spiked proposals: Transport

An end to fragmentation and divisions; long-term national planning; improvements to infrastructure; an overhaul of inner-city transport.

Austin Williams

Topics Politics

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Many acknowledge that UK transport policy and infrastructure is inadequate and in need of a radical overhaul. To do this requires four priorities:

  1. An end to fragmentation and divisions

    Current transport policy is failing because it is premised on competing interests – especially with reference to the fragmented management responsibilities of sections of the public provider networks, and the denunciation of the car as the cause of congestion.

    We need drastic improvements in all modes of transport without setting one against another, and a recognition that inadequacies in public transport provision are not the fault of individual car users.

  • Long-term national planning

    Although local concerns need to be fully taken into account, central government should not devolve responsibility to local authorities, nor to unaccountable transport grandees.

    We need a five-, 10- and 25-year strategic national plan – not just financial partnering arrangements. These should ensure a coordinated approach to transport policy, prioritising improvements in speed, regularity and comfort. Safety should be an automatic byproduct of improvement and modernisation, rather than a narrow obsession in its own terms.

  • Improvements to infrastructure

    Transport policy is currently running at a stand-still. No new rail lines have been built in 100 years; the motorway building programme is virtually non-existent; Heathrow’s Terminal 5 has been under review throughout this parliament; and cycling, walking, trams and barges are presented as the new big ideas.

    Smart technologies are essential, but not simply as a means of conveying information. Real-time data informing the passenger of poor service availability is no substitute for improved service availability.

    We need significantly more investment than the £180billion pledged in the government’s 10-year transport strategy. Given that the overall investment budget relies on 30 percent private matched funding, the public sector capital expenditure portion is equal to the investment of 1991/92 (excluding the effects of inflation). Taking inflation into account, the annual capital public expenditure will equal early 1990 levels by the end of the government’s 10-year plan.

  • An overhaul of inner-city transport

    London’s Crossrail is undergoing another ‘feasibilty’ study, but with an apparent guarantee that it will go ahead this time. This is to be welcomed, and more deep bore tunnelling road and rail initiatives are required. Boston’s central artery and trans-European networks are just some of the examples the UK can learn from.

    The magnificent Jubilee Line architecture, together with high-profile proposals for Kings Cross, Paddington, Waterloo, Tottenham Court Road, and so on, has been a useful fillip to the commuting experience. But design has done nothing to improve the operational performance of the system that remains woefully inadequate.

    There were 61million more passenger journeys on London’s underground system from 1999 to 2000. Seventeen percent more travellers use the train services and there are 35 percent more bus users than four years ago. Unfortunately, statistical improvements do not show the real picture of lack of choice, under-funding and cramming on the networks.

    Perfume in the underground is no substitute for air-conditioned rolling stock.
  • Austin Williams is director of the Transport Research Group, technical editor of the Architects’ Journal, and motoring correspondent at the Daily Telegraph. He is a contributor to Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age, Wiley-Academy, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)); and Carchitecture: When the Car and the City Collide, August/Birkhauser, 2001 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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    Topics Politics


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