The British government is finally recognising the strong link between transport infrastructure and economic growth. The Budget set out plans for a national road strategy while earlier this week the Prime Minister announced that motorways and trunk roads could be operated by the private sector.
The new proposals represent a significant shift in policy. Since the early 1990s public transport has been prioritised by successive governments. Huge subsidies have been given to buses, trams and trains. Expenditure on roads has focused on deterring car use through traffic calming, new controls and priority lanes for buses and bicycles. But despite these measures, private cars still carry 85% of passenger traffic. In most areas public transport carries a tiny minority of travellers (with the important exception of travel to and from central London).
In practice, public transport simply does not have the capability to move more than a small fraction of passengers and goods around the UK. Economic activity is too dispersed and buses and trains don’t offer the flexibility and convenience of cars and lorries. Moreover, public tran