Transport is seemingly one of the most intractable problems that politicians face. The real problem, of course, is not that there are no reliable solutions but that the solutions take far longer than the limited electoral timetables to which politicians invariably work.
Although Britain’s population has not grown significantly in the last 40 years our transport system can no longer cope. All of our cities suffer from regular gridlock, rail travel is limited and expensive and far too many people are being killed or injured on poor quality roads well past their 'sell by date'. Most drivers do not use our congested and dangerous highways through choice but because they have to travel to work and there is often no realistic alternative to the car.
Reducing Congestion by reducing the need to travel
The major problem has been a complete lack of joined up thinking and at times it seems as though the entire nation is on the move. We move food all around the country yet we pay local farmers not to farm, we build over local workplaces then complain when there are no local jobs and we persecute drivers who attempt to access their local shops. The New Party policies on town planning, private enterprise, agriculture and manufacturing will allow as many people as possible to live and work in the same area. The New Party will encourage the development of self sustaining communities by ensuring that all new developments make adequate provision for commercial activity. We will also allow employers to give their staff tax-free public transport vouchers for travel in heavily congested areas.
Get the traffic moving
We recognise the need to provide additional road capacity but we will also introduce measures to make better use of our existing roads. We will stop heavy goods vehicles from using the overtaking lane on certain stretches of dual carriageway and we will raise their speed limit from 40 to 50mph on A-class roads. Trunk road repairs will have to be carried out at night and we will tackle bottlenecks by establishing a special ‘jam-busting’ task force. These teams will have delegated powers to reset traffic light timings, prevent unnecessary coning, manually direct traffic, revise speed limits and remove obstacles.
Road transport moves over 90% of our freight but only accounts for 6% of our traffic. Despite being an integral and vital part of our economy it has been used as a cash cow by successive governments and people are leaving it in droves.
The recent introduction of the EU Road Transport Directive has driven many smaller operators to the wall and just about wiped out owner drivers altogether. There was no justification for this legislation and the New Party would revert to the previous regulations which were sufficiently robust. Although we recognise the environmental benefit of reducing freight movements it makes no sense to cripple a vital industry by ill-considered legislation and punitive taxes.
The New Party would therefore make road fuel available to registered hire and reward operators at rates competitive to our near neighbours. Road haulage fuel will be marked with an indelible dye and would also be available for visiting foreign trucks. The rate of duty would be set marginally lower than our nearest neighbours, encouraging inbound vehicles to arrive with empty tanks and fill up before leaving. (The UK currently loses almost £1bn fuel duty annually because of legal and illegal imports.) The benefits of this simple scheme would be to protect UK road haulage contractors from unfair competition, make foreign trucks pay for wear and tear on UK roads, provide additional revenue for the Treasury, assist UK industry and replace high pollutant imported fuel with greener – UK refined – fuel.
Improving Road Safety
The New Party would correct a significant legislative anomaly by making roads authorities legally responsible for the safe condition of roads in their area. The HSE will issue improvement notices to ensure that sub-standard roads are brought up to modern specifications within an acceptable timeframe.
All carriageway repairs over a certain value would require to be completed in accordance with the latest regulations on alignment, sight lines, lighting, roadside obstructions, signage and skid resistance.
We would introduce driving academies to give learner drivers much better training within a controlled and professional environment. All convictions for dangerous or careless driving will result automatic disqualification which will only be revoked on gaining a certificate of competence from an academy. We would also provide dedicated pedestrian and cycle tracks alongside all A-class routes and roads connecting rural communities.
Improving Rail Services
Despite an enormous amount of public money being poured into the railway system, it carries less traffic now than before the Second World War. The New Party will reverse restrictive rail operating agreements and allow track access to all reputable freight and transport operators. The priority will be to create a commercially operated, market-driven service and allow competition to increase standards and control prices. The track, real estate and fixed equipment (the ‘permanent way’) will remain in public ownership, with track maintenance and renewals carried out to recognised standards and subject to competitive regional tender. New high speed lines will be provided between major population centres and subsidies will be maintained for rural communities.
In order that the funding and operation of the railway infrastructure becomes open and transparent, the assets and liabilities of Network Rail, which is a nationalised company in all but name, would appear in the government’s figures for public sector debt.