Five things I learned for urban transport at Conservative party conference

Grayling’s plan for rail

Chris Grayling was expansive in setting out his thoughts on the future for rail at a rail industry fringe…

– He previously thought evolution not revolution was right approach for rail but recent events have shown that this isn’t the case. The system is broken and needs fixing.

– However the rail review will not be about all aspects of the rail industry it will be a ‘validation exercise’ around different options for greater unification of tracks and trains plus a ‘guiding mind’ for the rail industry as a whole. He would be ‘very surprised’ if this isn’t the approach the review takes. ‘Something like the SRA is needed’ and ‘the DfT should do less than it does now after the review’. He referenced Japan which has vertically integrated regional train companies as one of the models for greater unification of track and trains.

– In the meantime he trusts Andrew Haines to make very sure that Network Rial gets its act together on timetable planning so there will be no repeat of the recent timetabling fiascos

– The rail review will also look at where it is appropriate to extend devo and where it is not. He said extending the Tyne and Wear Metro and Merseytravel taking the Merseyrail infrastructure were good examples of where it is appropriate and gave London taking over south east rail services as his prime example of where it is not appropriate. All of this boils down to that he is pro-devolution where it is about services within the area covered by the devolved authority and anti-devolution where a city region starts to take too many responsibilities for services in the surrounding shires

– The Rail Review will be formally launched following a statement in parliament when parliament returns

Vote leave, vote against HS2?

Grayling said at the same industry fringe meeting that no cabinet minister has said to him that HS2 should be abandoned or scaled back. However it’s clear that there are a number of prominent ‘Leave’ figures, in and out of the cabinet, who have said it publicly or are known to be floating it privately. Grayling’s line was that (as far as any major project of this scale can be completely on target in terms of budget and timings) that HS2 is on course, fully committed and it’s steady as it goes. However it’s clear that completing all of HS2, or not, is back in play as a wider political football. Also there’s probably a stronger political consensus now around Northern Powerhouse Rail than there is around building all of HS2. Some bigger, bolder HS2 advocacy will be required if the case is to be re-made, and re-won.

The devo dimension to Brexit makes a modest come back

One dimension to some Brexiteer arguments was that powers devolved from Brussels should go down to the regions not all go back to Whitehall. This dimension to the argument did make a modest come back in some quarters at the conference (including at some Centre for Cities / Core cities events from CLG Secretary James Brokenshire and George Freeman MP).

It may find fuller voice in a new framework for devolution which Brokenshire briefly trailed as coming out in the autumn at the Centre for Cities reception

Enough to fill the Albert Hall

Although much of what Grayling focussed on at conference was big infrastructure issues he did suggest there could be some better news coming on local roads maintenance (perhaps this reflects that poor local road maintenance is motorists’ number one concern according to recent RAC research)

Love for the Bus

Buses came up much more on our conference stand than in previous years at Conservative party conference and is seen much more through the prism of the key role they can play to improve transport provision more widely rather than the totemic deregulation v regulation argument that used to be more to the fore

Jonathan Bray

 

 

2016 in transport

2016 has been a rollercoaster year in politics, entertainment and sports. We’ve had a referendum, a change of government, and a US election, to name just a few things. For me, this has been my first year at UTG (I joined in May), I’ve learned so much and lots of interesting things have been going on. So, I’m going to try and wrap up the big things that have happened in transport into this post.

Internally, it’s been a big year at UTG. In January 2016, Transport for London became full members, and what had been pteg became the Urban Transport Group. And since then we’ve gone from strength to strength, drawing in new policy areas such as taxis and private hire vehicles, and tackling big questions, like the value of emerging data for transport and the role of transport in delivering inclusive growth.

The Buses Bill

The Buses Bill has been a big theme in transport this year, with its passage through the House of Lords, and looks set to move into the House of Commons next year. The Buses Bill will make it easier for local transport authorities to franchise networks of buses, allowing bus services to be provided as they are in London elsewhere. This will deliver improvements for passengers and integration of ticketing. You can find out more about our work on the Buses Bill here including our Bus Services Bill FAQs.

bus-in-huddersfield

Data

Big data, open data, transport data, it’s all in vogue! On my second day at UTG we held a workshop with the Future Cities Catapult to discuss emerging data and transport, to try and tease out the opportunities and challenges around maximising the potential of transport data. Following this, we produced our ‘Getting Smart on Data’ report, which offers some recommendations of ways to overcome some of these challenges and barriers in order to utilise the wealth of emerging data.

Air Quality

Air quality has been making headlines this year, particularly as the health implications of NOx and particulate emissions become ever more apparent. Some European cities have been making bold statement to address air pollution, with Paris banning cars and making public transport free to use during high pollution events. Sadiq Khan has made significant promises to tackle air pollution in London, including doubling funding to tackle the problem and Clean Air Zones are being imposed on a number of English cities, so this issue looks likely to remain at the top of transport agendas for some time to come.

Inclusive growth

Theresa May has made it clear that her government intends to deliver inclusive growth, including through the establishment of the Inclusive Growth Economy Unit in October 2016. Inclusive Growth has been on the agenda for other organisations, with the RSA opening the Inclusive Growth Commission. Inclusivity and transport is an area that UTG have been exploring for a long time, including examining the role for transport in accessing employment, the importance of transport for young people and the role transport plays in economic development. Check out our response to the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission to find out more.

Party conferences

As UTG, we attend both the Labour and Conservative party conferences. This year, we asked people to share their priorities for transport in cities, and you can read these blog posts to find out more about what came up at Labour and the Conservatives. There were many common themes across both conferences, with people asking for better cycling infrastructure, improved public transport and raising concerns about air quality, amongst many others.

conference-stand

What’s clear is that there are many different challenges facing the transport system, but transport also offers wider social and economic opportunities. Let’s see what 2017 has to offer.

Do not underestimate the potential impact of the bus services bill

This article appeared in PSE Oct/Nov 16.

If the Bus Services Bill delivers on its promises, then it will give local government the powers to make the best use of existing subsidies to give the public a far better service than they get now, writes Jonathan Bray, director of the Urban Transport Group.

If cities don’t work without good public transport, then one reason why the regional cities are not currently fulfilling their potential is the lack of levers they have to plan and manage their bus networks.

Plan and manage means the ability to ensure there is one network, one brand, one ticket as part of wider integrated public transport networks which are readily understood and easy to use. It means there is one body (democratically accountable locally) where passengers go to find information and give feedback. One body which business knows they can work with to ensure that new developments and regeneration opportunities have bus services from the get go. This is what London takes for granted and what cities from Singapore to Washington, and right across Europe, take for granted too.

However, since buses were deregulated throughout Great Britain (except for London) in 1986, cities have had to negotiate the best they can from local monopolies who have used the monopoly profits to fuel their wider corporate expansion as well as their campaigns (directly or through a network of bought and paid-for surrogates) to block any reform. These monopolies were successful in ensuring that the powers to allow transport authorities outside London to specify and franchise bus networks (essentially the same powers London has) in the 2000 Transport Act and the 2008 Local Transport Act were too complicated and restrictive to use in practice.

The 2016 Bus Services Bill, currently before Parliament, is the third attempt. And it came not from the Department for Transport but from former chancellor George Osborne’s Treasury as part of the dowry for those city-regions that opted for a mayoral combined authority (although the legislation allows for other areas to also gain franchising powers at the government’s discretion).

New powers on offer

Astute politicians have always recognised that you can achieve noticeable impact across a wide area very quickly with relatively modest investment in bus services compared with showier infrastructure schemes. For example, the success of the mayoral concept was partly built off the back of Ken Livingstone’s early focus on buses. Osborne has gone, but the legislation is still on track to be enacted and fully usable by incoming city-region mayors in spring 2017.

And the legislation is not just about a simple route to franchising – it also offers up new powers for those authorities who don’t want to go down the franchising route by extending the limits of what can be achieved from the existing deregulated framework.

These ‘partnership’ options could deliver on many, although far from all (fully integrated ticketing in particular), of the benefits of a franchised approach – but only if operators sign on the dotted line. And with the power of veto that comes with partnership options comes a strong negotiating hand with which to water down outcomes.

Lastly, although the Bill gives transport authorities more powers over what services are provided, it seeks to head off giving local transport authorities the option of running those services directly through blocking the creation of any new municipal bus operations.

Learning lessons for previous legislation

Although the Bus Services Bill as it stands is currently in good shape in terms of the franchising and partnership sections, the lessons of previous legislation is that it only takes a few words to be inserted in the wrong place and it would be rendered as hard to use in practice as its predecessors, which is why we and other local government bodies are watching carefully to make sure it remains intact and on time.

It is important to stress that this legislation matters not just for local transport but far more widely than that. Buses get the jobless into jobs, they give young people access to education and opportunity, and they give access to healthcare whilst contributing to better public health. In short, every pound of subsidy that supports bus services results in multiple public policy benefits.

At present, too much of that precious public subsidy is being lost in the inefficiencies of the current system, through excess profits being diverted elsewhere and over-bussing on core corridors, whilst leaving the local authority to cover the cost of off-peak services. If the Bus Services Bill delivers on its promises, then it will give local government the powers to make the best use of existing subsidies to give the public a far better service than they get now. Do not underestimate the impact that this could have.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To access the Urban Transport Group’s Bus Services Bill hub visit:

W: www.urbantransportgroup.org/resources/bus/bus-services-bill