Plans to deploy lane rental initiatives nationwide have been broadly welcomed as an important step forward on tackling congestion, but one major utilities industry group remains unconvinced.
The Department for Transport announced on Friday that it would help councils to adopt their own lane rental schemes by the end of 2019, following successful trials in London and Kent.
These schemes see utility companies charged up to £2500 a day for digging up the busiest roads at peak times, incentivising them to work outside of rush hour or to collaborate with other firms to synchronise works.
However according to Street Works UK – which represents utilities firms and their contractors – there is no clear evidence showing the congestion-busting powers of lane rental.
“We support initiatives to reduce congestion but we believe this approach is a blunt instrument that will make it harder for utilities companies to deliver vital infrastructure that powers the economy,” said the group’s chief executive Bob Gallienne.
“The Government’s own analysis of the existing lane rental schemes concludes that there is no causal link between lane rental schemes and reduced congestion.”
Despite this the majority of respondents to a consultation into the scheme last year supported the roll out of lane rental nationwide.
Transport Minister Jo Johnson said: “Drivers often see red when roadworks cause them delays, especially if no one is working on them. Lane rental has seen a massive drop in disruption to drivers as utility companies have changed when and where they carry out work. Now we want millions of motorists around England to get the same benefits.”
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes added: “Introducing lane rental should encourage better planning and coordination of roadworks, and mean utility works are completed in a swifter, more efficient manner.”
The Local Government Association’s transport spokesperson Judith Blake said: “The pilots in both Kent and London have proven that giving councils greater powers to regulate roadworks can deliver huge benefits to businesses and road users.”
In London, it is said that utility companies have worked together more than 600 times since lane rental was introduced in 2015, up from just 100 beforehand.
However the Road Haulage Association has expressed some concern over the rollout of lane rental. “The scheme has significantly increased utility companies’ operating costs in the pilot scheme areas,” said RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett. “DfT reports that some utility companies have therefore waited until infrastructure has needed repairing to avoid incurring the extra costs, as emergency works don’t incur charges.
“This isn’t a good sign and certainly flies against the move to encourage contractors to plan and synchronise their work schedules to reduce disruption to road users; so this needs managing very carefully.”
He also urged authorities to reinvest all surplus lane rental revenues in road improvement schemes, a call echoed by the Freight Transport Association.