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Lane Rental: Plotting a Route to Long-term Success

28 September 2017

By Jonathan Williams

In my role as product consultant at Yotta, I’m actively engaged with a range of topics that impact local authorities across the country every day. It’s fair to say that the issue of road works, and the need to manage them more efficiently to reduce congestion and keep traffic flowing, is one of the most complicated and demanding.

Road works perform a key function in helping ensure the safety of the travelling public; in providing easy access to employment, health and educational facilities and in supporting urban growth. Yet, they also present a complex and difficult challenge to councils.

There are currently about 2.5 million road works carried out in England every year. The resultant delays are estimated to cost more than £4 billion annually. Yet demand continues apace. And it is not just highways maintenance teams driving this demand. Utilities also need regular access to the highways to maintain their buried or overhead assets and that can further stoke congestion.

That’s why I welcomed the introduction of the original lane rental schemes in London and Kent, that were designed to encourage works promoters to reduce time taken to complete works, carry out more work outside peak times and ensure work was right first time.

These schemes have been a success. However, the existing lane rental legislation contains a sunset clause which mean the London and Kent schemes will end in March 2019 unless the regulations are amended – so the authorities have an incentive to take prompt action.

In the consultation document, the DfT puts forward four potential options for consultation – a baseline ‘do nothing’ approach and then three active options. Option 2 which involves rolling out lane rental to other local authority areas (in addition to London and Kent), seems to be the favoured approach.

Lane rental does provide a stronger incentive for utilities and council maintenance teams to finish their work faster – or at least add extra resources during their agreed time. After all, simply paying for a one-off permit doesn’t carry the same clout as having to pay for over-runs. In that sense, Option 2 has the potential to be a positive initiative, opening the benefits of lane rental to a much wider group of councils.

Success will depend on how the option is implemented and managed. There is inevitably scope for over-zealous application by the powers that be. Instead, they need to be reasonable and understand what work does need to be done by the utilities. There should therefore be mechanisms put in place to waive or reduce the fees in certain cases.

We need to encourage the right behaviours from utilities. After all, we don’t want to see them delaying planned maintenance work on their networks in a bid to avoid fees and simply waiting until there is a leak or another issue on the network that demands immediate action

A mooted move to hourly rather than daily charging would also necessarily involve potentially disruptive modifications or a complete move away from the currently used electronic transfer of notices (EToN) specifications which measures in daily units rather than hourly ones.

Ultimately too, if Option 2 is to be a success, it is important that those designing these schemes receive input from those people carrying out the works. So, the scheme designers need to have the opportunity to consult with their peers to be able to accurately assess what changes will have a positive impact on the network and will be reasonably achievable. Buy-in is key here.  If those implementing the works don’t believe in it, any initiative is unlikely to be a success.

So, in summary, I see lane rental as a great concept with much to recommend it. There are clear benefits from opening it out to a wider range of local authorities but ultimately the success of the approach will be in the execution. This is a complex initiative and local authorities need to ensure that they consult widely and implement the chosen approach intelligently if they want to make it work.

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