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Transport, the forgotten issue

With the war in Iraq and immigration stealing the pre-election limelight prior to today’s General Election, transport has become a forgotten issue.

Motorists are all too aware that the British transport network is plagued with congestion; congestion that is estimated to cost British businesses £15bn a year.

Any new Government must ensure transport is placed much higher up the agenda. The RAC Foundation has launched its own campaign, called Agenda for Action, in a bid to ensure the issue is not swept under the carpet.

It says that despite the fact transport affects most voters every day, it has "barely shown up on the pre-election campaign radar".

Sue Nicholson, head of campaigns at the RAC Foundation, says: "Transport has to be one of the first issues tackled by the new Government. Without urgent action our transport system is headed for the buffers."

She added: "The Government must recognise the key role of its transport system and take major steps to address it. It should ensure that expenditure on the road infrastructure is more closely related to tax taken from the motorist.

"The motorist will not accept higher levels of taxation without more being spent on transportation."

John Lewis, director-general of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association said businesses will suffer without proper investment in transport.

He said: "Real investment is needed if we are to reduce the cost of congestion currently running at £15bn annually. We need cheaper, more efficient public transport. We need better traffic management. We need to bypass bottlenecks."

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has already called on politicians to detail how they believe the transport system of 20 to 30 years will look – and develop an implementation plan of how they believe it can be achieved.

Director general Sir Digby Jones commented: "A better transport system is crucial for business. All voters may not regularly use hospitals or schools, but transport touches their lives every day and it is one of the largest single items of household spending.

"Tucking it away in a box marked ‘too difficult and too expensive' will not do."

The issue of fuel prices is an emotive one, with protesters warning of demonstrations prior to today’s election.

Nick Goulding, chief executive of the Forum of Private Business (FPB), said businesses were being ‘crippled’ by fuel costs and are concerned a new Government will increase duty later in the year.

He said: "It is time that the current climate of soaring fuel costs to stop the pain at the pump, cash is already pouring into Government coffers from oil prices. The new Government must bring an end to the shameless exploitation of fuel as a stealth tax."

The FPB claims that company bosses are ‘already sweating in a taxation pressure cooker of high fuel costs and increases to employers’ National Insurance contributions, the minimum wage and business rates’.

Here are some extracts from the views on this subject from the three main political parties:

Tim Yeo, Shadow Secretary of State, Environment and Transport, Conservative Party

"AN efficient transport system is vital to Britain’s international competitiveness and to the quality of life of British citizens. It is particularly important to employers and staff who use fleet vehicles, so that they can operate efficiently within the UK economy.

"The Conservative party has developed an action plan for transport that will reverse the war on the motorist that has been in place for the past eight years.

"Most importantly, we will cut congestion on the roads by improving and expanding the network.

"We are putting together a selective programme of new roads and motorway widening schemes and will support public expenditure by a more dynamic approach to private sector funding. We recognise the need for an extra Thames crossing at Dartford Tunnel and for other projects to relieve the country’s most severe pinch points.

"For important local projects, we will set up a congestion relief fund worth £70 million a year. We will also improve the display of information for drivers en route.

"Where we can offer both increased capacity and choice, we will consider road tolls. Motorists will accept a direct cost for a direct extra benefit, provided this is a matter for their decision. The M6 Midlands Expressway, a Conservative initiative, is a successful example of this approach."

David Jamieson, Minister for Roads, Labour Party

"Company car drivers have already benefited from the introduction of variable vehicle excise duty and company car rates, providing an option of saving over £100 in VED, and thousands of pounds on their company car tax bill by choosing clean, low carbon vehicles. The overall cost of motoring in the UK has fallen below 1990 levels, with duty on main road fuels falling by nearly 12%, saving motorists around 6p per litre. We have seen some considerable improvements to our transport network in recent years.

For example, we completed more than 100 road schemes, our railways now carry more passengers than at any time since the 1950s, we have halted the long-term decline in buses, with bus use rising over the past three years, and our roads are getting safer, with the number of children killed or seriously injured down 40% since 1997.

However, transport has suffered from decades of under-investment and there is no quick fix. Labour is investing more resources over a sustained period so that both Government and private businesses can plan ahead with confidence. Company car drivers will see the benefits of this sustained investment through better roads, more efficient use of our road network and reductions in congestion.’

John Thurso, Shadow Transport Secretary, Liberal Democrat Party

"The Liberal Democrats believe we need a charging regime for car use – not car ownership – which reflects both congestion and need.

"In the medium to long term, we should be charging vehicles on when and where they use our roads, taxing the use rather than ownership of cars. This means scrapping Vehicle Excise Duty and replacing it with the fairer system of road user charging, which – research has shown – whilst keeping the overall tax take at the same levels as at present, would reduce congestion by 50%, at the same time as making 80% of journeys cheaper.

"This would bring particular benefits to rural drivers who at present actually pay more for fuel than in other areas, but where a public transport alternative simply doesn’t exist. We supported the Government’s plans to put off any increases in fuel duty in the present climate of volatility in the oil markets. However, there are changes that can be made more immediately. The Lib-Dems have been supportive of recent changes in company car taxation, based on CO2 emissions, and we have no plans to make any further changes to this at the present time.

"We would, however, extend VED based on CO2 emissions to all vehicles. Drivers of the least polluting vehicles will benefit from reformed VED by paying less tax."

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