Drivers lose three days a year in traffic jams, claims survey - blame Thatcher, says Boris

1980s privatisation boom at root of roadworks issues in capital, claims London's Mayor

by Simon_MacMichael   May 26, 2011  

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A new survey claims that roadworks cost the average motorist in Britain the equivalent of three days a year in lost time, as well as hitting their pocket to the tune of £25 a week in extra fuel, with the problem being most acute in London – a situation that the city’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, blames on Margaret Thatcher.

The survey of 3,000 motorists by the insurer More Th>n spends the equivalent of three days each year stuck in traffic jams due to roadworks, reports The Daily Mirror. Eight out of ten encounter roadworks every day, while seven in ten say that the delays cause them to be late for work.

The newspaper adds that the cost to the economy equates to £4.2 billion each year, and that the government, concerned about the impact on Britain’s recovery from recession, is considering charging “lane rentals” to utility companies digging up the road.

That would mean that the companies concerned would have to pay for carrying out roadworks at busy times. Other solutions might include the companies having to work 24 hours a day to complete the works in as short a time as possible, as happens in Singapore, or putting temporary covers over them at peak hours to allow traffic to flow, a solution adopted in New York City.

In London, drivers spend the equivalent of 83 hours a year in traffic jams, with their counterparts in Belfast, Birmingham and Bristol each spending 79 hours annually stuck behind the wheel.

Writing last year in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson blamed the situation in the capital on the wave of privatisation of utility companies that took place under the Thatcher government during the 1980s.

“With 36% of London traffic delays caused by roadworks, the total cost to London business is not far short of £1billion, and I am afraid to say it all goes back to Mrs Thatcher,” he wrote. “She it was who created the privatised utilities.

“With Michael Heseltine, she decided — entirely reasonably — that these new concerns should be given every possible help in maximising efficiency and delivering services to their customers.

“So they were given quite amazing powers to dig up the road.

“As a policy, that might have been sensible in the 80s, when there were only two or three privatised utilities. It looks utterly crazy today, when there are 100 entities that can dig up the Queen’s highway without warning and without so much as a by-your-leave.

“They have no incentive to get it done fast, and they often put it back in any old condition, with a deceptive patch of tarmac to conceal the rubble beneath.”

Mr Johnson’s proposed solution was for a permit system to be put in place that would hopefully lead to roadworks being completed and filled in as quickly as possible.

One road in the City of London, Chiswell Street, developed a reputation several years ago for being the capital’s most dug-up road, with one utility company after another ripping up the surface with no apparent co-ordination.

Situations such as that inspired a memorable TV advert that showed contractors’ vans stopping at existing roadworks with workers deciding it would be a good idea to carry out the work they had to do using the existing hole in the road, with the tagline, “How refreshing. How Heineken.”

Richard Bourn, from the charity Campaign for Better Transport told the newspaper that the government was inconsistent in attempting to promote carbon reduction while scrapping the fuel duty escalator.

“I think congestion is, and will, remain a growing concern unless the government addresses the problem and takes serious measures to reduce the volume of traffic by deterring car use and improving alternatives,” he explained.

“That is not necessarily the direction we have been going. In London there are more people walking, cycling and going by public transport, but there are also more people making journeys by car.”

The survey found that delays due to traffic jams also have an impact on road safety. One in five motorists confessed to breaking the speed limit in an attempt to make up time lost due to traffic hold-ups, and a similar proportion admitted that they had experienced road rage due to congestion, with others saying that they jumped red traffic lights.

Commenting on the survey, Pete Markey, head of insurance at More Tha>n, stated: “While roadworks are necessary and beneficial to motorists in the long term, the additional time spent in the car means stress levels across the nation are increasing which, in turn, can lead to poor driving and, ultimately, accidents.

“Fuel prices also remain high and roadworks mean people have to spend even greater sums on petrol, with 72% of commuters incurring extra expense on a weekly basis as a result of getting caught in roadworks.

"Our research shows nearly a third of people start their working day feeling stressed as a result of delays driving to work and one in five are losing out on precious time with their family because of delays in getting home,’ he concluded.

 

8 user comments

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ha ha lol get a bike then

posted by surreyxc [44 posts]
26th May 2011 - 9:26

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surreyxc wrote:
ha ha lol get a bike then

Applause I'll second that.

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [193 posts]
26th May 2011 - 10:19

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Quote:
You're not stuck in a traffic jam - You are the traffic jam.

posted by Matt_S [182 posts]
26th May 2011 - 11:00

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A somewhat confusing article (probably from it's source). Sometimes it is "traffic jams", sometimes "traffic jams cased by road works". Did the original survey clearly differentiate ?
The story seems to classically deflect the blame of traffic jams, speeding to catchup etc away from the real problem (too many cars), to "someone else", in this case the utilities. Anything but "I am a car driver and I am part of the problem." Smile
Also note that the source stats are from a (self-selected ?) survey from 1 insurance company.

posted by zoxed [62 posts]
26th May 2011 - 11:01

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I'm a car driver, a motorcycle rider and a cyclist. I use all three when I can. From the perspective of someone who goes on two wheels out of preference (motorised or not), it is interesting how many people I pass who are sitting by themselves in a car. They are the majority in fact. DfT data tells us also that 80% of car journeys in the UK are for distances of 2 miles or less. Unless weather conditions are particularly adverse, this suggests most car drivers could do without their car for most journeys. Yes, some people transport kids to school and don't have an alternative and yes some people travel longer distances or need to carry stuff for work or whatever. But a significant percentage of car journeys are made because people are lazy. And this is why the UK has some of the world's most congested roads.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2107 posts]
26th May 2011 - 12:07

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I think the 80% is for 10 miles or less. Two thirds are five miles or less, half for three miles or less, and 25% for 2 miles or less. That's national - in London you can more or less replace the miles with kilometres.

The point is still a good one though. There is still a significant percentage of journeys at less than one mile. People will get in their car to drive a few hundred yards to buy a pint of milk, when they could instead take the trouble to remember to buy enough milk when they do their weekly shop, or they could walk or they could cycle.

Because the other aspect of replaceable car journeys is their futility - you must have been sometimes to a retail park, say to Homebase or a garden centre on a Sunday, to see loads of people who wander aimlessly around and then leave without buying anything. Don't they have anything better to do with their time? I think they make these journeys not because they need to, or even really want to, but because they CAN.

Congestion will just find its own level all the time - take away the roadworks and the congestion will soon come back because more people will come out on the roads, who were previously discouraged. I call it the "futility-frustration index". Once the index reaches 1:1, ie the frustration with conditions equals the futility of the purpose of the journey, you stop doing it. You stop pointless trips to a garden centre to not buy anything before you stop driving to work, which you stop before you stop transporting your eg plumbers' or electricians' tools and materials around from job to job.

Take away road space, eg to give to cyclists or pedestrians, or just grass, and traffic will reduce, congestion will remain, and plumbers, electricians, ambulance drivers etc will continue much the same as before.

posted by Paul M [304 posts]
26th May 2011 - 14:52

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Commenting on the survey, Pete Markey, head of insurance at More Tha>n, stated: “While roadworks are necessary and beneficial to motorists in the long term, the additional time spent in the car means stress levels across the nation are increasing which, in turn, can lead to poor driving and, ultimately, stupid crashes.

Fixed that for Mr. Markey. No charge..

posted by don_don [149 posts]
26th May 2011 - 18:07

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Certainly in London, the biggest cause is too many people driving despit having the best public transport in the country, and most journeys being faster by bike.
Blaming road works is an easy way of not admitting they are part of the problem.

The survey found that delays due to traffic jams also have an impact on road safety. One in five motorists confessed to breaking the speed limit in an attempt to make up time lost due to traffic hold-ups, and a similar proportion admitted that they had experienced road rage due to congestion, with others saying that they jumped red traffic lights.

I hope being an insurer More Tha>n took note of this.

posted by thereverent [294 posts]
27th May 2011 - 21:02

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