Memorandum by the Socialist Environment
and Resources Association (IT 19)
THE TRANSPORT WHITE PAPER
SERA welcome the White Paper as a long-awaited
step-forward for transport and our environment. The following
points summarise our views.
1. There is a policy.
2. Quality bus services are recognised as key
to encouraging people to use public transport and improve the
lives of people that already do so.
3. Reduction of CO2 emissions and
pollution by reducing traffic is recognised as important.
4. The policy focuses on local solutions to
local problems via local transport plans.
5. Walking and cycling are afforded equal priority
with other transport modes.
6. Improving the regulation and quality of rail
services is addressed via the Strategic Rail Authority.
7. Hypothecation of revenue will allow local
authorities to start making an impact on transport problems by
improving alternatives as well as reducing demand.
8. The minimum ½ price concession for elderly
bus passengers has been introduced.
9. The roads review used broader criteria to
evaluate, postpone and cancel major schemes.
1. Delays in introducing legislation will make
the negative trends harder to reverse.
2. Transport's links to social exclusion were
not addressed sufficiently.
3. Lack of superstore charging will make Local
Transport Plans politically harder to implement and undermine
4. There is insufficient backup and follow-through
for local authorities (benchmarking and guideline targets) proposed
5. There are no national targets for reducing
The Transport White Paper has much to commend
it. It is a clear statement that the country needs a sustainable
transport system; that the Government intends to move in that
direction; and that it will require local authorities to do the
same. It proposes to bring in much tougher regulation of both
bus and rail industries. And perhaps above all, it has grasped
the nettle of hypothecation, thereby enabling money raised from
parking charges and road pricing to be earmarked to pay for juicy
carrots such as bus and cycle lanes, improved local rail services
and safe routes to school schemes.
Central to its success will be the five year
Local Transport Plans that local authorities will be required
to draw up. The plans will be expected to include targets to increase
road safety, cut air pollution, reduce traffic levels, increase
the use of public transport and reverse the decline in walking
and cycling. Some local authoritiessuch as Edinburgh and
Yorkare already moving in this direction. For others, though,
the new requirements will come as a severe jolt to their established
way of doing things. However, unless local authorities do draw
up plans in tune with the White Paper, Government funding will
not be forthcoming.
The local authorities would do well to see these
five year plans, not as a Government imposed burden, but as an
opportunity to restore many of the powers they lost under 18 years
of Conservative rule. Key to this are the rights that local authorities
will be given to impose parking and congestion charges and retain
the money to pay for their Local Transport Plans.
Local authorities will also have more powers
over bus operators. SERA has long argued that buses need to be
re-regulated. The White Paper comes very close to making that
possible. Legislation will be introduced to put Quality Partnershipswhere
local authorities and the bus operators agree on the quality of
service to be providedon a statutory footing. But additionally,
if the operator won't play ball, local authorities will be able
to enter into Quality Contracts with operators. These would
"mark a real change from the present and would involve operators
bidding for exclusive rights to run bus services on a route or
group of routes, on the basis of a local authority service specification
and performance targets."
The national Strategic Rail Authority, which
will be established, will allow local authorities to have a greater
influence over their local rail networks. The Strategic Rail Authority
will not be a means of taking the railways back into public ownership,
but it will have considerable, and very welcome, powers to ensure
a more responsive, integrated rail network that, once again, is
looking to expand and develop.
As is to be expected of such an ambitious White
Paper, there is much that has yet to fall into place. At the time
of writing we still await the Road Safety Strategy and a detailed
policy on air. But the basis of a new type of transport policy
has been mapped out.
The White Paper, though, is not without its
flaws and it is disappointing that there will be no legislation
for some time to come.
There are a lot of warm, encouraging words about
the need to address social exclusion, but, apart from the welcome
proposal to cut fares for pensioners, there are few measures directly
designed to help socially excluded people. There are, of course,
a number of general measures that will benefit disadvantaged peoplebetter
bus services, improved walking, and cycling facilities, safer
stations, more accessible transportbut, over the next few
years, John Prescott's Department needs to work with the Social
Exclusion Unit to come up with a package of proposals that is
geared specifically to meeting the needs of low income households.