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Moving Forward

The Department for Transport last week published its long-awaited strategy for a sustainable transport system.

"Transport is vital to the economy," is just one of the many authoritative statements of the obvious that grace the 90-page Towards a Sustainable Transport System report published last week by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The report provides the government's response to the recent UK transport study by former British Airways boss Sir Rod Eddington. It also responds to the Treasury-backed review of the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern.

In doing so, the DfT's discussion document attempts to meet the significant challenges set by these two seminal pieces of work. It tries to weave them into the government's own aspirations and actions to create a sustainable transport system for the UK. As Kelly says, the document aims to "translate their recommendations into our policy making process over the short, medium and long term".

Five key goals are highlighted as vital measures of the strategy's success or failure of any sustainable transport policy.

They are:

- maximised competitiveness and productivity;
- reduced CO2 emissions
- better health, safety and security
- improved quality of life
- more equality of opportunity.

Meeting each of these goals is seen as vital to the success of the strategy as it is delivered between now and 2013-14. However, it is clear that some of these goals will perhaps loom larger on the political radar than others – not least those relating to economics and climate change .

But the DfT report suggests that the solution will lie not with any single mode of travel and not through any single transport initiative or single funding stream.

"It will take time to implement in its entirety the new approach to strategic transport planning recommended by Eddington," explains the report. "In the interim our ambitious plans for the period to 2014, and the decisions we take between now and then, can make a substantial
contribution to the five goals."

The Eddington Report's assessment of "basis connectivity" – the basic state of the UK's transport network – is that it is good. But Towards a Sustainable Transport System warns that congestion is a major problem on parts of the network. Current DfT figures suggest around 8% of the UK road network suffers from severe congestion which, if unchecked, could jump 30% by 2025, costing business and freight as much as £10bn a year.

Following Eddington logic, the solution lies in focusing on the areas and regions that make the biggest contribution to the economy.

Road charging is being seen, if not as a silver bullet, then certainly as one of the best weapons in the congestion busting armoury. "Sending the right price signal to transport users is critical," says the DfT report.

It warns, not for the first time, that "we cannot build our way out of congestion".

DfT figures suggest that 55% of adults surveyed agreed that the current system of taxing motorists should be changed so that the amount paid related more closely to road use. This figure would rise to 62% when proposals to spend the extra revenues raised on transport are included.

That said, the Department stops significantly short of proposing nationwide charging, suggesting instead that the "best next stage is to see whether road pricing is equally effective in other cities."

Climate change looms large in the DfT strategy and is informed by (among other things) the Climate Change Bill, first published in March 2007.

The intention of the bill is to create "a long-term framework to cut total UK domestic CO2 emissions by 26% to 32% by 2020". According to the report, transport accounts for 15% of all global CO2 emissions.

For car journeys, hitting people in the wallet takes precedence as evidenced by Vehicle Excise Duties which are banded according to emissions levels.

Increasing air passenger duties on domestic and international flights also forms part of the strategy. Again, road pricing makes an appearance on the solutions side of the equation.

Another facet of environmentally-driven fiscal inducement is the mooted Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO). Under RTFO, fuel suppliers will be obliged to obtain 5% of fuel from renewable sources or pay a "buy-out" price from 2010.

The report's reliance on technology, both in terms of that currently available and in terms of what is in the pipeline, forms a more optimistic take on combating climate change.

While the UK government pledges support to the National Aerospace Technology Strategy, it also felt able to claim the EU-fronted €1.6bn (£1.1bn) public/private "Clean Sky" initiative as part of DfT strategy.

Systemic innovations such as the active traffic management (ATM) system piloted on the M42 – a hard shoulder running scheme – may also prove a boon. Given that ATM seems to be linked to the possible scrapping of road widening schemes, such innovations are unlikely to be universally popular.

European legislation in the field of emissions trading is likely to be the most substantive plank of the emissions reductions strategy. Essentially, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme intends to match every increased tonne of aviation emission with a commensurate reduction elsewhere, with emissions capped at the 2004-6 levels of 200Mt per year.

No government strategy paper on transport would be complete without the "to the bicycles!" clarion call. This report is no exception alth0ugh it is expressed in the lukewarm language of "support for local integrated travel initiatives".

On health, safety and security, the DfT acknowledges that the rate of improvement in road safety has slowed. Reducing accident risk will continue to involve a whole raft of interventions with particular targeting of those transport users most vulnerable to accidents. In 2006, more than 3,000 people died on the UK's roads.

As Londoners will be all too aware, the transport network is a strategic terrorist target of immense significance.

The government says it is "further develop[ing] risk-based regimes which deliver security and maintain public confidence" without hindering the systems' efficacy.

Working with the department of Food and Rural Affairs, the DfT says it is committed to meeting the government's PSA targets for a healthy natural environment for today and the future. Strategic noise maps are being drawn up in accordance with the Environmental Noise Directive as the government prepares a noise strategy.

Finally, on equality of opportunity, the DfT report is largely perfunctory. The transport strategy seems to be a benevolent delegation to regional/local government level and to regional development agencies.

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