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The Welsh Government spent more on support for the rail industry in Wales than it did building and maintaining the country’s trunk road network in 2012/13, according to its latest Transport and Travel Finance and the Economy report. This is despite only 2% of Welsh workers using the train to commute to and from work, while almost 75% drive or are driven, according to the RAC Foundation’s new The Car and the Commute report.

In the 2012/13 financial year, the Welsh Government spent £200m on the trunk road network, of which £87m funded new construction and almost £100m went on the maintenance and repair of the existing network. Only one new trunk road scheme was started in the year in question – the TTFE report, unhelpfully, doesn’t tell us which one but it does inform us that it is a 7.8km-long road scheme that will cost a total of £165m to build. On the railways, meanwhile, the Welsh Government spent a total of £206m in 2012/13, the vast majority (£175m) of which was in the form of ‘rail franchise and rail services support’.

In addition to direct spending on transport by the Welsh Government, it also provided £139m in grants to local authorities in 2012/13. Here the biggest segment by far was the £63m provided to fund the Welsh bus concessionary fares scheme. Just 4.6% of Welsh workers use the bus to get to and from work.

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You can imagine the scene. Electric vehicles suddenly take off and all of a sudden every street and every car park becomes a sea of cables as drivers attach their pride and joy to the mains.

With just 2,500 pure electric cars registered in the UK (out of a total of 28 million cars on the road) clearly we have a long way to go until we reach this stage, yet how we put juice in the batteries is an important thing to address.

If you believe Qualcomm – a telecoms giant that is turning its attention to charging EVs – then induction is the future.

The principle seems simple enough, at least according to Wikipedia:

Inductive charging uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two objects. This is usually done with a charging station. Energy is sent through inductive coupling to an electrical device, which then can use that energy to charge batteries.”

The beauty of the idea is that it is ‘wireless’: there is no physical connection between the charging pad and the receiving equipment. They simply need to be in close proximity.

Qualcomm already has two cars on trial in the UK, and provided the induction charging pad used on the experimental electric Rolls Royce Phantom 102EX. It is also about to partner with taxi firm Addison Lee on a larger-scale trial.

Of course, just because the last part of the process is wireless, that does not mean you don’t need extensive cabling to distribute the electricity, but if induction charging makes the EV experience easier for consumers that has to be worth considering. What also adds to the attraction is that induction charging can work while the car is moving and driving over an induction system embedded in the road. None of this sounds cheap, but we are at that stage of EV development where there’s still everything to play for and standards and protocols are still to be set: amongst manufacturers and between nations.

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Parliamentary Q & As are always a mine of information, some of it trivial, other parts rather more important. The data elicited earlier this week by one Dr Eilidh Whiteford, MP for Banff & Buchan (and one has to wonder what the point of asking the question was) probably falls into the former category but does illuminate how Whitehall is run and where taxpayers’ cash goes.

It shows that the Department for Transport is spending £120,000 in this financial year on media monitoring. To be fair to the DfT this amount is less than half what it was five years ago, though in part this appears to be down to ministers deciding they no longer care what coverage they receive in esteemed local publications (regional media monitoring was abandoned in June 2011) and merely regard their image in the national media as important.

Mass Media

Dr Whiteford: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what media monitoring services her Department has purchased in each of the last five years. [100907]

Norman Baker: The cost to the Department of press cuttings services and the services of the Central Office of Information’s Media Monitoring Unit for each of the last five years is provided in the following table for the central Department and its seven executive agencies.

£000
  2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 (1)
Press cuttings          
DfT(C)(2) 267.3 191.3 187.7 149.2 120.2
DSA 5.5 21.4 5.0 6.7 8.3
DVLA 2.2 3.3 3.7 0.8 0
GCDA 0 0 0 0 0
HA 73.4 49.8 62.3 31.2 14.0
MCA 16.8 16.8 0 0 0
VCA 0 0 0 0 0
VOSA 0 0 0 0 0
           
Central Office of Information’s Media Monitoring Unit          
DfT(C) 68.7 78.3 76.6 73.7 40.0
(1) To date (2) The DfT(C) press cuttings cost for 2007-08 and 2008-09 do not include regional (local) press cuttings provided by the Central Office of Information (COI). The central Department stopped purchasing regional press cuttings in June 2011.

In addition to those receiving press cuttings the following agencies use other media monitoring services. Costs are as follows:

Additional media monitoring
£000
  2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 (1)
HA 14.4 17.9 26.0 (2)7.0 17.4
MCA 89.1 87.0 61.0 93.0 56.5
VCA 0 1.2 1.4 1.5 1.5
VOSA 63.5 143.3 139.6 60.0 57.6
(1) To date. (2) Highways Agency’s charges for 2010-11 were part paid in advance in 2009-10 and part in arrears in 2011-12.

 

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So that’s that then.

After a cut in fuel duty in the March 2011 Budget and the postponement of the January 2012 3p rise until August this year, it was always going to be hard to convince the Chancellor to once again tinker with fuel duty rates even if there are pressing and convincing reasons to do so, as George Osborne himself appeared to recognise today.

What was surprising about Mr Osborne’s Budget speech was that contained the rationale for amending the way motorists are taxed. Referring to the work of the 18th Century economist Adam Smith, Mr Osborne said that a tax system needs to be four things: fair, predictable, simple and supportive of work. Yet it is quite easy to argue that fuel duty is no more than one of those things.

The premise behind fuel duty has never been entirely clear: varyingly it has been described as an environmental tax, general revenue raiser and method of covering the externalities drivers impose on others (who are often other road users). Nor have the changes in fuel duty rates over many years been smooth or consistent. Fuel duty is also a regressive tax, hitting the poor harder than the rich.

Therefore the single area where fuel duty might fit the bill under Smith’s criteria is the ease by which it is collected.

Mr Osborne did recognise that drivers are likely to be hit by things beyond his control. Early in his speech he said a risk to the economy identified by the Office of Budget Responsibility “is a ‘further spike in oil prices’, and there is no doubt that the high oil price – driven both by real demand and the Iranian situation – is of great concern across the world.”

While it is a dangerous game to predict the future from the past, it is hard to see oil prices falling significantly, which does at least mean that rises in fuel duty – at least during the life of this Parliament – will be inflation only. In the unlikely event that oil prices drop below $75 a barrel for a sustained period of time then the Treasury will raise duty rates by inflation plus one percent per annum.

Many of the nation’s 34 million drivers will be feeling disappointed tonight that the price of fuel remains were it is with the prospect that it will jump markedly later this year. The cost of motoring is a real drag on the finances of the majority of households. In the absence of more, effectively arbitrary and politically driven postponements in duty rate rises, perhaps the Chancellor will at least turn his attention to making motoring taxation more closely fit the principles outlined by Adam Smith more than two hundred years ago. That would be progress.

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Enjoy it while you can. Believe it or not Britain’s roads have been getting quieter over the past few years, not least because of the economic downturn. The volume of traffic peaked at 314 billion vehicle miles per annum in 2007 and has since slid to 303 billion miles (2010 figure) – the lowest level since 2003.

But the latest official prediction – slipped out by the Department for Transport earlier this year with no great fanfare – suggests the recent drop is a mere blip and that growth will soon be resumed. The recently published National Transport Model Road Forecasts 2011 concludes that:

1)    By 2035 road traffic will be 44% higher than in 2010

2)    Despite the increase in traffic, CO2 emissions are set to decline by 9% from 2010 levels because of improvements in the fuel efficiency of the car fleet and the use of biofuels.

The DfT also looked at high and low travel demand scenarios. Under the former traffic could increase by as much as 55% by 2035, while even in the latter case the number of miles travelled would go up by 34%.

Much of the projected growth in traffic can be put down to population growth (though the demographic profile of the population is also important – older people tend not to drive as much as younger people). However the forecast dismisses the notion that individuals have reached a limit in their demand to travel by car. It foresees a time post-recession when car demand per person will again rise at around 1.2% per annum between 2015 and 2025 (a rate similar to the 1990s) and for the ten years after the growth will still be positive but will fall to an annual average of 0.5%. In the confines of Whitehall, therefore, the notion that we have reached ‘peak car’ is fanciful.

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Whichever way you cut it, UK citizens are paying a fortune to travel.

RAC Foundation analysis shows that of the nation’s 26 million households, a staggering 21 million are estimated to be in ‘transport poverty’ – that is, more than 10% of their incomes goes on getting about. When you consider only those homes that run a car (and the estimate is that 75% of households have a vehicle) then an astonishing 100% of households are in transport poverty. By way of comparison, and using the same monetary measure, the Department of Energy and Climate Change calculates that a ‘mere’ four million households are struggling to keep warm and so are in fuel poverty.

On the face of it, the poorest fifth of all households seem to spend the least amount on transport as a percentage of income. But this is a product of only around half of these families owning a car whereas in the highest earning fifth (quintile) of homes around 95% have a car. When you strip out the non-car owning households at the bottom end of the income spectrum then the least well off are paying more than 17% just on their vehicles, leaving aside anything that might go on public transport.

Looking at the figures another way reveals that out of an average household weekly income of £473.60, £64.90 goes on transport, making it the single biggest area of expenditure bar none.

While there has been much in the news about the price of fuel, this is only one component of the costly business of keeping mobile. Insurance costs have also soared. So too have maintenance costs. It is true that the price of both new and second hand cars has come down over recent years but while people can usually delay splashing out on still on these still very expensive items, they rarely have any option other than to travel: to work, to the shops, to take the children to school, to get to the doctors.

Transport has never been a sexy subject but it is fundamental to modern living; it is at the core of everything we do, and drives social and commercial life. When the Chancellor makes his decision on where fuel duty rates might go next, he would do well to remember that.

 

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It is perhaps unwise to mix emotion with hard-headed logic when it comes to suggesting changes to the Criminal Justice system but the case highlighted by Greg Mulholland MP in his new Parliamentary Early Day Motion does raise an interesting and valid point.

Mr Mulholland cites the death of 16 year-old Jamie Still who was killed by a motorist twice over the legal drink-drive limit. In the eight months it took for the driver to be convicted and sentenced the man responsible for the death was allowed to keep driving. The MP for Leeds North West thinks this is wrong and is calling for all drivers charged with a serious driving offence – such as causing death by dangerous or careless driving – to automatically have their licences suspended until the outcome of the case against them is known.

In principle this idea has validity. Should there not be a presumption that drivers charged with such serious offences lose the right to drive unless their lawyers can successfully argue that to do so would be inappropriate and disproportionate? Or then again is it simply enough to remind magistrates of their existing powers when it comes to considering bail applications? After all members of the bench can already set conditions relating to a particular individual and particular crime, including limiting freedoms – short of remanding suspected offenders in custody – by imposing curfews, ordering people to attend a police station at regular intervals and confiscating passports. Perhaps the current system is flexible enough to cope with competing demands of victims and alleged perpetrators, as the Crown Prosecution Service guidance on bail suggests:

“Decisions on bail in criminal courts represent an important stage in the prosecution process. The results of these decisions can have far reaching consequences for victims of crime and the public in general.

“From the viewpoint of the defendant, bail decisions made by a Court can result in the deprivation or restriction of liberty for a substantial period of time.”

“…it is the Prosecutor’s duty to make a specific recommendation to the Court regarding its decision whether or not to grant bail and, if appropriate, upon which conditions.”

There is another point which this Early Day Motion raises which impacts on bail decisions and potential threats to the public posed by those accused of a crime; that is, the time it takes for a case to come to court. In the example given it was eight months. Surely this is far too long? For all concerned there is a strong argument that the justice process be speeded up.

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