Conservative Party Conference – What’s your number one priority for improving transport in cities?

This week it was the turn of the Tory Party conference to share their transport priorities with us on our board. And participants took up the challenge, sharing a range of ideas for improving cities. For an overview of our work on the directions for transport policy in cities, check out Policy Futures. Let’s take a look at some of the suggestions, and our work in these areas, in more detail.

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You may, or may not, be surprised to find that there were a lot of similarities between the transport priorities raised at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences. Buses were a recurring theme, and seem to bridge the political divide. You can find more in our Bus Policy briefing, where we argue the importance of buses to public transport.

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Increased oversight of bus routes and ticketting was highlighed as a priroriy for improving cities transport, and the forthcoming Buses Bill will devolve more powers to city regions. You can find out more about this in our Buses Bill FAQ.

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Integration of bus routes is something else that was raised as a priority for city transport, something which the Buses Bill should also help to address.

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Congestion was raised as a challenge for urban transport. At UTG, we argue that greater priority for buses is a key strategy for reducing congestion in cities, and the Case for Bus Priority can be found here. You can also find lots more work on the value of buses to our city regions here.

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Electric Vehicle Charging was a point that came up at the Conservative Party conference, and you can find our work on transport sustainability here.

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Lots of people across both conferences highlighted cycling as their number one priority for improving urban transport. Our Cycling Hub shares our work on this area, as well as providing direction to other organisations who are delivering evidence on the case for cycling investment.

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Finally, we were thrown a bit of a curve ball, with the question of ‘Where are the canoes and kayaks”? This isn’t something that we’ve looked at, but it did spark a debate in the office about the possibilities of kayaking for commuting in Leeds!

Hopefully, for those of you who shared your transport priorities, across both conferences, this is a useful way of finding out more about our work on these areas.

The ‘big mo’ is now with devolution and bus regulation

Close-up of a bus

An unstoppable momentum appears to be building around devolution and bus regulation.

What a difference a week makes. It’s not clear yet whether this is quite a Berlin Wall moment on buses and devolution – but at the very least it’s the equivalent of mass demonstrations in Leipzig. And we all know where that led to. This is how it happens – the pressure builds and builds and then with dizzying speed ‘all that is solid melts into the air’ and a new paradigm forms itself.  They don’t happen often but I’ve been through these moments before.  Most notably when the roads programme suddenly collapsed (after years of political, community and intellectual pressure) in the nineties, and transport policy shifted towards seeing public transport as a solution rather than a problem. A shift in thinking that has not been reversed. With big developments almost by the day there’s a risk that this column will be out of date before it’s published, but here goes… Continue reading

Party conferences 2012 – round-up

Nick Clegg being photographed at Lib Dem party conference

After the party conference bubble, a clearer picture of each party’s transport policies emerges

Autumn Party conferences can be a bit of a blur – mini-political Glastonburys for politicians and the travelling roadshow of journalists and lobbyists. A bubble of meetings, speeches and talk. But when you finally get on the train back to the real world you do leave with a clearer impression of where each party is at on the key transport issues.

Liberal Democrats

On transport, the Lib Dem conference is all about Norman Baker – who continues to throw his considerable energies into making the very most of his tenure at Transport. He’s doing this by shaping local transport around his own priorities – but within the context of a coalition Government that is reducing and devolving public spending.

What are Norman’s priorities? I would say:

  • The mainstreaming of spending on active travel.
  • Holding the line on the use of all the bus powers in the Local Transport Act 2008 (including Quality Contracts).
  • Making sure that the more rural areas don’t lose out from any changes.
  • And perhaps, most challenging of all, trying to find a way through the thicket of a fragmented, deregulated / privatised public transport network to get to the prize of a more integrated offer for passengers including smart and simple ticketing.

This degree of activity and intent is not a common feature in junior transport ministers (who usually cautiously read out whatever the officials give them before moving on). In some ways Norman’s approach is also a further example of ‘managed localism’ – via a series of centrally determined funding competitions – but there’s no doubt that it is proving successful on objective one especially, which is the mainstreaming of cycling in particular with local transport policy.

Labour

Meet the new Barbara Castle? If Labour is elected (and all other things remain equal in the shadow cabinet) then Maria Eagle could go right through from opposition to government. Why the Barbara Castle comparison? Well in the 1960s Harold Wilson decided that for once Government was going to make transport a priority and Castle seized the opportunity with one of the biggest packages of progressive transport legislation the country had seen – the 1968 Transport Act – which among other things created the PTEs.

At Labour conference Maria Eagle certainly seems fired up to seize the moment if she has the opportunity. If the Eagle lands at Marsham Street then a not-for-profit InterCity network, a devolved local rail network and a managed transition from bus deregulation to local transport authority control would be her priorities. However there’s a lot that could happen between then and now – and she would need the two Eds on her side too.

Conservatives

If the new Secretary of State was appointed as a ‘steady eddie’ to keep the transport brief tranquil then, not for the first time, this is already proving harder than it looks – with the west coast franchise blowing up in the DfT’s face.

But that aside, what also emerged from the Conservative party conference was:

  • A very firm commitment to HS2 from McLoughlin to further demoralise the anti-campaign and to kill off the niggling stories in the press about whether it’s really going to happen or not
  • The emergence of a ‘mods and rockers’ debate on buses within Conservatives who are interested in buses. Whilst new DfT Stephen Hammond continues to pursue the traditional Eighties-style hard line in favour of bus deregulation, Steve Norris told the pteg fringe that it should be down to local transport authorities to decide. Indeed there’s a fair few Conservative MPs now who are far more interested in outcomes than they are in defending the principle of bus deregulation and recognise that franchising is a perfectly reasonable view to take.
  • Roads are back – kinda. Talk of building new motorways as a gut response to economic problems is becoming semi-respectable again – but there’s far from a groundswell for it and perhaps a trace memory of just how unpopular massive road building programmes can be – particularly among voters in the prosperous, over-heated South East

Time for Whitehall to let go?

This was the question that each of our fringe meetings posed in its title. And the answer at all three was a resounding yes! The will and the impulse is there…but to get the devolution that really matters off the launch pad (bus and rail) before the gravitational pull of the civil service pulls it back to earth. Now that’s the hard bit.

Jonathan Bray