Transformation of transport policy in Great Britain


Phil Goodwin

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

economics - pricing, operations - traffic


British transport policy, traffic, restraint, road pricing, sustainability


The British Government recently issued a white paper on its future transport strategy. Its central precept is unambiguous: current trends in traffic are unsustainable, from the point of view of the environment, business efficiency, health, and the unfeasibility of providing growth in road capacity that would keep pace with predicted growth in traffic. Much of the policy logic in the white paper stems from the explicit abandonment of ‘predict-and-provide' as a desirable — or possible — strategy. This leads to a recognition of the importance of a co-ordinated approach to public transport, walking and cycling, together with policies aimed at reducing less necessary travel where possible; ensuring that the costs of congestion and environmental pollution are, as far as practical, met by those who cause them (in which the revenue from new pricing systems would be kept under local control and used for transport improvements); an emphasis on better maintenance and management of the road system rather than increasing its capacity; consideration of the effects on transport of other policies in land-use, health, education etc; development of institutional structures or contractual arrangements able to bring these changes about; and conditions in which people's everyday behaviour and attitudes may be in harmony with policy, finance and environmental constraints. These themes did not arise out of the blue following the general election in 1997. They evolved over many years, especially in nearly ten years of intense discussion connected with the previous two governments' recognition that the 1989 road programme (‘Roads to Prosperity'), in spite of its size and expense, would still not be nearly sufficient to keep pace with traffic growth, as well as being environmentally damaging. The process of discussion and argument has not ceased with publication of the white paper. A very interesting feature of the current debate is that its central argument is widely (though not unanimously) accepted in the media, with great emphasis on the problems of implementation. The author argues that the policy shift is genuine and firmly grounded in research, though with a number of real problems in implementation, research and methodology that will have to be addressed.


Permission to publish abstract given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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