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Within twenty years there could be another seven million drivers in the UK meaning that, if current trends persist, the total will leap from about 36 million to 43 million.

The sharp rise is predominantly due to a growing and ageing population, and threatens to bring increased congestion and travel delays, especially in urban areas.

The forecast by the RAC Foundation helps explain why official figures suggest that traffic is set to rise by about a fifth in towns and cities in England and Wales over the next ten years; and by a third over the next 20 years (compared with 2010, Table 1).

Table 1: Increase in traffic (billions of vehicle miles) on urban roads by region (compared to 2010):

Region 2010

(Urban traffic

billion vehicle miles)

2025

(% change

on 2010)

2035

(% change

on 2010)

North East 7.8 18% 31%
Yorks & Humber 18.1 25% 40%
East Midlands 9.2 23% 35%
East of England 11.5 25% 39%
South East 19.2 22% 36%
London 19.4 22% 35%
South West 8.7 23% 36%
West Midlands 16.8 20% 33%
North West 22.7 19% 32%
England 133.4 22% 35%
Wales 4.6 19% 32%

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/road-transport-forecasts-2013

The traffic and driver figures are at the heart of the debate over the way we will travel in the future. As part of its contribution to the subject the RAC Foundation invited twelve experts and organisations, with a wide range of perspectives, to give their views on urban transportation in the decades ahead.

These essays are published in Moving Cities: The future of urban travel. Each essay presents the author’s independent view.

Amongst the points raised in the essays:

  • 49% of people in England and Wales live in towns and cities with a population of at least 250,000
  • Three-quarters of households in towns have at least one car
  • Two-thirds of households in cities have at least one car
  • In-vehicle technology and smart traffic management systems are already playing a major role in fighting congestion, reducing carbon emissions and keeping people safe
  • Electric cars will bring significant environmental benefits but the cheap price of fuel relative to petrol and diesel could increase traffic
  • The pricing of transport is one of the most significant policy levers ministers have to create behaviour change
  • Change is almost certain to be incremental
  • Government will retain a crucial role in setting funding and regulatory framework

 

Today the infrastructure minister Danny Alexander has announced 84 new major road schemes which will be funded from the £15 billion already earmarked for the strategic road network over the course of the next parliament. This is very welcome, but the Foundation’s work illustrates the massive challenges we also face in unclogging our urban areas.

We all want to see more drivers using alternative methods of getting about but the government’s own figures suggest we face an uphill battle under present policies. To preserve the quality of life in towns and cities we must revise our travel expectations and ministers need to set clear and coherent strategies to facilitate this.

The UK’s automotive industry is leading the world in innovation to protect road users and the environment but technical innovation is not a panacea. It’s perhaps no surprise that jetpacks never caught on, but it is disappointing how levels of home and tele-working have risen so little over the past decade despite the telecoms revolution.

We should also be cautious about what driverless cars can deliver. They could dramatically cut death on the roads and give mobility to people usually excluded from personal transport: the young, the very old, those with frailties. But this new-found freedom could actually make our roads busier not quieter.

This is a list of papers and authors:

Viewpoint – RAC Foundation

Coping with the aftermath of peak car in urban areas – Christian Wolmar

Trends in urban travel behaviour – Scott Le Vine & John Polak, Imperial College

The then and now of urban areas – David Bayliss

Shaping demand in urban areas – David Bayliss

Maximising the use of the road network in London – Garrett Emmerson, TfL

Opening the highways to all in the 21st century – Ford Motor Company

The dawn of now: changes in transport design – Dale Harrow, Royal College of Art

Customer technology: the ticket to greater mobility – Shashi Verma, TfL

Urban space and street design – John Dales, Urban Movement

Spontaneous mobility – John Miles, Cambridge University

Regulation: bridge or barrier – Philip Pank

The (likely) future of urban mobility – Timothy Papandreou, The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

The most widely available but least read publication in the UK has to be the Highway Code. It cannot be recommended enough for all road users: drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.It’s available for free download at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/222621/dg_191955.pdf

But on BBC Radio Sussex this morning one of its signs was accused of stereotyping older people. The sign alerting other road users to the presence of older pedestrians looks like this:

Older people crossing

No-one suggested removing the sign either from the roadside or from the Highway Code but the question remains, ‘How could this sign be redesigned and still be effective?’

Any road sign needs to be understood in an instant. This particular road sign has been debated before in the context of iconography that stereotypes older people but no-one has yet come up with a better one.

None of us becomes an old person overnight.  Older people do just as well as young adults in many areas of everyday life but chronological age relates at least moderately with changes in sight and hearing – both senses we use to support our safety when using roads.

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/research/rsrr/theme1/olderpedestriansacriticalrev.pdf

Reaching the age of 60, getting a bus pass, or a reduction at the cinema does not suddenly render you incapable of crossing the road safely. But in time, feeling confident to walk in areas where there is traffic may be reduced. And as our sight and hearing diminishes appropriate signage helps to remind the rest of the community that we may take longer to cross the road as we check for traffic, and may not see traffic at all which has approached at speed.

Casualty statistics show that the problem we are talking about is important. Per capita, older people suffer a markedly high rate of fatalities. According to Stats19 and ONS statistics, last year (2013) 5470 children between 5-15 years were pedestrian road casualties 21 of whom died. This equates to 1.5 casualties and 0.03 fatalities per 10,000 children in GB. By contrast 2,503 people aged 65 – 84 years were involved in accidents as pedestrians of which 94 resulted in fatalities. This equates to 0.89 casualties and 0.10 fatalities per 10,000 in GB. A lower rate of casualties but three times the rate of deaths. The outcome of a collision can be serious for the older age group. And as age increases, the percentage who die after such an incident rises alarmingly. So we really need to be reminded that older people are vulnerable and signage can help. The question is: what should it look like?

The awful news over the weekend about the five young people who died in a car crash in Conisbrough near Doncaster. While there is no firm indication yet as to the cause of the accident, it does once again highlight the issue of road safety and in particular keeping young people safe.

The RAC Foundation supports the introduction of graduated licensing, but the government has repeatedly failed to set out its strategy to cut deaths amongst our young drivers. Below is a letter we wrote, with others, in January this year to the British Medical Journal:

 

The issue of the UK Government U-turn on alcohol minimum unit pricing (Godlee, 2014) is not the only evidence based public health policy that has failed to materialise recently.

Just as in January 2013 public health campaigners and policy makers were confident that a minimum unit price would be introduced across the UK, those of us working in the public health discipline of road injury prevention were similarly confident that the UK Government would carry out its commitment to publish a Green Paper on young driver safety with proposals for robust, evidence based change. However, at the end of the year a paper still had not been published.

Amongst teenagers, motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) are a leading cause of death and disability (Peden et al., 2008). In the UK, MVC injuries account for a quarter of all fatalities of 15 to 19 year olds (ONS, 2011; DfT, 2011).

The Department for Transport (DfT) made a clear commitment to producing a Green Paper in the spring of 2013 that would set out options for addressing the burden of young driver crashes on health and health services. This was to be supported by an evidence review carried out by TRL (Transport Research Laboratory), commissioned by DfT, and addressing specific questions of concern with regards to Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL).

GDL is a legislative approach used in the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, which has consistently been shown to have only beneficial effects on young driver crashes (Russell et al., 2011).

The TRL review (Kinnear et al., 2013), initially delivered in April 2013, concluded that there was compelling evidence for the introduction of GDL in the UK, and supported the findings of previous modelling work demonstrating that there could be substantial reductions in crashes, casualties and fatalities on the roads of the UK if GDL was introduced (Jones et al., 2012). The conservative estimate delivered by Kinnear et al., based on observed levels of effectiveness internationally, is that a GDL system in the UK would save 4,471 casualties and £224 million annually.

The publication date for the Green Paper was pushed back to June and then September 2013. At the Road Safety GB Conference in October 2013, representatives from DfT told the audience that the paper would be published before the end of 2013. In late December, in response to a Parliamentary Question, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Robert Goodwill MP admitted that the Government was still “wrestling with the issues” and would “issue a paper when we have considered this further.”

It appears that the Government is now looking at alternative approaches, including the use of telematics or ‘black box’ driver monitoring technologies. Telematics is an emerging field. It shows promise, but as yet is unproven as a public health intervention. We would see telematics as complementary to a GDL regime, not as an alternative.

The need for GDL is clear and there is widespread support for its implementation from the road safety sector, the insurance industry, those working in public health, the police, road safety charities and politicians.

It is not too late for Government to forward the debate. It still has the opportunity to present a range of options to reduce death and injury on the roads. The international evidence for GDL is compelling and to exclude this option from the Green Paper would significantly reduce its potential as a stimulus for evidence based change.

We remain hopeful that the Green Paper will be published after this significant delay, that it will recognise the beneficial effects of GDL witnessed internationally and include the recommendations from the Government commissioned TRL evidence review, and that a frank and open public debate will follow.

Sarah Jones, Consultant in Environmental Health Protection, Public Health Wales
Frank McKenna, Emeritus Professor, The University of Reading
Stephen Stradling, Emeritus Professor, Edinburgh Napier University
Nicola Christie, Director of Centre for Transport Studies, University College London
Tom Mullarkey MBE, Chief Executive, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
David Davies, Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety
Elizabeth Box, Head of Research, RAC Foundation
Julie Townsend, Deputy Chief Executive, Brake, the road safety charity
James Dalton, Head of Motor, Association of British Insurers

References:

DfT. Reported Road Casualties: Great Britain 2010: Annual Report. 2011.Department for Transport: London.

Godlee, F. (2014) Minimum alcohol pricing: a shameful episode. BMJ, 2014;348:g110

Jones, S., Begg, D. & Palmer, S. (2012). Reducing young driver crash casualties in Great Britain – Use of routine police crash data to estimate the potential benefits of graduated driver licensing. International Journal of injury Control and Safety Promotion, 1-10, DOI: 10.1080/17457300.2012.726631

Kinnear, N., Lloyd, L., Helman, S., Husband, P., Scoons, J., Jones, S., Stradling, S., McKenna, F. and Broughton, J. (2013). Novice drivers: evidence review and evaluation – pre-driver education and training, graduated driver licensing, and the New Drivers Act. Published Project Report (PPR673). Crowthorne: Transport Research Laboratory.

Office for National Statistics. Leading Cause of Death, 2009. 2011 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=… 16 Apr 2012].

Peden M, Oyegbite K, Ozanne-Smith J et al. World Report on Child Injury Prevention. 2008. WHO. Geneva.

Russell, K.F., Vandermeer, B. & Hartling, L. (2011). Graduated driver licensing for reducing motor vehicle crashes among young drivers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, 10, CD003300.

RAC Foundation response to the consultation on the proposed segregated East-West Cycle Superhighway and North-South Cycle Superhighway

Insufficient information has been published for us—or anybody else—to form a rounded view of the merits of these proposals. Therefore we neither support nor oppose these schemes. There may be sufficient advantage to outweigh the considerable costs and disadvantages, but a case is not offered.

This is a large scheme. The proposal to restrict the flow of vehicles into the area of the schemes is likely to have significant impacts over much of Central London. This is illustrated by the examples TfL have published as part of the consultation, some of which are reproduced in our Appendix, below.

These examples confirm that road users (buses, cyclists, pedestrians, taxis, private hire, commercial vehicles and private vehicles) over a large area of Central London would be adversely affected, some of them seriously so. The disbenefits to a large number of road users of all types (including bus users and pedestrians) across a large area of Central London would appear to be be very substantial.

To make an informed, rounded judgement it will be necessary to quantify the magnitude of these disbenefits and to set them against the magnitudes of the benefits anticipated for the schemes. A proper business case needs to be published before the public (or the TfL Board and the Mayor) can take an informed view and our understanding is that is still being drafted. In accordance with TfL’s normal good practice this should quantify the costs and benefits of the proposals.

We note with concern the statements in the consultation documents that “Our latest analysis shows the proposals would mean longer journey times for motorists and bus, coach and taxi passengers along most of the route, both during construction and once complete. There would also be longer journey times for users of many of the roads approaching the proposed route and longer waits for pedestrians at some signalised crossings.” This seems to imply that almost everybody would be made worse off.

There should also be a properly articulated safety case. This should consider the balance of advantage in safety terms for pedestrians, cyclists and others, between the schemes under consultation and alternative ways of using the resources (including the road space). We understand some estimation has been made for casualty reduction along the schemes’ routes but what is the effect beyond them? Could the same or greater casualty savings be made in a more cost effective way?

There may well also be a need to carry out an analysis of the environmental implications: significantly worsening traffic congestion over a large area would have adverse implications for air quality and carbon dioxide emissions which could be at variance with the Mayor’s policies (and duties), some currently under consultation.

The published consultation material would allow comment on the fine detail of such things as junction designs and road layout. But our interest is in the overall merits of the schemes in relation to their disadvantages. That requires a thorough appraisal of the estimated effects on transport users affected across the relevant area.

We would expect TfL to apply the same rigour and completeness of appraisal for these schemes as they have for other schemes over many years, in accordance with good practice. To cite some examples:

  • As for many public transport improvements, the case for Crossrail relies, in part on the benefits from decongesting road traffic through transfer of passengers from road to the new scheme. Models of the effects on traffic across the whole of London were used to evaluate these. These estimated benefits to road users are real enough but in most cases quite small for any one journey. By these standards some of the increases in trip time cited as examples due to the cycling superhighway proposals are enormous.
  • The case for the Congestion Charging scheme relied on detailed modelling and estimates of the changes in traffic flow across Central and Inner London, and the benefits of to the reduced traffic (including buses and commercial traffic) in the charged area.
  • The decision to proceed with the “World Squares” redesign of Trafalgar Square was based on analysis of the effects that scheme would have on traffic as far afield as the Inner Ring Road. An account by a TfL official of the traffic modelling relates that “Modelling of the wider network was undertaken by consultants, WS Atkins, during the development of the scheme using SATURN and, later, TRANSYT. SATURN work suggested that while the direct impact of the scheme is to reduce traffic flow passing though Trafalgar Square by approximately one third, the scheme would not displace trips beyond the Inner Ring Road.” Our point is that this kind of traffic appraisal possible, routine and good practice in cases similar to the cycling superhighways.
  • The proposal for a cable car crossing of the Thames was subject to an appraisal of a business case, considered by the TfL Board, which estimated benefits and costs. This includes quantified estimates of the benefits of time savings to cyclists, which demonstrates that TfL believes that appraisal of this is possible.
  • When London was constructing its bid to host the 2012 Olympics detailed traffic modelling was necessary in order to understand the implications for traffic. The analysis was considered by the TfL Board. Particularly relevant to the cycle superhighways were the reserved, “Olympic Lanes” and the Olympic Route Network. These proposals were controversial at the time, but concerns were mitigated by the facts that the disruption was only for about four weeks in total and, by design, that was at the quietest time of year. The cycle super highways are, of course, proposed to be permanent.
  • Over the years proposals for new East London river crossings have been controversial. Discussions at public inquiry and elsewhere have centred on detailed estimates and evaluations of implications for traffic flows across large areas of London.

It is only reasonable to apply the same standards of analysis to the cycle superhighway proposals as would be normal for any other major London scheme.

In particular, proper forecasts of the number of users need to be constructed and scrutinised. With a major infrastructure proposal it is never enough to publish the maximum expected carrying capacity: capacity is not the same thing as usage and there are many infrastructure schemes round the world that are not “used and useful”. Of course we recognise that absolute precision is not to be expected. But it is normal practice in a case such as this to estimate numbers and origins and destinations of trips that might divert to a new facility such as this, and to justify any assumptions as to the number of new trips that might be generated. In other contexts (new railways, road bridges, road improvements, bus services) these analyses are, rightly, subject to close scrutiny.

We believe that, in accordance with its usual good practice, TfL must have carried out comprehensive modelling of the impacts of traffic of these proposals—and if it has not, it should.

Having done the traffic and economic and environmental modelling TfL will have the information necessary to calculate, in the normal way, estimates of the total benefits and disbenefits to those affected. Then the general public (and the Mayor) will have the information necessary to come to a judgement on the balance of advantage of the schemes.

The appraisal will need to reflect the fact that according to TfL’s estimates (Drivers of Demand for Travel in London: A review of trends in travel demand and their causes, 2014) “the proportion of network capacity for private motorised trips lost relative to 1996 … is estimated to be 30 per cent in central London, 15 per cent in inner London and 5 per cent in outer London”. Competition for road space in Central London has always been intense and the fact that so much capacity has already been given up for other purposes makes it much harder to accommodate new schemes without causing disproportionate disadvantage to existing users.

The nature of the traffic on the proposed lines of route is only a small part of the story. Because traffic will be diverted onto many roads in the Central area, all that traffic may be affected. (See TfL’s examples in our Appendix.) In particular, there may be important implications for reliability and cost of operation of bus services throughout. Further, a glance at any Central London street during the working day confirms the significant proportion of traffic that is commercial. The appraisal of these proposals needs to take proper account of the costs to the London economy due to adverse effects to buses and commercial traffic.

We note that the proportion of traffic in Central London that is private cars is now quite low—maybe close to an irreducible minimum. This is partly because of the success of the Congestion Charging scheme. Also, we suspect that some of the historical increase in cycling is diversion from walking and, particularly, public transport. So, whatever its merits, the case that the cycling superhighways will be material in reducing private car use is not made.

We note that TfL funds are proposed to be used on bus measures to mitigate the impacts of the proposed cycle scheme. Assuming—as must surely be the case—that these funds would have had a beneficial alternative use for bus services elsewhere then that cost should be accounted as one of the costs of the cycling proposals. (And that would be to disregard the net benefits they would have generated in the forgone applications.) Similarly, the business case will need to cost in realistic mitigation measures for commercial traffic and general traffic control across the affected area.

Appendix

TfL have published some illustrations of the effects of the east-west scheme on journeys here:

https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/cycling/be832fad/user_uploads/east-west-cycle-superhighway-modelling-results—230914.pdf

The biggest changes to journey times would not occur in central London or on the superhighway section, but on the A1203 and A13 east of Tower Hill, where road space would remain the same as now but westbound traffic will be held longer at various points to control the flow on to Tower Hill and Upper Thames Street. To evaluate the scale of these impacts, we have modelled a journey between the eastern end of the Limehouse Link Tunnel and Hyde Park Corner. The current journey time westbound is currently 34 minutes 34 seconds in the morning and 30 minutes 51 seconds in the evening. Once the scheme is built, journeys for general traffic in this direction would be 50 minutes 28 seconds in the morning and 44 minutes 20 seconds in the evening. The same journey eastbound is 27 minutes 51 seconds in the morning and 30 minutes 51 seconds in the evening. Once the scheme is built, these journey times would increase to 35 minutes 29 seconds in the morning and 35 minutes 6 seconds the evening.

TfL have published some illustrations of the effects of the north-south scheme on journeys here:

https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/cycling/7e3b634b/user_uploads/north-south-cycle-superhighway-modelling-results—230914fn.pdf

Travelling northbound from Elephant & Castle to Farringdon Station, average journey time in the morning peak would rise by 41 seconds, from 11 minutes 28 seconds to 12 minutes 9 seconds. In the evening, in the same direction, journey times would increase from 10 minutes 56 seconds to 15 minutes 12 seconds. Travelling southbound from Farringdon Station to Elephant & Castle, average journey time in the morning peak would rise from 10 minutes 50 seconds to 14 minutes 43 seconds. This journey in the evening would increase slightly from 12 minutes 17 seconds to 14 minutes 20 seconds.

We have also modelled a journey for general traffic between Stamford Street and Queen Victoria Street. Journeys for general traffic starting on Stamford Street and travelling north over Blackfriars Bridge to Queen Victoria Street would increase from 3 minutes 45 seconds to 15 minutes 43 seconds in the morning, and from 3 minutes 20 seconds to 12 minutes 41 seconds in the evening. Much of this increased journey time would be on Stamford Street itself, approaching the junction with Blackfriars Road. Journeys heading south in the opposite direction would be quicker by 2 minutes 11 seconds in the morning and by 1 minute 41 seconds in the evening.

A couple of very interesting meetings with Transport for London recently as part of its stakeholder engagement programme relating to plans for the East-West and North-South cycle superhighways.

One of the messages that came across was clear.

The proposals are not simply about getting people out of their cars in central London – the number of private vehicles in the middle of the capital is already relatively low and unlikely to get significantly lower without a major hike in the congestion charge, and according to TfL “motor traffic in central London has fallen by around 17% per cent since 2006/07″ – but generating modal shift away from the buses and Tube.

Public transport is already under significant strain and likely to become more so as the population of London rises by 1.6 million by 2031, a point emphasised by today’s news via the Press Association:

“Transport for London (TfL) has announced that a weekly bus and Tube passenger journey record has just been broken.

“In the week beginning September 22 2014 a total of 76.1 million passenger journeys were made on London Underground (LU) and on London buses.

“This was made up of a record weekly total of 50 million bus journeys, while 26.1 million Tube trips were made.

“The combined total beat the previous bus-Tube record set in the week beginning December 9 2013 when many extra travellers came into the capital to see the Christmas lights.”

Officials recognise (as they’ve acknowledged on the consultation website) that there will be knock on impacts for other traffic, not just on the routes but also on the roads surrounding them.

As a way of mitigating these effects – and those created by 20 or so other road schemes being implemented by the end of 2016 – tens of millions of pounds are being invested to help prioritise buses at certain junctions to help keep bus journey times reasonable and passengers happy.

There are now some broad indications, albeit still provisional and based on an imprecise science, of potential casualty reductions.

Annual reductions of collisions involving injury to cyclists:

East-West      7 serious, 35 slight

North-South      2 serious, 11 slight

Total   9 serious, 46 slight, 55 overall

Approximate annual monetised benefit of reducing cycling collision:

EW      £1.84m

NS      £0.53m

Total   £2.38m

So far TfL not made an accurate assessment of what reduction there might be in fatalities, though say it is reasonable to assume a number of fatalities will be avoided over the full life of a business case, which they emphasise is still at draft stage. (It’s not clear over what period the business case is being made but for most large infrastructure projects it would be at least 30 years.)

The plans form a major part of delivering the Mayor’s vision for cycling. It is worth noting what the other four key points of the roads and street plans to 2020/21 are:

  • Ensure roads assets are fit for the future
  • Deliver a programme of major highway improvements to: unlock economic growth and regeneration; optimise use of road space (for all modes); improve pedestrian, cycling and bus facilities; enhance urban realm and ‘place’ function; deliver safety improvements
  • Deliver a further 40% reduction in fatalities and serious injuries on London’s roads
  • Keep London moving

The question is: how compatible are all these aims?

It is encouraging to hear that the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Chief Secretary to the Treasury are all so keen to see drivers benefit from lower pump prices.

So keen are they that falling oil prices are reflected on the forecourts that they have said to petrol and diesel distributors that they are watching them “very carefully”.

But whatever the imperfections of the commercial fuel market – and the OFT decided in January 2013 that they were not enough to result in a referral to the Competition Commission – would our political leaders not be better off spending as much time scrutinising their own actions as those of private companies?

The fact remains that well over 60% of the price of fuel at the pumps is down to taxation. Actually, because fuel duty is levied at a fixed amount, the proportion of tax increases as oil prices fall.

Drivers will be grateful that the Chancellor has frozen fuel duty over a number of years but that does not mean there is no more he could do. When compared to other EU countries UK pre tax fuel prices are amongst the cheapest. After tax they are amongst the most expensive.

In the UK, tax – levied for a reason that is not clear: is it an environmental tax, general revenue raiser, or designed to cover all the external costs of driving including congestion and road safety? – remains the biggest driver of fuel prices. This explains why significant drops in the oil price are not going to be similarly mirrored at petrol stations.

What’s more, the Chancellor said in the 2011 budget that if oil prices fall below $75 a barrel, then he will reintroduce a fuel duty escalator:

“The Government will abolish the fuel duty escalator and replace it with a fair fuel stabiliser. When oil prices are high, as now, fuel duty will increase by inflation only. UK oil and gas production is more profitable at such times, so it is fair that companies should contribute more. The Supplementary Charge on oil and gas production will therefore increase to 32 per cent from midnight tonight.

“In future years, if the oil price falls below a set trigger price on a sustained basis, the Government will reduce the Supplementary Charge back towards 20 per cent on a staged and affordable basis while prices remain low. Fuel duty will increase by RPI plus 1 penny per litre in each such year. The Government believes that a trigger price of $75 per barrel would be appropriate, and will set a final level and mechanism after seeking the views of oil and gas companies, and motoring groups.

“As the increased rate of Supplementary Charge will only apply when prices are high, the Government will restrict tax relief for decommissioning expenditure to the 20 per cent rate to avoid incentivising accelerated decommissioning. There will be no restrictions to decommissioning relief below this level over the course of this Parliament, and the Government will work with the industry with the aim of announcing further, longer-term certainty on decommissioning at Budget 2012. Recognising the importance of continued investment in the North Sea, including in marginal gas fields, the Government will also consider with the industry the case for introducing a new category of field that would qualify for field allowance.”

Not surprisingly the Chancellor has not been reminding people of these comments recently.

Yet, ironically, what drivers gain from falling oil prices, they are set to lose in above inflation rises in fuel duty. If the cost of oil drops just a few more dollars and the Chancellor sticks to those 2011 proposals then fuel duty could well rise by about 2p a litre.

The problem for Mr Osborne is that he is sending our mixed messages. At the Conservative party conference in 2013 he pledged that providing he could find the savings to pay for it he would freeze fuel duty until the election, but as we have seen he has also committed to hikes in duty above the rate of inflation if the oil price tumbles. Which is it to be?

What is the most common vehicle defect causing accidents? Braking failures? No – braking comes a close second to tyre defects at 36% (braking defects at 31%).

That was one of the headline messages at a parliamentary briefing hosted by PACTS, TyreSafe and TFI.

In 2013, more than 2.2 million MOT failures were due to tyre defects. TyreSafe found that of tyres tested after removal for replacement 57% where found already to be illegal.

Have motorists become complacent? Are they too reliant on their vehicles to inform them when something is wrong? The majority of cars will tell you when the fuel tank is close to empty, when the oil level is low and when the tyres need air. But – for the moment at least – cars do not inform you about dangerous tread depths.

Checking the tread depth is simple – yet 1 in 5 motorists have never done it. Take a 20 pence piece and place it within the tread of the tyre – coincidentally, the raised edge around the side of the 20 pence piece is 1.6 mm – if you can see the raised edge of the coin than your tyres require immediate replacement.

The sale of part worn tyres was also highlighted at the briefing as a serious problem – the majority of tyres checked for resale as part worn were not found to have been certified as fit for purpose, and many were found to have reached illegal tread depths.

Stuart Jackson from TyreSafe explained that tyre defects were associated with 981 persons killed or seriously injured in the 5 year period to 2013, over £0.4 billion, while the Highways Agency’s Stuart Lovett says 66,500 incidents related to tyre defects occurred on the motorways network in the 18 months from April 2013 to September 2014. This amounts to approximately 100 incidents a day – and that is without considering any roads outside the motorway network.

This is not just a HGV issue either – 63% of motorway tyre breakdown issues involved a car, with only 21% involving a HGV.

The focuses for improving tyre safety include enforcement and education.

Enforcement is not a simple matter – police budgets are stretched. But December will see the start of a project funded by TfL for the enforcement of tread depth regulations, amongst others, on HGVs. Education involves informing people about the real dangers of bald tyres, how often they should be checking them and the 20 pence piece method for doing so. TyreSafe Safety Month, occurring last month is a part of this education process.

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