New Bill to cut traffic gets early chance in Commons

A fresh attempt to introduce legislation requiring the Government to prepare a national traffic reduction plan will be made in the new parliamentary session. A leading green MP has agreed to take the legislation through the Commons after winning one of the top places in the ballot for Private Members' Bills. A report by one of the Bill's backers, Friends of the Earth (FoE), claims that tens of thousands of jobs would be created by a 10% cut in traffic and increased travel by train, bus and bicycle.

The Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Bill was drafted jointly by FoE, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru. All three were also behind the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997, which passed onto the statute book just before the election (ENDS Report 266, p 29 ).

The Act places a duty on local authorities to set targets for reducing traffic or its rate of growth. However, in exchange for Government backing, its sponsors were forced to delete a requirement on the Government itself to set national traffic reduction targets.

The Labour Government's attitude to the issue will be given an early test by the new Bill, which would oblige the Secretary of State to prepare a plan to cut traffic by 5% by 2005 and by 10% by 2010 from a 1990 baseline. Cynog Dafis, Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion and Pembroke North, promised to introduce the legislation after winning fifth place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills in May. The Liberal Democrats have already pledged their support for the Bill.

The ballot results were announced shortly after the Department of Transport published figures showing that traffic growth last year rose to its highest rate since 1990 (see table ). The 2.7% increase, though still below the average annual 4% growth rate in the 1980s, took the overall growth since 1990 - the Bill's baseline year - to 7.7%.

The impact of the growth in traffic on emissions of carbon dioxide has yet to be calculated. However, official energy statistics show that petrol consumption increased by 1.4% last year, while diesel sales rose by 6.9%.

According to a FoE report published as part of its campaign to get MPs behind the new Bill, a 10% reduction in road traffic would result in the loss of around 43,000 jobs in car repair and maintenance. However, this would be more than offset by the creation of some 130,000 jobs in the railway, bus and cycle industries.1The conclusions are based in part on modelling work carried out by consultants Ecotec on the employment implications of a "sustainable transport scenario" in which travel on buses and railways increases by 75% to reach 20% of all passenger kilometres travelled in 2010, as advocated by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in its 1994 report on transport (ENDS Report 237, pp 14-18 ).

About 90,000 of the projected new jobs would be created in the railway industry, another 31,000 in bus manufacture and operation, and 9,000 in bicycle manufacture and cycling infrastructure. Employment losses in the car-based industries, the report suggests, could be offset by up to 35,000 new jobs by measures to increase the market share of gas, electric and hybrid vehicles and an increase in car leasing, giving a potential net increment of 122,000 jobs from a 10% reduction in traffic. The report does not estimate the impact of traffic curbs on the freight sector.

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