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Government Transport Policies Are Trying To Squeeze The Lifeblood Out Of The British People

In Britain motor fuel tax is so high that for every £40.00 of petrol purchased the government helps itself to £30.00 - - leaving the oil companies (who admittedly are not paupers themselves) just £10.00 to pay for the forecourt, extracting the oil, transporting it, refining it, etc

For many years petrol retailers have operated customer loyalty schemes - whether by offering free cutlery, drinking glasses, Green Shield Stamps or, as here, in a promotion called "Make Money" which involved collecting halves of "tear open to reveal" paper tokens - and if the holder matched two halves then they would win some money.

Click image to see larger version in a new window, and weep when comparing the price of petrol from the early 1990's to "today". NB: Image sourced from S-VHS-C videotape and is a little fuzzy. .
See caption for picture information.

Despite taking over £46 billion per annum in motoring taxes (of which just £6 billion is spent on transport related expenditure) the government claims that there are insufficient funds for the sort of improvements that would entice motorists out of their cars.

Instead they want the improvements to be funded from new revenue streams (ie: yet more taxes!) which will be raised by either a return to the medieval system of private roads funded via motorists paying a toll at turnpikes or by charging motorists to use existing roads within congested conurbations. In theory the monies raised from road user tolling taxes will be dedicated to funding (just) a few of these necessary transport improvements, but already the treasury has said that it does not like the hypothecation of funds in this way and that after only 20 years it wants the money for itself. In London they found a way to get their mitts on monies raised this way from day one!

Initially, knowing that the new road user tolling taxes would be very unpopular with the electorate (who for revenge might vote them out of office at the next general election) the national politicians were encouraging local politicians to make the final decisions on which urban areas will be involved and how much the charges will be. However, by 2005 it became clear that local councils had become wise to this scenario and outside of London only one (Edinburgh) dared to "test the water" with serious proposals that could be put to the local electorate to vote upon. With the electorate voting "no" Edinburgh's scheme was effectively killed off and several months later (June 2005) the national government announced that it would be looking to a national pay as you drive system after all. (Then in 2007 it changed its mind and said that it would only be looking at local schemes; these frequent policy flip-flips give the impression that further policy changes will be made in the future!)

Road user tolling is looked at the Road User Tolling & Congestion Charging page.

The Sticks Have Failed - It Is Time For Some Carrots

To entice people to use public transport it needs to be:-

The Benefits Of Better, Cleaner Transport Would Extend To Us ALL...

a reduction in costs in the National Health Service as less air pollution results in fewer early deaths and less hospital treatment for pollution related illnesses.
a more productive economy because the costs of goods and services should fall as transport costs fall due to less congestion.
less road rage leading to improved road safety as the hassle factor associated with transport falls.
an increase in the attractiveness of UK PLC to investors thus growing the economy.
a need to build fewer roads and undertake less road maintenance due to lower traffic volumes.
investment in transport infrastructure would create employment.

Who Runs The Country?
Elected Politicians Or Unelected Quango's?
Do The Politicians Speak With Forked Tongues?
Do They Knowingly Stifle Transport Integration?

Naturally the politicians are waffling-on in favour of real solutions but in their actions they show themselves to be typical politicians who (except when suggesting new forms of taxation) make empty promises destined never to be brought into fruition - and worse still they are allowing unelected 'quangos' such as the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to create transport policies for them by prohibiting the sort of proper integrated transport schemes that experience has shown DOES attract motorists out of cars. The OFT claims that proper integrated transport systems jointly operated by more than one business are anti-competitive cartels which could operate against the passenger's interest (sic).

When two private bus companies and a local council in North Wales created an integrated system of services and through tickets the Office of Fair Trading cried foul as it might deter passengers from making a conscious decision to choose one operator's buses rather than the others. Never mind that the joint service was popular and had led to a decent rise in patronage (over 12%!); also never mind the fact that before 1986 these companies were part of one large company that was split across the same Welsh / English border that these routes also traverse.

The OFT does not want private bus companies entering into joint timetable and ticketing agreements, even if they are approved (and partially funded) by local governments. So, the reality is that despite their fine words the politicians are unable to deliver Transport Integration ---- and apparently unwilling to use their executive powers to encourage the OFT to make a change of policy

Bus Deregulation Creates Confusion Which Deters Potential Passengers From Using The Buses

In Britain just about anyone can provide a public bus service - all they need to do is buy an often pre-used bus, decide upon a route & timetable and register the services with a local traffic commissioner - whose primary interests (requirements) will be to be satisfied that the bus operator is financially sound, will maintain the vehicles to the appropriate safety standards and is capable of operating the published timetable.

At no time does either a potential bus operator or the local traffic commissioner need to pay any regard to any other bus services which might also be operating along the routes it wishes to serve.

The hows and whys of bus deregulation are looked at on the main Buses page, however what is relevant here is that the system is so fluid, and so flexible that it actually creates an uncertainty and confusion which deters people from using the buses. Both locals and visitors.

If it really wanted to see better public transport the government *could* take action to create a more customer / passenger friendly system. Maybe though it feels unable because it might mean upsetting some global businesses which are active on the stock market - plus that if as a result the British people en masse switched away from driving oil powered vehicles there could be a noticeable decline in tax receipts?

See caption for picture information.
A typical scene in deregulated Britain. The bus stop flag lists a multiplicity of operators - which charge different fare scales - and (often) do not accept a common "pay-once-ride-at-will" local travel ticket.

At this bus stop confusion is deepened even further because bus route No.12 is duplicated between two of the operators - except that despite having the same number the two services follow different routes / serve different destinations.

It might be noteworthy that human actions which negatively affect the stock market & consequently this countries' perceived economic stability now fall foul of the very loosely defined definitions that under the 2004 Civil Contingency legislation would create a "national emergency" (a condition which would end 1000 years of human rights - Magna Carta, 1689 Bill of Rights, Habeas Corpus, etc) even though positive actions to live in a pollution free environment, use tried, tested & proven viable non-chemical natural remedies and eat foods which have not been poisoned with additives & chemicals would significantly improve human health and quality of life. This implies that our government sees the well-being of Britains human population as being "of lesser importance" than the economic well being of trans-national planetwide commercial organisations.

It is worth noting that global experience has shown that fixed infrastructure electric (street) transport systems both attract the most passengers and provide the least strain on local environments, whilst motor buses attract the fewest passengers and the exhaust fumes from their heavy duty diesel engine are a significant part of the cause of the urban air pollution which according to a report issued by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants hastens the deaths of between 12000 and 24000 British people a year, is associated with 14000 and 24000 hospital admissions and re-admissions - costing our health service & taxpayers £billions.

Our Treasury Says It Is Too Impoverished
To Invest In New Transport Infrastructure

Yet it was happy to see a partial-privatisation Public Private Partnership (PPP) deal for maintaining and upgrading the London Underground which cost upwards of £1 billion of taxpayer's money just to set up & finance and in March 2005 a House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report damned as being "very poor value for money" - because there were far cheaper alternative options that could have been used.

As an aside, the Commons Transport Select Committee was also sharply critical of the PPP scheme.

What seems to have been forgotten is that Britain is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. If we really wanted to we could afford better. Transport taxes already raise billions, there is no need for either more or new taxation. Nor is there any need to saddle transport fare-payers with debt repayment charges. As for the idea that motorists are a 'captive audience' which should be 'soaked' even more... many would suggest that they are already paying an unreasonable amount of taxation and if anything it should be lowered.

Note that just because Britain is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet it does NOT imply that there is spare money available "to waste", as per the chosen method of London Underground PPP.

All that need happen is the current levels of expenditure are re-balanced so that more of the funds raised through transport taxation and windfall oil revenue is actually spent on transport - especially investing in good public transport.

According to media reports it is 12 years since auditors passed the accounts of the European Union. Yet we still let them take taxpayers' money! In 2005 they received a whopping £15 billion of British taxpayer's hard earned money. Would any other organisation be allowed to operate like this??? Apparently horrendous amounts of money are "going astray" and despite attempts to plug the leaks the money is still being siphoned off... If we withheld our contributions until the leakages were plugged then we could reduce our net contribution (without any financial loss to official schemes) - resulting in even more money to invest in our domestic transport systems.

Time passes, yet some things do not change - in November 2008 it became known that 2007 was the 14th consecutive year that the accounts failed to be 'signed off' by the EU Court of Auditors as being accurate and reliable. Yet still our leaders willingly give them money to fritter away.
For more information follow this link .:

Liquid Gold - Whither our oil wealth??

Was 2005 the year of "P E A K   O I L ?"

"Peak Oil" is when over half of recoverable global oil deposits will have been exploited, with the remaining reserves becoming increasingly difficult - and expensive - to recover / exploit.

With China and India rapidly motorising the demand for oil might soon outstrip supply. Would it not be wise to put the windfall profits to good use now - whilst there is still time?

And what about our North Sea Gas reserves? Those too are running out - where have the profits from this finite resource gone? (not into our nation's infrastructure, thats for sure).

Just what will our descendants think of us in years to come, for consuming so many irreplaceable resources in such a short time?

So much for "sustainable development", or as a former British Prime Minister put it "not cheating on the next generation" - - or was that fine talk nothing more than typical politicians' "hot air" - aka: "lip service" to placate the masses?
(hopefully not, although their actions suggest that this IS the reality of the situation -- see below).

The Light Rail Funding Conundrum

Despite the fine words the reality suggests active counter-measures (by the politicians? treasury?) to stifle the use of Light Rail in Britain.

Since this section was written there was (on Wednesday 30 November 2005) a debate on light rail funding in the House of Commons, from where the assertation made below that despite its fine words the government is actively inhibiting better public transports (ie: light rail) seems to be too mild.

Worse still, it seems that the government is happy for a whopping £284 million of taxpayers money to be spent promoting light rail systems in Leeds, Liverpool, South Hampshire plus expansion of the Manchester Metrolink, only for the funds to be wasted when its "very expensive" DBOM system sees prices (but not costs) rise very steeply - so it cancels funding for three of them! (but in a perfect example of two-faced double standards does not cancel road schemes where cost over-runs also see the total price rocket upwards).

A transcript of this most interesting Parliamentary debate can be found at this link:

Edit to add: Expansion of the Manchester Metrolink only received its funding because investing in making Manchester a Northern Powerhouse had become a 'pet project' of the Chancellor Of The Exchequer!

Twin car Edmonton LRV trainset at underground station.

See caption for picture information.
A Midland Metro tramcar arriving at Birmingham Snow Hill Station.
Twin-car Calgary LRV trainset using dual carriageway median crosses level crossing protected by flashing lights and half barriers.

When the Canadian Province of Alberta became wealthy through developing its oil reserves it spent some of this windfall money on building light rail rapid transit* systems in its two principal cities.

Britain too benefits from windfall oil money, but when our transport planners wanted to invest in public transport in our cities our government (at that time the Conservative party was in power) set out to discourage them from even looking at light rail and other types of Rapid Transit by setting onerous funding criteria and telling the planners to evaluate every possible alternative, and choose the cheapest - even if an alternative mode would be more successful.

Having failed in stifling the planners it then rationed schemes to one at a time and as a result of this construction of the Midland Metro which back in 1989 was found to meet all the funding criteria and achieved parliamentary approval in 1990 did not begin until 1996. (After Sheffield's Supertram was completed.) It finally opened in 1999 - a ridiculous 10 years later.

On the mainline railways the government stiffened investment criteria (for example: it required an 8% rate of return when it was found that too many investment schemes were likely to meet its previous 7% minimum criteria) and forbade local government from investing in local transport improvements (for example: railway electrification in Hampshire or modernising Bank underground station in the City of London). Furthermore it biassed railway investment criteria to only look at the balance sheet and expressly forbade it from even considering any possible benefit to either the environment (contradicting its commitments as agreed at the 1992 Rio conference) or non-transport users §.

On the buses a planned first of several trolleybus scheme in Bradford was scuppered because the cut throat 'free for all' system of bus deregulation encouraged a 'spoiler' company to split the fare base by introducing a rival service along the same route which would compete by providing part-time services using cheapo secondhand minibuses.

*Rapid Transit is a generic term that includes all forms of 'guided' (sic) transports that require the installation of specialist fixed infrastructure before they can commence operation. Included in this remit are trolleybuses, the introduction of which also requires the same detailed and cumbersome approvals procedure as other fixed infrastructure public transports.

§ The government saw / still sees investment in public transport as a 'subsidy', a dirty word which implies losing money down a black hole. Therefore it was / is is only really interested in investments which will make a profit. As a contrast investment criteria for roads includes factors such as: safer environment for local people and road users, reduced pollution, faster journeys for road users and the ability to cope with increasing traffic levels.

See caption for picture information. See caption for picture information.
Unusually for Britain part of the Beckton branch of London's Docklands Light Railway was built as a combined package whereby both road and railway infrastructure were constructed simultaneously. This was only possible because the government had made the Docklands a special economic zone, and the railways' financiers / project instigators (the London Docklands Development Corporation / LDDC) was E-X-E-M-P-T from the governments' usual anti-public transport financial criteria. Otherwise it is very unlikely that such a combined road and rail package would have been allowed.

Since then there has been a change of government (so now the Labour party is in power), but despite their many fine words these different politicians have just continued on with the same old policies. This includes trying to price motorists out of their cars by treating them as 'soft' (or 'easy', 'captive') targets for ever increasing taxation (or, as the politicians claim - to reduce all non-essential car use and encourage responsible thinking about the negative effects of ones' journey). Sadly the reality of this policy is that it penalises the poorer motorist and those who live in rural areas where public transport is virtually non-existent.

Now in the face of a massive outcry over the high taxation, and as revenge because the public are not voluntarily giving up their cars (in favour of motor buses which many people actually don't like) both sets of politicians have agreed that the way forward is to introduce a new form of revenue generation (ie: yet another tax!) and charge motorists to use roads within congested cities. In theory the monies raised from this tax will be dedicated to funding some transport investments, but already the treasury has said that it does not like the hypothecation of funds in this way and that after just 10 years it wants the money for itself. And, knowing that the new tax will be very unpopular with the electorate (who for revenge may vote them out of office at the next general election) the national politicians are going to get local politicians to make the final decisions on which urban areas will be involved and how much the charges will be (ie: pass the ticking buck elsewhere!).

What no-one knows is whether motorists will vote with their feet and alter their lifestyles to avoid the areas covered by the new taxation. As yet (datestamp: September 2003) it is too soon to be sure if this is what's happening within London's 'congestion charge' zone, although it seems to be the situation. What is certain however is that the sticks of high taxation have failed to work, mainly because the politicians have failed to offer any carrots (in the form of viable alternative choices) as enticements.

Despite The Fine Words The Government's Actions
Prove That It Speaks With Forked Tongues

Example One

In February 2000 it was announced that the government would be re-balancing its financial criteria related to the cost of replacing the under-road utilities whenever a new transport scheme would require their moving.

Previously when new transport schemes were constructed the utilities (water, gas, electricity, telephone etc.,) would have to contribute just 18% of the cost of any diversionary works required to permit easier future access without having to dig up the road. In effect this meant the utility would get brand new infrastructure at a whopping 82% discount!

However, in February 2000 the politicians and civil servants decided to adopt a policy of double standards by changing the rules so that for new public transport works the utilities' contribution should only be 7.5% (with the private sector public transport promoter now having to bear the 92.5% balance) whilst if the utilities need moving to accommodate changed (or new) roads then the utilities' contribution will remain unchanged at 18%.

In other words, they changed the utility discounts so as to make trams more expensive to install - and now complain about the price of installing new tram systems as being too high. It is simply inconceivable that they did not know what they were doing. Quite the contrary, their actions clearly demonstrate that they actively don't want trams - maybe the 75% tax take from petrol has some bearing on this?

Example Two

More recently the same government has adopted investment criteria whereby the entire financial risk involved in designing, building, operating and maintaining new tramway systems must be bourne by the private enterprise consortia which wins the tender to build and operate it. (This is known as DBOM). They refuse to accept any of the financial risk themselves, and to further endanger the project have expressly prohibited local councils from becoming financially involved.

The real "problem" with DBOM is that it entails an element of financial risk which often is over things that the DBOM consortium does not have any control - yet can seriously and adversely affect the project's finances.

Possible examples of risk include:-

  • finding the work (civil engineering) to be more difficult (hence expensive) than originally expected;
  • finding a rare plant / animal species along part of the route, and work being halted until it can be relocated;
  • finding buried treasure / human remains / ancient buildings along the route - and work being halted until the police / archeological body investigates / conducts a dig to discover what other buried treasures / ancient relics can be found;
  • finding that the local government(s) have changed their policies / local area plans, so that the forecast ridership (and hence fare receipts) are not achieved - such as in Sheffield where - just as the tramway opened - the high density housing the tramway was built to serve was demolished, and green belt land which had been earmarked for housing was now not to be developed.

So by having to declare its business plan in advance - and without any way of adjusting those plans if an unexpected situation arises - the only way that the DBOM consortia can "play safe" is by increasing the initial size of the contingency fund - which effectively means that the whole project will cost more.

And,... despite knowingly creating the conditions which caused this situation to arise the government has been refusing to accept culpability and / or (fund) the increased costs.

Land Use Planning Is Also Important

Land utilisation can also play a significant rôle in affecting traffic levels. Almost all commercial activities will attract people, so by choosing the right location it will be possible to influence their method of transport. For instance - locating an office near a busy railway station is more likely to encourage train commuting than an out-of-town site served by just one bus an hour, which not surprisingly will only attract car users.

The trick is to use planning controls to encourage development where it can be easily reached by good public transport that serves the widest possible hinterland and discourage it in areas where the transport is virtually non-existent.

This will encourage more compact centres, where - hopefully - journeys are shorter (who really wants to spend / waste 45+ minutes twice daily commuting?) and people can reach all the important amenities without too much further travel. Note that this does not mean that people will be prohibited from coming by car, rather as urban centres would normally be better served by town-wide public transports more people will be able to reach them more easily and therefore would not need to go by car in the same way that is the case with out-of-town complexes.

Unless there is a very important reason - such as nearest railhead for a 'transhipment depôt' - building on greenfield land (usually former farmland) should be discouraged, instead more of the run-down localities that feature in so many urban areas could - and should - be redeveloped. Not just for retail use but also offices, entertainment / leisure etc. Even if a large supermarket were to be built and it attracted some car-based traffic it will (if the local public transport is half decent) also attract many people who will be more than happy to visit by bus (etc,.) - - or even on foot. If these shops were located out-of-town then they would only attract road traffic and the loss of the amenity would be detrimental to the less mobile members of society.

Industrial complexes should be built close to rail lines (or rivers / canals) so that goods can be received / sent out by train (or barge). To encourage more railfreight here in Britain we need to reconnect more of our factories to our rail system, to help achieve this there is a need for land-use planning criteria which encourages companies to think rail and government tax concessions to ensure that any business that switched to rail from road will benefit. There is no reason why track sharing arrangements between freight trains and light rail (or even a preserved / museum railway, if it is in the right location) could not be utilised - with track grants towards infrastructure expenditure. If need be (off-peak) freight services should be restored to surface sections of London's underground. Surely London's former Post Office underground rail line could reopened - even for non-post freight use?

There is also a need for a network of local transhipment points where long distance railfreight could be switched to roads for final local delivery - perhaps by electric vans. In some areas such local distribution centres could become truly multi-modal by being located close to waterways / airports too.

Massive retail complexes such as Lakeside, Bluewater, and Merry Hill may be very nice to visit but not only do they harm established town centres but also because of their poor transport facilities lead to significantly increased traffic levels. Even centres such as Metro Centre and Meadowhall, which are served by local (urban / regional) rail transports still attract much car traffic, indeed surveys have found that people will travel as far as 50-60 miles to reach these centres. With our already overburdened congested road networks this is somewhat crazy.

See caption for picture information. See caption for picture information.
For non-urgent freight greater use of rivers and our extensive canal system could also offer an alternative solution to busy roads.

The Sham Of The Pre-Election Bribe 1

With an election looming within a couple of years, and known public dismay at severe traffic congestion on the roads and poor service plus overcrowding on many rail services, in December 1999 the government announced a new £80 billion 10 year transport investment plan.

What they forgot to say was that most of this expenditure had already been announced over the previous months / years and that compared to the over £46 billion they receive each year in motoring taxes, £80 billion over 10 years is not very much money.

When the election came they used the old pre-election giveaway trick to announce that funding had suddenly been found for several new transport schemes - schemes that had been awaiting finance for many years. This suggests that there will be little further investment money until the next pre-election bribes - - what a shocking way to run a country!!

The Sham Of The Pre-Election Bribe 2

For the 2005 election the government announced that (after having amputated one of the planned branches) funding issues for the construction of London's very long awaited CrossRail scheme had been resolved and it would now be going ahead with an estimated completion date of around 2013. Unfortunately they were not so generous with public transport schemes for the rest of Britain and having created the conditions which meant that private companies must bear any unexpected installation costs over-runs it then withheld funding accusing them of pushing up costs - in advance - to cover for any unexpected cost over-runs.

Easy access for all! About Railways Transport Integration - making it all mesh together as one seamless entity. Its high time we stopped polluting our cities - we have the technology, but not the willpower
The importance of well designed, functional stops and stations.
Site index
A look at bus transport. Roads
Welcome to this site. NB: this link opens in a new window.
Fares and ticketing systems.
Nostalgia, Heritage & Leisure.
re-load this page.
Road pricing, road-user charging, motorway / expressway tolling, cordon charging and urban 'congestion' charging.
Bus priority systems
Feeders for mainstream transports and specialist transports meeting different needs.
About light rail - modern trams and streetcars.
The importance of freight trains.
Specific examples of how tram stops fit in the street scene and that trams and parked vehicles can coexist!
The bus gets a stylish makeover.
Railway electrification. Ideas to make roads safer.
Often overlooked alternative transports
Traffic free pedestrian zones and transit malls.
Does speed kill - or is it only inappropriate speed that kills (too fast / slow)?
Different types of passenger train as defined by the type of service they provide.
Create urban green corridors.
Quiet, clean buses that won't give you lungful of noxious exhaust fumes. Vehicles need to go somewhere at journey's end.
Let traffic congestion make you the unwilling victim of the crime of time theft!
Where different types of guided transport operate over shared infrastructure.

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This page last updated 31st December 2016.
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