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Transport: Road Traffic

Volume 738: debated on Monday 2 July 2012

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to improve the flow of road traffic in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government provide funding and guidance to local authorities to support them in managing congestion on the local road network, including reducing the impact of roadworks. We have made better regulations to allow pioneer lane-rental schemes, are consulting on plans for roadworks permit schemes, and are increasing roadworks overrun charges. On the strategic road network, measures are being introduced to shorten the length of time that motorways are closed following incidents.

I thank the noble Earl for that very useful Answer. However, the improvement of road traffic is much limited by more than 90% of all passenger transport. When there are rounds of crossroads, they reduce crashes by more than 50%, and stop signs at intersections have also reduced crashes dramatically by more than 50%. The other means that the noble Earl has put forward are very useful, but can he suggest how we are going to handle all these problems?

My Lords, I did not quite catch the proposal that the noble Lord was making. I think that he was talking about roundabouts as a means of reducing accidents. Roundabouts indeed reduce accidents because the collisions are less brutal and therefore any injuries are less serious, but they increase congestion a bit because the throughput is not as high as with a grade separated junction, which is even safer. In my initial Answer I talked about a range of measures to reduce congestion, which I know can be infuriating for all motorists.

My Lords, can my noble friend persuade more boroughs to use lane rental than are currently doing so? Some are good at using lane rental; others are very limited in using it. In the past it has been a good way of speeding up repairs, thus reducing road congestion. Some activity needs to be taken with individual boroughs.

My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point. Through the Traffic Management Act 2004, all local authorities have a “network management duty” to secure,

“the expeditious movement of traffic”,

including pedestrians, on their highway network, and to facilitate the same on the networks of other authorities. Local authorities are required to appoint a traffic manager to oversee this obligation and must monitor their own performance, but my noble friend will understand that we also have the spirit of localism.

Does the Minister agree that the Technology Strategy Board has made a wise decision in assigning one of the new catapults to transport? One of the main aims of that catapult will be to develop a comprehensive, UK-wide model for transport that will operate in real time and be able to react to emergency situations. I declare my interest as chair of the Transport Knowledge Transfer Network that led to this proposal.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point about what we can achieve with technology. It is particularly important for the Highways Agency to be able to measure where congestion is and then to use its variable message signs to advise motorists to seek another route. In addition, although satnav navigation systems are in their infancy, we are starting to get the full benefit from them.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that during this past year the Mayor of London has pursued a smoothing traffic flow priority, which prioritises motorists over safety? Is he further aware that pedestrian deaths are up by 33% during this period and cyclist deaths by more than 21%? I express the hope that, in answering this question, the Minister’s brief will be more secure than it was last week when he answered a question of mine on fares to and from the Scilly Isles.

My Lords, I am confident about the accuracy of this brief, but regret that during our discussions last Monday I stated that the return fare on the “Scillonian III” for Scilly Isles residents was £20.50. However, this is in fact the single fare and there may be other qualifications. I am very sorry about this, since it made my position appear stronger than it really was, to the detriment of the noble Lord’s.

The noble Lord asked me detailed questions about the management of traffic in London. He will appreciate that that is a matter for the mayor. It is disappointing that overall fatalities have increased slightly, the reasons for which we have not yet examined fully.

Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, to which the Minister has referred, gives local authorities powers to manage traffic—for example, yellow box junctions and right turns—which they can enforce through their own staff. However, is the Minister aware that the regulations have never been extended outside London? He should take it from me that bus services would be immeasurably improved if local authorities could discipline people who block the highway.

My Lords, I shall draw my noble friend’s point to the attention of Mr Norman Baker, the Minister responsible.

My Lords, during this Question Time, we have heard reference to catapults and lane rentals. I am aware of the injunction that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for us to use plain, simple English. Can somebody please advise us what a catapult and a lane rental are?

My Lords, I said to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, that my brief was accurate, but it does not include anything about catapults. However, I agreed that technology would provide benefits.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, while the British public have been content to face disruption due to the jubilee and are perhaps slightly less content about disruption due to the Olympic Games, they would find it intolerable to have the whole of central London brought to a standstill, perhaps for several weeks in preparation and afterwards, for a grand prix to be held?

My Lords, I anticipated an Olympics question. My first advice to all users of transport is to visit http://www.getaheadofthegames.com, which provides extremely good advice on how to avoid congestion. It is inevitable that there will be some congestion if we are to have a successful Games.