UK approaching 'transport crisis'

A number of "white elephant" projects like high speed rail and a lack of cash are creating a UK transport crisis, a report by independent think-tank Reform has claimed.

Transport spending is being hit by public finance problems, despite investment in infrastructure being essential for future economic growth, according to Reform.

The report blamed ministers' focus on "big, flagship projects" and a lack of co-ordination between different transport modes for the problems.

The report suggested more private sector funding for transport schemes and an overall regulator for all transport modes.

The report says:

  • The short term focus should be value for money, not grand projets. This would mean lengthening trains rather than high speed rail, moving from road building to using the hard shoulder and considering airport expansion on the basis of existing infrastructure not new build.
  • Users need to pay the real environmental and economic cost of their transport, through user charges. Public support could be generated by abolishing fixed charges such as car tax and air passenger duty and ring-fencing the revenue generated from the charges. British drivers currently pay over £45 billion every year in the various motoring taxes and less than a fifth of this is invested back in the road network.
  • Too much transport policy is a discussion about whether cars, trains or planes are "good". This results in irrational decisions. For example road travel constitutes over 90 per cent of all journeys, compared to less than 7 per cent for rail. Yet in 2006-07 the UK invested £5 billion in rail and only £4.8 billion in roads.
     
  • Instead we need an "any time, any place, any way" approach to transport policy. Money could be saved by abolishing the separate regulators and bodies (such as the Office of Rail Regulation, Civil Aviation Authority and Highways Agency). Politicians should set environmental and financial constraints and allow consumers and companies to decide whether to fly, drive or bike.

Reform deputy director Elizabeth Truss said: "Politicians have got their priorities topsy-turvy. Infrastructure spending generates long-term economic growth. Spending on health and benefits does not - but ministers prefer the easy target of transport."