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Municipals grasp transport initiative

The Association of Municipal Engineers annual conference will be held in Cardiff from Monday to Wednesday next week . ICE News previews the conference in an interview with the chairman of the session on integrated transport Keith Millington. Details of the full programme are available from ICE conference office. Tel: (0171) 665 2314.

THE PHRASE integrated transport is cited in the AME conference programme as in danger becoming a panacea to cure all transport ills.

But chairman of the integrated transport session Keith Millington is quick stress the feeling of optimism among municipal engineers. This is born out of confidence that the Government will issue new powers for local authorities to raise funds through parking charges and allow them to be used to improve local infrastructure.

'In the short term I am anticipating new powers to hike up non-residential parking in urban centres which is easy to enforce. I am confident we have the Government's approval that funds raised can be preserved to improve transport links,' said Millington.

He is less confident of the immediate prospects for charging vehicles to enter cities. 'Uncertainty remains over the fairness and enforcement of congestion charging. There is a pilot scheme in Leicester but more research is needed. It will be interesting to see if this issue is addressed in the White Paper.'

His optimism is further fuelled by his own experience heading a transport division at Warrington Borough Council, where the interface with local firms and schools has been strong since Warrington became a unitary authority with responsibility for transport on 1 April.

'We have pushed very hard to work with local firms on ways of cutting the car commuting of their staff. Interfacing with industry is something we can do now to give us more muscle to make things happen after the White Paper.'

Millington is a technical adviser to the Local Government Association's transport committee, but his solution to discourage local car journeys is simplicity. 'We won't have a credible alternative to the car unless people can make journeys which involve cars, buses and even cabs, on one ticket. We have a vital role to play in delivering inter-ticketing.'

And the primary alternative to the car is the bus. 'Buses are the single most important tool to ease congestion in urban areas, but just as important as guided busways is the need to make bus travel more pleasant. Towards this aim in Warrington, he has overseen the fitting of new bus shelters with real time information.

He is expecting greater powers for councils to regulate services. 'We need more control of the bus environment to ensure that investment in bus services is not undermined by low cost operators,' he said.

Bus services will be especially important in towns where a flagship light rail system is not commercially viable, said Millington. 'In towns there is greater need for a lot of smaller bus, cycle and footway schemes which call for the ingenuity of engineers. Technical solutions for improved flow of footways, for example. If pedestrians found it easier to cross the road, there would be a lot more people walking in towns.'

In rural areas, more time should be devoted to making it easier for people not to use their cars, said Millington. 'The rural population has grown by 20% in the last 20 years. More people are commuting from rural areas and the recent Government initiative on rural transport is very encouraging.'

Millington's technical solutions to increase pedal power and foot power, are simply to make it safer for people to ride through junctions and crossroads. 'Engineers need to devise new traffic signals to give cyclists priority because this is the main blackspot which is stopping people from making the change.'

With many hindrances to progress still existing, Millington is hoping that Dr Pierre Laconte of the International Union of Public Transport will inspire any doubting municipal engineers that the aims of integrated transport policy are achievable.

'Public transport in continental Europe is more advanced. They have evolved so far that some of their anti-congestion measures are now defunct because car numbers have been bought under control.'

He is expecting a lively session, but as an insurance against the debate not getting off the ground, John Prescott's transport adviser Professor Phil Goodwin will be there to give a paper entitled: 'To go where no-one else has been'.

'Goodwin is good at challenging entrenched ideas and asking whether they can really be substantiated. He is very well respected as a credible authority on the subject,' said Millington.

Millington is keen to push many of the mooted integrated transport schemes because he believes they will fulfill other council objectives such as better air quality and improved fitness for children if more can be persuaded to walk or cycle to school. He is a little wary that local authorities' determination for change might be diluted by a toothless White Paper.

'The White Paper has been delayed twice now and I just hope that the Government sticks to its guns, and does not lessen its commitment to change or duck out of confronting the difficult issues.'

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