The good news is that Labour has considered all this and has put together a 10-year transport investment programme. The bad news is that many do not think it is going to work. In March, the Institute of Directors asked 509 members what they thought, and a mere 9% said the 10-year plan was likely to reduce road congestion. The figure rises to 38% for improving rail services, but overall the survey represents a vote of no confidence.
"There has been too much talk and not enough action on transport." That is the verdict of Geraint Day, the institute's researcher responsible for the survey. He claims delayed business travel is costing British industry billions of pounds a year. He says: "People are arriving late for work and meetings. You can set off on a journey and not know when you're going to arrive. It all adds up to a lot of stress and frustration."
Construction, of course, is particularly vulnerable to poor transport. What it does is predicated on the free movement of goods and people. The top end of management, of course, has its de rigueur chauffeur. When the chief executive of one major contractor lost his job, he had to ask someone to show him how to use the Tube. But for everyone else, getting to work can be an epic twice-daily struggle.
To see what it all means for people in construction, Building asked three managers what their experiences were. They had a good moan, but one came up with a highly unorthodox solution. Max Fordham suggests scrapping most of the rail system. He concedes that it is fine for people ("as long as it works"), but makes no sense for freight. After describing the process of transporting goods using a combination of rail and road, he argues that it is much more efficient to move everything using a single lorry, which cuts down the loading and unloading by two-thirds.
"If we scrap rail, we'd have to have a really good coach system," Fordham says. But he reckons road-based public transport is much more flexible than a system based on a fixed track. For long distances, he prefers to fly – he points out that when he flew from London to Dundee recently, the journey was much quicker and easier than it would have been by train.
Brook Nolson, business development director, Bluestone
I commute from Leeds to London three or four times a week. I live in Leeds for family reasons, but I’m based at our head office in London. I love it when I go by car, it gives you time to reflect on the day. It takes about four hours. I sometimes go by train or plane, but doing it by car’s more reliable. Where else do you travel on business, and how do you get there?
We have various sites in the South-east. I sometimes fly from Leeds down to Southampton; other times I drive. But what I really enjoy is sailing – there’s no transportation like sailing a yacht in the Aegean! Over the past five years, do you think transport in Britain has improved?
I’ve been commuting from Leeds to London for six years, and I’d say the roads have got better, which I know is a bit controversial. The planes and trains have got worse – over the last six months, I haven’t been on a plane that’s not been delayed. You hear all sorts of excuses – the other day, they said they didn’t have a crew for the plane.
Max Fordham of Max Fordham
It’s a 10-minute bike ride from my home in Camden Square, north London, to my office in Camden Town. The journey’s alright; it’s not very pleasant. I could take a nicer route on the back streets, but it would take much longer. Where else do you travel on business, and how do you get there?
I use my bike to go to meetings in London – I can get anywhere in central London in half an hour. Anyone who drives on roads in London in the daytime needs their heads examined. Outside London, I mostly travel by train – everybody whinges about it, but it’s fine as long as it works. Over the past five years, do you think transport in Britain has improved?
Whether privatisation was a good idea or bad, it ought to be made to work. After people were killed in the Hatfield crash the goalposts were moved by miles. To improve things, either fares or taxes have to go up. So far, neither has happened, so transport has not improved.
Vincent James, director of business development, Gleeson
I live in Harpenden in Hertfordshire, and my office is in North Cheam in Surrey. I take the car to work, and drive 120 miles a day. On the M25, it’s so slow you get to know every variation of bumper! Sometimes you need a break between the office and home, but I think the break is becoming a bit too long. Where else do you travel on business, and how do you get there?
Our consultants are predominantly London-based. I use the car around London, but not in London – it seems to be permanent gridlock there. I can get another couple of meetings in if I use the train and Tube instead. Over the past five years, do you think transport in Britain has improved?
I think the roads have definitely got busier. To get anywhere around London on the M25, you used to need to get on the road at 7:15am, but now it’s 6:30am. On the Tube, it’s the same thing – there’s definitely been an increase in users. But I still think public transport is the best option in London.