view?

Dr Stephen replies: I think the petition that would follow the implementation of this idea would get even more signatures!

Not exactly an answer. But I tend to agree with Dr. L. If it were that simple it would hit those who have to use a car and drive major distances much harder than those who do not. And I'd hazard most congestion is on 10 mile trips into cities and not 100 mile round trips in the country or on motorways.

Marlene Murty: I live in the city but work in a rural NHS area that can have difficulty recruiting in some specialities (daily commute 80 miles + business milage ). Is key worker assistance planned in road pricing; or do I have to choose between my job and my home?

Dr Stephen replies: The system hasn't been designed yet so issues like how health and other key workers would be affected haven't been decided either - but this will be an important part of the debate. Also if you live / drive in rural areas you could well be better off under road pricing.

A key worker would be someone employed by the Government then? One of Mr. Brown's extra 700,000 dependent voters. And so far, the phrase 'could well be better off' could well as easily mean 'could well not be better off' for all it's worth.

Paul Grant: I drive a Smart car, one of the more environmentally friendly cars, I also car share for travelling to work, for those making a concerted effort to reduce pollution and congestion does the government plan any kind of incentment / reward?

Dr Stephen replies: That has to be part of the debate. In the London congestion charge zone clean cars don't pay. However, we have always said that road pricing needs to be primarily about congestion - it is complex enough to get it right with only that focus. However, if in designing the system there are obvious ways to also incentivise cleaner cars then we'll need to take that on board.

I'm on a roll: '...has to be part of the debate' & '... take that on board' means 'No, but we'll let these ones die in the wilderness with a few other dodgy questions'. I have to say I can't see how a Smart car assist congestion much, though. It's a car with four wheels. Lack of 3' in length helps how?

Hugh Lazarus: "our models show we only need 4% of people to change their behaviour to get a 40% improvement in congestion" - so why not only charge on certain strips of PROVEN congested roads at peak hours only. It seems a bit extreme to charge everyone to penilise 4% OF US.

Dr Stephen replies: That is exactly what we want to do - the highest charges would be on the most congested roads at the busiest times. Far from penalising everyone - you could find you are not paying as much, and perhaps even less, than you do now.

Well at least it was live. Note that not getting charged at all is not an option, though.

steve aitken: I'm in favour of congestion charging and road tolls - it's used in every other European country. However on it's own it's simply insufficient and will lead to a minimal decrease in traffic - we need both congestion charging and better public transport to solve the problem. I queue across the Forth Road Bridge each day and don't do this out of choice - the public transport into Edinburgh is poor and it's less hassle by car. Will you be combining both congestion charging and targetted public transport improvements in the future because currently it's not working? Can't we take a lead from the Dutch?

Dr Stephen replies: Absolutely! That is exactly the plan.

... thanks, Steve. The promotion is in the post.

Miss Adams: If it is to focus on travelling at "peak times" how can this be fair on those of us who have children to get to school, and can only work during school hours, as our journeys will always fall in "peak times" and there is nothing we can do to change this. Surely this would be penalising working parents?

Dr Stephen replies: We have to look at this, and it is a challenge. Staggered school opening may be one way. Plus people who travel to schools can consider car share / walking/ cycling etc. just as anyone else can. In Kent we have 60 walking buses (where children are escorted and walk in a crocodile to school along an agreed route) that are very popular with kids and we have just announced £15m to encourage walking to school. But as I say, identifying these sort of issues and deciding how to handle them is part of the debate.

I like the fact that 'Miss' Adams is a parent. Oh, Puritan me! You go look at it Dr. Ladyman. I'd like to see half the kids at our school use a walking bus. But then, we don't live in London. I know Kent is the country, too, but how urban are the catchments for these systems? Does he walk to Westminster?

raj saini: It would be helpful if illegal motorists were removed from the road, those who avoid paying road tax, do not MOT their cars or are banned, this will reduce congestion. Why can the government not enforce their existing policy to "clamp-down" on these people rather than creating a new policy that will effect the honest motorist who pays enough through fuel duty anyway?

Dr Stephen replies: These people are a menace. The police have got new powers to seize illegal vehicles and we've just doubled funding for removing and crushing these cars. I'm with you - some people would say the only question is whether one or two of these people are left in their cars when they go in the crusher :-)

Helpful! Essential! Answer the question. Why is it not happening? if you can catch a person who forgets to renew their tax for one day, why can't you catch those who are really breaking the law:(!

April Heard: I am a single parent who struggles to work full time with two children. I do not get tax credits or anything else other than the basic child benefit. I have already moved to rural Lincolnshire as I cannot afford house prices in the south east on public sector pay. Public transport outside the major towns is minimal here and does not support shift work. Road pricing could be the final straw and tip me over the edge of just not being able to keep going. What provisions will there be for those in my position doing shift work and living in rural areas. My job have the right to send me in anywhere in the county where I work and can expect me to attend at any stated time day or night. Why are people like being penalised when we serve the community and the public wants us to be there in their time of need.

Dr Stephen replies: We have to carefully consider the impact of road pricing on all sorts of people. You might well be better off under road pricing, particularly if you are travelling in non-peak times, as a shift worker. People living in rural areas could also pay some of the lowest charges - and remember that we are also investing in public transport and providing better bus services to give people alternative travel options.

I trust she 'might be' suitably reassured.

Nigel Smith: A great deal of the present rush hour congestion is caused by mothers on the 'School Run'. During the school holidays, traffic flow increases substantially.

In some areas, parents have organised 'snakes' or 'crocodiles', supervised by adults that walk the children to school. Not only is it safer and healthier, but it reduces the local traffic congestion. Where this is not practical, school minibuses (similar to the American yellow buses) can collect the children safely and deliver them to school. The reduction in emissions and congestion is again substantial. Each minibus can remove as many as twenty cars from the roads at peak times. This can dramatically improve traffic flow.

Already covered, so why the repeat at the expense of other questions, as if I didn't know.

Why is the Government not doing more to encourage local authorities to start 'walking snakes' where practical or minibuses where it is not? Rather than pricing the poor off the road, the Government should be encouraging people to leave their car at home by providing cheap and efficient public transport for their children.

Dr Stephen replies: As I said in an earlier answer these walking buses are great news - I join them now and again in my own constituency - the kids have fun, it's healthy - and we've just provided £15m more to encourage them.

Already covered, so why the repeat at the expense of other questions, as if I didn't know.

Mr M McEvinney: How do the government intend to protect article 8(1) rights in any road pricing system that necessarily monitors vehicle and thereby driver location? Will other agencies have access to this information and how do the government intend to protect this information and prevent its abuse in respect of both article 8(1) and article 6 of ECHR?
"our models show we only need 4% of people to change their behaviour to get a 40% improvement in congestion"Does the government therefore consider road pricing, affecting all motorists, proportionate in its inevitable interference with article 8 rights?

Dr Stephen replies: We can guarantee that we will respect privacy in a road pricing system. We are looking at ways to do this and one way is to have the money collected by a trusted third party. Most people have a mobile phone these days and the mobile phone company can track your movements from your phone but they are trusted not to. Other ways to guarantee privacy will emerge if we go ahead. What I can also promise is that privacy laws will apply to this as they do to all government actions. As for your concern about article 8 rights - the figure I gave for a 40% improvement if 4% of people change their behaviour was an illustration of what can be achieved. It is proportionate because to get that behaviour change we need to offer the incentive to everyone to change their travel habits.

That... does not tally what has been said before. I am sure I heard they would not be tracking us. Trust is not something this mob have in great supply.

Ian Denham: You have suggested in an answer given to Marlene Murty's question that 'if you/drive y tin nrural areasyou could well be better off under road pricing Please would you back up tha statement by explaining how?

Dr Stephen replies: Because road pricing is about changing from the way we pay to use the roads today to a new way of paying to use the roads. In other words reviewing the current taxes on motorists would be part of the package. If we decide to go for a national system then it wouldn't be in place until at least 2015 and I have no way of knowing what decisions the chancellor might make in 2015. None of these decisions are made yet - that is why we are having this debate.

In other words, 'no, I can't explain how. Once it's a done deal, you'll find out, like it or not'.

Brian Duffy: If road charging is not a stealth tax then what present tax shall it be replacing to balance things out. If there are no taxes being replaced then we can assume that the motorist is being ripped off yet again

Dr Stephen replies: I've just answered this one but I want to emphasise this is about tackling congestion. If all we wanted to do was raise money we could just put up fuel duty but that wouldn't change people's behaviour. That is why road pricing will have to be about a new way to pay to use the road.

I am looking for that answer still. Saying you have doesn't mean you did. Where is the money going?

Peter Graham: Firstly can I say how much I enjoyed your appearance last year on Top Gear - good on you. Could you say what percentage of the revenue raised by HMG through fuel tax, road licences and tax on the sale of new cars is reinvested in the transport system? Many thanks

Dr Stephen replies: I enjoyed Top Gear too! I keep hinting they should invite me back so I can have a go in the new car. Perhaps JC can quiz me on Road Charging? I don't have the figure you are asking for to hand at the moment but I can tell you that the taxes motorists pay have not been ring fenced for transport since 1937. They are part of the exchequer's general revenue and they pay for schools, hospitals, police etc and if we didn't have that revenue then other taxes like income tax and VAT would have to go up.

You will never go near JC 'cos he'll nail you on that very question! 'I don't have the figure to hand at the moment...' Odd, I'm sure a lot of others besides me asked for it the day before. I think that means 'You will never know that figure because it will sink me/us...'

Alan Bowling: Why not penalise utility companies that generate massive congestion when work is undertaken - especially when they do not work at off peak hours to undertake the work?

Dr Stephen replies: We have recently passed laws to let us do this and are currently working out with the utility companies and Councils how best to ensure streetworks can go ahead with minimal disruption.

Because none of this congestion has occured until now? A lot from this government is kicking in a little... late?

susan wood: The DVLA has been accused in the past of selling motorist details to other companies. If the road pricing scheme goes ahead using the black box device, what guarantees (not assurances) can the government make that this will not happen to any information gathered through these devices?

Dr Stephen replies: As I explained earlier there is no reason why we would have this information. We would of course make the system as secure as possible, and the information could be held by a trusted third party - the government wouldn't need to see it.

'There is no reason why...' does not sound like a guarantee, for all that would be worth anyway. Did the DVLA sell data?

Paul Hill: Will you consider simple and proven technology for road pricing as an alternative to the complicated and expensive tracking options so far discussed?

Dr Stephen replies: Yes.

Er.... what?

F.A.Shaw: If it is the governments wish to encourage more people to travel by public transport, why are rail companies trying to force passengers off trains back to other forms of transport ,by imposing swingeing price increases on already high ticket costs?

Dr Stephen replies: There are only two places money can come from. The fare payer or the tax payer. If fares don't increase to cover costs the tax payer has to pay. In fact over the last 10 years the average cost to the passenger has only gone up 2.4% over inflation whereas individual wealth over the same period has gone up 26%.

That's OK then.

Rowland Sutton: If road pricing comes in what guarantee have we that it will be applicable to foreign motorists/lorry drivers to pay ,as according to what we read in the papers they seem to be let off paying parking fines, speeding fines etc because it is too costly to follow up.

Dr Stephen replies: Everyone will have to pay a road price - in fact road pricing would be an effective way of ensuring visitors do pay to use the roads. As for fines etc we have new powers coming in this year to make people pay a deposit equal to their possible fine so that if they leave the country we'll already have the money.

So the EU is fixing boxes on all cars as we speak? So it's a done deal? Otherwise how?

Kevin Sines: Thank you for therGovernments reponse. Can you please tell me what provision has been made for disabled drivers who need their cars to live an ordinary life, I personally find it difficult to fuel my car on Income support and would find it nigh on impossible to if Congestion charges or tolls were introduced.

Dr Stephen replies: Of course provision for disabled drivers will need to be considered as part of the design of any scheme and needs to be part of this debate.

'You'll pay mate, juts like the rest of them.'

steve cowles: can you honesly say that the techology will not be used to obtain average speeds for prosecution on speeding offences?

Dr Stephen replies: Yes I can say that - this is about tackling congestion. But I'm sure you don't speed anyway ;-)

What is this technology anyway?

Mark Christelow: Tony Blair made reference to Highway Officers being employed to keep the traffic moving. It seems to me and many others that whenever the Highways Agency get involved in a motorway incident they make the traffic congestion worse. Their main priority seems to be to investigate the cause of the accident often by closing the motorway for excessive periods of time rather than keeping the traffic they really have this as their number one priority?

Dr Stephen replies: Not true. The new HA officers are really effective. Keeping traffic moving safely is their no 1 priority.The point the Boss was making is that we are building new roads, we are widening key roads, we are doing things like employing people to clear away incidents quicker, we are providing real time info about jams so people can avoid them, we are doing active traffic management and trialling hard shoulder running and we are planning to spend £140bn on transport and still - despite all this - we project congestion will be 25% worse by 2015 if we don't do something more. And so far the only idea on the table that can have the dramatic effect we need is road pricing. That is why the CBI, the British Chamber of Commerce, The Motorists Forum, the RAC Foundation all say we have to explore it.

The Boss!!!! I'd really like the facts on that. How does shutting a motorway for 4 hours to assess a non-fatal shunt count as 'really effective'?

Kathy Clarke: Please don't skip over the fuel tax issue - this is the most valid point, we already have a mileage tax system in place, without the expense of a new system. By the way, how much will this cost US to set up?

Dr Stephen replies: We simply don't know because we haven't designed a system yet. But I am looking at ways we can ensure the cost doesn't fall on the motorist - for example the person who collects the charge from you may provide the equipment at their expense. As I've said fuel tax may affect the total amount of driving you do but not the time you do it. And of course taxes will be one of the things that will be reviewed as part of designing a scheme.

Hmmn. This doesn't compute: I am looking at ways we can ensure the cost doesn't fall on the motorist.

Michael Cowie: Why do we need to have a Uk policy, when the driving force behind the study, is the congestion caused into urban areas? Only 55 % of journeys made are into these areas.

Dr Stephen replies: Congestion has consequences for the country as a whole. A decision on a national scheme will only be taken after we've seen how local schemes work.

'Makes more money, too.'

c.pearson: I think Mr. Brook's idea is excellent but your reply does rather give the impression that your mind is already made up regarding road pricing and that you aren't really interested in any alternatives. Can you convince me otherwise?

Dr Stephen replies: I can assure we are considering all ideas and if an alternative emerges that will work believe me I'll grab it.

Convinced, C. Pearson?

Peter : You say people choose to sit in jams rather than use the alternatives. My alternative is 3 times as expensive, and takes 2.5 times longer so I choose to use the car. Will you force me off the roads too?

Dr Stephen replies: We will be investing in and improving public transport to give people more choices. But choice isn't just about cars versus public transport , it's about when and where you drive.

'Yes, I will. You'll have more choice but still no alterative.'

Ian Denham: In the last 35 minutes 12 questions have been answered by Dr Steven Ladyman, 5,000+ had been posted before the start of this webchat . Over 1.5million people signed the on-line petition against the proposal for this plan/scheme since this on line chat started I have asked 10 questions all different to those answered to date! How are you going to ensure that all views are taken into consideration before any decision is made?

Dr Stephen replies: You've had 2 now!

Proving a valid point I'd say. Who chooses?

As I said at the start we'll read through them all off line and take them into account. And don't forget that we want to have this debate over many years, so there will be lots more opportunities to talk about these issues.

SFX: Groan!

Andy Pearse: If a 'black box' will have to be installed on the car/hgv, how will this work for foriegn vehicles?

Dr Stephen replies: They could 'hire' a box at the port of entry. That is just one of the options we are looking at. Obviously, addressing this issue is a must.

They could, I guess. So there is going to be a box that tracks us then?

Dr Stephen says: Thanks for your questions - but I have to go now to catch a train!!!!

To where? What class? Who is paying? How are you getting to and from the station each end? 'Weeeeeee. I'm a public servant who works in London and gets paid to travel.'

I'll arrange to do another web chat soon and we will read all your ideas and suggestions. This is a debate, no decisions have been made yet and there is time for everyone to have their say.

And don't forget... they are listening.

I have to say that it was all I could do not to change 'Dr Stephen says' to 'Minister Says No'.

Where you convinced?

ps: The questions I asked here. I guess they were not so vital as these.

Times - Revealed: the e-petition ‘prat’

Following my receipt of Mr. Blair's Message from the Bunker, I turned on Thursday to the webcast to see if Dr. Ladyman would address any of my questions following his mime performance (so much spun; so little said or answered - I still await the progamme's reply as to the factual discrepancy between the Minister's recollection of what is or isn't on record and the Sun columnist who challenged him) on Monday's Newsnight.

Did anyone else find it a tad wanting in the promised further clarity?

As with the petition, it was still an interesting excerise in looking like you are listening when in fact you are still only telling.

1.8M people signed the petition. 5,000 asked questions on the webcast. Less than twenty were carefully selected. Oddly, one questioner got to ask twice.


Telegraph - Poll blow for road pricing plans fuels dissent in Labour ranks - The sahme of it is that soemthing is necessary. They have just screwed any chance of anything happening rationally.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the summary; I, like many others, missed it because of work commitments. And reading your interpretation of the answers is more fun that it would have been doing it live anyway.

There is one very key response from SL in there that needs a little more investigation.

Dr Stephen replies: We simply don't know because we haven't designed a system yet. But I am looking at ways we can ensure the cost doesn't fall on the motorist - for example the person who collects the charge from you may provide the equipment at their expense. As I've said fuel tax may affect the total amount of driving you do but not the time you do it. And of course taxes will be one of the things that will be reviewed as part of designing a scheme."

Let's just pull a key phrase out of that response - 'fuel tax may affect the total amount of driving you do but not the time you do it.'

When a Pol says 'may' he means 'will', so all Uncle Tone's guff about road charging replacing fuel tax is total bollocks then?

What he's saying is that they're introducing road charging but keeping fuel taxes in place too!!! Pay tax on your fuel and pay tax for using the road. Here's another idea for them - how about a tax on radios fitted in vehicles or perhaps a tax per seat in any car? Or maybe a tax per window? (I forgot, they already tried that one centuries ago) That might raise a few bob more for Gord's coffers.