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11 May 2016

Change of direction needed in transport policy, report warns

Reference number: PR110516W

THE new Welsh Government needs to overhaul the way Wales decides on major transport investments, according to a report by a leading expert.

In the report Moving Wales Forward commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, Professor Stuart Cole concludes that Wales needs a new methodology for making decisions when it comes to transport schemes.

He points to flaws in the current methods used to produce traffic forecasts, which mean that they have repeatedly over-estimated true traffic levels, and calls for a new arm’s-length body to deliver an integrated transport network.

As part of the study Professor Cole gathered evidence from the transport experience of around 300 FSB member businesses.

He found that whilst many of the businesses questioned cited issues of road congestion, official journey speed maps for Wales showed that the average speed along major routes such as the M4, A55, A48 and A40 were 60-70mph, suggesting that the road network is performing efficiently on major routes outside of peak-time pinch points.

He also notes that the Department for Transport traffic forecasting models employed by the Welsh Government have consistently overstated actual car usage, and highlights factors such as demographic changes, better communications technology, cultural attitudes and changes to company car tax which have impacted on car ownership.

Prof. Cole said: “In the past Wales has had a policy of ‘predict and supply’ where we have tried to predict how many cars would be on the roads and have built new roads to meet the traffic levels that have been predicted.

“However, it is clear that the traffic forecasts have been wide of the mark for some time, and the figures I have highlighted show that Wales’ major roads network functions well for most of the day.

“It is clear that we now need to look beyond increasing roads capacity, and consider how we can improve public transport provision to better meet the needs of transport users and reduce road congestion at peak times.

“Key to that is the alternative of ‘provide and promote’ where we create improved public transport provision and encourage increased use through information and publicity.”

The report makes a number of recommendations aimed at improving the public transport system in Wales. It supports the establishment of a new arm’s-length body – Transport for Wales (TfW) / Trafnidiaeth I Gymru (TiG) – to lead on integrated transport policy and provision, with Joint Transport Authorities to oversee regional transport provision.

The report also calls for a greater emphasis on the cost of travel by public transport, and timetables which better meet the need of businesses and local economies. It suggests that powers over bus regulation should be devolved to Wales.

FSB Wales Policy Chair Janet Jones said: “An effective transport system is needed to meet the needs of business in every part of Wales, but the pot of money available to the Welsh Government is limited.

“With that in mind we need to carefully consider how we get the very best outcomes from investment in Wales’ transport network for businesses and the travelling public in our communities.

“This report by Prof. Cole highlights some serious shortcomings in the way that we have approached such investment in the past, and I would urge the next Welsh Government to take on board his findings so that we can deliver a transport system that better meets the needs of Wales in the years ahead.”