Here's a poser. You have to reduce traffic congestion, but you're not allowed to build any roads or introduce road pricing. That's the question that's been asked of the all-party Commons Transport Committee. Let's see what they've come up with.
But first, a couple of thoughts. Building roads generally leads to more congestion, not less, as removing one bottleneck makes driving easier and, quicker, attracting more motorists until the dynamic equilibrium of the system is restored and you're back where you started. So that won't work. Road pricing by contrast seems to be the one solution that experts agree would ease congestion. It's only politicians that don't fancy their chances in convincing the electorate, which is why they've kicked it into the long grass.
The first idea the MPs have put forward is a tougher driving test.
"The overwhelming view from the evidence we received was that aspects
of poor road user behaviour led to increased congestion...by directly causing incidents and accidents, often
linked to safety issues; and secondly, by inappropriate road use, which
is not necessarily unsafe, but which adversely affects the flow of
Quite right. Only problem is that if you make the driving test tougher, you don't tackle the bad habits of existing drivers. Instead you make it harder - and therefore more expensive - for young people to get a license. On the one hand, this is grossly unfair on a generation who is expected to pay massively more for their education, for housing, and now will be able to get fewer jobs that require them to drive, thus adding to the already large percentage of them that are unemployed. On the other hand, in terms of outcomes it's a great idea. Transport habits are cemented at a young age, so giving young people who aren't on a footballer's wage no option but to take the bus or use a bike would be a good thing for congestion and for the environment. And young people (young men in particular) are in general dangerously crap drivers, concerned with impressing girls, recklessly exploring the outer limits of their cars handing and speed capabilities, and generally learning by trial and error. So the fewer there are of them behind a wheel the better.
So what about those older drivers who passed their test when it was as difficult as scratching your butt and know as much about the Highway Code as Wayne Rooney knows about Baroque counterpoint?
"The MPs said motorists did not always keep up with updates to road signs and the law after they had passed their tests."
No kidding? Astounding!
"Changes to the Highway Code could also be placed more clearly
on the DVLA website when motorists renewed a driving licence and be
included in a leaflet with tax disk or licence renewal letters... "
I can see that going straight in the recycling...
"A free Highway Code mobile phone application is another way standards could be improved."
What, like Angry Birds?
Sorry, but improving your driving takes time, effort and commitment, and most people think their driving is good enough thanks very much and have no aspiration to make it better. The only thing that will change that, I suggest, is financial incentives and other rewards. For example, an advanced driving test, with the study and examination fees subsidized. An advanced test would likely lead to lower insurance premiums, and the Government could require professional drivers working in the public sector and all its suppliers to hold the new qualification. Other incentives such as the right to use the outside lane on motorways, differential speed limits (i.e. non-advanced drivers limited to 60MPH), and so on could be extended to advanced drivers.
Another suggestion the MPs made was this:
"the government to publish an assessment of traffic
flow on the M4 in London since the bus lane was scrapped last November...the bus lane should be reinstated if
evidence showed that, taking into account all travellers, it contributed
to faster traffic movement."
About a year ago I predicted that closing the M4 bus lane would make journey times worse.
Roads Minister Mike Penning said "We will consider the committee's report carefully and respond in full in due course." We can't wait!