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Message for Europe: invest in improved public transport

15th October 1971
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Page 52, 15th October 1971 — Message for Europe: invest in improved public transport
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

The car must be curbed in city centres, agree ECMT symposium delegates in The Hague.

IF CITY centres throughout the world are to be preserved as decent places in which to live and work, then the private car must be controlled and restricted, there must be a clearly and deliberately planned role for public transport and there may have to be more support for taxis or taxi-like vehicles as part of the public service. These were virtually unanimous conclusions by the transport operators, high-level civil servants, economists, academics and association representatives from 18 countries who attended the symposium on theory and practice in transport economics organized by the European Conference of Ministers of Transport in The Hague last week (CM October 8).

Road pricing

Beyond the present decade, some form of road pricing may be the answer to controlling the use of transport, and Mr T. L. Beagley of the DoE told delegates that technical work on road pricing was going ahead well in the UK but that implementation was 10 years away. The transport experts, he said, must emphasize to the politicians what the results will be during that vital 10 years if tough car parking policies are not enforced in city centres. Landuse planning needed to look further ahead than the 1985 mentioned by a speaker in respect of Hamburg's planning, he said, and unless the land-use planners and the politicians could give some clearer idea of the specific lines of development for each city, transport planning opportunities might be lost.

Chairing the final discussion session at the symposium, Prof H. Jurgensen, director of the Hamburg Institute for European Political Economy, had said that Hamburg's plan for the next 15 years gave priority to public transport in the city centre, then joint development of facilities for both cars and public transport in the area up to 15km from the centre, and beyond this up to 45km from the centre the road building plans would be aimed in favour of private transport.

Mr Beagley liked this idea of zoning development for transport, but thought that the growth of the car had still not been squarely faced, either in this country or abroad and not enough was being done to restrain car use in city centres.

Clear support for the concentration of urban transport investment on the improvement of public transport services, and especially towards making it quicker and more frequent, came during the summing up of the discussions on the symposium's first topic — the choice between private and public transport. The chairman for this session was Dr Tony Ridley, director-general of Tyneside, PTE, who made valiant attempts to get the delegates away from generalities and jargon and come to some firm conclusions.

He first asked his eight-man panel of three Frenchmen, two Germans, one Dutchman, one Italian and one Spaniard whether they agreed with M. Matelon's assertion (CM last week) that public transport had a negative appeal to the user. Prof Diederich from Gutenburg University, Mainz, did agree, but felt this impression could be changed by improving speed and comfort. Dr Labs from Cologne thought that M. MetaIon had held up a mirror to the customer and shown transport operators what the customers' wishes were. But he believed that the "prestige" aspect of car ownership had passed its peak in highly developed countries, and a recent poll in Germany had confirmed this. Now was the right psychological moment to improve public transport and to make its facilities known through forceful commercial advertising.

More speed

Asked by Dr Ridley whether good frequency and reliability were more important than fare levels in attracting traffic, the panel all voted "Yes", and this was supported unanimously by the delegates, numbering more than 100 and coming from places as far afield as Finland, Japan and Yugoslavia. The attendance was not limited to ECMT members.

Prof Diederich said most people would plump for more speed as the prime requirement in urban public transport today, while Dr. Ing. E. Giunti from the Italian Ministry of Transport pointed out that the aim should be to reduce waiting time as well as transit time: high frequency was in itself a comfort factor, perhaps as important as actual vehicle comfort. Sen. J. R. Mira, a divisional chief from the Spanish Ministry of Public Works in Madrid, pointed out that underground trains offered speed, frequency and reliability yet people still expressd dissatisfaction with the service. Prof Labs thought reliability and frequency were the two main things to aim for, and then he would go for "seats for everyone". The panel agreed that any available money would be best spent on reducing journey times.

There was support from speakers of several nationalities for the suggestion that managers, once given a transport objective, should be allowed to manage without political interference, though it was agreed that this was difficult. Dr Noortman, from Rotterdam, thought that it was difficult to be too rigid about this, because even decisions on the network itself and on the service frequency were really political, since they influenced the passengers' choice of mode.

There was general agreement that the choice of organizational structure was important in providing the ability to develop public transport and the general feeling of the panel was that, regardless of ownership, and whether or not subsidies were involved, such organizations should work on sound commercial principles, with clear directives. Where financial support was necessary, this should. be shown as a stated payment for a specified service (including agreed service levels) so that staff morale was not sapped by an organization appearing to be constantly in a deficit situation.

Lacking courage

Dr Ridley had remarked that perhaps the message of the previous day's proceedings was that the politicians lacked courage, but when he asked all the delegates to indicate how many were confident that their political chiefs would allow them to go ahead and manage without interference once the objectives had been defined, only four hands were raised. But when he asked how many were confident that their political chiefs would not allow them to go ahead on this basis, only four (different) hands were raised!

On organization, Prof Diederich said German experience showed an initial increase in total passenger traffic on public transport when two or more transport organizations were merged or co-ordinated, but after a year or two this effect ceased. M. MateIon was emphatic that in urban areas there needed to be much more co-ordination between public transport and private transport facilities, — for example in car parking policy vis-ó-vis municipal transport services.

When Tony Ridley asked whether the panel felt that cars had to be banned from city centres, M. G. Billon, from France, remarked: "Define the city centre. In Paris the traffic jams begin 15km from the centre."

The suggestion in Dr Noortman's paper that taxis had a bigger role to play in urban transport aroused much comment — most of it in agreement — during the symposium. Dr. Giunti thought they should be increased in numbers since they offered high availability and avoided parking problems, and Sen. Mira revealed that in Madrid the taxis carried 60 per cent as many passengers as the buses.

M. MateIon thought the present type of taxi has a limited future, and remarked that in New York one saw traffic jams composed entirely of taxis. But perhaps electric, and maybe driverless, developments might have an urban transport future.

Dr Ridley said he believed in co-operation between publicly-owned and other forms of public passengertransport, with common fares structures. The discussion had shown that all shades of opinion agreed that social factors could no longer be ignored in planning and operating transport, and M. MetaIon had drawn attention to the fact that the psychological outlook of users had to be considered as well as the financial and technical problems. There was clear agreement, he said, on the need to invest in

public transport, and restrain the car in urban centres. The discussion had shown a new optimism about the possibility of limiting the car's effects and perhaps of changing habits and attitudes towards public transport. It seemed that the taxi or some similar vehicle might have a new future, perhaps in bridging the gap between private and public transport. And he emphasized that there was no reason why a public service should be any less commercially alert than a private enterprise organization.

Full impact

The symposium had been opened on October 5 by Holland's Minister for Transport and Public Works, Dr W. Drees, who warned that the full impact of the motorcar on Western civilization had yet to be felt. But national and local governments had realized that a real city, as a concentrated mix of people and physical development, was incompatible with the unlimited use of cars. Governments must not passively adapt facilities simply to suit the car but should take conscious decisions on the future form of the human environment.

Dr Drees pointed to the significance of Dutch policy in deliberately increasing train frequencies and altering fares levels, which had reversed a traffic trend and brought 7 per Cent more passengers in 1970. This was partly due to special fares for young people, many of whom had never used the train before.

In the opening discussion on private v. public transport Prof J-P Baumgartner, from the Federal Polytechnic in Berne, said that nobody could make a choice of transport as effectively as the passenger himself, and that choice shduld be based on the true costs of competing options; most urban transport was subsidized and it was urgent that, for example, peak-hour fares should be raised to cover costs and that car parking rates should reflect the true economic price.

Dr Noortman thought this was an over-simplification, and that one would simply get higher charges than the traffic would bear.

Mr P. Welding, planning and development director, Merseyside PTE, thought Dr Noortrnan had been wrong to suggest that public transport could no longer be profitable; it was a matter of fact that there was profitable public transport today, at least in the UK. Dr Noortman replied that if public transport was offered at a service level to meet an environmental requirement, perhaps covering the restriction of private transport, then the cost would be higher than the traffic could bear.

Mr C. P. van Strien, commercial passenger manager of Dutch Railways, rejected the widespread belief that, if public transport was not provided in the early stages of a new development, it would never catch on. Dutch Railways' experience was that service quality was the dominant factor in attracting passengers at any stage and he asserted that, by upgrading the quality of public road transport, reserved bus lanes would result in new custom.

Irrational factors

Choice of transport was formed more by habit or behaviour patterns than by rational decision, said Mr A. A. J. van den Broecke, Amsterdam centre for market and social studies. For instance, in Holland everyone bought a car as soon as he could afford it, but not because he needed it for transport. Having bought it, using it was not a positive decision but a logical result. The decision lay in not using it, and the effect of this attitude upon public transport and upon research into choice of transport mode was obvious. He thought that as congestion grew to the point where it limited the attractions of car use, it was the quality of public transport which would determine how soon or how late the motorist switched from car to bus. He suggested — and delegates supported this view that despite the pressure for car ownership and use, people were so well aware of the urban situation that they were ready to accept controls.

Mr P. Welding, said M. IMatalon's psychological studies agreed with British findings, but he believed the bus offered a sense of security to some people, particularly women, who also valued it as a social meeting place.

He revealed that the new bus/rail service in Formby was mainly attracting former public transport users; it would take time for motorists to see the advantages of making a change. Mr Welding thought that researchers had to distinguish between attitudes, which were built-in prejudices that were very slow to change, and behaviour, which was often a reaction to other factors. In this sense, behavioural studies alone would be sufficient for, say, examining an urban transport service but attitudinal studies could be useful in long-term planning — and also in explaining some apparently nonsensical statistical results.

Taking up Mr Welding's earlier remark that public transport could still be profitable, session chairman Mr J. Vrebos, secretarygeneral of the Belgian Ministry of Communications, remarked: -Perhaps the United Kingdom's entry into the EEC will show the Six how to make a profit from public transport. It just confirms my view that the British remain a favoured nation!"

The British secretary of the International Transport Workers Federation IITF), Mr M. C. Iddon, suggested that in the psychological studies there should be a harder look at the effects of the extension of car use from the point of view of the younger driver, whose accident record was causing concern — to the point where it had been raised at meetings of the World Health Organisation.

Mr Iddon agreed that it was unreasonable to expect public transport to cover its costs, but was sceptical of Dr Noortman's assertion that the economies of scale do not apply to transport. So were later speakers, notably from railway companies.

Support for PTEs

Representing UITP, Mr Ralph Bennett, deputy chairman and m.d. (buses) of London Transport, warned that key factors affecting modal choice differed not only between different sizes of town but also between different towns of the same size. He had recently undertaken a survey of 100 cities and towns around the world; one question he had asked was the ranking order of appeal and importance in which the operators put five main passenger transport factors. The answers varied widely, but when totted up they came out in the order: 1, Frequency; 2, speed; 3, reliability; 4, cost; 5, comfort.

He believed there was a world trend towards conurbation transport organizations like the British PTEs and the systems in Hamburg and Munich, and he pledged the UITP's support for any such schemes which were fair and which appeared to contribute to the improvement of life in cities.

The director of the Passenger Vehicle Operators' Association, Mr Denis Quin, speaking as an IRU representative, stressed that the bus was a safer city vehicle than the car and thought there was a case for further study of road pricing. He stressed that there should be no encouragement of car use which might damage public transport. Not only did motorists have little idea of the cost of operating their car, said Mr Quin, but they had no idea at all of the cost to the community of their using it.

He feared the effects on the UK psv industry of Britain having to adopt EEC drivers' hours, and hoped those responsible would have regard to the effects of these restrictive regulations.

The chairman, M. Vrebos, half-jokingly replied: "Don't worry too much about the social considerations if you join EEC — we don't respect them either.

Many other speakers contributed to the discussion. Dr H. A. Hoed, vice-president of the passenger section of IRU, spoke against monopolies, as being to the disadvantage of the user; the creation of a conglomerate monopoly for Paris, for example, would not have provided such an effective transport system as the present mixture of the municipal RATP and a host of private operators in membership of an association.

Prof Willeke from Cologne thought political cowardice had prevented restriction of the car and the introduction of economic car parking prices; a new political strategy was long overdue. Dr Ing. Giunti from the Italian Ministry of Transport thought there were many places where people should be allowed to use their cars freely, but that the centres of cities which could not readily be rebuilt should perhaps be turned over to public transport.

A Swedish speaker thought a car pool might be a real alternative for urban transport — experience showed that the average usage was over three people per car per trip.

Asked how to promote public transport effectively, M. MetaIon said that after lengthy studies he had come to the conclusion that the services would have to improve before there was much to "'sell" by publicity.

When the symposium moved on to the subject of uneconomic services, under the chairmanship of Prof Jurgensen, from Hamburg, much of the discussion centred on economics, subsidies and especially the railways — mainly as points raised in Prof Michael Beesley's paper (CM last week).

M. Phillipe Droin, of the IRU, warned against progressing towards free public transport. Subsidies should not become the rule; the number of unprofitable services should be controlled or limited, he said.

Mr Welding from Merseyside said that the lack of true market forces applying between car and public transport was the real reason why bus services were having to be subsidized. But bus subsidies would not have the effect of controlling car use; there had to be total transport planning, including parking controls.

Mr D. Bayliss, a GLC planner, emphasized that juggling with prices was not the best or only solution to public transport problems. Just because private transport pricing was irrational, this was no reason for irrational pricing of public transport. He also thought that subsidies should be based on castings that took financial account of the travel time spent by passengers, since this was the largest item of "resource input" in a system.

Prof Hirooka, from Tokyo, revealed that Japan was going to use a car tax to provide capital for more 250 kph trains and for urban underground services. Mr W. Horn, from the Dutch Ministry of Transport, thought it astonishing that the space age hadn't come up with a new form of flexible urban transport without the space-wasting and pollution drawbacks of the car, and he urged more Government-financed inventive effort on this.

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