Motorists short-changed by new coinage?
As if finding the right amount of money in coins for parking ticket machines wasn’t enough of a challenge, HM Treasury are now going to change the size and metal composition of 5p and 10p coins. The changes will be difficult to detect for most people, but not for parking ticket and other vending machines designed to detect fraudulent coinage. The new coins will become legal on 1 January 2011, though they are not expected to be in circulation until March. Because both old and new coin types will be in circulation together for some time, motorists may well find one type or the other rejected by ticket machines depending on whether they have been upgraded or replaced to deal with the new coinage, or just left alone. Motorists may also find themselves paying more for their tickets as parking companies recoup the cost of upgrading or replacing all their machines. A parking business representative told ‘Parking Review’ this month that he understood the coinage changes would save HM Treasury £7 million but could cost the industry up to £100 million to convert all the coin slot machines.
Archive for October, 2010
Motorists short-changed by new coinage?
Let’s not be churlish about the CSR.
Against the apocalyptic scenarios being talked about before the CSR the reality has turned out to be relatively good – or at least not as bad – for the DfT, with the 11% reduction in capital spending in real terms (£7.686 billion this year and then £7.557 billion in 2014/15) being the smallest of any department other than Defence and DECC.
Things are not so good on the resource side (down 22% over the same period) or administration (down 33%) but the fact that the Chancellor recognises we need in part to build our way out of recession has meant some relief for Transport.
Of course not all schemes are being saved. Whilst the A11 upgrade, A23 upgrade, managed motorway programme on the M4/M5 and M1 in Derbyshire all survive, projects on the A47, A21 (three stretches), A19, A1 at Leeming and A14 are being shelved. The billion pound project on the A14 never looked likely to escape the axe. No matter that it is needed, the price tag was just too high for ministers. The silver lining is that the Department is looking at alternatives and hopes the private sector will step in to help.
But what will Philip Hammond say to people who get caught up in the chaos that is the A21? Should they expect to put up with the misery forever? What succour can the Secretary of State offer?
There will be anger too amongst the 150,000 drivers who use the Dartford crossings every day. From a situation where it was once decreed that the tolls would eventually be abolished they are now set to rise dramatically. From £1.50 to £2.00 next year and to £2.50 the year after. Could this be the Government making the crossings a more financially attractive proposition for the buyer it wants to attract?
One of the most interesting development is what might happen to the Highways Agency. A non-executive chairman is being installed to oversee things and a review of the way the HA is governed is being undertaken. As an organisation which has been calling for this for some time, the RAC Foundation is pleased to hear the news.
A lot of talk today about fuel poverty, and the 4.5 million UK households now spending more than 10% of their income on heating their homes to a decent standard. But let’s not be deceived into thinking there isn’t another area of essential expenditure where people actually spend more of their money – transport; and that does not just mean the private car, but on every form of getting about.
In 2008 the average weekly household expenditure across the nation was £471. Of this spending on travel was £63.40 (housing, fuel and power was £53). Personal mobility has clearly come at a financial price, but it is unlikely many of us travel around predominantly for fun: we do so because we need to get to our places of work and education, have to reach the shops; get to school and college; access health services. Few of these – whether made by car, bus, taxi, motorbike, train or plane – are optional journeys.
Going back to domestic heating there are clearly some real cases of hardship out there and no one would want to be in the unenviable position of being unable to heat their home. However some would argue that the cost of domestic energy should actually rise quite substantially. At the moment it attracts a VAT rate of just 5%, yet from January 1st 2011 the standard VAT rate will be 20% and that’s what motorists will be paying on the petrol and diesel they buy.
If the government is intent on limiting our use of energy both for environmental and security of supply reasons then what message is sent out by this discrepancy in tax rates and the effective subsidy of one form of use over another? A thorny subject if ever there were one.
I have done my turn at the Conservative Party Conference, speaking at a couple of fringe events, and am now safely back in the office watching the David Cameron speech on TV. What struck me on my journey to Birmingham was the speed and quality of the train service: even the off-peak fare was reasonable (though the rush-hour price would have been eye-watering had I been forced to pay it).
The 90 minutes or so I had to myself to do some work – including preparing for my speaking engagements – was a godsend. Not for the first time I wondered quite why we needed a new £17 billion (with £11 billion or so of that coming from the taxpayer) high speed rail service to link two cities already well connected?
Even if you think HSR is a good idea in principle surely if you have that much money to spend – and we don’t – you might consider whether other projects would deliver similar results at better value. Projects like those identified by the consultancy Atkins which produced a report for the last government analysing alternatives to HS2.
The results, which you would be forgiven for not having heard much about, show that alternative road and indeed classic rail schemes both offer better benefit cost ratios and at a lower price. Yet when I shared a platform with the Secretary of State last night the majority of the discussion centred on High Speed Rail. As a CBI representative said at a conference last week the coalition government’s attitude to transport seems to be: the answer is HSR, now what’s the question? Clearly it is not just the RAC Foundation which fears the almost messianic zeal many politicians – in all the major parties - have for something which has yet to be demonstrated to actually deliver the promises being made for it.
In his speech on Monday Philip Hammond is reported to have said the BCR of HSR was in the region of 2. Two! Hardly impressive considering Department for Transport economists don’t get out of bed for anything less than that. Now I should say that I have some sympathy for Mr Hammond. In a world with no money it must seem like the easy option to champion HSR, given that the big cheques will not need to be signed before 2015 or later – conveniently beyond the duration of this parliament. What HSR also seems to provide is evidence of a transport plan; the plan being build stage one of HSR, then two, then three and so on until it reaches Scotland. But I would suggest it is a poor excuse for a plan.
What we have been lacking (and which we were falsely promised by the previous administration) is a national policy statement for surface networks. To his credit Mr Hammond said an NPS – similar to those we have already seen for aviation and energy – would be forthcoming in the wake of the comprehensive spending review. That is progress.
As for me, what I need now is another excuse to travel ‘up country’ by train. At least then I would be certain of getting some work done in peace and quiet.
People in the UK are among the Europeans who are least likely to recognise 112 as the pan-European emergency number, despite various initiatives to promote the number both here and on the continent, according to a statement from eubusiness. Amongst the strategies employed by the EU has been the 112 Awards, organised by the European Emergency Number Association to recognise and congratulate individuals and organisations engaged in promoting the 112 number. The 112 number has been operational across the EU since December 2008 but recent data shows that only 10% of UK citizens know they can dial it to contact the police, the fire brigade or the medical services at home or when travelling in the EU. Together with Greece and Italy this is the lowest awareness level among the 27 member states. Although the UK has acknowledged that a common code for emergency services across the whole of the EU is desirable, the EU itself has recognised that 999 is very familiar to people in the UK and withdrawal of this number and substitution by another would inevitably lead to confusion and probable risk. Because of this, in the UK both 999 and 112 provide emergency access in parallel.
Promoting rail travel is all very well, so long as you plan for a large number of your passengers to get to the station by car, and provide adequate well- priced parking. The main concerns of passengers who need to use cars for the first part of their journeys are: car-park prices, the chances of finding a space, confusing payment systems, and safety after dark, according to the independent passenger watchdog, Passenger Focus.
Passenger Focus’s National Passenger Survey shows that nationally, only half of passengers using station car parks are satisfied with the facilities. In this latest research looking at the East Midlands, 72% of passengers were satisfied with finding a space, but 11 of the 42 stations audited had car parks that were at least 90% full by 9am on weekdays. Only one in 10 passengers were satisfied with value for money and just 17% with the machines provided to pay the parking fee. Although 84% of passengers said they feel safe in the car-park area during the day, this drops to 53% after dark. Passenger Focus has also stressed the need for more bicycle and blue-badge parking spaces at particular stations.
The RAC Foundation believes that increased passenger capacity on railway services must be supported by increased capacity in the car park. If travellers cannot be assured there is room to park they will have no choice but to complete their entire journey by car – rather than just the leg to the station.
The 1p litre rise today is not the end of the story. There is another three quarters of a penny increase due on January 1st and at the same time VAT will jump to 20%. Also we already know that in the next financial year the price will be increased again by 1p above the rate of inflation. And all this is without taking into account any future hikes in the underlying price of oil. Put together these rises mean the cost of filling the tank of a family car going up by close to £3.
The coalition government talked much about the possible introduction of a fuel stabiliser to limit the financial pain but talk of that seems to have gone rather quiet.
Commenting on the announcement of the end of the M4 bus lane ( See: Evening Standrd Article) Professor Stephen Glaister, Director of the RAC Foundation, said:
“Most drivers on the M4 will wonder why this decision has taken so long. Road capacity is in short supply and to have an underused lane like this has made little sense. While other motorways have been widened to allow for the growth in traffic, on this stretch of the M4 capacity was actually being reduced.”