Delayed report shows Byers is failing to fulfil transport goals

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The Independent Online

Stephen Byers' department is failing to meet a series of government objectives for improving Britain's transport system, an official document will reveal within weeks.

The Department for Transport's annual report, which will disclose the embarrassing shortcomings, was due to have been published by now, but has been delayed until "late spring".

Targets on cleaner fuel, better road maintenance and a national travel information system, and for encouraging greater use of bicycles and trains are either being missed or progress is way behind schedule.

The report will clearly show that the rail network has failed to attract as many extra passengers as the Government predicted in 1998. Whileministers estimated thatpassenger/kilometres would have risen by 15 per cent by the end of March, the actual figure is 11.5 per cent.

Ministers had estimated that the number of people using the network would increase by half by 2010. More recently, however, the prediction has been revised to "between 40 and 50 per cent".

The state of trunk roads has deteriorated and so far the Government has failed to establish any method of measuring the condition of motorways. The Government had pledged to end the decline in standards.

Ministers also predicted that a comprehensive national travel information service would be introduced by the end of March. A phone line and a website have been set up, but the service is far from complete. On the website there is little information on travel between cities. For instance there is no advice on how to get from London to principal cities including Cardiff, Edinburgh and Birmingham.

The Government is also unlikely to meet its target of quadrupling the use of bicycles by 2012. There were 17 trips by bicycle per person per year in 1995 to 1997, which fell to 16 in 1998 to 2000. The number of journeys should be 33 per person per year at the moment if ministers are to hit the target.

Motor vehicle traffic in 1997 amounted to 459.2 billion vehicle kilometres, but in 2001 the figure had risen to 473.1 billion.

Under a European directive the Government should have introduced a law to encourage stringent vehicle emission standards by 1 January last year, but the measure was not enacted until a fortnight ago.

As part of the 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review the Government said it would give local authorities the power to introduce tolls and other "road user levies", which they would then spend on transport measures. The Transport Act of 2000 introduced the regulation, but so far not one local authority has used it.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' transport spokesman, said: "We've had delays on the trains, delays on the buses. Now we've even got a delay on the Department for Transport's annual report. And when it finally emerges it will only show evidence of more failure within Stephen Byers' department."

Mr Foster said the Secretary of State for Transport had selected measures of performance in the rail industry that he knew were about to improve, such as the age of trains. "The only meaningful targets are those which relate to the everyday experiences of the public," he said.