MPs censure DfT for missing transport targets

The Department for Transport is failing to meet targets on climate change, air quality and congestion, according to a House of Commons Transport Committee report.1

The committee, which examined the DfT’s 2006 annual report, criticises the DfT for missing five of its seven public service agreement targets. These include a commitment, shared with the Departments of the Environment (DEFRA) and Trade and Industry to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20% on 1990 levels by 2010. Emissions are expected to fall by just 16.2%.

Transport accounts for about a quarter of UK carbon emissions but is the only sector in which greenhouse gas emissions have been rising since 1990 and are expected to keep rising.

The DfT’s report acknowledges this trend but fails to provide a breakdown of emission sources, allowing it "to disguise its poor performance", says the committee.

The DfT’s four main policies to reduce CO2 emissions are encouraging biofuels, increasing new car fuel efficiency, encouraging more sustainable transport choices and bringing transport under an emissions trading scheme.

Giving evidence in November, Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander claimed that a focus on environmental concerns was a "traditional" policy of the department. But committee chairman Gwyneth Dunwoody (Labour, Crewe and Nantwich) said the department "has not been pulling its weight in the UK’s efforts to avert climate change".

The DfT also shares a target with DEFRA to meet air quality strategy objectives for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene, 1,3-butadiene and particulates.

Its annual report admits that vehicle emissions caused non-statutory objectives for PM10 and NO2 to be missed in some urban areas in 2005. Moreover, EU requirements to meet limits on these substances by 2010 are unlikely to be met under current policies, it says.

The committee’s report notes that according to the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, exposure to particulates causes 8,100 deaths and 10,500 hospital admissions each year. The Transport Committee is also "dismayed by the department’s lack of success in improving air quality". The DfT should push for more radical measures, including tighter vehicle emissions standards, it says.

On congestion, the committee criticises the "weak ambition" evident in the vague target to make journeys on strategic roads "more reliable" by 2007/08. The DfT’s report gives no details of progress towards the target, but Mr Alexander said delays on strategic roads had increased slightly.

The DfT provides support for regional road pricing pilot schemes through its transport innovation fund. This will have a £290 million budget in 2008/09, rising to £2.5 billion in 2010/11. Funds to develop pilot road pricing schemes have been awarded to local authorities in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Norfolk, Cambridge and Shropshire. Mr Alexander will decide by the end of the year how the pilot schemes will proceed.

The committee stressed that public transport must be improved ahead of road pricing to absorb the expected shift in demand. But here too performance is patchy.

The DfT has a target to increase use of buses and light rail in England by more than 12% on 2000 levels by 2010, with growth in every area. But its report admits bus use is falling in most areas except London.