IT IS too early to tell whether the Highways Agency's drive to transform itself into a 'promoter of integrated transport' is an audacious bid to seize the political zeitgeist or the last, desperate, fling of an organisation fast losing influence and relevance (see News).
But there is a world of difference between talk of prioritising road maintenance and becoming one of the driving forces behind integration. HA chief executive Lawrie Haynes appears to reflect the widely held view that integration is about 'encouraging people to use means of transport other than the car'. But there will be many inside Whitehall/Westminster and outside who will question whether it is appropriate for the HA to carry out this task, whether it has the right mix of skills or if its heart will really be in the job.
After all, given that promoting integrated transport is likely to be one of the surest ways to attract funding from this government, there will be plenty of other organisations (local authorities, Regional Development Agencies, the new Strategic Rail Authority) keen to secure this remit, as well.
That said, there are plenty of reasons why promoting integrated transport should be the responsibility of more than one organisation and in some ways the HA is well placed. Its national coverage, for example, means that it could indulge in the kind of strategic planning essential to a properly integrated network. However, to reach that privileged position it will have to work hard to convince Labour and its allies that a heart of tarmac doesn't still beat beneath its new green skin.