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Charge utility companies lane rental for digging up roads

The Mayor of London, business leaders and London Councils have joined forces to call on the Government to urgently approve regulations that would mean utility companies could be charged for digging up the capital’s busiest roads at the busiest times. They have written to the Secretary of State for Transport to ask him to do all he can to hasten the introduction of regulations for a lane rental system.

A consultation on proposals for a new lane rental system was supposed to begin in July but no firm date has been set by the Government and it is thought this could delay approval of regulations until the end of next year, just months before the World will descend on London for the 2012 Games. With 38 per cent of traffic delays in London caused by roadworks at an estimated cost of nearly £1 billion of economic disruption every year the Government is being urged to speed up the introduction of a lane rental system to tackle the delays.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, says:

“It is now imperative that the Government pulls out all the stops and tells Londoners when we will finally be able to bring in a system that works in their favour rather than in the advantage of the umpteen utilities that disrupt their journeys with a barrage of cones. I am convinced that the only way to sort out roadworks in London will be to excavate the pockets of the excavators. If the meter starts ticking when the drill starts digging we will soon see these companies devise more prudent methods of working.”

More than 100 different utility companies regularly dig up the capital’s streets. However since the Mayor’s election some improvements have been made to the way that utility companies work in the capital. The Mayor’s code of conduct for Roadworks and the introduction of a permitting scheme in January has led to improved coordination of work with utility companies sharing lane closures and working simultaneously to avoid stretches of road being repeatedly dug up.

Aside from roadworks the Mayor’s focus on improving the flow of traffic in London has resulted in Transport for London reviewing the timings of 1,000 sets of traffic signals a year and working with the boroughs to identify sites where they can be removed if they serve no purpose. Since April 2009 advanced computer technology has also been installed at a further 144 traffic signals around London that allows the lights to adjust their timings to best suit the flow of traffic.

That work combined with improved coordination of roadworks has resulted in some improvements. TfL recorded a 12% reduction in the level of serious and severe disruption across London compared to last year. And new figures from TfL reveal that for every 30 minutes Londoners travelled on the capital’s roads last year, on average their journeys are 29 seconds faster today.

However roadworks remain the greatest cause of disruption on the roads and lane rental is thought to be the only way of providing a financial incentive for utility companies to improve their efficiency; as well as provide the impetus to develop new technology and methods of working. Improvements might include more sophisticated bridging or road plating systems that keep roads that are being dug up in use during peak times. Or key hole technologies that could potentially mean companies working without having to even dig up the road.

The Mayor’s call for clarification on lane rental was backed by Borough leaders at the recent Congress of Leaders meeting and by business leaders across the capital.

Edmund King, president of the AA, says:

“Eighty four per cent of Londoners back tougher penalties for utility companies that dig up the roads without permission and 77% want tougher penalties for those who keep roadworks in place for too long. AA/Populus survey of 1,516 AA members living in London, January 2009. An efficient lane rental system would concentrate the minds on cash and reduce the Capital’s cones, chaos and congestion.”

SueTerpilowski, Chairman of the London Policy Unit of the Federation
of Small Businesses, says:

“Lane closures cause stop start driving which is bad for the environment and the resulting delays are also expensive for business. We hope that some of the money generated from the scheme will be put back into helping those businesses financially affected by road works.  We feel it is vital that the lane rental scheme is implemented as soon as possible.”


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