Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum Submitted by Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Authority and Nexus (IT 131)

"A NEW DEAL FOR TRANSPORT—BETTER FOR EVERYONE"

INTRODUCTION

  1. Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Authority (PTA) and Nexus, its executive arm, are grateful for the opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee's inquiry into the Government's transport policy White Paper, "A New Deal for Transport—Better for Everyone".

SUMMARY

  2. We congratulate the Government for producing a comprehensive analysis of the transport needs of the country that recognises the important contribution that transport policy must make to the wider goal of sustainable development.

  3. We support fully the Government's call to modernise and integrate the way in which the country's transport needs are planned, provided for and financed.

  4. We believe that the Government should affirm its radical intentions through primary and secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity.

  5. We feel strongly that new primary and secondary legislation should empower and enable democratically elected and accountable local and regional authorities to make a direct and tangible contribution to the Government's objectives.

  6. We note that the Government intends to publish a series of further consultation papers on the details of its plans shortly but we are concerned that their consideration will further delay the necessary legislation.

  7. We are especially concerned about the Government's proposals for:

    —  financing the "New Deal for Transport";

    —  delivering the "New Deal for Transport" in the English metropolitan areas;

    —  regulation of the bus industry;

    —  safeguarding the interests of the passenger.

FINANCING THE NEW DEAL FOR TRANSPORT

  8. The publication of the Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report (EFSR) and Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) marks a decisive shift away from the short term planning horizons that have bedeviled transport policy making in the past. The new arrangements for encouraging and protecting capital investment are particularly welcome.

  9. Yet of the extra £1.7 billion (in real terms) pledged by Government for transport over the next three years, only £100 million will be available in 1999-2000, with the balance of £600 million and £1 billion coming in 2000-01 and 2000-02 respectively.

  10. We cannot help but note that:

    —  projected national public expenditure on transport in 2001-02 (£10.8 billion at 1997-98 prices) will be 20 per cent less than it was in 1993-94 (£13.5 billion at 1997-98 prices);

    —  transport tax yields to the Treasury are set to grow at a far higher rate than inflation;

    —  the outstanding demands for local transport investment are immense. As the Committee is aware, the Local Government Association (LGA) has put a £5.25 billion price tag on the cost of bringing local roads up to scratch.

  11. Consequently, we feel that there is a noticeable shortfall between the Government's expectations of local government to implement "The New Deal for Transport" and the resources available to local authorities to do so.

  12. Without wishing to prejudice the Government's commitment to abide by the "golden rule" of public expenditure, we feel that there is scope for the Government to help bridge the gulf between ambitions and resources by:

    —  freeing local authorities from the threat of Council Tax capping;

    —  accepting the Committee's recommendation of underwriting Public-Private Partnership transport projects with Government guaranteed bonds where there is little or any revenue risk involved;

    —  increasing the penalty for bus lane offences and channelling the proceeds of such fines back to local authorities to pay for the cost of enforcing bus priority measures.

  13. Looking ahead to the introduction of new revenue streams to integrate local transport networks, we would like the Government to:

    —  rethink its intention to exempt non-workplace car parking from the proposed charging regime;

    —  confirm that it will not use the opportunity of such streams to abdicate and/or transfer its own responsibilities.

DELIVERING THE "NEW DEAL FOR TRANSPORT"

  14. The Government notes in its White Paper that the English metropolitan PTGAs are "well placed to play a leading role in delivering integrated transport objectives in places which face some of the most serious environmental and congestion problems outside London". While we are grateful for this recognition, the PTA and Nexus are anxious to ensure that the Government is fully alert to the scale of the challenge that PTAs face in living up to Government's high hopes.

Money

  15. We referred above to the financing needs of the "New Deal for Transport". For the English metropolitan PTAs, the problem has an added twist in that they are dependent for resources on hard pressed/cap threatened metropolitan district councils. Since Central Government support for local public transport services is not provided in a transparent form, the public transport network must compete for money with other local authority front line services such as education and personal social services. The Government has not yet come forward with proposals for resolving this state of affairs which is prejudicial to long term planning and the pursuit of "Best Value".

Powers

  16. In common with our fellow PTAs and PTEs, we have been vigorous in forging voluntary partnerships with our constituent district councils, local operators and other agencies to improve the quality, attractiveness and convenience of the local public transport network. Yet there are limits to how much can be achieved through goodwill and good intentions. Bus patronage is still on the decline in the English metropolitan areas and we don't believe this will be reversed without underpinning the principles embedded in partnerships with some regulation of buses, particularly in busy town centres and on heavily used corridors.

  17. The White Paper does suggest that Government shares this view, but we would welcome more details about:

    —  the relationship between the preparation of Regional Planning Guidance, Regional Transport Strategies (RTSs) and Local Transport Plans (LTPs);

    —  the extent to which partners in the preparation and implementation of RTSs and LTPs will be able to veto and/or opt out from specification measures.

GREEN COMMUTER PLANS

  18. We welcome the emphasis on encouragement to employers to adopt green commuter plans. However this would be considerably helped if the Chancellor adjusted the current status of subsidised public transport (season tickets) as a "benefit in kind", hence liable to taxation. This does not currently apply to car parking places provided by the employer!

BUS REGULATION

  19. The PTA and Nexus welcome the White Paper's recognition of the pivotal role of local bus services in delivering the "New Deal for Transport". We are disappointed that the Government seems to under estimate the problems caused by bus deregulation (especially in the English metropolitan areas) and by the underlying suggestion that there is scope for meaningful improvement without primary and secondary legislation.

  20. Under the "Best Value" regime for local public services the Government has rightly insisted that, "A culture in which authorities decide what services are provided on the basis of what suits them as providers is not an option". Yet with bus deregulation and even with Quality Partnerships, PTAs and local authorities have no option but to"put up and pay up" for what best suits the commercial bus operators in terms of service levels, vehicle quality, fares, ticketing schemes, information and publicity.

  21. The White Paper does hold out the hope of more effective regulation of the industry through Quality Contracts although it is not clear as to what criteria will have to be fulfilled. Once that criteria is established then it surely should be decided locally rather than require the consent of the Secretary of State.

  22. We believe that this approach runs counter to the Government's commitment to devolving power from the centre.

SAFEGUARDING THE INTERESTS OF THE PASSENGER

  23. An integrated public transport system should entail an integrated approach to responding to the needs and concerns of its passengers as customers, stakeholders and tax payers. The degree of redress available to passengers for poor performance and/or service failure should not be a matter of operational and bureaucratic convenience, still less should it be left to market forces to resolve. Yet under the current patchwork of provision, the rights of the passenger vary enormously between modes and between different parts of the country.

  24. The White Paper suggests that the Traffic Commissioners should be given a role in strengthening the passenger voice and hints at more use of the Consultative Committee framework for the railways by involving bus user representative bodies. These proposals imply that Government is alert to the problem but confused as to the most appropriate way to resolve it.

  25. The PTA and Nexus believe that a national statutory watchdog is required to promote and protect the interests of all public transport passengers as part of the "New Deal for Transport".

T D Marshall

Chairman

Tyne and Wear PTA

Michael J Parker

Director General

NEXUS

September 1998


 
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