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Labour has today launched a Policy Review document on Empowering Communities to Improve Transport.
Passengers could benefit from improvements to the quality and affordability of local transport if communities were given greater control over how services are delivered, according to findings from Labour’s Policy Review.
Labour’s transport team has been looking at the experience of countries including the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, where local and regional transport authorities have significantly greater powers and control over funding, enabling them to plan and integrate services.
Labour’s Policy Review is looking at what lessons could be learnt for the transport system across England and specifically how other parts of the country could improve public transport if they had ‘London-style’ powers over local and regional bus, tram and rail services including the ability to set fares, protect services, integrate timetables and introduce ‘Oyster-style’ smart multi-modal multi-operator ticketing.
Ideas emerging from this work include strengthening the powers of the existing Integrated Transport Authorities while encouraging and incentivising other city regions to look at the benefits from developing similar models of governance; supporting transport authorities that wish to use the legal powers introduced by Labour to re-regulate bus services by giving the Secretary of State a new power to specify an area as a Deregulation Exemption Zone; and bringing all the various strands of bus funding together into a single pot, devolved to transport authorities.
Labour is also looking at increasing accountability over regional transport by enabling transport authorities to forge regional partnerships to take on responsibility for rail services and funding for major transport schemes (as an alternative to the Government’s proposals to hand over this funding and responsibility to LEPs); and enabling the review of the Highways Agency to explore the potential for devolving more of the road network and relevant funding to the regions.
Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said:
"Many communities feel that they have little influence over the local transport on which many depend. It can prove impossible to prevent the loss of a much valued bus service or improve the condition of a local train station. Services often do not join up and the absence of integrated ticketing and co-ordinated time tables put barriers in the way of making use of public transport. The nature of the privatised train industry and deregulated bus market outside London make it difficult to influence decision-making, not least over the loss of services and increases in fares.
"Labour’s Policy Review has heard how we should also have been more willing to tackle the consequences of the Tories’ disastrous privatisation of the rail industry and deregulation of bus services outside London. Passengers have been left frustrated by the lack of any influence in decisions over services and fares. Many increasingly feel priced off public transport with consequences for their quality of life as well as for congestion and the environment.
"The Tory-led Government’s decision to cut transport funding too far and too fast has made this situation worse with one in five supported bus services already lost and inflation-busting increases in rail and bus fares filling the gap in funding. Transpo rt is now the single biggest monthly cost for many households, greater even than mortgage or rent payments.
"I am clear that we need a new approach that enables people to have a real influence over the local transport services on which they depend. I want to see the rest of England benefit from London-style powers to manage bus and train services in the way that can make integrated transport a reality. It’s time that fares and services were agreed not with profits but with passengers in mind. A real commitment to devolving powers and funding over transport will require a cultural change away from the ‘Whitehall knows best’ approach. It will mean being willing to take on the vested interests in the private train and bus companies that benefit from the current system.
"Labour has listened to the call for more accountability over how decisions are taken over local transport fares and services. It is clear that without greater support to intervene in the local b us market, take responsibility for local and regional rail services and make the strategic decisions over investment in major local transport schemes, communities will not be able to match London’s ability to deliver high quality reliable and affordable integrated transport networks."
Cllr David Wood, Chair, Tyne & Wear Integrated Transport Authority said:
"Tyne and Wear residents and businesses tell us that a more integrated bus network with consistent standards across all services with fewer service changes and cuts are what are needed to halt the current decline in bus use. I strongly believe that we can do more to imp rove bus services with the many millions of pounds of public money currently channelled into the bus operators with a greater ability to regulate fares, routes and service standards."
Cllr James Lewis, Chair, West Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority said:
"The North would be able to have a much greater say over the operation and future development of rail services if the franchise was devolved out of London. Key service and investment decisions will be made much closer to the communities we serve and tied into our need to boost economic growth and jobs. Local planning will make integrating trains with buses, trams, cycling a nd other modes much easier."
Stephen Joseph OBE, Chief Executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said:
"One of the big challenges in transport is how to make our transport system work for local communities. Transferring responsibility down from central government down to local or regional structures could mean simply passing the buck, so it is very welcome that the Labour Party is seriously looking at what needs to be done differently to make decentralisation work in practice. Local communities need to know that they can make a difference and deliver a decent high quality transport system."