David Cameron’s ‘road privatisation’ proposals, which he unveiled today, are nonsensical, writes Sustrans’s Eleanor Besley.
The prime minister’s plans to encourage private investment in Britain’s road network appear simply be a poorly camouflaged attempt to distract from the restructuring of the health system and the wholesale burning of environmentally protective ‘red tape’.
It also detracts from the wider issue we face when it comes to transport: many of us have no choice but to depend on a resource which is fast becoming less abundant and more expensive.
Distraction or not, today’s proposal from government is nonsensical; here’s why:
Privatisation fails the public:
Many of us who have to use our cars to get from A to B wish there was an alternative – but getting a train can be inconvenient, expensive and unreliable.
The government should be doing more to improve our rail system rather than sealing the fate of the roads to match that of the trains.
A focus on roads exacerbates transport poverty:
By looking at how to shift ownership to generate more road capacity, David Cameron is missing the point – government should be looking at how to help more of us leave the car behind.
Across the UK, transport poverty is a devastating reality for millions. As the certainty of peak oil hits home, more and more of us will be priced out of car ownership and there will not be alternative options in place.
Realigning the debate on road leasing completely fails to consider how government will be helping the British public access alternatives to car travel.
Increasing road capacity generates more traffic:
Evidence shows that building roads generates new traffic and does not alleviate congestion elsewhere.
Transport experts have observed the phenomenon of ‘induced traffic’ (pdf) since 1925 and the most authoritative studies into induced traffic show building road capacity is creating even more traffic than forecasts would have predicted.
Toll roads have not worked so far:
Former transport secretary Philip Hammond signalled an interest in using tolls to pay for future road building schemes, most of which are expected to be halted after the October spending review.
However, this report by the Campaign for Better Transport shows the 27-mile toll motorway has failed to provide any significant congestion relief for the original M6 and the price, which has been increased significantly year on year, is bad value for drivers who use the toll.
• How the Government could keep train fares down 16 Aug 2011
Despite the toll now charging motorists £5 on weekdays, two-and-a-half times the initial cost, the report shows that the operator is losing tens of millions of pound severy year. Meanwhile, M6 congestion is now so bad the government is considering spending another £500m on it to deal with the problems the toll road was supposed to solve.