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Where’s the plan?

Voices | Published: | Last Updated:

ISLAND traffic delays are potentially costing us more than £38m. each year. That’s more than Northern Rail cost UK business this summer, ie £38m., by delaying passengers with timetable changes.

Traffic queues along Les Banques during evening rush hour. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 23027874)

Transport on the island is almost 100% by private motor vehicle, car, van, truck, motorbike and scooter. Bus passengers, cyclists and pedestrians barely make a dent.

At a very conservative estimate there are an average 4,000 motor vehicles on Guernsey roads at any time between 8am and 6pm. Of these, approximately 1,200 are being used for business by the self-employed, private employers or those fulfilling activities for the States of Guernsey.

It costs an employer at least £50 an hour to put these vehicles on the road and there are 2,500 working hours in a year.

That means the total cost to keep these vehicles on the road in Guernsey is £150m. Assuming, conservatively, traffic flow is 33% inefficient, eg a 10-minute journey takes 15 minutes, the annual cost to employers of vehicles stuck in traffic is a whopping £50m.

Despite road traffic being the only practical method of transport on the island, successive governments have failed to implement a meaningful road traffic strategy and none have addressed the road traffic infrastructure.

While we may take comfort when sitting in traffic on Les Banques admiring the view across the Little Russel, listening to Radio 2 traffic updates and feeling smug that we are not stuck on the M25, this impacts us all.

An extra 10 minutes added to a 10-minute journey may easily be dismissed, but do it six times and what should take one hour has cost you two.

When a one-hour journey regularly takes two hours in Leeds, Manchester, Paris or New York, government would look to address it. Immediately after the rail chaos in July this year Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham quantified the Northern Rail delays at 945,180 passenger hours of delay, 22,504 hours per day, and he expressed his concerns to the Prime Minister. The Northern Powerhouse Project put a cost on this, advising that businesses had lost almost £38m. as a result.

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Here government appears not to be aware of the cost of their inaction. Instead they exacerbate the problem by slowing the flow of traffic with courtesy and pelican crossings, reducing speed limits and installing traffic calming measures. In addition, Policy & Resources increases fuel tax annually, further compounding the £50m. loss, impacting businesses’ bottom lines. A loss which, if recovered, would contribute some £10m. annually in income tax to the exchequer. A loss which would reduce government’s own costs as they have a whole regiment of vehicles on the road transporting social workers, carers, inspectors and the States Works fleet of vehicles.

Again, these are conservative figures based on personal research and traffic counts – critically, government is unable to challenge them as it only knows how many vehicles are registered, not how many are actively using the roads and for how long.

Neither does it know how many vehicles pass through the major road junctions. The last traffic count at the Half Way was in 2010 and 2011, when 2,188 vehicles passed through the junction in one hour. That was seven years ago, therefore a 4,000 estimate for vehicles on the whole island’s roads is probably low.

Our government has no plans to address this. Current policy is to vainly hope we abandon our vehicles to ride the bus or get on our bike. Impractical for average road users and impossible for most commercial vehicles such as Ronez, which could not deliver concrete by bike or bus.

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The States Strategic Plan of 2009 was to be supported by a family of 10 plans. One of these was to be the Island Infrastructure Plan. Nine years later this plan has not been produced and until it is, the States’ Strategic Plan has no foundation and will continue to teeter like a two-legged stool.

This explains why we find Environment & Infrastructure carrying out random projects with no good reason or scant evidence to prove that they are beneficial to anyone.

Meanwhile the island continues to lose £50m. a year and the exchequer loses £10m. The increase in fuel duty by comparison, if approved, will raise a paltry £0.5m.

It is astonishing to believe that any government would be so indifferent about such losses. Surely it makes sense to produce a truly integrated traffic strategy? Integrated into an island infrastructure plan which would realise some massive savings.

In addition, it would reassure parishes, currently facing massive development, that it is part of a well thought-out plan and not government making it up as it goes along.

. Rob Gill is a douzenier for St Sampson’s. Now semi-retired, he is a qualified civil and structural engineer. As part of his training he studied traffic management with Norfolk County Council and at the California State University Long Beach. In his early career he worked for McAlpine on the M62 and M67 motorways.

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