Posts Tagged ‘Labour transport review’

In other news…Labour launches transport review

21/03/2011, 01:00:56 PM

by John Woodcock

In other news, Labour is launching a transport policy review today.

Something tells me that global events may deprive the review, Britain Better Connected, of the attention it would otherwise merit.

But the questions it is asking nevertheless remain important:

·         for families facing a cost-of-living squeeze exacerbated by Conservative decisions to impose a VAT hike on fuel and allow an inflation-busting increase on train fares;

·         for the next generation of high-skilled workers essential to our economy, whose future is being put at risk by widespread local decisions to abolish help with travel to college, forced by the scale of the cuts imposed on local authorities;

·         for older people angry that their free bus pass is of little use when the service they rely on has been axed;

·         for motorists who want to drive more greenly and have more public transport options but who, no matter how much the government whacks up duty on fuel, are never going to swap their car keys for a bus timetable or push bike;

·         and for a country that must examine how its transport infrastructure should change over the next decade to deliver the basic objective of sustainable growth in a world where global competition gets ever more fierce and our environmental targets ever more pressing.

We got a hell of a lot right in the major transport decisions we made during our time in government. Improvements in train lines substantially reduced journey times and improved links between towns like mine and larger centres of economic growth (in fact I am benefiting from one such improvement, the west coast main line, as I write this on the way down to London, thanking my lucky stars that I got a seat). Investment to increase the uptake of low emission vehicles like electric cars was an important step in the process of ensuring motoring can meet its environmental obligations in future decades. And we understood that UK businesses and jobs would lose, with no overall gain for the environment, if Britain sent elsewhere the global aviation growth made inevitable by the economic rise of the east.

But in the Labour government’s early years, we should recognise that we did not do enough to combat the wholly inaccurate impression that we were evangelists, determined to force people to travel more greenly rather than making it easier for them to do so. That zeal of the first term has left a lasting impression on many who now suspect that every new transport strategy, from whatever side, is something bad that to be imposed on them, rather than a measure designed to help them.

As well as dispelling that notion for good, the programme we devise for the next decade must be prepared to equip our already straining rail network to accommodate the predicted passenger demand in future years. And, crucially, it must understand the limits of price as a mechanism to change people’s behaviour. Most people have little option but to pay increased charges, be they from higher rail fares or more expensive fuel, increasing the risk that each new hike primarily just makes people poorer rather than reducing carbon emissions.

That is why shadow secretary of state, Maria Eagle, is focussing our review on affordability, on the steps we need to take to make transport more sustainable without pricing those on low and middle incomes out of the travel they need to make the best of their lives. And it is why I will be considering the steps needed ultimately to put a low emission vehicle within reach of the majority of car owners, not just the early adopters with sufficient means to pay the premium.

None of this will compete for space in the news agenda with the momentous and distressing events in Libya and Japan – rightly so. But the transport decisions we take over the next decade will have at least as great an impact on people’s daily lives. Do get involved and have your say.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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