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

At the recent Labour Party Conference, we asked attendees to share with us their number one priority for improving transport in the cities. And lots of people took up the challenge, as you can see on our board below! We’re going highlight some of these here and direct you to some of the work that we’ve done in these areas. Our Policy Futures document showcases the directions for policy across transport, with more specific work highlighted below.


Lots of people highlighted buses as an important area for improving transport in our cities, from synchronisation across operators, greater regulation and more frequent and reliable services to encourage people to move away from cars.


Buses are vital to our city regions, with over 80% of public transport trips in metropolitan areas being made by bus and contributing £2.5bn of benefits in the metropolitan areas alone. You can find more in our Bus Policy briefing, where we argue the importance of buses to public transport. The forthcoming Bus Services Bill will devolve more powers to city regions over their bus networks, and you can find out more about the bill in our Buses Bill FAQ. And there is lots more work on the value of buses to our city regions here.


Many people made suggestions around the accessibility of buses, the need for audio-visual announcements on buses and priority for wheelchair users. This is clearly important and UTG’s work has recognised the value of buses in supporting those with greater accessibility requirements. The Guide Dogs are currently leading a campaign for Talking Buses, take a look to find out more.


Digital innovation is an area that UTG are increasingly looking into. Ticketing is an area that we have worked on a great deal in the past, see Smart Ticketing for more. We held an event earlier this year looking at emerging data and transport authorities, which broadens out our examinations of digital innovation, you can find more on our Smart Futures pages and a blog post about the event too.


Freight transport was an area that came up and something that UTG have worked on. You can find out more on our Freight Hub and read our Vision for Urban Freight. We also held a Last Mile Challenge Conference in 2014 asking people to share innovative ideas for last mile deliveries in cities.


Lots of people 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.


And, we couldn’t have a transport priorities board without someone mentioning POTHOLES! UTG has examined the economics of national and local road maintenance, and you can find out more in our Bumpy Ride report.

Hopefully, for those of you who shared your transport priorities, this is a useful way of finding out more about our work on these areas. We’ll also be at the Conservative Party Conference and hopefully we can share transport priorities from there and look at some of the similarities and differences between them.

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.


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.


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