Billions wasted on congested roads

By Phil Scullion

Billions of pounds could be saved if the road network was better managed, say MPs.

Ideas from the transport committee's latest report include tougher driving tests, real-time information systems and better coordination between road management authorities.

They were examining the options available to reduce congestion without constructing new roads or bringing in road prices.

This followed the government's decision to rule out the use of road pricing, except for HGVs.

Louise Ellman, committee chair, pointed to the "billions" congestion costs the economy. The UK could be losing up to £22 billion per annum by 2025 due to the rising cost of congestion.

Ms Ellman said: "Improving the way we manage road space so that the network runs more smoothly is vital to the prosperity of the nation.

"Pursuing this challenge should form a key plank of central government transport policy. The Department for Transport cannot simply devolve all responsibility for managing the road network to individual highway authorities.

"These organisations have a key role and duty for managing their local networks, but the Department for Transport should actively support them in working together closely to fulfil that duty."

The committee has made a number of recommendations which they believe would help reduce road congestion.

Firstly that communication media be utilized through a highway code app to help increase awareness. Another means of achieving this might be to send a leaflet detailing recent highway code changes to all drivers when they apply for or renew a tax disc or a driving licence.

This could also be an opportunity to remind road users about the 'traffic programme' (TP) button. The button is standard in 80% of vehicles, but used to get up-to-date travel information by less than 25% of drivers.

Secondly a requirement should be put in place that all highway authorities must publish traffic management performance measurements, no later than early 2013.

Ms Ellman said that ministers should clarify who is responsible for warning road users about congestion and increase the use of successful 'intelligent traffic management' systems.

She added: "Much more can also be done to improve co-ordination between highway authorities and organisations undertaking street works to ensure local authorities use the best available technology to co-ordinate their road or traffic management activities with other highways authorities.

"We support the Highways Agency in its joint initiative with the police and the Home Office to speed up the time taken to clear major roads following accidents. But it's crucial that recommendations made in May this year by the Agency, to address regional variations around this issue, are taken forward more urgently than December 2012."

Congestion on the roads is likely to become a hot political issue over the next year as London's transport links are effectively showcased to the world during the 2012 Olympic Games.