What’s wrong with lane rental: it counts vehicles not people

The Department for Transport have today launched a 12-week consultation on a proposed “lane rental” scheme, where utilities companies would charged for digging up the road.

Transport for London will tomorrow begin their consultation on whether we should have this in London.

New design

When lane rental was piloted in Camden and Middlesborough in 2002-04, it was concluded that it had little effect on the amount of time companies spent digging up the roads. 

The scheme currently being proposed by the government is quite different to the previous one. The 2004 pilot applied one charge to all streets at all times. The scheme the government are currently proposing will only charge at times which cause the most disruption.

This, we are told, will provide an incentive for companies to carry out works at less inconvenient times.

Inconvenient for who?

This all sounds somewhat sensible. But where will this actually apply?

The streets where evidence shows that works in the highway cause the highest levels of disruption and thus require the greatest efforts to smooth traffic flow.

DfT Guidance to Local Authorities, p8.

This is a phrase straight out of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and demonstrates the extent to which TfL have influenced (or written) the national policy here. A google search for “smoothing traffic flow” on TfL’s website produces over 20,000 results:

On the Department for Transport website, three results.

What will lane rental look like?

The DfT guidance tells that “the detailed design of lane rental schemes is best determined at a local level”.

Fortunately for us, TfL have done exactly this. They have produced a map of the “most congested” areas in London.

TfL Network Operating Strategy p46

These Congestion Management Areas are where lane rental will apply – as explained to the Surface Transport Panel in May 2011.

And how is this measured? By counting delays on roads, to motor traffic. Doesn’t include pedestrians. Doesn’t include people on bicycles.

This means that – despite the fact that Blackfriars Bridge is actually a designated Congestion Management Area – the following will still be acceptable:

There are more bikes here than any other vehicle at rush hour - yet delays to bikes aren't counted by the TfL methodology (image from Cyclists in the City)

Closing a footpath rather than a “lane” will be encouraged under lane rental:

Year long works at Henley's Corner

If Transport for London want to prevent delay and disruption to journey times, great.

But once again they continue to define “disruption” and “delay” as only counting when it affects people in motor vehicles. This simply creates an incentive for people to use cars over other forms of transport – which apart from anything else will actually cause more delays.

The fact that TfL has managed to influence the national policy here is all the more concerning.

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2 Responses to “What’s wrong with lane rental: it counts vehicles not people”

  1. Joe Dunckley Says:

    My understanding is that TfL have no choice but to influence national policy — in the amusingly appropriate jargon, the mayor doesn’t have the “competence” to introduce this without Westminster first passing legislation. That doesn’t mean it has to be rolled out nationally. Is the govt pushing for it to be rolled out nationally, or simply giving local authorities the option to have their own version?

    When London proposed the Congestion Charge a similar piece of national legislation had to be passed to give TfL and local authorities the competence to introduce local road charging, and indeed, Durham has taken advantage of it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_City_congestion_charge

    Until this year, Wales was in the same position of having to ask Westminster for competence every time it wanted to innovate…

  2. Futilitarian Says:

    Hard to tell what the gov are actually pushing for.

    Philip Hammond has certainly announced it with some zeal, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see whether this is a Cones Hotline style attempt to shore up the Clarkson vote, or an actual policy.

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