Tag Archive | "uk roads"

New Government Plan For A Toll Road

Drivers crossing into Wales across the Severn Bridge have to pay a toll and it has always been so. Perhaps they would do better to charge a toll on people desperate to get out of Wales before they are driven mad by all the bi-lingual duplicated signage.

Not content with that, the government have announced a plan to toll a new 14-mile M4 relief road near Newport. This would be the UK’s second such road after the M6 toll around Birmingham. With wearying inevitability, ministers reckon this could “stimulate the faltering economy”. Why not be honest – it’s another tax, isn’t it? They need to raise money to help fill those empty, echoing coffers in the Treasury

Do they not realise that a majority of private drivers – already taxed to the hilt – will simply go another way? The AA and other motoring organisations advise against it yet still they persist. If they do collect the money what will it be for? Certainly, it is a fact that in a recent survey a huge 91% of drivers do not trust them to spend the extra revenue on repairing our roads.

Further, in our Democracy, 60% of motorists do not support new built toll roads and a further 19% can be added to that figure for the number of motorists who would not support the introduction of tolls on existing routes.

To carry on with the percentages theme, 40% would back more expensive tax discs than tolls (although if that’s the thinking, then increasing the tax on fuel would be probably be fairer – the old ‘the more you drive the more you pay’ argument). Even if the powers reduced taxes in other areas forty one percent still wouldn’t approve of toll roads.

Around half of those questioned (47%) stated that they would not go out of their way to avoid a toll but 44% said they would. The biggest no-no seems to be if a toll should appear near respondents local areas which would impact on their daily lives. More than half said they would avoid it and find their way across the rural and local routes.

The worry is that by effectively forcing cash-strapped drivers onto the minor roads of Britain it would seem inevitable that the accident and fatality rates would rise. It is clear that the anti-toll people are in a big majority. Governments and the other side of the House should be listening. This survey makes it clear to politicians of whatever persuasion that road tolling is a vote loser.

(Note: On April 4th, the Chancellor denied that the Government had any plans to toll this proposed road, which is great. Trouble is, do we believe him?)

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The Daily Drive

Imagine this scene. It’s 7am on a cold Monday morning. Ice is going to be a hazard on the roads and you have a touch of bronchitis but you must still get the car out and drive to work. With a sinking heart you just know you’re in for forty five minutes of hell. Welcome to the world of the daily drive to work.

The nature of our climate and the tragic standard of our roads stand between you and your job; but that’s not all. The philosopher Jean-Paul Satre is quoted as saying ‘hell is other people’ and he worked from home. That might be a little unkind to our fellow man but a fifth of drivers wish their fellow road users would be a little more considerate and take a bit more care.

Car commuting will obviously vary depending on where you live. For some it may be a pleasant country drive when the sun always shines but for most it is a daily grind we could do without. Research has shown that stress levels amongst regular drivers is rising and a third of motorists admit to this. When you consider that most work drivers travel pretty much the same route for over two hundred days of the year, it is hardly surprising. Arriving at work completely stressed out is no way to start the day and driving home tired is just plain dangerous.

There is also the worry of cost. Petrol is expensive and sales of it are dropping as motorists find ways around it. Because they lose revenue accordingly, governments think the best plan is to raise taxes on fuel still further. If a product is selling poorly it is a good idea to lower the price rather than raise it. Cheaper fuel would help drivers, boost the economy and increase revenues. It would also relieve one of the worries of car use.

So what’s to be done to make this part of your working day a bit less of a stressful chore? Here’s some tips that may help, bearing in mind that things are always easier said than done.

Give yourself more time. It may be a wrench getting out of a warm bed but why not leave earlier? Possibly much earlier. If your journey takes an hour, allow an hour and a half. You may get to your employment early but at least you’ll have time for a coffee and a chance to rest and relax a bit.

Try to stay calm when all about you are getting fraught. Play relaxing music (note: AC/DC are not relaxing but you should draw the line at Enya). Keep your interior environment clean and at a comfortable ambient temperature. Carry a favourite snack and have a refreshing drink to hand, especially if you are one to skip breakfast. A hungry driver is a grumpy driver. Depending on finances, try to ensure your new or used car is up to the job and will be comfortable for the duration.

It might be an idea if possible to plan alternative routes to vary the boredom and if your employer will allow it, try to commute outside of peak times. In short, do everything you can to make this part of your life more bearable. Never forget the immortal words of Master Po: ‘Each journey begins and also ends’. Never a truer word.

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Death On The B-Roads

Sometimes your satnav will go rogue and take you off blindly down narrow country lanes, usually when time is of the essence. Sometimes though, the outcome can be a delight when new vistas open up before you or a discreet country pub is discovered. You just never know. There was a time when a exploratory drive in the country was a Sunday afternoon staple; unfortunately these days you might get more than you bargained for.

As you are all too well aware, a few years ago governments and councils suddenly discovered that they had been spending our money in a profligate manner for decades and had run out of cash. Whilst first making sure they retained their jobs, those in power reacted with indignity – as if someone else had been responsible – and immediately instigated wholesale budget cuts.

One result of this is that deaths on minor roads are rising as councils (who are responsible) ignore them in favour of more eye-catching spending initiatives. Department for Transport figures show that in the twelve months to September last year the number of serious or fatal accidents on minor roads rose by five percent on the previous year. In the same period, accidents on motorways and A-roads fell by nine percent.

In 2010, over one thousand souls perished on our rural roads. The figure for major roads was just shy of four hundred. Road safety charities state that this shows that not enough is being done to protect B-roads users.

With a wearying sense of inevitability The Local Government Association blames government cuts. Apparently, the cash handed down by the Whitehall mandarins has been reduced in real terms by £500m. This may well be so, but someone has finally got to own up. Our road safety minister states that it has been made easier for councils to implement 20mph speed limits but doesn’t say what that has to do with rural roads.

The tragic figures above are fair warning. Proper B-road maintenance is poor to almost non-existent. Surfaces are in bad condition and potholes abound and these things could well be responsible for the rise in accidents, at least in part. It is clear that not enough money is being spent.

In the meantime privatisation of the roads, like a night-time mugger, is creeping closer. In the manner of governments in recent years the answer seems to be to hive off responsibility to private companies instead of doing the job properly themselves. This is turn will herald more road charging as if we don’t pay enough already. If tolls or other charges are instigated on Britain’s primary roads then cash-strapped drivers will head for the B-roads instead. What, do you think, will be the outcome of that?

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Road Charging Around The Corner

If after reading this you are lost for words and can’t find the right way to express your feelings, the words you are seeking are ‘blatant’ and ‘rip-off’. Add the expletive(s) of your choice.

This time it is road charging. Again. Rather than run the motorways and other main roads in an efficient manner on our behalf, the government believes it would be best for all of us if they were ‘leased’ to private companies. Obviously, these companies would want to be paid for this and we would accordingly be charged to use ‘their’ roads. Tolls, in other words.

This story has been doing the rounds for a while now and the government know they are in for some healthy resistance from motoring organisations, commercial vehicle operators and of course private motorists. As a consequence they are looking at ways to stitch us up differently and just now they are considering an annual one-off charge.

The first thought was to offset this by a partial reduction in vehicle excise duty but even they have realised that to do this would penalise those drivers who have purchased environment-friendly cars and pay little or no road tax. Back to the drawing board then as they try to come up with a formula that is ‘fair’.

The latest wheeze seems to be similar to that used in some other European countries. It is called the Vignette process. Road pricing charges are imposed on vehicles based on a period of time rather than distance or a collected toll. Even as you read this they are working towards a charging structure that is acceptable to companies and private vehicle owners. It may, for example, be based on a levy linked to the CO² output or even the weight of any given vehicle.

The government are going to publish a ‘consultation’ document in the next month or so. The Department for Transport have confirmed that they are undertaking feasibility studies for the private ownership of major routes and the attendant financial issues. They insist that no decision has been reached although, just like a shop-bought beef lasagne, you know there is going to be something in this process that you won’t like.

Motoring organisations are already calling this yet another tax on motorists and it is hard to argue with that assessment. We already pay fuel tax, vehicle excise duty and tolls on some roads and bridges; now it looks as if we are going to pay some more.

Of course, it is probably feasible to drive around Britain using just the quiet B-roads and byways that criss-cross the land but if we all do that then our country lanes will become gridlocked and they are already in a poor condition anyway. It simply beggars belief that ministers can continue to announce this sort of thing and not go red in the face with shame.

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The Shame Of Britain’s Roads

The British government’s rail minister has been pilloried for refusing to commute from his Essex home on the railways because he prefers a chauffeur driven limo at your expense (est. cost £80k p.a.) instead. This is surprising because the roads in this country are in such a state that crossing the remote Himalayas on the back of an arthritic donkey seems like a more appealing prospect than driving from Chelmsford to London.

The roads in this country are, as you well know, in a poor state. The latest news is that, as the floods subside, more potholes than ever will be revealed as allegedly cash-strapped councils and the Highways Agency fail to keep up with the work of putting back that which nature removes. What’s worse is that some of the flooding has been so bad that whole sections of tarmac have been swept away meaning that road closures will be more common whilst the inevitable funding ‘issues’ are resolved.

Potholes are probably unavoidable (in both senses of the word) but better, more lasting repairs and improved road building techniques might help to alleviate the problem but that simply isn’t going to happen. The number of car-damaging craters is expected to rise to in excess of two million and the authorities can’t cope. It is a sorry state of affairs.

What has happened to our road infrastructure must be a bit of a joke around the world. Sparsely populated areas of Spain have far better road surfaces than us thanks to EU grants funded in part by British taxpayers, as any European traveller knows. Most of us are unlikely to ever be lucky enough to visit the more remote areas of mainland China but we now know that their roads are better than ours too.

We have been made aware of this by the Dongfeng Motor Corporation – China’s second biggest motor maker – who have been testing a prototype van over here because, they say, our roads are worse than theirs! Closer to home the Ford Motor Company have apparently surveyed a battered stretch of road near Basildon to enable them to build an artificial track in Belgium to better test the suspension on their cars. It would be funny if it were not true.

The Local Government Association have been quoted as saying that even when all the post-weather assessments have been made, repairs will still be delayed because we can’t afford it. Where is all the money that we pay out in road tax and sundry other motoring levies? Perhaps some of it is siphoned off to help fund our expensive rail network that ministers aren’t using? Whatever, it isn’t being spent where it should be, and that is maintaining a road network that right now would be derided in any so-called third world country.

The answer is of course to rent an under-used donkey from a sanctuary. It won’t be as fast of course but it may manage your commute to work without breaking its suspension.

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Paperless Motoring

Those old enough will remember that the introduction of personal computers heralded the dawn of the paperless society. As you well know by now that’s not quite how it has worked out. Thankfully, in the last few years, many organisations have decided that the internet is a good idea, hence our present ability to manage our lives online to a large extent. It’s great to be able to access all areas of bank accounts (only your own, of course) instantly, for example.

This is why over the last few years motorists have wondered why we still have those anachronistic tax discs disfiguring our windscreens when all the data about our cars are stored digitally and immediately available to any inquisitive policemen – and almost anybody else, or so it seems.

The good news is that someone at the Department for Transport has woken up to the fact that this isn’t such a bad idea. They see that the abolition of this ancient device is a good money saving wheeze down at the DVLA. We can already order and pay for the things online anyway, so once that’s done there should be no further need to prove it thanks to instant number plate recognition technology.

It doesn’t stop there. We already know that the paper section of our driving licences is being phased out in 2015. The same may happen at some point to the insurance certificates that we negotiate annually. Once it’s done and added to the burgeoning government file that is your life, the piece of paper serves no useful purpose.

So it’s all good then. Well, not entirely. Increasingly everybody we do business with wants us to do more and more for ourselves. One result of this is the rise of residents’ groups handling their own speed camera duties. This is one of the things that we pay the police for. Sadly there is now so few of them and those that are left have to spend all their time counting the revenue from safety awareness courses. It’s understandable that people would want to protect their village but it smacks rather of setting neighbour against neighbour. Now councils want us to join in by grassing up any potholes we find – saves them having to do routine inspections.

One of the plus points of paper motoring documents is that we can store them in a file and keep tabs on dates and costs. Without them we have no control and doesn’t even take into account the dilemma for those who can’t or don’t want to access the internet. On the other hand, if money is being saved on the costs of documentation surely we will all benefit from that with lower premiums and road tax costs when the saving is passed on? No.

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New Year, New War On Motorists

The French have an expression for it. No, not that one; this one – plus ça change. Effectively, the more things change the more they stay the same. Just because the Chancellor has bowed to pressure and not enforced the January 3p rise in petrol prices doesn’t mean that the heat is off motorists. Well, you didn’t seriously think that they wouldn’t find another way to rake in the cash, did you?

The Department For Transport will shortly consult ministers on the proposals to give English councils powers to fine drivers for an additional – wait for it – twenty six offences, previously the reserve of the boys in blue. 26! Right now they are limited to parking fines and bus lane encroachments but councils want so much more.

They want the millions that would come from many new fines to the order of roughly seventy quid a pop. If anybody thinks that this may not come to pass then remember that London councils have had these powers for years. The Shires want their piece of the action.

Inevitably, the usual specious arguments are put forward. The police have ‘insufficient resources’ to effectively govern the roads. It will ‘ease congestion’ and ‘keep traffic moving’, and so on. Of course, to introduce a bit of balance here, these aren’t new laws. It pertains to existing signage and regulation which would be much more rigorously enforced. As one council apparatchik points out – presumably in an holier-than-thou tone of voice – ‘…if nobody broke the law, the income would be zero’. The irritating thing is that he is right.

However, when the police stop and punish an errant driver they are upholding the law, which is what we pay them for. What is planned is the notion that civilian will police civilian and that’s a whole new ballgame. Neighbour versus neighbour.  The slightest transgression for which most ordinary coppers will let go with a stern warning will be zealously jumped on by council employees. There will be no excuses. Cameras will rule. Disobey any road sign – whether by accident or design – and that will be your lot. Accidentally shunt forward and end up stopped in a box junction – that’s £70 to you, chief: and so on. The big unanswerable question is where will it all end?

We all know the rules of the road and that’s already a done deal; but what new offences will be created? How about if a child in the back seat flicks something disgusting from his nose out of the window? Will you still be able to argue with your partner whilst in control of a motor vehicle? No doubt you could all come up with suggestions of your own. Just be careful who you suggest them to. Walls have ears. That’s all we’re saying.

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Resolve To Be A Better Driver

As the end of the year approaches we take stock of the past twelve months and think about how we can improve as people and citizens. Yes folks, it’s time to make those New Year Resolutions. Here at Motor Blogger we have picked up a rumour that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has resolved to be a better person and will reduce the cost of petrol to 1980’s prices! What a gent! Actually, if we’re honest we might have made that up but hey, there’s nothing wrong with inspiring a bit of optimism for 2013 is there?

So what will your resolutions be? For a start you could probably afford to lose a few kilos. Now don’t be like that, you know it’s true and if you want to get into those Speedos next Summer without looking like a walrus in a thong then the 1st January is the time to start. You might also want to consider what it means to be a motorist on Britain’s roads today.

With roads becoming increasingly crowded and with the looming prospect of toll roads and a new generation of speed cameras, there is simply no point in going fast. Certainly, owning a powerful car is great but pretty soon there’ll be nowhere left to use it. Instead, especially if you’re in the market for a new car, why not consider one of the new breed of technically advanced cars that are pleasing to the eye – but not fast – and just chill out? Accept the fact that whatever the 0-60 time of your chosen vehicle is, when you’re eventually doing seventy then you’re doing seventy so you are going just as fast as everybody else can anyway.

Instead of speeding on the roads why not consider dishing out your assertiveness  at one of the popular motor racing circuits around the country. They all offer driving packages and, especially the way things are now, they are offering some very good deals indeed. It’s safe – there are instructors – and you get to use their high performance cars. It’s fun and it could be funded by the lower insurance premiums and road tax that a much less powerful and more efficient car will attract.

As we’ve mentioned before a little bit of courtesy wouldn’t go amiss. It is unquestionably true that drivers are becoming more aggressive; no doubt because of the many frustrations of modern life. Still, we could all resolve to be a better driver. Enjoy your car by all means but by accepting the inevitable and increasing restrictions on our roads, no matter how irritating, we might all be a bit happier.

This coming year there is a huge amount of auto excellence to look forward to. You’ll begin to see what’s new from January’s Chicago Show onwards and there’s plenty of new innovations and models in the pipeline. So this year let’s all make a really determined effort to change our ways, lose some weight, give up smoking (again) and be nice to the Chancellor if you happen to come across him in the supermarket (throwing buns at politicians may be fun but is quite wasteful).

In any case, whatever you decide to do it’ll all probably go to hell in a hand basket within a short space of time anyway; but you will feel better for a few days at least and that’s the important thing. Happy New Year.

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Pothole Review – Minister Acts (sort of)

Every winter, across the nation, motorists voices are raised in both anguish and anger about the state of the nation’s roads. Well now, after what seems a long time for it to sink in, the Government have finally published The Pothole Review. Great name, like something you’d see in an old music hall act: “Potholes? We’ll have to look into them!”

The Review, part of the Coalition’s £6 million Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme, looks at how best to not only fix the holes but also how to prevent them in the first place. The fact that drivers, motoring organisations and transport companies have all been parroting the solutions for years hasn’t stopped central Government from giving the same advice to local authorities across England on how to tackle the problem.

The recommendations fall into three basic themes: On the basis that prevention is better than cure, intervening at the right time will reduce the formation of potholes thus preventing problems later. This means resurfacing where it is needed and doing the job properly. There are various ways to renew a road and that which appears to be the most expensive will probably work out cheaper in the long run.

Doing the job ‘right first time’ means you do it once and get it right, rather than face continuous bills. Finally, councils and the Highways Agency need to communicate with the public, letting them know what is being done and when. Motorblogger might choose to add that if these worthy civil servants listened to drivers in the first place then they may be able to react more quickly. Perhaps the emergence of a Pothole App – (Motorblogger 07/04/12) – will make them pay attention.

Local Transport Minister Norman Baker said:

“We all know the misery that potholes can cause to highway users and local communities and the recent series of harsh winters has only served to intensify the situation. We’ve given £3 billion to councils for road maintenance over the next four years but money can only go so far and the old adage rings true: prevention is indeed better than cure. I would urge all those involved with highways maintenance, including councillors, chief executives, local highway practitioners, those in the utility sector and contractors to adopt the approaches set out in this report, not only to make real cost savings but also to provide a high quality service that both the road user and local residents deserve.”

Let’s hope that it is not all talk and paperwork and that we will finally some co-ordinated action on English roads. We’ll be watching.

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Pothole App

It had to happen, didn’t it? Our American cousins in Boston have been trying out some smartphone software that automatically detects potholes, the bane of British drivers. According to a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance – whose work is considered to be the most accurate assessment of the state of our roads – reckons that local authorities face a shortfall of £895m in road maintenance budgets. At the same time motoring groups say that, with the rise in VAT and the inflated fuel prices, it appears that the Treasury has trousered some £4 billion since the Coalition took office. As they insist on saying in the USA – do the math.

The App is being tested by New Urban Mechanics, a division of the Boston mayor’s office and it’s going to be launched in the city this Spring. It is called ‘Street Bump’. It detects the location and size of offending craters as you drive over them using a motion sensor and GPS. When a car drives over a pothole or sunken manhole it pinpoints where it is. The driver then has the option to press a button and send the data to the local highways department. Apparently it works really well.

UK councils don’t, unsurprisingly, seem terribly keen on the idea. As many of you have experienced, one of the defences of local government to pothole damage claims is that they were unaware of it, so couldn’t possibly be responsible. Just think. All responsible drivers communicating, in their local area, whenever they encounter a defect. Council’s wouldn’t have a leg to stand on and the cost to them of compensation claims would go through the roof! That might encourage a bit more action on road surface repair from local and national government alike.

The Local Government Association put it differently, as you might expect. They are said to be ‘uneasy’ about the amount of information overload as this full quote states:

“Councils will always try to make the best use of technology to improve services, but an automatic alert system which reports every little undulation risks being more of a hindrance than a help. Highways departments could end up being inundated with thousands of new reports each day about potholes they are already aware of, taking hours for officers to sift through.”

The Street Bump developer points out, however, that local authorities could save time and money spent on surveying roads. By collating the data they could recognise specific problems as drivers on the same road create a ‘map’ of the problem. This would also get around any false or malicious one-offs. It’s not as if the Government don’t have the money! Surely that is what ‘Road Tax’ is for?

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