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Debate Traffic congestion

Measures such as teleworking, company travel plans and safe routes to school schemes are claimed to cut traffic congestion. Halcrow says they would cut traffic by only 4%-8%, while consultant Eco-Logica puts the figure at up to 18%. This week we ask: Is the impact of soft engineering on traffic levels exaggerated in the government's multi modal studies?

Yes

John Dawson, policy director, The Automobile Association.

Soft measures are important.

The good measures work. Good creative people have worked hard to show what can be done - and they have grabbed our attention with impressive measures of performance.

But we also know we can save road deaths for a small fraction of the £1.4m that the government says a death is worth. And that trains can be made to run on time.

When taking decisions to invest other people's money, we have to deal with the gaps between what might, can or should happen and what is bankable. The evaluation of toll roads and public roads is not based on their average performance. It is risk averse. Why should we suspend prudence and risk our transport system with over reliance on soft measures that are inherently risky and uncertain?

Soft measures will win through when they can point to a good track record of delivery on real projects. That means cold starts - starting from the point that there is congestion to be solved and that there are tough contractual consequences if they are still not delivering on target in 10 years.

Today's energetic champions and innovators in authorities and firms will move on. Second and third quartile performers will inevitably replace them.

But soft measures must carry on delivering consistent service delivery day in, day out.

Guaranteeing long term performance is not easy. For example, in employee travel counselling, churn rates are high. And people keep changing their needs. Who can guarantee what is sustainable when half the small firms on a business park and 90% of the employees have turned over?

There is a great future for soft measures. The smart thing for their promoters to do is under sell and over deliver.

No

Alan James, director, Eco-Logica

On the contrary - and not only in the multi modal studies - there is a general lack of belief that soft factors can make a significant impact, despite the fact that they are already doing it.

Nationally, there is still a perception that 'you can't get people out of cars' without first spending billions improving public transport to make it a viable alternative for motorists, when the verifiable reality is that around 40% of motorists are actively interested in using cars less.

The things that bring about changes in this sector of the population are often relatively minor and low cost but act cumulatively across a broad front and are not 'all or nothing' (if every car user did something different one day a week, there would be a 20% reduction in car trips). Neither do billions of pounds need to be spent on public transport up front before anything can happen - selfevidently we need improvement in public transport, but quality is not just about high levels of capital investment, and many soft measures have nothing to do with public transport.

The strong performance of soft measures is not wishful thinking. York is already achieving absolute traffic reduction, through over 10 years of concerted policies. Workplace travel plans delivered 18% average car trip reduction in cases studied in the recent report to DfT. Individualised marketing reduced car use by 6-10% in the first pilots in Britain, and 15% elsewhere. The 18% traffic reduction potential by 2015 suggested in EcoLogica's response to Halcrow's report for the government was entirely evidence-based, and was a starting point rather than an optimistic top-end forecast.

My concern with the multi modal studies is that general underplaying of soft measures is being translated into low levels of resource allocation, which could create a self fulfilling prophecy of weak performance.

Soft measures have to be given policy commitment over time, and the resources to back the policies, if they are to achieve their true potential.

The facts

24% of all car trips are less than 3km (within general walking distance).

57% of all car trips are less than 8km (within general cycling distance).

The average distance travelled by car per person per annum fell between 1998 and 2000, at a time of strong economic growth.

Around 6% of the population work from home at least some of the time, and this is estimated to be growing by 9% per annum.

The same proportion of people walk and cycle to work as use all forms of public transport (including London).

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