Congested Thinking

Congested Thinking
by Jo Abbess
9th May 2008

Here is the problem : the growth of the British Economy is based on five holy pillars : transport, property, finance, engineering and energy. And each one of these pillars is crumbling and under threat from rising and violent storm surge.

The property bubble has almost certainly burst as people are starting to realise that debt is for life and not just for First-Time-Buys.

Engineering has become more and more specialist, but highly at risk of outsourcing to any trading partner nation with cheap labour.

Finance : well, it’s taken a beating in the last year or so, largely from the property pimple-busting splurge. You can no longer really guarantee that you’ll have a liveable pension, after all the investment funds have hit the wall, because they sunk it all into bricks and mortar.

And Energy, well, there are cracks in the reactors and the Liquid Natural Gas supplies are not quite fulfilling, and the Natural Gas pipelines from mainland Europe are not full.

There are deep impacts from Climate Change in each sector, as all of them are highly dependent on Fossil Fuels. And there are cycles of idiocy in each.

Let’s focus on transport, shall we ? More to the point : cars.

Well, in order to stimulate the Economy, the selling of cars is so well encouraged, you’d think there was a law against walking or taking the bus.

In every newspaper, magazine, in betwixt every slice of television, in every telly programme, in every cinema, on every roadside hoarding, just about everywhere are advertisements for cars.

Cars as objects of desire, cars bedecked with women, cars made to look like parts of the natural world, cars on open roads, cars moving at speed. It’s enough to make you feel vomitious if you stop to think about it.

The reality of car driving in the United Kingdom is jam and grind, bumper to bumper. And all that idling in motors is puffing more and more pollution into the air.

The effects include Global Warming, road rage, RTA hospitalisations, asthma (check), quite possibly brain damage, sinusitis, autism (possibly connected), noise stress, and general toxic poisoning to anything that’s near a road.

So we sell the cars, and the taxman gets his slice. Then we tax and insure the cars, and the taxman gets his slice. Then we drive the cars on taxable fuels, and we park on highly taxed strips of tarmac.

Oh yes, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, formerly known as the Inland Revenue, are certainly raking in the revenue. It’s all part of keeping the Economy rolling.

It gets spent on poorly servicing the Military, almost adequately servicing Education, just about propping up the Health Service, averagely supporting the socially disadvantaged, and brilliantly financing road building.

But what about the implications of more and more cars on the roads ? It impacts negatively on the functioning of the Economy as a whole.

And what about the targets on congestion ?

The Times reveals today the story of missed targets. Behind the statistics, a massive increase in car ownership.

Can you get anywhere fast in a car ? Nope. So why do people buy them exactly ? The story goes on : more advertising, more selling, more congestion.

A radical road-pricing scheme : dropped. Probably a good thing too.

History repeats itself : inefficient machines, sold in increasing numbers, creating pollution and distress. It’s high time we called time on congestion.

There is a way to stop congestion. Stop selling cars.

It’s simple. It’s bold. Some will call it economic madness. But it’s the only policy that can touch congestion and stop the waste of fuel energy burned while people leave their engines running,

With the hot weather, everyone will be stuck in holiday jams, with the engines ticking over, to keep the wasteful air conditioning on.

The Government promised to meet targets on reducting congestion, but have failed to meet them because they haven’t addressed the root cause.

How likely are they to be able to deliver Climate Change Emissions reductions if they have no policy, only targets ? If they can’t even fix congestion, how are they going to fix Carbon Emissions ?

People continue to struggle to travel in Britain. All forms of transport suffer from congestion and delay. Every day, more fuel is wasted in longer journeys and traffic hold-ups.

And meanwhile, the price of petrol/diesel continues to climb…

From The Times

May 9, 2008

Drivers in worse jam as traffic plan fails

Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

Motorists are wasting more time sitting in queues on motorways and A-roads because the Government has failed to meet its key target for reducing congestion.

Delays have increased on the 100 key routes on which ministers promised three years ago to make journeys more reliable.

The Department for Transport attempted to bury its failure to meet the target by quietly releasing the figures yesterday in a large batch of reports on congestion.

The motorways pledge is the most important target because delays affect the entire population, either directly or through the cost to the economy of lost working time.

The failure is particularly embarrassing for ministers because the target was criticised for being too weak when it was announced. A fall in journey times by a single second could have been trumpeted as a success.

The revelation comes as new figures show that the number of cars owned by British households has increased by five million to 27.8 million in the past decade.

All regions have had an increase in car registration, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. But the North East and East Midlands have had the biggest growth, of up 30 per cent each. In the past two years alone, there has been a 3 per cent increase in distance travelled by car to 5,900 miles per person per year.

The congestion failure originates from 2005, when the Government announced a target, known as a public service agreement, to “make journeys more reliable on the strategic road network” — the country’s 100 most important motorways and A-roads.

It said that the target would be achieved if the average vehicle delay on the slowest 10 per cent of journeys were less in the 12 months to April 2008 than in the 12 months ending in July 2005.

The average driver was delayed by 3 minutes 47 seconds for every ten miles travelled on the slowest 10 per cent of trips in 2005. But figures for the last 12-month period, ending on March 31, show that the average delay had risen by 4.4 per cent to 3 minutes 57 seconds. The worst delays were on the A556, the M26; the A453 from Kegworth to Nottingham; the M25; the M60; and the M1 from junction 13 to 6a.

The target was less challenging than a previous target, set in 2000, to reduce congestion by 6 per cent by 2010. That goal was abandoned in 2003 when the Government admitted that rising traffic levels would make it unachievable.

The new target was expected to be much easier to meet because it disregarded 90 per cent of journeys and allowed the Government to claim success if the time lost in traffic jams on the remaining 10 per cent had fallen by only one second.

A spokeswoman for the Highways Agency said that it had failed to predict the impact of long-running roadworks, such as the widening of the M1. Last summer’s flooding contributed a quarter of the increase in total delays.

Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said that the main reason for the failure to meet the target was the Government’s slow progress in delivering extra capacity. “They were likely to fail from Day 1 because traffic was growing each year but they were putting in almost no new capacity. The only measures that will relieve congestion are road pricing or building more roads.”

Professor Glaister published a report last November which proposed a combination of road pricing and road building, with some of the proceeds from tolls being reinvested to relieve the network’s worst bottlenecks. Using DfT forecasts and data, the report predicted that the number of cars would rise to 38 million by 2041. It recommended that 373 miles (600km) of new lanes be added to the strategic road network every year — equal to 100km of motorway with three lanes in each direction. The Government has approved an average of just over 100km of new lanes a year until 2015.

Eight years ago, the Highways Agency proposed using the hard shoulder as a cheap and rapid solution to motorway congestion. But to date it has enabled this on only 11 miles of the M42 near Birmingham.

In March, the Government said that hard shoulders would be turned into running lanes on hundreds of miles of congested motorways, with users paying tolls. The first of these lanes will not open until 2010 at the earliest.

Car traffic fell by 1 per cent last year compared with 2006. But traffic rose overall by 0.6 per cent; the boom in home deliveries has contributed to a 9 per cent increase in mileage by vans.

Car costs soar

— It will cost £600 more to run a family car this year because of rising fuel prices, road tax and insurance

— Mondeo Man, who paid £5,611 for 10,000 miles last year, now needs £6,256

— The 11.5 per cent increase in running costs has added 6.45p a mile for running a family car

— Farmers and rural drivers who need a larger 4×4 will be worst affected, with their costs rising by almost a fifth, or more than £2,000

— Even the most efficient cars, such as the VW Polo or Ford Fiesta, cost £300 a year more

— Petrol has gone up by 18.4 per cent in the past year, with the average price of a litre of unleaded now at 111p and diesel at 121p a litre. It now costs more than £8 extra to fill a 50-litre petrol tank

Source: AA

What the Department for Transport has to say :-

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