pteg Chair calls for Local Transport Bill to be strengthened

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

pteg Chair tells Labour party fringe meeting that Local Transport Bill should be strengthened to give bus passengers a better deal

pteg Chair Neil Scales told the well attended pteg Labour party fringe meeting today (Tuesday September 23rd) that pteg was ‘very happy with the direction, and much of the detail of the Bill – however on buses it needs to go further.’

Neil Scales told Transport Minister, Rosie Winterton MP, who was also speaking at the meeting, that: ‘As it stands the Bill gives quangos the job of deciding whether or not franchising can be brought in. We believe that this is fundamentally wrong. Buses are a local public service. Their future should be determined by locally accountable transport authorities – not by quangos.’

Neil Scales welcomed many of the measures contained in the Bill on buses.

‘The Bill will do a lot to make partnerships between bus operators and PTEs work better for passengers. For example we hope it will mean the end for the crazy situation where the threat of action from the competition authorities stops operators from cooperating on fares and timetables. It will also mean that for the first time bus passengers outside London will have the protection of a statutory passenger watchdog.’

Overall he described the Local Transport Bill as, ‘an exciting opportunity to build on Barbara Castle’s legacy and to create the more fully empowered transport authorities that she originally envisaged, and which our increasingly confident city regions need.’

ENDS

For more contact Jonathan Bray on 0781 804 1485

Full text of speech

Forty years ago Barbara Castle’s groundbreaking 1968 Transport Act recognised that city regions need locally accountable strategic transport authorities to tackle the transport challenges they face

Then – as now – our cities faced the challenges of:

  • cities that struggle to cope with a rising tide of road traffic
  • bus services in decline
  • public transport networks that don’t always join up

The 1968 Act was a giant leap forward.

Under the Act Passenger Transport Executives and Authorities were set up to plan and deliver integrated public transport networks.

As a result

  • Rail networks were saved from closure and developed instead
  • New interchanges were built
  • And new light rail networks – like the Tyne and Wear Metro were introduced

Unfortunately not all the powers and funding envisaged by Barbara Castle were delivered or maintained by her successors

Nevertheless, since 1968 - and through thick and thin - the Passenger Transport Executives and Authorities have kept the flame alive for integrated, high quality public transport in the largest cities outside London

  • We were the first to bring the tram back to city streets
  • We have the fastest growing rail networks in the country
  • and we invest over a billion pounds a year in better public transport

The Local Transport Bill offers us an exciting opportunity to build on Barbara Castle’s legacy and to create the more fully empowered transport authorities that she originally envisaged, and which our increasingly confident city regions need.

The Bill is enabling legislation which allows each city region to review the way transport is governed in its area. The options it opens up are:

  • Extend the boundaries of PTEs to provide a better fit with the city region’s economic and commuting footprint
  • Better linkage between highways and public transport planning
  • More influence over local heavy rail networks

In other words – our cities could have the kind of strategic transport authorities that London and other cities across Europe - and the wider developed world take for granted.

The Bill will also do a lot to make partnership between bus operators and PTEs work better for passengers

For example we hope it will mean the end for the crazy situation where the threat of action from the competition authorities stops operators from cooperating on fares and timetables.

It will also mean that for the first time bus passengers outside London will have the protection of a statutory passenger watchdog.

However, although we are broadly very happy with the direction and much of the detail of the Bill we think that on buses it needs to go further.

Unless we can get bus services right – we won’t get transport right in our cities. This is because most public transport journeys are by bus.

What’s more the poorest are most reliant on the bus.

Since bus services were deregulated twenty years ago in our areas we’ve seen passenger numbers halve and fares double in real terms – and the service cuts, patchy service quality and fares rises continue. Year in and year out.

Given this we need the option of being able to franchise networks of bus services.

This would mean that we could use the hundreds of millions of pounds that public money that go into the bus industry to guarantee service levels, to guarantee fares levels, to make better sense of networks, to ensure buses connect with each other and to get dirty poorly maintained buses off the road

As it stands the Bill gives quangos the job of deciding whether franchising can be brought in. We believe that this is fundamentally wrong. Buses are a local public service. There future should be determined by locally accountable transport authorities – not by quangos.

This is one area where the Bill needs strengthening.

Another key issue for us is that the Bill needs to be more explicit in ensuring that non-elected members cannot be imposed on any Integrated Transport Authority.

Getting the powers right for PTEs is one thing. But powers without adequate funding only gets us so far.

We know we need to be raising more of the funds we need ourselves. Road user charging is one way – but not the only way - of doing this. However, we also need a larger share of the overall national transport spending cake.

In the last few years London has done a brilliant job in winning the argument that London needs a better transport system if it is to flourish. It’s won a bigger slice of the national transport spend as a result. For every pound spent on transport in our areas, London now gets nearer to £2.50.

London needs and deserves a better public transport system. But if that’s true of London it’s also true for the next tier of major cities.

If we can get both the powers and the funding sides of the equation right then we can realise what is a once in a generation opportunity for public transport.

Increases in petrol prices, the carbon reduction imperative and the growth of our city centre economies creates a massive opportunity for all of us involved in public transport.

As PTEs we intend to work with all our partners to take full advantage of this opportunity to realise Barbara Castle’s original ambitions for the PTEs.

Single integrated transport networks – accessible to all.