Lord Julian Hunt, professor of Climate Modelling, department of Space & Climate Physics and Geographical Sciences, University College London
Tony Gilland, science and society director, Institute of Ideas
Francis Terry, Institute of Management, London School of Economics and visiting fellow, Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College
Martin Richards, OBE, past Chairman and MD, MVA and ex-Senior Scrutiny Manager, Transport for London
Edmund King, Executive Director, RAC Foundation
Chair: Austin Williams, director, Transport Research Group; technical editor, Architects’ Journal

by Austin Williams:

This first event entitled ‘DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION’ will examine the congestion question. With congestion charging due to be introduced next Monday (18th February 2003), obviously this issue is at the forefront of people’s minds. ‘For or against?’ is the way that it is usually posed.

Well, this discussion needs to be a bit different. We don’t particularly want to swap anecdotes about how much money is being charged; which streets or groups of individuals should be exempt or even how or where you actually buy a permit. While we can’t avoid discussing some of that…… really we should start to appraise ‘why now’…. why has the CONCEPT of congestion suddenly become the main focus of transport policy and debate? Discussing the practicalities of the congestion charge is one thing – this debate is about ‘congestion’ NOT the ‘congestion charge’.

· Is congestion really THE main issue for transport?
· Was transport better in the past?
· Are things really that bad today?

Secondly, the issue of ‘congestion’ goes further than London and further than just cars. From aviation to rail, there is a sense that the skies – the countryside – the UK – are too congested – and that there should be more restraint for the benefit of everyone. Curiously though, when it comes to housing, we are led to believe that density is the best way forward. Cheek-by-jowl is good: bumper-to-bumper is bad. What are the consequences for the way we live? Is an uncongested city a contradiction in terms?

· Should we have fewer car journeys or fewer restrictions
· Will congestion inevitably get worse
· And why is congestion – or even transport – a political issue

Transcripts available:

speech by Edmund King

Bloomberg Auditorium, 20 February 2003


John Smith, principal, JSA Opus, co-lead designers for Piccadilly Line modernisation
Dr Rana Roy, Consulting Economist to the European Conference of Ministers of Transport; the European Commission; the House of Lords European Union Committee, et al
James Woudhuysen, professor of innovation, De Montfort University
Christian Wolmar, journalist and author of ‘Down the Tubes’ and ‘Broken Rails’
Chair: Austin Williams, director, Transport Research Group; technical editor, Architects’ Journal

by Austin Williams:

The first event in this series examined congestion. Some argue that congestion is caused because there is insufficient infrastructure – some say that we should reduce the amount of infrastructure to limit demand. A few questions to consider while the speakers present their views are

· Was predict and provide fatally flawed?
· Should we have more infrastructure – or more efficient use of infrastructure?

On November 2nd 1959, when Earnest Marples opened first stretch of M1 motorway, the Guardian wrote:

“A hundred years ago our Victorian ancestors could build 400 miles of railway in a year: in twelve years since 1947 we have contrived to build just eighty miles of new motor road”

Fifty years later and there are two striking differences. Firstly, today the figures are reversed but hardly impressive. 80 miles of Channel Tunnel rail link (that’s over hundred years mind you) and almost 400 miles of major road building over the course of the Ten Year Plan. The second difference is that you can hardly imagine the Guardian writing today that “The snail’s pace of modern British road-building is an unhappy reflection on our society.”

Questions to consider:

· What’s changed over the years?
· Can we not build infrastructure projects in the UK?
· Is it a particularly British malaise?
· Or is there a shift in the discussion about the WORTH of infrastructure.
· Is demand management encouraging us to make do with less?

Transcripts available: speech by John Smith

LOCAL V GLOBAL: Do we need to travel so much?
Bloomberg Auditorium, 27 February 2003

Terence Bendixson, president, Living Streets/Pedestrians’ Association; secretary, Independent Transport Commission
Jonathan Meades, writer and broadcaster
Peter Smith, customer relations manager, STA Travel
Professor John Adams, author of ‘The Social Implications of Hypermobility’
Chair: Austin Williams, director, Transport Research Group; technical editor, Architects’ Journal

by Austin Williams:

In this session we will complete the general progression of ideas that have developed over the series

In the first debate, we looked at congestion – is congestion getting worse. As we saw, this is statistically not so, so do we have just a heightened sense of things being out of control? We examined whether an uncongested city is a contradiction in terms, or not?

This led to last week’s debate – would things be eased or exacerbated by more infrastructure? But more interestingly, what is peculiar about today that means that we don’t build Big Projects any more.

And now, in this final debate, we ask whether, in fact, we need to travel so much anyway. After all, if we travelled less – problem solved. (See the much-vaunted success of the congestion charge.) But is travelling less a solution to transport problems? A few questions to consider:

What is unnecessary travel? The main plank of the government’s transport proposals is to reduce the NEED to travel. Sounds fine – why travel if you don’t have to? But who decides what is necessary?

Yesterday, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister released a report on “Transport & Social Exclusion” which seems to give some indication of what they think unnecessary travel is. The report encourages local rather than national transport strategies and suggests that the poor will be aided to travel to essential services – school, job centres, work and hospital. The concept of a better integrated transport strategy has come to this. Travelling for aimless pleasure, spontaneous desire or just to be sociable will not attract priority funding.

· Should we encourage freedom of movement or realise that travel has its limits?

The current aviation consultation is considering rationing air travel. Gatwick’s entry into the fray today will ensure that the pressure to reduce so – called UNNECESSARY travel will increase.

Finally, one of the readings I sent out to the speakers was a section of Alain de Botton’s latest book ‘The Art of Travel’. He speaks highly of Xavier de Maistre’s 1798 book “Journey Around my Bedroom” – which details various travels to the sofa, the cupboard, the wardrobe, etc. Using this example, de Botton bemoans the fact that in the search of more global experiences, we have lost sight of the local. Is there truth …….or merit in this?

· Should we accept parochialism or strive for more travel opportunities?
· Does travel civilise or dehumanise.
· Is there such a thing as irresponsible travel?
· Is increased MOBILITY a positive ideal?

Transcripts available:

speeches by Jonathan Meades and Peter Smith