TRANSPORT - GENERALLY: A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

Transport systems are the arteries which carry the economic lifeblood of our country.  So this fundamental service is too important to be distorted by the vagaries of the taxation system.  Transport should not be a revenue generator and as there has to be a tax burden, it should fall equally on all forms of transport.  In short, it should be a level playing field.  And my general rule is that the users of a service pay the full costs of the service.

The #BenDict Transport Policy, has the basic principle of recovering all allocated costs of infrastructure, environmental damage and social costs, but otherwise the economics not being distorted by tax or dogma, politically correct or otherwise.  We cannot afford to subsidise any form of transport.

Journeys are NOT from A to B!  The efficiency of journeys must be measured in cost and time over the entire route from A to Z.  Journeys from D to T with possibly several interchanges along the way, as public transport often provides, are inherently less efficient in time, but necessary in crowded urban environments.  Such journeys do penalise the less mobile whether it be through disability or carrying children.  Dial – Ride is the ideal concept, but as far as I am aware you have to qualify and its operational range is limited to the Local Authority boundaries.

At the present time only roads bear a heavy burden in excess of subsidies.  By all means apply levies to cover the measured environmental, social and accident/injury costs.

This view is supported by a Department of Transports advert for a Head of Strategic Transport Analysis & Review which says “Transport plays a vital role in all our lives, it is a key enabler of prosperity providing us with access to goods and services as well as business, employment, education, social and leisure opportunities.  But transport also imposes costs, through pollution, congestion, noise and accidents.  The transport systems of the future will need to maximise benefits, whilst reducing negative impacts.”

So I would see to it that distorting taxation and political dogma will be eliminated.  All modes should be financed by the user on the basis of a level playing field.  Taxes where applied should reflect their measured social and environmental impacts.  To offset this all journeys to work or to seek work would be tax deductible at the cost of public transport.  Current dispensations for students, the elderly and disabled would remain in force.

Another un-level field of transport is in marine transport, fuel taxes especially on carbon are not fairly apportioned between nations or controlled that much at all.

AIR TRANSPORT

Air transport needs robust public regulation and the provision of air traffic control, (NATS).  There are perhaps social and certainly environmental costs and a calculation needs to be made to determine if the Air Passenger Duty (APD) and fuel duties cover those costs to the State.  If not adjustments will be needed.

APD is a quite steeply graduated tax on flight passengers.  Its justification has to be to cover the costs to society of flying.  This is a highly arguable point as since we are an island much of the flying miles are over water and, in Europe, over other countries.

There is currently the demand for a third London runway.  Long overdue through Government indecisiveness, but mainly lack of leadership.  Which location, Gatwick or Heathrow could get private funding?  That would decide it for this Dictator as then the taxpayer pays nothing.  I would favour Gatwick as one runway is very limiting, but I would hope BOTH would get enough private funding.  Fiddlesticks to Boris and Zac.  We need Leaders not Populists.

The recent rise in drunken unruliness needs addressing.  I never could see the merit of loading planes before take-off with lots of often inflammable liquid and certainly intoxicating.  Granted the bottles now are largely plastic.  I would close Duty Free before take off at least for alcohol, the shops can remain on landing, but the Chancellor should have something to say about it.  The drinks on board can be controlled by airline staff but not in airport bars.  Ok so a few louts spoil the pleasure of responsible drinkers, but it is better no-one drinks than what now appears to be the all too common alternative.

ROAD TRANSPORT

It has been a trait of human nature for centuries; if not millennia that you aspire to afford you own personal transport.  In history the progression from foot to horse to carriage.  And now at the growth of personal transport in India and China.  First the bicycle, then the motor bike and now cars of all price ranges.  Why?  Only the roads go from your own front door to your (multiple) desired destination(s).  All other forms involve enforced changes of the mode of transport, exposed to the elements, regrettably these days to dangers and time consuming.  Add to that the reducing mobility of the UK's ageing population and of mothers handling babies and small children.  Roads and buses are the “fall back” system for rail systems when difficulties are encountered.

But, popular politics is to drive people out of this most ubiquitous form of transport - their cars.  But is it the majorities wish?  Most probably not.  Should the single, lone woman working irregular hours be forced to leave her car at home?  If she can afford it and chooses to spend her income on a car, why should it be made more difficult, if not impossible?  She may well change her job location instead.  Cars for most of the day in most places still provide the shortest journey times and time is measured in either money or taken out of an individual’s precious personal time.

Many measures force the road user to rail through offering no other practical choice, i.e. with little or no regard of the economic or social impact.  So short of draconian bans, deterrents are bound to fall short of the desire of the ardent anti-road pressure groups.

But first a word or two on congestion.  This is what people, whatever their choice (enforced or otherwise) of transport mode complain about most.  It is also has a considerable bearing on increasing the cost and environmental inefficiencies of the entire system.  On the roads there is much that can be done to reduce congestion.

If outright bans are to be considered, then pedal powered rickshaws should be top of the list.  The stress and congestion caused to other road users are considerable.  As well as the fact they are un-regulated and seem dangerous for the passenger.  Cycles in generally do move faster and the rider is at least keeping fit.  Although the logic of a 10 mph cycle going down a bus lane, followed by a bus capable of 30 mph does take imagination.  Whilst on speed limits.  The movement for large areas in towns to be reduced to 20 mph is a good idea, but not if no-one is going to enforce it.

We could ban delivery vehicles in town centres and develop INTERNET shopping even more, encouraging more delivery vans into the less congested suburbs.  But what about those people living in the inner cities without a PC?

There is much that can be done by design, without bans.  Many roads are being reduced in width.  Sit on the upper deck of a bus and observe the original Victorian building line.  Shops and pavement cafes have encroached on what the Victorians thought was a reasonable width of street.

It is said that prior to the introduction of the initial London congestion charge, that the phasing of lights was changed and then changed back again to show that the charge was improving traffic flows.  It is to be welcomed that phasing is now to be reviewed on a case by case basis.  I am sure that some are too short, but many are too long.  One can often sit at a traffic light controlled intersection, with nothing happening at all in any direction.  I recall a TV documentary on the topic, where the reporter had time to dance and twirl diagonally across the street.  There are also many three way junctions that do not allow filtering, when it is clearly, safely possible.  The adoption of the equivalent to “Right on Red” of the USA would be good.

The extension of the London Congestion Zone into Chelsea, apart from ignoring the public view in the consultation phase was clearly just a revenue raising measure as congestion in the original central zone would clearly rise from many thousands more people resident within the enlarged zone.

Why not consider withdrawing DoT grants to Councils that allow parking on through routes, maintained by Central Government.

We do have the safest roads in the developed world.  Whilst keeping up the pressure to design them to be safer still, bringing in more measures that the police have not got the resources to enforce or the prison room to incarcerate persistent offenders is not going to achieve society’s aims.  That said causing death or serious injury whilst driving should as a norm get a serious sentence.  If there are drugs, drink or evading arrest involved, even lengthier custodial sentences must follow.

I make it clear that I offer no support for the inconsiderate, selfish, dangerous, motorist.  Unfortunately one sees them on every journey.  So why not relocate the “speed cameras” to be truly “safety cameras” to cover the locations where these acts happen.  Lack of lane discipline is one instance that causes congestion, rage and thus danger and yet rarely gets punished.  So make transport a choice of balancing convenience and cost, with as few taxation distortions as possible.

Keep road traffic moving safely and smoothly should be a primary objective, not to slow it and hinder it at every possible point.  Sensible design of controls, signage, etc. will help and the enforcement of penalties for poor or inconsiderate driving practices.  Government currently takes c.£40bn in Road Tax and gives about c.£9bn in road improvements.  With our price of petrol we do not need road pricing, the optimum system is in place.

By all means recover in full attributable social costs such as the damage to health caused by smoking, alcohol and certainly jailing dangerous drivers, so all accident and health costs are loaded onto cars and on other forms of transport as relevant.  Assessing the costs of accidents is well established in examining the viability of any new investment in the roads, so the data is available.

The car industry is highly innovative and better at publicising itself than Rail or Air, certainly because they have an eager audience.  But Air and Rail “drivers” are certified for their high level of competence.  This is not practical for the majority of road drivers.  I want to give road users a break, by incorporating the Road Tax into the petrol excise tax, which is too high, so could stay unchanged.  But I also want to drive bad drivers off the road.  Every offence should not just get points on their licence, but an increase in their insurance premium.  The price will drive them to be more careful or off the road.  Driving without insurance is an automatic jail sentence.  Young drivers also deserve the benefit of the doubt until they have an accident.  One method might be for them to have a normal premium but a very high excess backed by a guarantor.

Freight vehicles are individually the most polluting and need controls, but they will only be foattracted onto rail if it is more economic otherwise costs, prices will go up.  This is probably a hard economy to achieve as loading on and off is a significant cost and delay.

The Economist many years ago did a revealing article on the progress of electric vehicles (EV) since 1906!  They do transfer their carbon and other emissions to a more rural site but they also come a step closer to my vision of coming out of a bar, pressing a key on your communicator and around the corner comes a vehicle to take you safely home under automatic control.

RAIL TRANSPORT

The movement of people by rail in urban areas is essential.

The nationalisation debate is interesting, as younger commuters tend to favour it and they did not experience the nationalised period of British Rail.  Rail and Road are currently similar with their structure, like the roads the rails are state owned and on both the road and rail the vehicles are privately or corporately owned.  However there is nothing magic about nationalisation producing better management.  Indeed it is less likely as without the motive of and measure for some profitable return there is no reasons to censure managers who are not performing and politics will pervade all critical decisions even more.

The annual campaign against rail fare price rises has started as I update this section.  It is understandable as no-one wants to pay more.  The formula was set to improve the outdated infrastructure and one can see that it is happening.  I started commuting in the days of slam door carriages!   My transport philosophy is that of a level playing field and the users paying for what is consumed by their journeys.  Rail are much favoured in this regard over roads.  But I see no justice in the principle that UK taxpayers as a whole paying for reduced fares for London Commuters.  Yes it will be hard when 25% or more of your salary goes on fares.  But lack of skilled staff should encourage more businesses that do not need to be in Central London to re-locate.  Thus reducing the crowded commutes and gradually relieve the pressure on housing and it prices.

WATER

This final infrastructure need is clearly is not really Transport.  I have long argued that clean, usable, water is the most precious world resource.

So water is even higher up the list of possible world crises than food, but far less obvious.  In the UK it is already menacing us.  Meters should now be compulsory and better efficiency regulation is essential, perhaps some form of franchising, which erodes the area monopolised by the less efficient suppliers.

Yes there is water transport but I have not seen any realistic case for it winning back its trade uses of the 19thC.  It is however a wonderful leisure facility and should pay its way on that basis.  There are many hobbyists prepared to stump up or work for free on any special renovation needs.  All strength to them.  Apart from its fuel needs it need not be taxed.  But the land it occupies should be part of the local government area’s tax base. 

But returning to water that we drink, cook, wash in, grow our crops and feed our farm animals for food.  There are vast areas of this planet in both the developed and under-developed world that do not have a sufficient supply of usable water.  The less thinking public say that it rained last week so we will be OK.  There were floods last year so how can we be short.  Flooding is an unrelated issue in the modern urban world as most of that water is wasted.  Similarly in Bangladesh through deforestation and there are no doubt more areas to follow through the similar denial of the rules of good husbandry.  Flooding is fine in the rice growing areas provided it arrives at the expected time of the season and in the normal volume.  But water to use productively has to be managed.  This management is under stress is developed places like southern California and south-east England.  The problem is in more dramatic in places like northern Africa and southern India.

I am a firm believer that if technology was given its head by politicians with the experience to understand the messages that many of our problems, not just water, could be solved.  Three quarters of the earth’s surface is covered by water and we spend our time worrying about what if the level raises by 10 cms.  It would fall if we channelled the seas and oceans into the dry areas using the heat of the sun which dominates such areas that I mentioned above to desalinate the water to create expanding areas to grow food.  This is not impossible, many parts of the Middle East do that today on a limited scale.  Yes it needs financing, but labour is cheap in these areas – and they once built the pyramids!  The idea of moving the Mediterranean water to irrigate the Sahara Desert is not new, a French engineer proposed it in the 19thC, the idea should be revisited.

So the problem of water to live with can be largely solved and the suffering from having far too little eliminated.