Ask any regular driver what irritates them the most, and top of most lists will be roadworks. We all know that they are necessary, but their timing is often terrible, seem to last forever and cause colossal congestion. Now, a new lane rental scheme is being discussed that could change the roadworks system forever – but how will it affect road users?

The lane rental scheme

The scheme has already been trialled in parts of London and Kent, with some success, and looks set to be rolled out nationwide. Utility companies were charged up to £2,500 a day for digging up busy roads at peak times. In most cases, the rates were between £800-2,500 in London and between £300-2,000 in Kent. The scheme also saw TfL raise some £4.8 million and Kent County Council raised £1.1 million, after costs, during the trial.

The idea is to incentivise companies to do the work outside the rush hour, to work on quieter roads and to collaborate with other companies to complete a set of roadworks in one go. Rather than each digging up the road, closing it, repairing it and then another company comes along and digs up the same stretch of road a week later; the idea is that they can ‘share’ the roadworks to get more done at once.

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Positive reaction

Transport Minister, Jo Johnson, said that drivers often get frustrated at roadworks, especially when they are suffering delays, yet it appears as if no-one is doing anything about it. The idea behind the lane rental system is because companies are paying for the time they have the lane blocked off, they will work quickly and minimalize the disruption to drivers.

Head of Road Policy at the RAC, Nicholas Lyes, said that the announcement is ‘very welcome’ and that trials have shown that some of the worst congestion in London has been halved when the lane rental scheme was in use. Motorists know that congestion and roadworks are necessary, he added, but unnecessary queues and length of roadworks are something everyone finds very frustrating.

The scheme still needs the official sign off from the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, then the Department of Transport will start to draft guidelines for local authorities with regards to the bidding process.

Against the scheme

Street Works UK, who represent the utility companies and their contractors, was a little less enthusiastic about the idea, although this might not come as a surprise. They cited their own research that showed that while behaviour change could lead to improved outcomes, and less congestion, there was less evidence that it was directly due to the lane rental scheme.

Their view was that utilities are delivering the infrastructure that the UK needs to drive productivity, economic growth and deliver on government priorities, and the scheme isn’t the best solution to help with this. But they also said they would go along with it, implying that they realise how much hassle roadworks cause all road users.

In the figures

Figures show that utility companies have worked together over 600 times, since the trial started in 2015, versus just 100 times before that. It shows that the scheme can inspire cooperation where none was previously seen. There have been efforts to deal with utility roadworks for many years, going back to the New Roads and Streetworks Act of 1991, but few have had any real progress which is why there is enthusiasm for the idea of the new scheme.

Around 2.5 million roadworks are carried out each year across the country, costing the economy more than £4 billion – mostly in late employees, delayed deliveries and other results from congestion. Local authorities already have powers to manage and coordinate street works, but some say they aren’t using them effectively. The aim is that the new scheme could start to roll out next year and could help drivers around the country have a smoother ride to work.

This lane rental looks to be a blessing for all road users, as it will hopefully ease up congestion in some of the busier roads in the UK. However, it will no doubt come as a curse on utility companies as they have to allocate funds to be able to carry out repairs.

What are the road works like near you? How will the lane rental scheme help you? Let us know in the comments below

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