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


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.

POSITIVES

  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.

NEGATIVES

  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 town centres.

  4. There is insufficient backup and follow-through for local authorities (benchmarking and guideline targets) proposed at present.

  5. There are no national targets for reducing traffic.

  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 authorities—such as Edinburgh and York—are 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 Partnerships—where local authorities and the bus operators agree on the quality of service to be provided—on 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 people—better bus services, improved walking, and cycling facilities, safer stations, more accessible transport—but, 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.





 
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