Kent has trialled the concept of lane rental to reduce the amount of time taken by roadworks on important roads and tackle congestion.
The council charges the undertaker of works for every hour they occupy the road as opposed to the traditional approach of a permit being granted for a set amount of time. The approach has led to a reduction in the time taken, which means that more road space is available for longer improving the efficiency of the road network.
Ensuring that roadworks on key routes are completed as quickly as possible. Whilst road work permit schemes are a welcome improvement to help achieve planning and implementing work effectively so that it has the least possible impact on highway users, for many authorities they do not offer an incentive to think differently to finish works in the shortest possible time or least impactful way.
Lane rental powers derive from section 255 of the Transport Act 2000. They allow councils, with approval by the Secretary of State, to designate the busiest part of their most traffic sensitive road network and charge those undertaking works for the time and manner that they occupy the road. In effect utilities and other works undertakers are hiring the lane for the period they need it. Charges can be varied to reflect the extra disruption caused by undertaken roadworks in the busiest parts of the day and the economic impact within a particular area. This allows councils to incentivise roadworks at quiet periods like overnight or at weekends or at certain times of year by charging less or nothing at all for lane rental during this period.
The aim of the Kent scheme is to incentivise those carrying out works on critical roads to plan and work so that it minimises impact on the road by and/or takes place outside of rush hour and other busy periods such as during term times. The scheme does not apply across the whole of Kent. It is applied to specified locations identified within the Kent road network, which represent the most critical and busiest parts of the county’s road network.
The average occupation time for urgent and emergency works that cause congestion on the Kent lane rental scheme road network at traffic sensitive times dropped from 4 days to 3 days in the first year of the scheme.
The main reason for the drop in occupation appears to be a reduction in the time taken to reinstate work sites. For example, repairs to failed utility equipment have been completed generally within a few hours whereas previously the reinstatement has taken a number of days. These delays have been reduced to avoid lane rental charges.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The scheme is self-funding surplus revenue collected through the Kent Lane Rental Scheme has been put towards projects and initiatives associated with the objectives of the scheme. Funds are applied to the following areas and available to all organisations work on the highway:
• transportation – managing and monitoring traffic and works to avoid disruption
• enabling infrastructure – promoting and providing facilities for future maintenance, access and improvement
• industry practices and research & development –operational practices, materials and news ways of working for the control, planning and execution of works.
The purpose of these projects and initiatives is to reduce the impact of works on Kent’s highways and to raise standards in the planning and execution of works for the benefit of road users in Kent. This has created a double benefit with the money acting as an incentive to work quicker and smarter, and any surplus used to find ways to make works even better.
This and other case studies related to reducing congestion can be found in the LGA publication 'A country in a jam: tackling congestion in our towns and cities'.