As part of The Yorkshire Post series – What the new Prime Minister should do for Yorkshire – Carmel Harrison looks at public transport.
KEITH Williams, who is leading an independent review of the rail industry, has said that there will be two key actions in his rail revolution – passenger service and fare transparency.
It’s simple and also top of my wish list for the new Prime Minister. For too long, rail travel has been the preserve of vested interest delivered by companies who are given ‘franchises’.
On further inspection these are ‘lock ins’, enabling them to treat passengers with contempt and act as though they are doing them a favour while charging fares based on what they feel they can get away with rather than their actual value.
Passengers, particularly on Northern services (Northern Fail), are still subject to frequently late, often cancelled dangerously crammed rolling stock that even the Iranians have decommissioned.
As a businessperson, councillor, public transport devotee and environmentalist, clean, reliable and affordable rail services should not be a postcode lottery. Currently in South Leeds, we are travelling on Pacer trains with the crumb of hope being that they will eventually be scrapped in early 2020. That is 18 months late at least!
The first thing the next PM must do is commission the complete electrification of the whole Northern Powerhouse rail network, regardless of cost. This would deliver clean rail travel across a universal system, leaving rail operators nowhere to hide. They would have no excuse for running late trains or cancelling them. It would pay back the cost in its lifetime.
Why is electrification so important? Simply because it puts efficiency in at the top and improves air quality for everyone. It will also give rail operators certainty of cost so that they can deliver on the other imperative – clear and simple rail fares.
The UK has historically had the most complex system of ticketing in Western Europe. We pay an average 57 pence per kilometre travelled compared to 11 pence in Germany and eight pence in Spain. It’s particularly galling given that Deutsche Bahn are the German parent company for Northern Rail. The Deutsche Bahn network in Germany runs far more reliably than Northern Rail does – I know I have used it! Punctuality is the norm, trains are clean, modern and mainly run on electric networks.
Ticketing should be akin to a European system. One ticket per journey, buy a book of 10 and get a discount. The French Metro is €1.90 euro per journey – or €14.90 for 10. It encourages public transport and gives providers certainty of income.
On the subject of trains, the new Prime Minister must immediately be honest about his intentions on HS2. For too long, voters have been let down by politicians telling them one thing then doing another. Democracy is now at risk because of it and HS2 is a case in point. Be honest, scrap it and develop a Northern Hub to increase capacity, improve service and instil fare transparency.
But it isn’t only rail passengers suffering a poor service. Bus commuters experience delays, cancellations and a postcode lottery of ticketing. The new Prime Minister must tackle the delay to devolution quickly to free up budgetary responsibility for transport to the Leeds City Region and Yorkshire.
That would give everyone a greater say and hold local politicians to account. In my part of Leeds, Rothwell, bus services are patchy and unreliable with no access to affordable day rider fares for commuters. Yet a few miles down the road in Beeston, a ticket on buses, which run every 10 minutes, can cost as little as £1. It’s madness.
Buses, still the most popular form of public transport, must be every 10 minutes around the city with smaller hop on hop off services to connect more remote communities. The new PM could be creative and use some of the NHS budget for that under the guise of tackling social isolation. The elderly don’t want to drive, young families and teenagers cannot afford to run cars. Small buses running from 6am until 8pm. charging 50p a journey would connect communities, boost local centres and provide social cohesion.
Most importantly on transport the new PM must do something. Inactivity and more costly consultations are not options. The North, specifically Yorkshire desperately needs investment in new, clean passenger transport systems. Now.
Tomorrow: Alan Mak.
Carmel Harrison is a Lib Dem councillor for Rothwell and public transport campaigner.