Transport institutions and politics in the UK and Germany: Who matters in making transport policy decisions?

Term Paper, 2002

13 Pages, Grade: 2,0 (B)



1 Assignment

2 Decision-makers in transport politics in Britain
2.1 Central Government
2.2 Local government
2.3 The influence of European Union policies

3 Comparison of the British and the German transport policy system
3.1 A short overview of the German system
3.1.1 Federal level responsibilities
3.1.2 Federal state level responsibilities
3.1.3 Communal level responsibilities
3.2 Major differences between the British and the German transport policy system

4 The role of interest and pressure groups
4.1 Principles of interest and pressure groups
4.2 Examples of successful interventions

5 Case study 1: the METRORAPID project in Germany
5.1 Introduction
5.2 The involved parties
5.3 Summary

6 Case study 2: the heavy goods vehicle toll on German motorways
6.1 Introduction
6.2 The decision in detail
6.3 Summary

7 Conclusions
7.1 Summary
7.2 The division between local and central responsibilities
7.3 Do we need pressure groups?
7.4 The growing importance of courts in decision-making

8 List of references

1 Assignment

The objective of this coursework is a report on who matters in making decisions on transport projects and policies. The report should examine the role of both individuals and groups involved in the process of arriving at decisions on transport projects and transport policies. In this context, transport projects are for example new infrastructure projects, whereas transport policies refer to the regulation and pricing of transport.

First, the British system of decision making in transport is described, followed by a brief de- scription of the German system and a comparison of both systems. Then the influence of pres- sure groups is examined and some examples of successful pressure group interference are presented. Two case studies examine the decision making process in practice and illustrate the variety of involved parties. Finally, some major conclusions are drawn, reflecting the author’s personal opinion.

2 Decision-makers in transport politics in Britain

2.1 Central Government

One very simple question about the role of governments in transport politics is why governments interfere in transport at all. Reasons for government interference are the fear of monopolies of large transport companies, the need of setting and enforcing safety standards for both passenger and freight transport, the inability of private companies to cope with very large infrastructure problems, and sometimes the protection of national interests as well. In the United Kingdom, the Department for Transport (DfT) is the responsible government body concerning transport policy. It is the successor of the former Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) and the Department for transport took over its predecessor’s transport policy responsibilities. The Prime Minister had decided to create a new Department for Transport to focus solely on transport issues.I

The Department for Transport is headed by the Secretary of State for Transport, currently Mr Alistair Darling. Among his major objectives are the promotion of new transport legislation and the fund raising of government money to be used for the Department for transport. Also, in case of public inquiries about major transport projects, the Secretary of State for Transport has the right and the duty to take the final decision.

There are, however, a number of constraints to the power of the Secretary of State for Trans- port. First, other ministers like the Chancellor of Exchequer or the ministers responsible for the environment and industrial competitiveness, all have an important impact on transport policy. Hence it is not only the Secretary of State for Transport who shapes transport policy within the government.II Furthermore, the European Union has become a growing constraint to the power of the Secretary of State for Transport. EU-regulations predominantly affect technical standardisation, but often the EU influence is noticeable when it comes to EU- funding of transport projects. The availability of EU-money for a particular project will have a decisive influence on the transport decision. Of course, external factors like for example the global economic situation, influence the power of the Transport Secretary as well. Also a strong environmentalist influence, either within Parliament or in public, can affect transport decisions by the Secretary of StateIII

2.2 Local government

In general, the importance of local government in transport planning has decreased during the last decades. Local authorities have always operated within a framework set by central government. Central government for example lays down advisory standards for roads. As the major part of the money local authorities spend is not raised by the local authorities themselves, but by central government, central government has considerable power over local governments and their decisions. Of course, this power affects transport decisions as well. The degree of centralization definitely depends on the government, whether a Labour or a Conservative government is in charge. As Glaister puts it: “In the British unwritten constitution local government is always at the mercy of central government.”

The division of responsibility for roads between local authorities and central government seems to be determined by historical reasons. National roads are trunk roads and virtually all motorways, whereas local roads comprise all roads not designed as trunk roads. Under the Trunk Road Act 1936 central government was assigned full financial responsibility for all trunk roads. The responsibility for local roads is entirely in the hands of local governments, the so-called local highway authorities. These highway authorities often are instructed by cen- tral government to maintain national roads under contract to the Department for Transport. However, these contracts are currently put out to competitive tender in an increasing number of cases, and private companies become a more and more important player in maintaining national roads.I

Within local governments there are committees which deal with all the different objectives of transport and infrastructure planning. Each committee consists of specialists for specific projects. The committees are delegated different projects regarding their particular field of expertise. Membership in these committees mostly reflects party strength in the council. The elected mayor has no major influence on local politics and thus neither on transport politics in most cases, in contrast to other European countries like France or Germany, where the mayor is an important player in local politics.

2.3 The influence of European Union policies

The European Union has a large impact on all its member states’ national policies. Not only by laying down new legislation in order to harmonize the European Union market, but also by allocating EU funds to certain projects, the European union exerts substantial power on its member states.

European Union regulations and directives shape the national legislation of each member state in order to liberalise and harmonise the EU market. An example of EU activity in transport policy is the development of Trans European Networks. These are networks linking several EU member states and hence they are considered most important to the development of the single European market. The Channel Tunnel is a prominent example, also numerous Euro- pean motorways linking different states are examples of Trans European Networks.

As already mentioned, through funding certain transport projects the EU exerts substantial power on its member states. This of course becomes very obvious in the case of Trans European Networks, as their development is a major goal of the European Union’s policy. Therefore, projects related to Trans European Networks often are given priority over other projects, and especially the availability of EU money is much more likely.II

3 Comparison of the British and the German transport policy system

3.1 A short overview of the German system

3.1.1 Federal level responsibilities

In Germany, the department for transport is integrated into a large ministry responsible for transport, building and housing (Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau- und Wohnungswesen). Therefore, the department not only focuses on transport matters, but always tries to take into consideration land use problems as well. There is a special sub-department within the ministry responsible for the integration of transport and land use policies. Its main objective is the development of long-term policies and principles.

Another sub-department is concerned with road traffic. Building and maintaining of all mo- torways (Bundesautobahn) and federal trunk roads (Bundesstrasse) are tasks of this federal level authority. However, the actual maintenance work is carried out by the federal states by order of the federal government. Also the expansion of the existing network is delegated to the federal state level by the department for transport. The financing of both motorways and trunk roads belongs to the responsibility of the federal government. Currently, there are some discussions about delegating maintenance work to private companies, and also the construc- tion of new motorways and trunk roads is transferred to private companies in many casesI

3.1.2 Federal state level responsibilities

Federal state level responsibilities will be illustrated by the example of Lower-Saxony, but all other federal states have similar objectives and responsibilities. In Lower-Saxony, the minis- try for transport is again integrated in a larger ministry, namely the Ministry for Trade, Tech- nology and Transport. As already mentioned, the federal states are responsible for building and maintaining motorways and federal trunk roads, which are financed by the federal gov- ernment.

Federal state trunk roads are built and maintained by the federal states. Furthermore, the fed- eral states are responsible for allocating funds for transport infrastructure to its communes. This money is then used by the local authorities to build and maintain local roads. Other ob- jectives of federal state level authorities are the development of federal state transport net- works and the adaptation of its transport policies to special demands within federal statesII

3.1.3 Communal level responsibilities

Communal or local authorities are predominantly responsible for all local roads within their territories. They receive funds from the federal state governments for this purpose. In addition to that, they also have own tax funds which they can distribute more or less freely without permission of federal or federal state authorities. III

The main objective of local authorities regarding transport is of course the development and improvement of local transport conditions. Local authorities are strongly involved in local politics and hence have the best insight into local transport needs. However, it has to be emphasized that local authorities in Germany have no responsibilities regarding motorways and trunk roads. These are completely in the hands of federal and federal state authorities.

3.2 Major differences between the British and the German transport policy system

The most obvious difference between both systems is of course the German three-tier system with local, federal state, and federal authorities on the one hand, and the British two-tier system with just local and central governments. So in Germany, there is an intermediate authority, focussing on federal issues with regard to the federal government and on local issues with regard to local authorities. This might be helpful when integrating local transport decisions into the federal network. On the other hand, a large bureaucratic system like the German one always creates an impression of inefficiency.

As far as central governments are concerned, there are not many differences between both systems. The organisational structure seems to change from time to time in both countries from an integrated department within a large ministry to an independent department solely concerned with transport matters. In both systems the central government is responsible for motorways and trunk roads, however, in Germany the government delegates maintenance and construction completely to federal state authorities, whereas in Britain local authorities are delegated only a part of the maintenance work of national roads by the government.

The local transport authorities in Britain seem to be more important than their German counterparts, mainly because in Germany the federal state authorities claim a substantial amount of the decision taking.

The growing influence of the European Union and its policies on its member states is noticeable in Britain as well as in Germany. As a conclusion one can state that most differences between the British and the German transport policy system are a result of the different organisational structure, the German three-tier system and the British two-tier system, and the different distribution of responsibilities.

4 The role of interest and pressure groups

4.1 Principles of interest and pressure groups

Interest and pressure groups play an important role in transport decision making. Elected gov- ernments and European Union are formal actors in the policy-making process, whereas inter- est groups are the informal counterpart, trying to influence transport policy processes. They can be divided into two main types: on the one hand there are concerned individuals forming interest groups to defend their personal interests in a certain case, for example house owners affected by a new trunk road crossing their properties, on the other hand there are interest groups operating in a more general environment, promoting general changes in attitude or politics, like for example Greenpeace.

An important role together with interest groups play the media. A successfully intervening interest group almost every time relies upon the media’s willingness to broadcast the pressure group’s arguments and actions. The more extreme and dangerous the actions taken are, the more attention the media will pay to a certain pressure group’s project. Examples for extraordinary actions have been given numerous times by Greenpeace.

Pressure groups can be very influential, especially if they manage to win relevant political support. Their main method of influencing policy is to spread information in order to catch the public’s attention for their goals. They succeed when they catch the popular mood of time or form effective alliances. Sometimes it is enough to delay a project in order to completely stop it.

In general, the actual influence of pressure or interest groups can hardly be measured. With the various players involved in transport policy-making, it is difficult to determine who influenced whom, and by which means. Nevertheless, pressure groups are an important factor of today’s policy making, especially in the transport sector. I

4.2 Examples of successful interventions

As mentioned above, the actual influence of pressure groups in a transport-making process is difficult to determine or to measure. There are, however, numerous examples in which pres- sure groups have formed important and strong resistance against new transport plans. These did not necessarily lead to a complete stop of the new project, but at least the pressure groups achieved a substantial delay of the project and often they also were able to put some of their conditions through.

One example of massive pressure group intervention is the Frankfurt airport expansion. When major airlines demanded a new runway for the airport to meet future capacity requirements, numerous new pressure groups were formed in and around Frankfurt. They were supported by several Green party representatives from local and federal state level. A first success of these pressure groups was the decision by the federal state government, to include pressure group leaders in negotiations about the new runway. The pressure groups were able to exert influ- ence more directly, and try to negotiate a solution that may suit all parties involved. Negotia- tions and public discussions are still taking place at the moment, but the influence of pressure groups has become evident with this example.

Pressure groups not only influence decisions on infrastructure projects, but also transport regulation and legislation are the objectives of their intervention. Especially in the aftermath of major accidents the public outcry for new, more stringent legislation, is a common conse- quence. Examples of major catastrophes in the transport sector leading to massive pressure and interest group activism are easy to find. In the shipping industry, the sinking of the tanker “Erika” off the French coast in 1997 provides a famous example of a major accident leading to strong interest group action and, to a lesser extent, more stringent legislation by the Interna- tional Maritime Organisation (IMO). One result was the phasing out of single hull tankers, but the IMO only accepted a very slow phasing out schedule, allowing single hull tankers to re- main in service until 2015. However, pressure group activism following a severe accident has lead to more stringent legislation, which definitely affected the shipping industry.

5 Case study 1: the METRORAPID project in Germany

5.1 Introduction

The METRORAPID project is based on the so-called magnetic levitation hovertrain technology. There is a test track in northwest Germany for this technology. The initial project envisaged a line between Hamburg and Berlin, but this was cancelled due to financing problems. Now a new project is promoted, linking several cities in Germany’s densely populated Ruhrgebiet. The basic stage of expansion envisages approximately 79 kilometres of track and six stations including Düsseldorf and Dortmund. There are already plans for further expansions, with a total of 12 stations and 214 kilometres of track length. The costs of the basic stage of expansion are estimated to be about EUR 3.19 billionI

This case study aims at identifying the key players in a planning process of a major transport project. Especially the roles of the federal government (the department for transport), the federal state government, and private companies (Deutsche Bahn AG) are examined. A second issue of this case study is financing of transport projects. Again the role of each of the involved players is illustrated.

5.2 The involved parties

After the collapse of the initial magnetic levitation hovertrain project, a link between Hamburg and Berlin, the federal government and its industrial partners decided to look for another line in one of the federal states. The federal state governments were invited to present their projects, which were then examined by means of a feasibility study by the federal department for transport. Two proposals were considered feasible, the METRORAPID project and another line linking Munich’s city centre and airport.

From the beginning of the METRORAPID project, Deutsche Bahn AG was envisaged as operator of the new line. In summer 2001, Deutsche Bahn AG and the federal state government of Nordrhein-Westfalen agreed on a close co-operation, and in summer 2002 a treaty on cooperation and responsibilities was signed.

Another important player in this planning process are the industrial partners supporting track and rolling stock, in particular ThyssenKrupp and Siemens. Although their influence has not been very significant until now, they still can exert substantial power especially on local and federal state politicians as they are strong employersII

Probably the most important aspect of transport projects like the METRORAPID is financing. Insufficient financing led to the collapse of the Hamburg-Berlin line, and again financing seems to be the most crucial aspect. The current situation is as follows: The federal department for transport has agreed to provide EUR 1.75 billion on condition that the federal state government can present a sound financing concept for the remaining EUR 1.44 billion. This amount is supposed to be covered by private investors. The federal state government hopes to receive another EUR 0.55 billion, which are earmarked by central government for the Munich project, but Nordrhein-Westfalen believes this project may be stoppedIII

At the moment, the involving parties continuously criticise each other, and the future of the project seems uncertain. Deutsche Bahn AG demands lower operational costs from


I Comp., 29.11.2002.

II Comp. Glaister, Transport policy in Britain, pp. 49-50.

III Comp. Truelove,, 29.11.2002.

I Comp. Glaister, Transport policy in Britain, pp. 71-77.

II Comp. Glaister, Transport policy in Britain, pp. 95-97.

I Comp., 05.12.2002.

II Comp., 05.12.2002.

III Comp., 05.12.2002.

I Comp. Glaister, Transport policy in Britain, pp. 95-97.

I Comp., 06.12.2002.

II Comp., 06.12.2002.

III Comp., 06.12.2002.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Transport institutions and politics in the UK and Germany: Who matters in making transport policy decisions?
Aston University  (School of Applied Science)
Transport Institutions and Politics
2,0 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
470 KB
Transport, Germany, Transport, Institutions, Politics
Quote paper
Frank Gümmer (Author), 2002, Transport institutions and politics in the UK and Germany: Who matters in making transport policy decisions?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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