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Rail Services (Greater London)

6. Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): If he will make a statement on the performance of rail services in Greater London. [59781]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The performance of rail services in Greater London continues to improve. In February 2006, which is the last period for which I have figures, punctuality on South West Trains, which serves the hon. Lady's constituency, stood at 93.5 per cent.

Justine Greening: One aspect of performance that is often overlooked, although it is very important to my constituents who use Putney main line station, is ticketing. Pre-paid Oyster cards are now used regularly by my constituents who take the tube, but many who begin their journeys at Putney main line station want to be able to use flexible tickets there as well. Can the Secretary of State say whether the Government intend the tender document for the South West Trains franchise, which is due to be renewed in February 2007, to mandate franchise bidders to offer pre-pay or flexible ticket systems?

Mr. Darling: The hon. Lady makes a good point. We want to ensure that Oyster cards—and the next generation of cards—are available not just in Greater London but in the rest of the country, so the invitation to tender, which we will publish shortly, will include that requirement.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend may know of the tragic accident that occurred in my constituency over the weekend, when two 16-year-olds were ploughed down by a train travelling at 80 mph. Rumours abound about why it happened, and obviously we must await the facts, but it is already clear that there were no lights or safety gates at the crossing, and that there was no warning sound when a train was approaching. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that there will be a proper inquiry, that a report with recommendations will follow, and
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that, while we wait for the recommendations, the crossing will be closed to ensure the safety of others who wish to cross the line?

Mr. Darling: I understand my hon. Friend's concern about the accident, and we must extend our sympathy to the families of the two young boys who lost their lives. I would, however, caution my hon. Friend and the House about reaching conclusions on what happened at this stage. An investigation is in progress, and it might be better to await its conclusions before drawing our own.

This was a tragic accident and we must do our best to prevent such events, but, as the House will appreciate, railways are inherently dangerous places for people who go on to them. We need to find out how those young boys came to be on the line and what they were doing, and then draw our conclusions accordingly.

Light Rail/Trams (Funding)

7. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): If he will make a statement on future funding of light rail and trams. [59782]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): Trams can be very effective in areas with heavy traffic. We remain prepared to support trams where they are the right solution, but we must take account of the cost. In many cases a well-designed and promoted bus-based system is likely to provide a more cost-effective solution.

Andrew Stunell: The Minister and I share an interest in improved public transport in the north-west. Can he confirm that the south-east Manchester multi-modal study continues to be a priority for him and his Department, and that therefore the extension of the Metrolink tram to Manchester airport and Stockport town centre also remains a priority for him?

Derek Twigg: We are awaiting regional advice on the study, but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, this year we devolved some decision-making on priorities to the regions. The regional priorities have been submitted to the Department, and we are considering the various schemes that have been suggested, including those from the north-west.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I acknowledge the Government's real commitment to the Manchester Metrolink, including the extension to Ashton-under-Lyne, which will go through my constituency. For the vast majority of people in Denton and Reddish, however, the bus will still be the main form of public transport. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with Stagecoach Manchester, particularly on the subject of tram-like buses?

Derek Twigg: I know that my hon. Friend is a champion for his constituents when it comes to improving transport. I have had no discussions with Stagecoach Manchester about buses, but as part of the overall public transport agenda we must try to find the best solution for each area. If possible that will include integration, whether it involves buses, trams or other
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forms of transport. I will try to find out more about what discussions have taken place, and then inform my hon. Friend.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Is any consideration being given to restoring the tram service to Birmingham? That would greatly improve congestion for those who go into the city every morning. Some of the routes for the tram service that was withdrawn still exist, and could be used for the new service.

Derek Twigg: As the hon. Lady probably knows, Centro has submitted a scheme. It is also one of the regions that have involved themselves in the transport innovation fund. We will decide on its proposals in due course, when we know the details.

High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes

8. Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): What plans he has to use high occupancy vehicle lanes to tackle congestion. [59783]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): Yesterday, I announced that the Highways Agency will trial a car-share lane on the junction of the M606 and the M62 south of Bradford. A second car-share lane will be created on the M1 between junctions 7 and 8—the St. Albans to Luton stretch. Construction started yesterday.

Lynda Waltho: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer; however, we in Stourbridge and the wider black country have our own congestion problems. Will he ensure that the lessons learned from these trials are shared with those who plan transport in the west midlands, so that our congestion and traffic-flow problems can be dealt with?

Mr. Darling: I agree with my hon. Friend, and the conclusions that we draw from these trials will be available to local authorities. Authorities in two parts of the country have already used car-share lanes, which have resulted in a decrease in journey times and more people sharing lifts. The system works in America, Australia and Canada and there is no reason why it should not work here. Of course, we are also doing other things. As my hon. Friend says, there are congestion problems in the west midlands, but measures such as the traffic management scheme on the M42—from next year, use will be made of the hard shoulder during peak times—show that we are getting more out of the current network. As she will be aware, one of our priorities must be to get more out of what we have. We cannot simply build our way out of the problems that we face because of increasing pressure from cars and lorries.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): May I ask the Secretary of State whether high-occupancy vehicle lanes can also be used by public service transport, given that such vehicles are of course high-occupancy vehicles? Following up the questions from the hon. Members for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) and for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), would it not be helpful if the allocation of resources for retired people was made more equal throughout the country, because it is the allocation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Someone of the hon. Gentleman's experience should
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know that he should not string on to his first question a second one that is outside the scope of the question before us.

Mr. Darling: In the light of your warning shot, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall answer the first question but not the second; perhaps I will come back to it on another occasion. I am not sure how many buses travel along the stretch of motorway in question. However, the precise regulations will be laid during the next few weeks. In general, we are trying to encourage people who are minded to share vehicles in order to secure priority to do so; indeed; I met a number of people in Leeds and Bradford yesterday who did just that. As I have said, the system works elsewhere and there is no reason why it should not do so in this country. We need to come up with thoughtful and radical solutions to the congestion problems that we face, for the very obvious reasons that we have discussed on many occasions in this place.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): For a moment, I was worried that I had stumbled into transport in Lancashire questions. One of these new, shared-vehicle lanes is on the M62 close to my constituency, and my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to experiment with this scheme. As I saw when I was in north America, it is a very effective way of speeding up traffic. However, will he look more closely at the M62 and at junction 27 in particular, which is a real worry? The M62 will seize up if he does not act more boldly in sorting out the problem.

Mr. Darling: As my hon. Friend knows, there are proposals to deal with congestion problems on various parts of the M62, and I shall write to him about junction 27. As he says, car-pool lanes, as they are known in north America, do work; indeed, I have driven along them myself. They have significantly reduced congestion on both the east and west coast, and they are good for the environment because they encourage the use of fewer cars.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I am surprised by that last comment. A recent report from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that car-pool lanes are underused in California and that they have resulted in increased average journey times. That was confirmed by the Legislative Analyst's Office, which showed that capacity is running at only about two thirds. The Secretary of State mentioned Canada earlier, but a recent report by the Fraser Institute—under the helpful heading "HOV Lanes Make No Sense"—said that high-occupancy vehicle lanes are seriously underused in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Did the Secretary of State or any of his officials read these reports, which were published very recently, before making yesterday's announcement?

Mr. Darling: Yes, we have read them, and my experience is that one does not have to go far to find an expert report condemning any proposition in respect of transport that one cares to put forward. I was struck by something that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who speaks for the Conservatives on these matters, said the other day. He said:

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I suspect that what we have heard from the Opposition today is simply a tactical position.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I welcome the proposals for a car share lane on the M1 up to my constituency in Luton. It will benefit local people and those using London Luton airport, which we hope will be expanded. Will my right hon. Friend look at ways to encourage the local authority to work with local businesses and the airport to facilitate car-sharing schemes, so that we can continue to reduce congestion on the M1 and make maximum use of what is an excellent proposal to reduce congestion generally?

Mr. Darling: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her support. Given that all parties are considering ways to reduce the environmental damage caused by cars and by transport in general, any suitable proposal should be examined. I am sorry that the Opposition have turned their minds against that. We know that they oppose the climate change levy, but they also seem to be against just about everything else that would help to improve the environment. We are prepared to put these measures in place, no matter how difficult that may be. We will not run away from difficult decisions.

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