A UK scheme designed to incentivise minimum disruption to critical infrastructure is to be rolled out on a national basis.

The Lane Rental Schemes (TLRS), where UK utility companies are charged up to £2,500 a day when carrying out essential roadworks during peak hours, has government approval for widespread adoption across England. However, concerns that utility companies are delaying essential repairs in a bid to save on cost outlays have been raised.

Continuing our ongoing Infrastructure series, we consider a novel scheme in England designed to reduce economic loss caused by delays in traffic jams because of roadworks. Whether other countries adopt similar schemes to minimise disruption remains to be seen.

The UK’s Department for Transport (DoT) had piloted TLRS in South East England, more specifically, Kent and London. The project was implemented to reduce the logjams and snarling traffic associated with many roadworks projects during critical upgrading of infrastructure. The idea was to encourage redevelopment outside rush hours and to work on less busy roads. Collaboration between or among companies who needed to dig up the roads was another goal of the project, with the bonus of saving expense outlays for the utility companies and preventing roads being dug up multiple times.

According to DoT, the pilot scheme has proven successful, improving the flow of traffic during times of roadworks and preventing damaging consequences for road freight and others besides. Charges incurred are levied to reflect the costs caused by delays. According to the DoT this encourages promotors to:

  • Reduce time taken to complete works
  • Improve planning and coordination of working methods
  • Carry out work outside peak hours to reduce environmental impact
  • Complete work to high standard first time and reduce need for remedial work later

Transport Minister Jo Johnson knows the frustration hold-ups can cause, maddening drivers as roadworks can incur costly delays. This is especially the case when a roadwork is unmanned, a scenario which should be a thing of the past under TLRS.

Johnson commented, “Lane rental has seen a massive drop in disruption to drivers as utility companies have changed when and where they carry out work. Now we want millions of motorists around England to get the same benefits.”

The success of the initiative has encouraged the wider roll out. Some UK trade bodies representing hauliers recognise the need to upgrade infrastructure but have cause for concern.

“Congestion costs the UK economy £9 billion a year,” said Road Haulage Association (RHA) chief executive, Richard Burnett. “So, the Government, councils and highways authorities need to think creatively about how to tackle it.”

Burnett bemoaned that the UK highways are congested and in a poor state of repair. He puts forward the notion that the UK road network suffers from chronic under-investment and short-term thinking. He urges authorities to reinvest all surplus lane rental revenues in high-quality road improvement schemes to help make the network fit for purpose.”

However, the RHA is concerned about unintended consequences of TLRS that could ultimately mean more unplanned roadworks – rather than a reduction. Burnett pointed out utility companies were delaying the implementation of planned works in a bid to hold off costs. He even suggested that utility companies were holding out until repairs were critical as emergency works do not incur charges.

He stressed, “This isn’t a good sign and certainly flies against the move to encourage contractors to plan and synchronise their work schedules to reduce disruption to road users; so, this needs managing very carefully.”

The UK’s Freight Transport Association urges the DoT to monitor how the scheme might impact other key infrastructure during the scheduling of repairs as it is rolled out on a national basis. The organisation called for all revenue raised to be pumped back into improving the road network.

The DoT insists the pilots have proved successful, and pointed out that most respondents of a consultation exercise favoured the scheme. The RAC, a British automotive services company, pointed out the scheme had incentivised collaboration among utility companies, meaning utility works were completed in a swifter, more efficient manner. The RAC claimed that the utility companies had worked together on over 600 occasions in London since the pilot schemes were introduced, representing a big upsurge in partnerships.

The DoT will soon develop guidelines on how to implement the line rental scheme for councils up and down England – the schemes are earmarked to commence before year end 2019.