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RAC urges ministers to end bias towards rail spending

Ignoring value for money evidence and promoting rail over road schemes puts the government at risk of failing to meet Treasury targets, said the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) Foundation.

The Treasury says the government must prioritise transport spending to get the highest rates of return for the taxpayer, an objective detailed in the Department for Transport’s (DfT) public service agreement. The RAC Foundation, which today published its report Rates of Return on Public Spending on Transport, accused ministers of ignoring this and urged them to provide an explanation.

Ninety two percent of all passenger travel in Great Britain takes place on the roads, 7% is by rail and 1% by air. But it said over £5bn was invested in rail in 2006/07 compared with £4.8bn in roads.

The RAC added that recent announcements indicate this investment split is will continue, with £15bn of public funds earmarked for the rail industry over the next five years, as against £6bn to improve the strategic road network in England over the same period.

RAC Foundation director professor Stephen Glaister said: “The RAC Foundation is not against rail travel, yet the figures are clear. Most people use the roads to get about and road schemes tend to offer the best value for money. The road network is the true provider of public transport.”

“When Government’s funds are in such short supply, surely ministers are duty bound to abide by the Treasury’s own rules and extract the maximum value for money from every £1 they collect from hard-pressed taxpayers?”  

“Treasury targets require that benefit cost ratios and value for money calculations form the basis of spending decisions. Despite this, good value road schemes are being sidelined for the lesser benefits secured from many rail and public transport schemes.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • John Mather

    Quite right! Given the accident rates on rural single carriageway roads (particularly all-purpose trunk roads), it would be good to see them improved (to dual carriageway standard with limited access) as a matter of urgency. It would be good to see an objective approach with resources focused where they will deliver most benefit.

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  • I disagree, which is not surprising since I don't work for the RAC foundation.

    It is too much funding for roads and not enough for rail which has put our society into the 'car dictatorship' that we are in. We are all addicted yet it is not good value for money. In addition car travel has an environmental footprint over twice as great on average per passenger as rail travel.

    Roads are not public transport, and yes they provide best value for money assuming that everybody in the country has a car. I do not own a car therefore they certainly represent poor value for money for me. With rising unemployment we need to remember what public transport is. Until the state provides every member of the public with a car using tax payers money (which would be a bad idea) this is not transport for all.

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