The cost of potholes is proving to be a hot topic this winter. National newspapers are reporting that councils have paid out £12m in compensation for damages caused to vehicles since 2012. In fact, an average of nearly 90 motorists a week claim for car damage caused by poorly repaired roads.
Counting the cost
The headline figure of £12m is significant enough, but accompanying claims of bad decision-making have added politics into the mix.
Lib Dem transport spokesman Jenny Randerson called the situation, “crazy economics… a symptom of the hand to mouth approach we have to infrastructure investment in the UK.” And back in October 2016, the RAC Foundation was publicly critical of the state of British roads, while the Local Government Association (LGA) continues to highlight lack of central government investment.
Focusing on the problem
The LGA estimates the £12bn backlog of repairs could take up to 14 years to fix, but rather than focusing solely on the scale and scope of the problem, councils could instead re-frame the issue.
Attempts to reduce the burden by responding only to larger potholes, as Perth and Kinross did recently, risk ignoring the underlying issue and suffering even more under the press spotlight. Instead, practical measures to remind road users of their own responsibilities and increase available funds for the repairs could help better.
As newspapers and commentators blame central government and financiers for the worsening state of roads, residents are further encouraged to feel hard done by. This fuels a compensation culture which is now causing both fiscal damage and damage to reputation.
In response, councils have an opportunity to show residents and motorists that they can be part of the solution. There have already been attempts to harness the spotting power of cyclists using FillThatHole.org.uk – and by investing in, promoting and visibly supporting reporting mechanisms for road users, councils can glean vital information about road damage and increase a sense of ownership and responsibility. In the long run, this could foster a vested interest in supporting repairs rather than claiming personal compensation.
Likewise, councils could consider making road charges like parking fines even more directly and transparently connected to infrastructure investment, as councils like Plymouth and Wolverhampton have done. This way, by securing cashflow and making concerted efforts to collect payments, councils are not just addressing their own budget concerns but showing a visible effort to repair the roads.
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