Ernie Thompson, chief executive SMMT

There has been much talk in the 1990s about the sort of transport policy the UK should adopt. Successive Governments have consulted widely, but tangible progress remains elusive. The UK motor industry hopes the Government’s White Paper in the spring will at last establish the framework for the UK to develop the modern and competitive […]

There has been much talk in the 1990s about the sort of transport policy the UK should adopt. Successive Governments have consulted widely, but tangible progress remains elusive.

The UK motor industry hopes the Government’s White Paper in the spring will at last establish the framework for the UK to develop the modern and competitive transport system which is so badly needed. We welcome this initiative.

But first we need to establish the magnitude of the problem. In 1995, the total number of cars in the UK was just under 25 million. By 2020, according to some groups, it could reach 50 million which, if true, could result in drastic consequences for congestion and air quality.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) believes these projections are unrealistic as they are based largely on an extrapolation of the trend growth in the number of cars rather than an analysis of the individual cars. When these factors are considered, a figure of just over 30 million is more realistic.

The growth of the car population depends on two factors: new registrations and the scrappage rate.

Careful analysis of these factors has been undertaken in SMMT’s recent The UK Car Parc – Prospects to 2020. Growth of 30 million would be consistent with between 70% and 80% of the UK population of driving age owning a car. Growth above this level would require either a huge increase in annual new registrations or a massive drop in the number of cars being scrapped, both of which are unlikely. This would mean an increase in vehicle numbers of around 25-30% over the next 20 to 25 years – an increase of manageable proportions.

Research by National Economic Research Associates supports the long-held SMMT view that the 1989 National Road Traffic Forecasts, even when rebased, exaggerate the problems.

The conclusions, largely confirmed by the Government’s 1997 revised traffic forecasts, predict a growth in traffic of around 30-40% over the next 20 years. We contend that such growth is manageable.

In some of the most sensitive areas, like city centres, traffic levels are expected to grow even more slowly. Where traffic is expected to grow more quickly this will often be from a low base. The forecasts contain worrying features, however, particularly for motorways and trunk roads where considerable network stress will become a frequent characteristic.

The SMMT believes that, for the majority of journeys, only the car and commercial vehicle can satisfy the demand for personal mobility and for the free movement of goods and services.

Years of under-investment has rendered the UK’s transport networks inadequate for the job in the next millennium. We must invest in all our transport modes if we are to remain competitive. This includes building new roads and bypasses to remove bottlenecks and maintain our infrastructure more effectively.

Congestion is a cost – a waste of time and energy – but it is predominantly a local rather than a national problem. Although the UK is one of the most congested countries in Europe, congestion can be reduced. Modern telematics and telecoms can ameliorate the worst effects.

Pollution from traffic is already falling fast and engine technology could reduce pollution from traffic by a further 50% by 2002. A Government-assisted scrappage scheme to get some of the older, more polluting vehicles off Britain’s roads would do much to accelerate an improvement in UK air quality.

National road traffic reduction targets have little to contribute to an integrated transport policy. It is unlikely that modal targets will deliver an efficient and effective transport system.

Public transport has a vital role to play but providers must improve the quality of their service. Improvements could be enhanced through an Industry Forum to benchmark and spread best practice.

On motoring taxation and transport funding SMMT believes the Government’s review must continue to use fuel price as an instrument but we also believe road users will only accept increased charges if this guarantees higher investment in transport.

We also believe a graduated vehicle licensing scheme could help encourage the purchase and use of cleaner heavy commercial vehicles, but we would oppose any graduated vehicle licensing system for cars based on engine bands.

SMMT is concerned the Government may be underestimating the use of advanced telematics.

SMMT calls for a partnership between Government, consumers and industry to work towards realising a shared vision of the future. As an industry we have a pivotal role to play in that process and we are committed to fulfilling it.