IN August, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that has been described as a “code red for humanity”.
The authors say that 1.5C of warming – the level at which serious climate emergencies become more likely – will be reached by 2040. If emissions aren’t slashed in the next few years, this will happen even earlier.
In November, the UK will host COP26, a key climate summit. This is a time for the UK to show leadership.
The IPPR Environmental Justice Commission has highlighted that any climate transformation “must be rooted in fairness – not only because the poorest communities are least responsible for these crises and invariably the worst affected, but because unless action to restore nature and decarbonise the economy is rooted in social and economic justice, it simply won’t succeed”.
The IPPR report, co-chaired by Leeds Central MP, Hilary Benn, calls on the Government “to make all bus travel free at the point of use by 2025, and [make] all other forms of local public transport (including trams and the metro) free at the point of use by 2030”.
This is this perfect policy for West Yorkshire, where 40 per cent of our locally generated emissions come from transport, the majority from private car use. Some estimate that over 1,500 Yorkshire people die each year from conditions exacerbated by air pollution.
Free public transport has a track record of shifting people out of cars and is already present in around 100 towns and cities worldwide. This includes more than 30 in the USA and 20 in France, as well as in parts of Poland, Sweden, Italy, Slovenia, Estonia, and Australia.
In the UK, free concessionary passes already demonstrate great value-for-money delivering up to £2.87 in economic and social benefits for every £1 spent by Government.
We call on the leaders of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to show that Yorkshire is committed to playing a leading part in delivering a just transition, one that improves people’s lives and addresses the climate crisis, by making buses free at the point of use for the fortnight of COP26.
This is not only essential for showing our long-term ambition but will also help avoid a car-led recovery after the pandemic.
In Swansea, bus travel has been free at weekends over the summer (16 days) creating as much as a 70 per cent increase in bus passenger journeys. This scheme cost Swansea Council roughly £1.50 per local resident.
As half of West Yorkshire’s bus operating costs are already met by the Combined Authority, free bus travel during COP26 is estimated to cost just £1.52 per local resident.
We also call on West Yorkshire’s leaders to accelerate their timetable for bringing buses into public control, following in Greater Manchester’s footsteps by engaging directly with Downing Street to deliver this crucial improvement at speed.
Public control delivers improvements in reliability, integration, frequency, and network coverage – changes essential to providing an alternative to the car that is fair and affordable. Now is the time for action to put local people and the planet first.
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