Message to TPS Members from Mark Frost, TPS Chair 

My first four months as Chair have flown by in something of a blur, with a real mix of activity – from the day-to-day challenges of running the society, to the ongoing task of offering useful comment and insight on behalf of the sector across the huge range of challenges practitioners are tussling with.

Goodbye Andy Costain!

On the former, a key focus for the last couple of months has been on putting in place the new business manager support role for the society following the announcement that Andy Costain would be stepping down after twenty years with TPS.   More on that here: Farewell and thank you Andy Costain (

We got some excellent expressions of interest for the role, but in a strong field JFG Communications scored the best across the assessment of quality and value for money.  JFG are a leader in communications and stakeholder engagement for the transport industry and so will be well placed to help the society increase our reach influence and also maximise opportunities to get members more involved.

Transport Planning Day 2021

JFG are well known to the society already, as retained strategic communications support for our Transport Planning Day campaign.  The 2021 campaign, with its theme of equality, diversity and inclusion, is developing at pace now, with our first event on 13 July discussing how to ensure that we hear all voices when consulting on our projects and programmes.  More on that here: Community Engagement in Transport Planning webinar review (

Further events on equalities impact assessment; advances in assistive technology; a roundtable on transport planning and EDI of industry leaders, led by our platinum sponsor Aecom; an evening with our excellent 2020/21 bursary finalists and; a joint event with CILTs accessibility panel are planned.  With events planned with parliamentarians in October and of course a day of activities with TP Day itself on 15 November. 

Also make sure you check out our wide range of blogs on this subject by TPS board members and friends here: Read our Blogs (

We are looking forward to all our members organising transport planning day events over the coming months – please do let us know so we can say thank you!

Transport Decarbonisation Plan - Arriving Now!

The biggest news in the transport planning world this month is undoubtedly the long-awaited release of the government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP).  Like many, TPS are digesting this 200-odd page document and will offer further reflections in due course.  What follows is my immediate personal thoughts on what I’ve read.

First up, this is quite an incredible document, with a wide range of excellent proposals that should go a long way to addressing transport’s laggard position in the decarbonisation league table.

There is unsurprisingly much emphasis on technological change, particularly electrification, on solving the issue.  In the communications around the plan this very much took centre stage – most eye catchingly with the ‘cakeist’ idea that we can “keep doing everything we do now, just do it differently”.   However, it would be unfair to say that the plan is silent on the need for behaviour change, albeit much of the heavy lifting here is to be done by local authorities it seems.  It was also very heartening to read of the need for better focus on integration between land use and planning for example, a long running TPS campaign.

Wherefore out thou, road user charging?

A lot of industry commentators have, however, focussed on the lack of any key pledges to introduce road user charging in the plan – generally punctuated using the go to phrase of the moment: ‘if not now, when’? 

News reports suggest it is a live issue, being discussed across government, but not necessarily getting a warm reception in HM Treasury - hence the can kicking.

Having had the honour earlier this year of chairing a TPS evening lecture with Steve Melia – who covers the last attempt to introduce road user charging in the 2000s in depth in his excellent book ‘politics of protest’ (get a discount on that book here: TPS Members Discount on Steve Melia's New Book), I’m not surprised to hear that there is reticence by the government to venture this way again. 

However, an ostrich approach to this issue is also clearly not tenable.  From a transport planning perspective we know that the day to day running cost of an EV is negligible, particularly if you can access your own electricity supply to provide fuel (that important caveat being a key emerging equalities fault line around the future of motoring which we may return to in future blogs). As the proportion of the EV fleet increases these very low marginal costs seem likely to translate to increased usage – and in denser urban and peri-urban areas that means increased congestion.  E-traffic jams may not generate the same amount of CO2 or NO2, but they still have many negatives and are hardly an attractive vision for the future.

And of course, there is the loss to the exchequer of income from fuel duty, perhaps up to £30bn/yr.  This has major implications for funding for both infrastructure and public spending generally.  This is referenced in the plan only in a gnomish comment that income from road taxes should ‘keep up’ with changes to propulsion technology.  Whilst I have always found it odd that this country looks to people who choose to move around by a particular mode to fund its wider social services, the reality is that this would leave a big black hole in the public accounts that needs filling from somewhere.

Are there least worst ways forward in this space?

So, we have an issue, but the best policy and technological solution is politically problematic. What alternatives might exist?  Here’s some small contributions from me to what is already a crowded area for comment. 

It appears there may be options for government to introduce some sort of levy on electricity used specifically for fuelling cars.  It’s not simple, but in smart chargers the technology is there (and indeed mandated for all new government funded kit). This would simply mimic fuel duty and so would carry relatively small political risk - it needs to move fast on that though as bringing in a new tax on people who have come to enjoy very cheap fuel will be hard enough with the current EV market share, let alone when they are the dominant vehicle type.  Could this be a stop gap that at least raises running costs to a point that reduces runaway induced demand from cheap fuel?

Whilst it may blunt increased usage a little by increasing EV running costs, a blanket e-fuel levy to replace fuel duty wouldn’t deal with congestion - and could be considered unfair by those in more rural areas that have few alternatives to the car (though in effect it is no different to the current arrangement).  Could a differential levy be devised that adds more in tax to e-fuel in areas with good public transport?  That’s an imperfect link to tackling congestion clearly, but is it a more realistically deliverable alternative than a national road user scheme?  Thinking even more creatively, could we see social tariffs devised that provide differentiated e-fuel costs based on income profile? Could that be a way of targeting inequality, given the proportion of disposable income spent on travel is much higher amongst lower socio-economic groups?

A key criticism of a national scheme is that the need for it in large swathes of the country is arguable.  Whilst there are models that could be used to sweeten the deal for rural dwellers (e.g. free mile allowance) it will still be a battle to fit trackers in every car etc - burning political capital to introduce a controversial policy in these constituencies where benefits are debatable can’t be an enticing prospect for Government. 

If the focus is then on influencing how people move around in more built-up areas, perhaps further devolution offers a better way forward?  Could we see a renewed emphasis by government on supporting local road pricing schemes, perhaps linked to the Low Emission Zones (LEZs) that have been springing up across the country?  LEZs are introduced when other interventions are modelled to be unlikely to achieve the desired outcome in terms of compliance with air quality standards.  Could a framework be put in place for a similar set of outcomes around congestion/public transport journey time etc?  If x city can achieve a basic journey time/mile for freight or buses using its network without road user charging great, if not then a road user charging scheme of some sort needs to be introduced?  Could this be linked to the binding carbon reduction targets for Local Transport Plans (LTPs) proposed in the TDP as well? 

For the most congested inter-urban corridors could High Occupancy Toll lanes make an appearance?  Surely this would be an easier way of trying to tackle congestion than pushing on the government’s £27bn road plan?  Worth a try?

Let’s at least start the conversation

Clearly a national scheme has advantages over such patchwork solutions, but under-playing the political difficulties around such a proposal, particularly after a bruising 16 months of unprecedented intrusion by the state into the day to day lives of the populace, would be naïve.  Perhaps there are some solutions worth investigating which get us some of the way there, without necessarily being the optimum scheme transport planners would devise if we were in charge?

What we do know from the last 16 months is the importance of starting these conversations early, and being transparent and honest with the public about how we move forward on such matters - given that it will touch on everyone in the UK in a way many policy decisions don’t. 

TPS will be engaging actively in this conversation over the coming months, and in particular we’ll be keeping a close eye on what ends up in the Treasury’s own Net Zero review (originally due last autumn…) - which may end up having just as many implications for transport planners as the DfT’s own plan. 

As always we welcome input from our members to feed into our emerging position on the plan – feel free to fire over your thoughts to or tag us on LinkedIn.


TPS is supported by

Web design by Tribal Systems