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Reclaiming the term ‘road user’ from the motoring lobby

22 Sep

These banners, which were proudly displayed at a fringe event at the Labour Conference, give a clear impression that ‘Driver=Road User’ and ‘Road User=Driver’. This is totally unacceptable and marginalises all other road users.

This is not an isolated instance, and we need to be challenge it. Following the success of the campaign, I suggest we complain whenever we see the term being used in this way.

Here are the banners in question.




IMG_5454 IMG_5455

Parking enforcement ban – weak argument?

26 Jun

When the proposed ban on use of CCTV enforcement cameras was debated in parliament on 23 June 2014 Gordon Marsden MP quoted an earlier speaker who suggested that those with the weakest argument shout loudest ‘Argument weak here, shout like mad’. He  then noted that little time had been allowed for consultation or discussion and that the proposed changes had unusually been sqeeezed into  the Deregulation Bill at the third reading stage. He possibly also objected to the fact that three totally separate new clauses (marine accident investigation, private hire vehicle licensing and vehicle parking enforcement) were to be discussed at the same time making it hard to discuss any in a coherent way.

As I mentioned a few days ago the emotive language used by the Communities Secretary when announcing the changes bothered me. To quote: ‘CCTV spy cars can be seen lurking on every street raking in cash for greedy councils and breaking the rules that clearly state that fines should not be used to generate profit for town halls‘.

It also concerns me that the official press release that was released on Saturday 21 June, and which was widely reported in the papers pretty much verbatim, was not only riddled with emotive language, but also read as if the ban was already a done deal, with no question that it would not get through parliament without challenge. To quote: “In a victory for drivers and shoppers, the government will make it illegal to use closed circuit television (CCTV) ‘spy cars’ alone to enforce on-street parking ending the plague of parking tickets by post“. Why did they not say that ‘parliament will debate the issue on Monday and if they agree then it will be made illegal’.

And then there is the issue that the government’s response to the consultation was not make available at the time of the press release on the 21st and was indeed not published until the day of parliamentary debate itself. Don’t be confused that the document itself, ‘Response to consultation on local authority parking‘ claims on the website to have been published on the 21 June – the page history  at the bottom of the page clearly shows that it was only update on the 23rd, the day of the debate. It was certainly not there on the afternoon of the 21st because I looked and it said it was not yet available. Were people really working over the weekend to finish it, or was publication delayed tactically because the contents were not considered to be helpful? I hope not.

Regrettably then, journalists, MPs and the public were not able to refer to this fascinating document, which shows the devastating weakness of the government’s position, when reporting on the issue on Saturday or when debating it in parliament on Monday. By way of example it states that:

In response to the question “Do you consider local authority parking enforcement is being applied fairly and reasonably in your area?“:

  • 81% of the 324 organisations that responded said that enforcement was currently applied fairly
  • Just over half of the 421 individuals who responded through that enforcement was currently applied fairly and reasonably (211 thought it was, 210 thought it was unfair).

Hardly supportive of the government’s stance.

And then in response to the question “The Government intends to abolish the use of CCTV cameras for parking enforcement. Do you have any views or comments on this proposal?” They reported that;

  • bus operators opposed the proposed ban on the grounds that authorities should be able to enforce bus lane contraventions in the most efficient and cost effective way,
  • disabled groups opposed the ban and saw CCTV as a vital tool to help improve road safety, especially outside schools and at bus stops,
  • local authorities indicated that they opposed the ban and many considered that it was a necessary and efficient means of ensuring that road safety issues (e.g. around schools) and traffic congestion (e.g. bus lanes, access to hospitals) were adequately managed as part of the statutory network management duty,
  • schools opposed the ban, and some suggested it would leave schools powerless to rein in reckless parents. Head teachers warned of more disputes and greater safety hazards,
  • transport groups opposed the ban, noting that without which school ziz-zag markings would be difficult to enforce and that some areas can become “no go” areas for Civil Enforcement Officers because of the risk of verbal or physical abuse,
  • cycling organisations opposed the ban saying that was an important tool to reduce rogue parking,
  • businesses had mixed views, some wanting the ban, others feeling that it should be used as an effective and efficient tool in appropriate locations and time,
  • motoring organisations had ‘mixed views’. Some thought a blanket abolition would be a retrograde step.

I find it remarkably the views pedestrians and of ‘vulverable road users’, including the very young, very old and he infirm were not mentioned at all here.

Did this result in a change of hear by the government? Of course not. The considered government response was that: “The government intends to press on and take action to see a ban on the use of CCTV cameras to enforce parking contraventions in the vast majority of case” only allowing them to be used for vehicles:

  • When stopped in restricted areas outside a school *1
  • When stopped (where prohibited) on a red route;
  • Where parked (where prohibited) in a bus lane;
  • Where stopped on a restricted bus stop or stand; *2

*1 Do be aware that many zig-zags outside schools are not actually ‘restricted areas’. Paint on the road is not actually enough, as there also needs to be a pole and sign and also an expensive legal process to create what I believe they mean by a ‘restricted area’. This legal stage is often skipped because of the cost, and as such I don’t believe that it will be possible to use CCTV to enforce parking outside most of the schools in Ipswich where I live, and probably in many other places. I will do a post shortly on this subject.

*2 Do also notice the use of the word ‘restricted’ and ‘stopped’ in relation to bus stops. I believe that bus stops are only ‘restricted’ if they have a yellow box painted on the road and a pole and sign with details. Most bus are not restricted like this because of the cost of introducing it.

Places where CCTV can not be used would therefore include:

  • yellow lines, including those protecting bus routes (as distinct from bus lanes where they can be used)
  • dropped kerbs (where provided for pedestrians to cross the road)no loading areas
  • zig-zags outside many schools
  • by most bus stops
  • the approaches to signalised pedestrian crossings
  • any more? (do please note these in the comments section below and I will add them). The consultation notes that there were as many as 40 possible offences where CCTV enforcement would be banned.

Personally, I think this is all very encouraging for us campaigners in the longer term because clearly there is considerable support for effective control of rogue parking and the government is in a very weak position.

In the mean time we do of course need to continue to make our case robustly in public and keep up the pressure on MPs, many of whom are already well aware of the strength of opinion but clearly don’t yet have the courage to act on-mass. In the short term these changes will make parking worse, and we need to use this to build further support for change.

I can’t actually believe that the government really going to be foolish enough to go against the advice of so many organisations and individuals who oppose the changes when even the motoring organisations are not convinced of the change. Or will this get quietly ‘parked’ like their earlier proposal to increase the motorway speed limit to 80 mph?




Warning – full scale lobbying in progress

15 Mar

The BBC has today given considerable coverage to two reports from transport industry lobby groups who like carbon and tarmac. To their credit the BBC are entirely above board and make it very clear where the messages are coming from, however this stuff is influential. I am not saying the reports are wrong or anything, but simply that large rich industries have a considerable and probably unhealthy influence over public opinion and policy and that it is worth highlighting that from time to time:

This morning there was a story saying that not enough money was being spent on filling pot holes, based on a report by, errr, the Asphalt Industry Alliance. They appear to be owned by the Refined Bitumen Association who are owned by Exxon, Shell, Total and others. I wonder if they have some sort of angle on all this?

And then this afternoon there is a report that someone claimed that the UK’s aviation policy is in a mess because we are not building new runways fast enough. So who is this person, err.. Willie Walsh, head of the International Airlines Group (which owns British Airways and Iberian Airways) and who is of course completely unbiased on the issue.

Back in November 2011 I wrote about the new ‘The Road Ahead Group’ which had apparently been formed back in June 2011 to lobby for expenditure on roads. I say apparently because they said that they would have a ‘low public profile’ and indeed still don’t appear to even managed to set up a website to say who they are – there is a website for an organisation of that name, but that one is for a for an educational technology project based in Dubai! The best information available on the UK one is still the information on SourceWatch. Members include construction companies, haulage companies, the company that operates the M6 toll road and curiously also a very expensive city law firm – I wonder what are they doing there?

Welcome to the world of spin and games!

Where are the electric cars?

21 Nov

Where are all the electric cars? According to the latest RAC Foundation report, Keeping the nation moving, the government wants us to have 1.7 million of the things on the road by 2020 to be on track to meet our carbon reduction targets. Unfortunately only 106 people bought one in the last quarter even with a very generous £5,000 sweetener against each purchase – a total of 940 electric cars have been sold in 2011 (in and out of the scheme). At this rate it will take another 1,700 years until we meet the government’s 2020 target. Possibly that is why the RAC Foundation recommends that we should rely on petrol cars for a little longer (page 33) and should build more roads (because petrol cars are so inefficient when stuck in traffic). (page 34)

Unlike the RAC I am more interested in car clubs which had 161,000 members in the UK by January 2011, up from 112,298 members the year before. That is 161,000 people sharing only 3,055 cars between them, no wonder the motor industry isn’t that keen. Car club members tend to only use cars for the odd journey and are much more likely to walk, cycle and use public transport for everyday journeys reducing congestion and pollution for everyone and also the need to build roads. So, no wonder that the road builders aren’t keen.

The really interesting thing about car club membership however is the demographic profile. Here is a chart from the Carplus report shows that car club membership is strong amongst younger drivers which is always interesting. I wonder what the demographic profile of people buying electric cars is?

Car club membership by age

So… personally, if I was the new Transport Secretary I would not want to be sitting where Philip Hammond is sitting in the picture below taken in July 2011. I would pushing for money to be spent on supporting car clubs and would be resisting the road building and motoring lobby. If I was the RAC Foundation, or to give them their full title of ‘Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring Limited’ I would be worrying that it was all going horribly wrong.

Hammond in electric car

Lobbying ahead (continued)

21 Nov

The RAC Foundation has published another doom-laden but impressive report (60 pages this time). This one published last week was promoted with the heading ‘Millions more cars, billions less investment, much greater delay’ and goes on to detail how bad transport in the UK is and that it is going to get worse. They claim that there will be far more cars coming onto the road, that motorists are ‘over taxed’ and that there is not enough investment in roads. Do also check out my post about their last report and road lobbying generally which puts out the same general message.

RAC fears over lack of roads spending as cars increase

Here is a key graph they reproduce in the document as evidence for their case. The DfT, who produced the figures, clearly believe that the leveling off is a minor disturbance in a graph that will soon start romping upwards again. Others believe that this graph shows a peak and the possible beginnings of a decline – this theory is called ‘peak car‘.

Traffic projections (DfT as reported by RAC Foundation)

So… is this a pause in an upward trend, is it a permanent leveling off or is it about to turn down (peak car)? This is clearly a very important question  for planners.  Peak car is mentioned briefly on page 20 before being dismissed with the comment “But, significantly, ‘peak car’ does not remove the impact of ten million more people – who between them will drive four million more cars30 – in the UK in little more than two decades’ time. Whichever way you look at it, the result will be: more congestion“. What they are failing to acknowledge is that ‘peak car’ is about decline not leveling off.

They mention car clubs briefly (car sharing the North America) before dismissing it with the comment: “the impact on car usage, however, is not yet fully understood. Car sharing, car clubs and car rental are all growth areas and are likely to make their mark, mainly in large urban areas“. Others, including the founders of Zip Car, are delighted with the explosive growth of car clubshaving created a business with a valuation of $1 billion in just 11 years.

They also fail the growth of the express coach network and the phenomenal success of Megabus both in the UK and in the USA (a £400 million turnover business created from scratch in under 10 years according to Brian Souter). Greyhound is also doing well in this country and usage of National Express services are also increasing.

And of course they certainly do not quote Professor John Urray from Lancaster University who has predicted that “petroleum car system will finally be seen as a dinosaur (a bit like the Soviet empire, early freestanding PCs or immobile phones). When it is so seen then it will be dispatched for good and no one will comprehend how such a large, wasteful and planet-destroying creature could have ruled the earth. Suddenly, the system of automobility will disappear and become like a dinosaur, housed in museums, and we will wonder what all the fuss was about… changes in existing firms, industries, practices and economies. Just as the Internet and the mobile phone came from ‘nowhere’, so the tipping point towards the ‘post-car’ will emerge unpredictably“.

On a positive note they do talk up ‘pay-as-you-go’ driving, saying “‘Pay As You Go’ is a concept we are all deeply familiar with and find wholly acceptable. Phone charges are based on how much we talk and when we do so. Electricity and gas bills are calculated on the amount of energy consumed and the time of day it is used. Increasingly, water usage is also metered. Even in the transport sphere – on trains and planes, buses and coaches – we are comfortable with, or at least understand, the idea of differential pricing related to when we travel, and where we travel to“. What I don’t understand is why ‘pay-as-you-go’ won’t reduce the amount of driving if it was applied across the board. If the amount is driving is reduced then why would new roads be needed?


Beware, lobbying ahead

7 Nov

A new lobbying group “The Road Ahead Group” is apparently being set up by various business with interests in freight, and in building and operating roads. They will be lobbying Whitehall but according to the press aim to maintain a low public PR profile. True to their word, they appear to currently have no web presence but we do know that it has been set up by Brian Wadsworth who moved to a lobbying firm after a stint as Director of Strategic Roads, Planning and National Networks’ at the Department for Transport. Other supporters include Midland Expressways (who operate the M6 Toll road), my friends May Gurney and other infrastructure companies. Rather quaintly, one of their lobbying aims is to protect part of the Vehicle Excise Duty revenue for road building. (err, didn’t Winston Churchill get rid of that in 1937?)

In an apparently unconnected announcement in the past 24 hours the RAC Foundation and ARUP have claimed that the UK needs to spend £12.8bn building new roads; they talk about an infrastructure ‘shortfall’, outline 100 ‘urgently needed’ projects and say that current situation is ‘worrying’ and ‘concerning’. One thing they are not concerned about it carbon emission and climate change – the word carbon does not appear and the word ‘climate’ only gets mention in relation to the financial climate. They do however like toll rolls and Public Private Partnerships and by way of good examples they draw attention to the fact that Canada, Spain and the USA have built a lot of roads recently.

Curiously, given that neither Arup nor the RAC Foundation are publicly connected with ‘The Road Ahead Group’, but their report does happen to recommend that road building should be supported by “giving the sector a dedicated revenue stream, based on retained user charges and/or hypothecation of some motoring taxes (e.g. VED).” Incidentally, the RAC Foundation/Arup report is written by a former civil servant at the DfT, where ‘he sponsored the Department’s roles in major projects and transactions’. The doors are clearly still revolving – you can read about bit about revolving doors and lobbying in the UK on Wikipedia.

To sign off, here is an image from the RAC Foundation/Arup report. They don’t mention it by name, but it is this monsterous interchange in Los Angeles – an impressive bit of engineering for sure, but possibly not something any of us will want in our back yard, and indeed LA is going off roads and getting pretty excited about public transit.

Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange (Los Angeles)