Q&A: Chris Grayling MP, Shadow Transport Secretary, HM Opposition
Chris Grayling MP, Shadow Transport Secretary, speaks to eGov monitor about London Congestion Charge, the safety of our transport system and the role technology can play to reduce the negative impact of transport on environment.
Q1: The London Congestion Charge has been the first major road pricing scheme in the UK. It has attracted both praise and criticism. Would you tell us what your views of the scheme and would you identify it as a model for city centre road pricing schemes in the rest of the UK?
The London scheme has its flaws, and isn't necessarily the perfect model for charging systems of this kind - for example there is no variation depending on time of day. But it has set a precedent for road pricing in the UK which we and others need to study carefully. It is certainly now a tested technology system, and is much more likely to be the model for future schemes than the Government's "spy in the sky" proposed system of road pricing for the future.
We are anxious that the money raised from road pricing schemes should be used for the benefit of our transport system and not be used by the Government as a stealth tax. Local councils should have the flexibility to decide what is right for their cities. The failure of the Government’s Ten Year Transport Plan – such as their promise to cut congestion by 5% by 2010 – has proved that one cannot set targets centrally without considering local needs and priorities.
Q2: Do you think that a toll system would be an effective way of paying for the UK's motorway system? Would you like to see it replace other forms of taxation on road transportation like taxes on fuel to give the UK's haulage industry a better chance of competing with it's European competitors?
It's hard to see that one could simply introduce tolls on Britain's motorways without some major change in capacity or provision for transport. You can't use road pricing to encourage people to leave their cars at home, but provide no alternatives.
We are concerned about the impact that heavy goods vehicles which are not registered in Britain, and so do not pay taxes in Britain, have on our roads. Drivers are able to take advantage of cheaper diesel prices and lower Vehicle Excise Duty in Europe, yet do not contribute towards the upkeep and maintenance of our roads. We are currently looking at several different ways to address this issue.
Q3: Terrorism threats put our transport infrastructure at considerable risk. What steps do you think needs to be taken to ensure our public transport system is safe and secure? What role do you think technology can play in ensuring this?
This is a very serious issue. Using body scanners for the railways or the Underground is unlikely to be 100 per cent effective to because of the sheer volume of people that use them. We need to make sure that members of the public know what to do if they see a suspicious package or someone behaving in a suspicious manner. We can use some detection technologies, and we can use dogs and spot checks selectively. But it will always be difficult to make our public transport completely secure. Aeroplane security needs to remain rigorous, as all our international airports, ports and the Channel Tunnel should be. But we also need to be much more watchful of our smaller ports and airports. There is no point guarding Heathrow like a fortress if we leave other points of entry with few protections.
Q4: What role do you think technology and innovation will play to reduce the adverse effect of transport on environment?
Ultimately, technology will be the only way of tackling the problem of carbon emissions from our transport system. It is unrealistic to believe that we can dramatically change peoples' way of life - and even if we did, it is highly unlikely that everyone in other countries will follow suit. That does not mean that technology is the only answer. Conservatives across the country are championing the return of school buses as a way of helping reduce traffic. We will look at strengthening public transport, to give people a reason to leave their cars at home. But ultimately, technology is the best way available in a democratic society to secure the kind of changes that we need.
Q5: If you were transport secretary today, what steps would you have taken to ensure a secure and efficient transport network in UK and how would you look to use the new innovative technologies?
Britain's two big transport challenges are capacity and environment. Our roads, railways and ports are bursting at the seams - yet by expanding capacity we risk having a seriously adverse effect on the environment. We are currently planning our strategy to tackle these twin problems, and to balance the obvious conflict between them. It may sound a little evasive, but we will publish our plans in due course. It's most important for policy makers to get their ideas right, and so we will take our time over the detail before we make it all public.
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