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Coachways vision national policy context

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Given that there are presently no specific UK policy documents on the express coach network, the 'national policy context' relating to the Coachways vision covers more general UK policy areas including: the high level objectives for all UK transport policy; inter-urban roads policy; rail policy, and the policy on domestic aviation. All references to coach below are marked as bold.

In summary, the Government position on inter-urban travel presently:

  • accepts (following Eddington (2006)) that the existing interurban road and rail networks are in the right place, providing the necessary connections between settlements - There is no need to build entirely new links.
  • follows a “do nothing” policy approach to domestic aviation, accepting a level of growth which will be tempered by existing airport capacity constraints.
  • in the medium term advocates a package of traffic management strategies (in the absence of national road user charging) to improve or maintain journey time reliability on existing inter-urban road links. The management strategy includes a programme of targeted road capacity increases (hard shoulder running and new lanes) to alleviate congestion at pinch points.
  • has begun to recognise a potential future role for express coaches (on High Occupancy Vehicle lanes for example) as a demand management measure on inter-urban roads, though specific policies are in their infancy.
  • advocates equivalent management strategies in the medium term to unlock capacity on the existing rail network (rather than building additional lines).
  • accepts that there is a need for significant additional inter-urban transport network capacity in the longer term (passed the 2030 planning horizon) to accommodate expected growth in travel demand on north-south corridors. Having ruled out an expansion of domestic aviation and the motorway network on sustainability grounds, the Government presently advocates the incremental development of a high speed rail network; starting with a new rail link between London and Birmingham.


High level objectives for UK transport policy

The UK Government's present strategy for transport is outlined in the 2008 Department for Transport (DfT) document, Delivering a Sustainable Transport System.(DfT 2008a) This sets out the following five high level goals for transport (DfT 2008 p.7):

  • To support national economic competitiveness and growth, by delivering reliable and efficient transport networks;
  • To reduce transport’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, with the desired outcome of tackling climate change;
  • To contribute to better safety security and health and longer life-expectancy by reducing the risk of death, injury or illness arising from transport and by promoting travel modes that are beneficial to health;
  • To promote greater equality of opportunity for all citizens, with the desired outcome of achieving a fairer society; and
  • To improve quality of life for transport users and non-transport users, and to promote a healthy natural environment.

The inter-urban road network - The current policy position

The latest plans for the inter-urban road network were announced in a 2009 paper entitled, Britain’s Transport Infrastructure – Motorways and major trunk roads.(DfT 2009a) This document reports that “the main focus of our programme for the national road network is supporting economic growth by reducing congestion and providing more reliable journeys for motorists and freight operators”.(DfT 2009a, p.15) The policy emphasis is on making best use of the existing trunk road network (introducing the concept of "the managed motorway",(DfT 2008b, p.54)) rather than on the provision of entirely new roads. Accordingly, the intention is to meet the objectives with a £6 billion programme of targeted capacity increases (DfT 2009a, p.8) which will deliver 520 miles of new lanes - 340 miles (approximately two thirds) of which will be achieved through the implementation of hard shoulder running.(DfT 2009a, p.13)

Inter-urban roads policy background

Significant national transport policy documents: "Transport and the Environment" was a Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution report published in 1994. it recommended that transport and land use planning recognise the role of express coach services, and provide full facilities for them in traffic management schemes and at transport interchanges.(HMSO 1994 p.204) The report also recommended that in considering whether high vehicle-occupancy lanes should be designated on interurban roads, highway authorities should place considerable weight on the potential benefits to express coach services.(HMSO 1994 p.205) Finally it noted that The most energy-efficient mode is express coach; it looks even more attractive in energy terms because of the relatively high occupancies achieved. (HMSO 1994 p.197)

“A New Deal for Transport” (DfT 1998) was the first high level transport paper by the new Labour government. It signalled the end of a so called “predict and provide” approach to roads policy, whereby new road capacity is developed in the face of projected future increases in travel demand. This policy stance took head of strong evidence to suggest that additional road capacity 'fills up' over time, and that it is not possible to simply build a way out of the problems associated with traffic congestion.

“A New Deal for Trunk Roads” (Highways Agency 1998) was published the same year and required a 'cross modal view' of key links on the national transport network and laid the foundation for 21 multi-modal corridor studies to be carried out. While these studies set out with the intention of taking a modally balanced view of strategic transport problems, the recommendations nevertheless amounted to a significant programme of road building to address expected capacity problems.

“Managing Our Roads” (DfT 2003a) explicitly recognised that “the amount [of road building] required, if this was the only lever to tackle congestion, would be very expensive, environmentally damaging and, in any event, difficult to deliver” (DfT 2003a p.6). The paper reiterated that demand management would be pursued in urban areas in favour of new road capacity, but expressed a need for targeted capacity enhancements at pinch points on the inter-urban road network: There was recognition of a strong case for additional lanes along stretches of motorway that were already operating at or above their design capacity (the M6, the M1, the M25) for much of the day. And it was further suggested that those links suffering from peak hour congestion would benefit from better traffic management strategies, including an early policy mention for temporary hard shoulder running.

The "Eddington Transport Study", published in 2006 reviewed links between transport and the UK's economic productivity, growth and stability (Eddington 2006) George Monbiot criticised its lack of reference to coaches saying "In 436 pages, the coach is mentioned only in the last volume, and then just to provide historical price comparisons with other modes of transport".(Monbiot 2006)

“Roads – Choice and Reliability” (DfT 2008b) published in 2008 set out the following continuing priorities for the road network: “supporting economic growth, improving inter-urban journey time reliability, supporting housing growth and improving road safety” (DfT 2008b, p.47). The paper also echoed Eddington’s conclusions, “that the basic national network, in terms of route corridors, is broadly right” (DfT 2008b, p.45) - A strategy of making best use of the existing road network was emphasised, alongside a programme of targeted capacity improvements. A key feature of this paper also included the announcement of a firmer commitment to hard shoulder running (DfT 2008b, p.47): “hard shoulder running is now being actively...pursued where it represents best value for money, in particular taking account of the relative speed of delivery and environmental impact. It is likely that hard-shoulder running will form a significant part of the Highways Agency major road programme henceforth, leading to a fundamental change in the way the motorway network is operated”. The paper also introduced and developed the concept of the “managed motorway” – a strategy encompassing measures such as hard shoulder running, variable speed control, high occupancy vehicle lanes, tolled lanes and HGV lanes (DfT 2008b, p.54) which which a role for express coaches is acknowledged.(DfT 2008b, p.39) It went on to say that “Express coaches potentially provide a more efficient way of getting the best out of network capacity than single or low-occupancy cars, although they currently account for less than 0.5 per cent of traffic flows on motorways. We will explore further with the industry and other stakeholders, as part of our wider programme of work on future strategy, the role the coach could play, building on the benefits of delivering a more reliable road network and installing priority measure such as the M62/M606 high-occupancy lane.”(DfT 2008b, p.39)

"The Motorway Service Areas" (MSAs) policy circular of 2008 identified the potential for interchanges to be established at motorway service stations. It went on to say that “Coach interchanges allow coach operators to increase the overall efficiency of coach movements. Feeder coaches bring passengers to the interchange, from where they can then be taken to a variety of destinations. By permitting an interchange at an MSA, it might be possible to reduce the need for coaches to leave the motorway to exchange passengers at a facility on the local road network. Provided that no extra trips are likely to be generated, the Highways Agency has no ‘in principle’ objection to the establishment of this type of facility at an MSA. Proposals will be judged on their merit, based on an Impact Assessment.”(DfT 2008c p.19)

The rail network - The current policy position

The Government outlined their 30 year strategy for the rail network in a 2007 White Paper entitled, "Delivering a Sustainable Railway".(DfT 2007) The policy sets out the following three goals for the rail network (DfT 2007 p.20):

  • to increase its carrying capacity and ease crowding, focusing first on the routes which have the worst crowding problems;
  • to constantly improve the quality of its service to meet increased demands of current passengers and attract new users; and
  • to reduce its carbon footprint in terms of carbon dioxide emissions per passenger and tonne of good moved.

The intention is to meet these goals up to the year 2030 by making best use of existing track capacity; mainly through lengthening trains and by increasing service frequencies. In some areas, track reconfigurations will be necessary in order to unlock capacity (for example at Reading Station and on the approach to London Paddington), while new technologies such as radio based signalling allow more trains to be run on existing tracks.

The Government has also announced plans to electrify the Great Western Main Line between London and Swansea and the line between Liverpool and Manchester.(DfT 2009b) This forms part of the same strategy to reduce emissions and unlock capacity.

Beyond the 2030 planning horizon, there is recognition that additional transport capacity is likely to be required for inter-urban connections, to cater for expected continuing growth in demand between Britain’s major conurbations. Having ruled out major new motorways and an expansion of domestic aviation, in early 2010, the Government announced support for a new high speed rail link to be developed between London and Birmingham.(DfT 2010)

Rail policy background

Four longer term options for new rail capacity were considered in the 2007 rail White Paper (DfT 2007 p.65):

  • Developing a new dedicated freight line - This was considered to contribute little in terms of additional passenger capacity;
  • Developing new MagLev connections - MagLev was considered to be unproven technology, which is too expensive and carbon intensive to deliver;
  • Multi-tracking existing lines - This was considered to be too disruptive to existing services; and
  • The preferred option of developing new lines, either using high speed or conventional rail technology.

Noting that “speed is not of itself a strategic priority” (DfT 2007 p.66), the Government position for the provision of new lines at the time of the 2007 White Paper is clear: “on the basis of present carbon footprint of electricity generation, the balance of advantage would appear to favour services running at conventional speeds on reopened alignments between London and Birmingham” (emphasis added) (DfT 2007 p.67). However, it is also made clear that “it would not be prudent to commit to any preferred this stage” (DfT 2007 p.67).

The change of Government position to high speed rather than conventional operation for the new line appears to have been motivated partly by the realisation that fixed infrastructure costs are not significantly increased by high speed operation (DfT 2010 p.9). Reduced journey times also mean that more services can be run throughout the day, increasing capacity further when compared to conventional operation (DfT 2010 p.13).

In keeping with the 2007 White Paper (DfT 2007), the overarching objective for the high speed line is to provide additional capacity in the face of expected overcrowding problems on all transport corridors to the North West after 2030. Achieving a modal shift from either air or road transport is not a “key objective” for the scheme.(Rowlands 2009 p.2)

Domestic aviation - The current policy position

The interpretation of air (and other relevant) transport policy documents, "The Future of Air Transport" (DfT 2003b) "The Future of Air Transport Progress Report" (DfT 2006), "High Speed Rail Summary" (DfT 2010) put forward here, is that they represent essentially a ‘do nothing’ approach towards domestic aviation; neither advocating policies to specifically encourage nor to constrain growth in domestic flying. It is apparent that a continuation of moderate growth in domestic aviation is expected (as with all forms of travel), but that the rate of growth will be tempered by existing airport capacity constraints.

Indeed, as noted above in relation to the plans for a new high speed rail network, the UK Government has recently ruled out a major expansion of domestic aviation on sustainability grounds and “due to long term constraints on aviation capacity” (DfT 2010 p. 9). This position is based in part on advice in a report by the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) which sought to address how the UK can meet “the 2050 aviation target to reduce emissions to 2005 levels in 2050”. Their analysis suggested that “there is scope for a significant modal shift to rail/high speed rail on domestic and short haul international routes to Europe, which could reduce aviation demand by up to 8 per cent in 2050” (CCC 2009 p.8).

Domestic aviation policy background

The Department for Transport published a White Paper in 2003 entitled, "The Future of Air Transport" (DfT 2003b). At the time of the White Paper, internal flights accounted for 13 per cent of all traffic at UK airport (DfT 2003b p.58) and the forecasts used in drawing up the White Paper assumed an on average, 3.5 percent per annum growth in domestic air travel in the period through to the year 2020 (DfT 2003b p.151).

In support of the ‘do nothing’ interpretation of domestic aviation policy, on the one hand there is an intention “to encourage growth of regional airports to serve regional and local demand subject to environmental constraints”.(DfT 2003b p.54) While on the other hand there is recognition of the potential role that improved rail networks may have to play over the longer term in achieving a modal shift of long distance domestic trips from air to rail.(DfT 2003b p.58) Indeed it is noted that “the introduction of high-speed rail lines in France has had a dramatic effect on air services on individual short routes,” though this had little effect on the amount of air travel overall.(DfT 2003b p.59)

The Department subsequently published the "Future of Air Transport progress report" in 2006.(DfT 2006) In keeping with wider changes in policy thinking over the intervening period, this report focused more strongly on the potential for air transport to contribute towards meeting the UK’s climate change commitment at the time: “to reduce climate change emissions right across our economy, including domestic aviation by 60 per cent by 2050” (DfT 2006, p.8) (the report does not specify a base year to which this target reduction is tied). At the time of writing, within this target, there was an expectation that domestic aviation could and would continue to grow, with the report noting that emissions from domestic aviation are likely to double from “0.8 to 1.6 million” tonnes of carbon dioxide in the period through to 2050.(DfT 2006 p.20)

See also

Regional policies


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