Transport: Designing for different points of view 

I recently read Anita Sethi’s ‘I Belong Here’, a wonderful book about race and belonging in modern Britain, exploring the urban and rural landscapes of Northern England and what it means to be a woman of colour in these spaces. And many of the feelings and experiences she described resonate with me as a woman of colour, currently living in Northern England, although I would say I have had those feelings and experiences throughout Britain.  

But what does this have to do with urban transport? Well, the journey at the heart of ‘I Belong Here’ was catalysed by Anita’s own experience of being a victim of racist abuse on a train journey. She talks extensively in the book about her experiences of racism being denied by those around her, but it was positive to read how transport workers believed and supported her after she became a victim of a race hate crime. And it is by hearing these stories that we will recognise how we can address inequalities and support everyone to travel safely. 

Coincidently, I have been involved in a new report co-authored by the Urban Transport Group and Arup called Equitable Future Mobility – Ensuring a just transition to net zero. The report talks about how new technologies have the potential to help decarbonise transport but that they must be applied in a way that does not marginalise some groups or reinforce existing inequalities. Both ‘I Belong Here’ and the report have made me reflect on who we design transport for, how safe people feel, how transport can support wellbeing by helping people to access opportunities (including access to nature), and how all of that relates to delivering on our goals to decarbonise transport.  

Late last year I blogged about my belief that we need to explore and grapple with issues of personal safety on transport in order to enable people to travel in more sustainable ways. I was therefore really encouraged to see that last week, Transport Champions Laura Shoaf (our Chair) and Anne Shaw from Transport for West Midlands, published a series of recommendations for addressing violence against women and girls within the transport sector. These are listed below.

  1. Better national transport planning guidance on ways to make infrastructure safer with a clear, monitored reporting service for infrastructure damage or issues 

2. Improvements in the collection of gender disaggregated data 

3. Undertake a national communications initiative into tackling VAWGs, which is promoted nationally across our transport networks 

4. Deliver better, effective training across the transport industry to help manage incidents involving VAWGs  

5. Review current safeguarding practices and standardise Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for all front facing staff across the transport industry  

6. Encourage increased uptake of women working in the transport industry 

7. Embrace more use of technology to combat VAWGs 

8. Introduce Gender Responsive Budgets to support the delivery of gender equality infrastructure and policies 

9. Create a national, intelligence database which captures incident reporting from all transport modes and areas 

10. Develop a national education initiative in schools which educates young people on ways they can play a role in preventing VAWGs 

11. Target available resources and funding, including staffing and deployment of police forces in locations which will have the greatest impact on our transport networks 

12. Establish more Safer Travel Partnerships between operators and the police across our major cities 

13. Continue to raise awareness and make a positive impact through the tackling VAWG strategy 

A number of these recommendations are reflected in the findings of our own report with Arup and are common themes that come up time and again when we talk about equity. They are the need for better representation of the diversity of communities that we serve, both in our workforce and in the data we collect about who travels, where, how and why. With proper representation, we have a better chance to ensure our transport networks are available, accessible, affordable and acceptable to all – the Four A’s which guide our work on transport and social inclusion. 

What this all adds up to is the need to recognise the intersectional dimensions of people’s experiences. The stories that Anita tells in her book are those of a woman of colour. And it is important to understand the experiences of people with a range of protected characteristics and how those characteristics might interact and how they play out in transport settings.  

As transport professionals, we need to learn from these experiences – whether a racist incident, an issue of personal safety, a mobility challenge for a disabled transport user, and so on.  

Overall, I am heartened to see the attention that safety and social inclusion are gaining in the transport sector. We are at a moment of transition, as we seek to decarbonise our transport system in the coming decades. We need to ensure that this transition to net zero delivers on our wider goals of inclusion and fairness, and we need to make sure that the technologies we adopt in the transport sector also help us to meet these goals. 

If you’re interested in exploring these topics further, we are holding a free online conversation on 29 March, 12-1pm, which will look at how new mobility can be part of the just transition to net zero transport. You can register here

Clare Linton is Policy and Research Advisor at the Urban Transport Group 

Rail devolution and rail reform: options for the future

Before the pandemic struck, one in three rail journeys in Britain were being made on services for which responsibility was devolved in full or in part to city regions, regions and administrations in Wales, Scotland, London, the north of England, Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands.

This devolution of responsibilities for rail has been one of the big success stories on rail in recent years. One only has to look at networks such as London Overground and Merseyrail – neglected when run from the centre or as part of larger franchises, but transformed under local control and now regularly shortlisted or winners of National Rail Awards.

In fact, the Williams-Shapps reforms have paid them the ultimate compliment of seeking to emulate these contracts in the future.

Devolution has (by and large) led to more investment, higher levels of passenger satisfaction, and more reliable services. It has also helped to embed heavy rail services within wider public transport networks and within broader plans for housing, economic development and decarbonisation.

Rail is critical to so much of what city regions and devolved administrations are trying to achieve – from meeting ambitious air quality and decarbonisation targets to giving the public the public transport they want and need (one network, one ticket, one identity). All this has been well set out in reports from the Urban Transport Group – Rail Devolution Works and Rail Cities UK.

However, too often in the past, local rail services have sat outside the wider local public transport – remote and unresponsive to local need. Devolved authorities and administrations have often struggled with the complexities and high costs that have been associated with the format of the rail industry since privatisation.

For example, on station development, it can be argued that the current industry structures have inhibited any major investment and upgrades (car parking aside). And on fares and ticketing, everyone recognises the success of the London system and the inclusion of rail services in it, but it has proved difficult to emulate this elsewhere.

The reforms being ushered in by the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail offer the opportunity to change all this – simplifying the structure of the industry and having Great British Railways with strong regional structures should help.

However, there is a risk that debates about the future shape of the railways will be inward looking, and will forget or ignore the benefits of involving devolved authorities and administrations in rail services and infrastructure.

Therefore, it is vital that devolved authorities have a seat at the table when big decisions are being taken about how Williams-Shapps will be implemented in practice.

How might devolution work in practice? Different areas will have different ambitions for the role they wish to play, depending on local aspirations and capabilities. The reforms and supporting legislation should support and facilitate a wide range of options for extending and deepening local control and accountability for both rail services and rail assets and investment.

On services, the options are:

Full control of local rail services: In this option, the contract or concession for running local rail services would be let by the local/devolved transport authority, rather than by Great British Railways.

The service levels, timetable, station staffing, and service quality standards and incentives regime would be set as part of this concession, subject to agreement on track capacity with the system operator.

The services and stations would be branded as part of the region’s integrated transport system, and fares integrated within wider local public transport fares structures. Revenue risk would be borne by the authority and operator as agreed within the concession contract.

This is essentially the system by which London Overground and Merseyrail services are provided.

Full control and direct provision of local rail services: This is like the first option, but an operating subsidiary of the transport authority would run train services (rather than operation being contracted out to a private sector provider).

This is the system now operating in Wales, and it will be applied in Scotland this year. Light rail systems such as the Tyne and Wear Metro and the West Midlands Metro are also operated (and owned) by the city region transport authority.

Joint control of local rail services: In this scenario, the concession for local rail services will be let jointly by GBR and the transport authority.

The transport authority and GBR will jointly decide service levels, branding, and oversee quality standards. Revenue risk will be shared. There could be separate point-to-point rail fares as well as zonal multi-modal fares, with revenue apportionment arrangements.

Joint management responsibility for local rail services between GBR and the transport authority: This scenario is similar to the previous option, with joint management responsibility by GBR and the transport authority, but revenue risk will stay with GBR.

This is essentially the arrangement that governs West Midlands Trains, with the West Midlands Rail Executive involved in management of the franchise, as well as for the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises, which are overseen by a DfT and Transport for the North joint board.

Buying additional services: In this scenario, GBR will let the concession for local rail services, but the transport authority will be able to buy additional services on top of the baseline that GBR has determined.

This is essentially the system that existed before privatisation between Passenger Transport Executives and British Rail.

Consultation and partnerships on local rail services: In this scenario, GBR will let concessions or agree contracts to run the local rail services, and transport authorities would be consulted on the service levels, station staffing and facilities, service quality standards, arrangements for integration with other modes, and the fares to be included in these concessions. This could also include the ability to trigger performance reviews if quality standards fall below agreed levels.

In addition, in all cases, transport authorities will want to be involved in the concession agreements for longer-distance services in their areas and on timetabling proposals generally.

On rail assets, the options for devolution are:

Devolving control and ownership of rail infrastructure: In this scenario, the transport authority would take over ownership of rail infrastructure (stations, tracks and signalling) from what is now Network Rail and will be GBR.

This scenario is being pursued by the Liverpool City Region in relation to the Merseyrail network, and has taken place in Wales where the Core Valley lines network has transferred to Transport for Wales.

It has also occurred in the past where former heavy rail routes have been converted to light rail (such as in Greater Manchester). This scenario would also allow a transport authority to let a concession for both the infrastructure and operations.

The ownership of rail infrastructure stays with GBR but management is transferred to the transport authority: Whereas the previous option entails the transport authority taking over the freehold of rail infrastructure, this scenario would be a leasehold for the infrastructure.

For example, this would allow transport authorities to take over the leasehold of local stations from private operators so that they can invest in their future, while longer[1]term asset management and protection responsibilities remain with GBR.

Rail infrastructure stays with GBR, but the transport authority invests in upgrading it: Transport authorities would use their own resources (or source other public and private funding) to pay for upgrading of rail infrastructure, the contracts for which would be let and managed by GBR.

An example is the Cornwall main line upgrade of track and signalling, with European and other funding brought in by Cornwall Council. There would be an agreement between the transport authority and GBR specifying outputs and delivery dates, with penalty clauses if these were not met.

Most rail infrastructure stays with GBR, but stations transfer to the transport authority: This scenario was proposed by Transport for Greater Manchester, which argued that it could make better use of stations and the surrounding estate than would be the case if they stayed with Network Rail. Development rights would transfer to the LTA, although some gainsharing arrangements with GBR could be agreed.

Bespoke station investment/ upgrade deals: In this scenario, investment packages for individual stations would be agreed under bespoke arrangements.

In some cases, the LTA might take ownership of the station to more easily facilitate additional funding. In other cases, GBR might retain ownership but would have a joint investment agreement with the LTA which would bring in funding to upgrade it.

Agreed long-term investment strategies for local rail: In this option, transport authorities would agree with GBR a long-term investment programme for lines and networks in their area.

This could be used to shape rail programmes for transport authority-controlled funding streams, as well as the decarbonisation targets to be set in Local Transport Plans. Such strategies should also form part of the 30-year Whole Industry Strategic Plan.

Where transport authorities are taking on responsibilities for rail provision formerly undertaken by national government, that funding would also need to be devolved.

More widely for all of these options, there will need to be financial transparency by GBR, so that transport authorities have a clear view of the costs allocated to their local rail services. This will also provide transport authorities with a robust basis for sourcing any additional local public or private funding to support enhancements and improvements.

City region authorities and devolved administrations are keen to play their part in making rail reform a success and in supporting the rail industry. The options set out here are intended to help discussion on how they can be involved.

Stephen Joseph is a transport policy consultant and adviser to the Rail Devolution Network. This article is adapted from Making rail reform work for people and places in the city regions, a statement from the Urban Transport Group

This article originally appeared in Rail Magazine.

Click below for a PDF of the article.

Bus cuts close doors onto the world

‘It’s like a forgotten world. It makes you feel depressed…we’ve got bus passes – that’s brilliant – I feel like framing mine…But no bus services to use them on. We’re on an estate surrounded by main roads. The whole of life is out there but we can’t access it.’

COVID may have changed the context for bus services but bus cuts still aren’t victimless or without consequences. It’s just that (as with past waves of bus cuts) those who are most affected by them don’t have much clout or visibility. They were marginalised already and bus cuts marginalise them even further. A few years back we worked with CBT and the Ecorys consultancy to look at the affects on two sample places (the Burbank Estate in Hartlepool and Marchwood in Hampshire) of losing their bus services. Re-reading the reports now the overall sense you get is the way that bus cuts close down both specific opportunities and how, more widely, they wall people into living more lonely, restricted and stigmatised lives. There’s a dimming of the lights. A closing of doors onto the world. Which all comes at a cost – in poorer physical and mental health. In missed life chances.

‘Needed the bus to travel into town and often caught connecting bus to daughters and vice versa so don’t see as much of each other now. Feel totally isolated – I have problems walking, get short of breath and use a stick.’

“I want to be independent and it’s not allowing me to be independent. If you put yourself in my shoes, I’m not able to drive and I have health reasons as well…it’s not a very nice situation to be in when you know your children want to go and do something and you have to say ‘no I’m sorry I can’t get you there because there isn’t a bus service.’

These are the voices that remind us that buses are a key public service relied upon by those with the least. They remind us that whilst buses should be in the aspirational business of getting modal shift from the car for ‘people like us’, they are also there so that millions of people on low incomes, who don’t have access to a car in the first place, can get out of the house. And without a new funding deal for bus there will be many more people whose lives will be narrowed by the loss of their bus service.

Our latest report on bus funding (produced for us by Steer, and using our Metropolitan Bus Model) found that the number of bus passengers in city regions outside London could be up to 30% lower than before the pandemic. A hit of “similar magnitude” to the direct impact which COVID-19 itself has had on demand. The report also found that over a quarter of city region bus services could be lost. The report concluded: ‘Around half of all bus users are dependent on bus for their travel. The young and the elderly have the highest propensity to use bus, as do people in the lowest income quintile. A reduced bus service means that some of these people will have no viable travel alternative. A smaller public transport network means that remaining bus users will have reduced access to jobs, education, health and leisure activities, which will have knock-on negative impacts to the economy. Higher fares will make them worse off financially at a time when people are also facing higher gas and electricity bills and food price inflation.’

The report was picked up in The Times – part of the wider and welcome traction that bus cuts now has in the national and mainstream media. A level of interest that is probably greater than buses have had for many years. However, there’s a danger that we are now getting locked into a narrative which in effect about pushing back the point (measured in months) at which additional COVID funding will end and we get back to ‘normal’ on funding. The problem with that is we need to get real about the order of magnitude increase in subsidy that will be needed if COVID’s legacy isn’t going to be more than a particularly savage episode of the normal pattern of bus network and patronage contraction. Because if we go back to what level of revenue support we had for bus pre-COVID then that pretty much guarantees more decline of bus networks (given that’s what it bought us before).

To even return to pre-COVID levels of patronage will require a substantial uplift in pre-COVID levels of subsidy – and to get to Bus Back Better nirvana you are looking at a further substantial uplift again. You want high quality bus services everywhere then take a look at the subsidy levels that those European countries that have them are providing. It’s based on something entirely different to the low subsidy and high fare model we have in the UK.

You want to find the money to do this – then there are some magic money trees available. For example DfT could ask National Highways to give back the one they gave them for the zombie national road programme. But a long term higher subsidy model for bus doesn’t suit incumbent monopolies – as it would lead to more expectations of public influence. And it doesn’t suit the Treasury – because they don’t like revenue subsidies (especially much bigger ones). So instead an emerging narrative is that if we are going to career over the end of COVID funding cliff edge at some stage anyway then we might as well be grown up about it, face up to reality (in a sorrowful but professional way) and get on with the cuts now.

And for those who are squeamish about the thought of another round of bus network cuts, or uncomfortable with the dissonance with Bus Back Better, then don’t worry. Once the ship has steadied after COVID buses will get a shot in the arm from spending that flows from Bus Service Improvement Plans and City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements which will drive up patronage. So look on the bright side – these cuts might only be temporary. They might. But somehow I doubt it. After all it’s much more difficult to build back services and patronange after its’s been trashed than if it had been sheltered from the storm in the first place.

A more rational and credible approach would be to maintain networks for a longer period whilst firstly it becomes clearer what the fall out from COVID is for travel patterns (at present we are still at the guessing rather than knowing stage). And secondly to give time to move to a reformed and long term funding settlement for bus. This would also allow more time for the benefits of upcoming capital investment in bus to take effect.

But whatever happens next it should be based on a recognition that cuts have consequences for those with the least. That the people who use bus services matter.

‘It does make you think that you are reliant [on buses] and you could get quite down about it… I feel frustrated and a bit sort of left out. People like me in my situation or the elderly…don’t really matter… I know that one person doesn’t matter to them but really that one person does matter, everyone matters.’

Jonathan Bray is Director at the Urban Transport Group

This blog originally appeared in Passenger Transport magazine