The myth of the civil engineer as someone who likes nothing better than drowning green belt under tonnes of concrete has been well and truly nailed by NCEs reader survey. The huge majority of replies was characterised by a general feeling that the car culture has spiralled out of control and that there is a pressing need to revive the UKs public transport tradition, as well as to reduce the need to travel at all.
Replies were received from NCE readers working for a wide range of companies and organisations, including all the sectors leading contractors, consultants and clients. Some included prepared company submissions to the debate, but most were personal responses to the issues raised by the need to integrate the UKs transport network.
Surprisingly few readers actually questioned what is meant by an integrated transport system. Most appeared to interpret it as meaning a balanced system in which people of all ages, physical ability and relative wealth could get where they wanted to go, without unnecessarily damaging the environment, causing inconvenience to others or having to pay through the nose for the privilege.
And NCE readers have plenty of ideas where to start.
The answers to Question 1 tell their own story (see overleaf). Engineers believe the government should concentrate investment and support on the rail network (both passenger and freight) and bus services if the UK is to develop an integrated transport system. Both collected at least three times as many votes as car use. Road freight scores so low probably because engineers believe their should be a significant shift towards carrying goods by rail.
Metro and light rail systems are considered more important than might have been expected. Planners and politicians in the UK remain largely unconvinced that light rail systems are as flexible or economically justifiable as, for example, guided busways. There is also the issue of price, and the UK experience is that light rail schemes often end up costing significantly more than expected.
Cycling and walking, perhaps the two most neglected forms of transport in the UK, both get a big vote of confidence. Water and air travel, on the other hand, are largely seen as an irrelevance to the development of an integrated transport network. Engineers hoping to spend the next few years designing and building Heathrow Terminal 5 may not agree.
What one incentive would do most to develop a properly integrated transport network?
The most favoured incentive among NCE readers can be summed up as: more affordable, accessible, safer, cleaner, regular, better funded public transport.
The most important single initiative was thought to be the need to improve the ease of interchange between public transport modes. But other ideas on how to attract more passengers onto public transport included: improved travel information; free or reduced price travel, especially for under 18s and over 60s; through ticketing systems; making travel to work by public transport tax deductible; and tax incentives to encourage business travel by public transport. Yet more proposals were: the extension of school bus schemes; more bus lanes; and tighter regulation of public transport operators.
The money to improve public transport could be found from a number of sources according to our survey: higher government subsidies, tax relief for public transport operators and parking fines.
Despite their down on cars, those replying to the survey had plenty of ideas of how to mitigate their impact. These included tax incentives for low mileage or environmentally friendly cars, lanes on city roads for cars carrying at least three people and cheaper petrol for those using park and ride facilities. Readers also called for increased funding of research into the alternatives to the internal combustion engine.
Among ideas aimed at encouraging companies to develop better habits was the giving of tax credits to companies who move goods by rail, water or other desired transport modes.
Those readers looking to get the population fitter, while reducing pollution and congestion, proposed tax and other financial incentives for those who walk or cycle to work. They also suggested a massive extension of cycle ways; as well as secure bicycle storage in all new buildings and public transport interchanges.
What one disincentive would have the biggest impact on the development of a properly integrated transport network?
Again a simple message: increase the cost of car use. To which also could be added: ...and make them damned difficult to use anyway.
All the predictable financial sticks were brandished: rack up non-residential parking charges; tax parking spaces provided by employers; introduce road pricing; remove the tax benefits of doing more than 18,000 company car miles; introduce a car tax based on location to penalise drivers living in more congested areas; and higher taxation of multiple car ownership by a single household.
Likewise, restricting of car use saw all the usual suspects paraded: ban all cars from city centres; require people to prove they have off road parking or a residential permit before a new car is licensed; reduce the number of car parks; discourage transport of kids to school; and reduce speed limits.
Road freight also came in for a hammering with calls to increase the sectors tax hit to take more account off damage to roads and the environment. Introduction of track access charges for long distance commercial vehicles were also proposed.
Finally many respondents called for severe restrictions on out of town developments, therefore reducing the need for travel.
What health/environment issues should be given the highest priority when developing an integrated transport system?
Traffic-derived pollution is public enemy number one according to NCE readers. There was also significant concern over energy consumption, particularly of fossil fuels.
One reader suggested the linking of traffic lights to pollution sensors, another that the government publish a table of health risks related to different forms of transport. Civil engineers also called on their colleagues in other disciplines to put more work into developing low emission or electrical engines. The drive to convert buses to LPG was also given the thumbs up.
However pollution and energy consumption were not the only areas of concern. Far from it. Traffic noise, visual pollution, road safety, creeping urbanisation, sustainable development, poor physical health through inactivity and travel related stress were all mentioned.
What achievable change in lifestyle would impact most positively on the development of a properly integrated transport network?
NCE readers dream of a day when a significant proportion of people work from home taking advantage of the growth of the Internet and e-mail communication. Many people who cant for whatever reason work from home, can walk or cycle to communal offices and rent a desk by the hour.
Those that still have the misfortune to need to travel into work do so on public transport, or as a part of car-sharing arrangement.
Firms and individuals are given incentives to ensure that people live close to where they work, while the government has passed new laws making it easier to buy or rent, improving peoples mobility.
At work, company cars are restricted to those who really need them and employers pay for employees to travel on a greatly improved public transport system.
The rush hour crush is avoided by staggering working, school and shop opening hours. The school run is transformed by the development of localism, better safety measures and improved school bus services. And the shop run is eased by the growth of Internet shopping.
Public information campaigns discourage car use and encourage more people on to public transport. Purchase tax is loaded heavily on to second hand, as well as new cars.