Labour wants an affordable, accessible and sustainable transport system, for the many not the few, founded on the principle that transport is an essential public service.Key objectives for us are: cutting emissions and improving public health through a shift to public transport and active travel; closer links between transport and planning; and rebalancing our economy and reducing inequality through working alongside devolved authorities to invest in transport.
There is deep social and economic inequality in access to our transport system which has been compounded by nearly a decade of Conservative rule. Buses, for instance, are by far the major mode of public transport, with people making twice as many journeys by bus than rail. They are a lifeline for many, particularly those on lower incomes and with fewer opportunities. Shamefully, bus services have been starved of funding and declined in real terms every year since 2010.
The next Labour government will tackle the Conservative neglect of buses. We will deliver the funding and the legislative reform to create bus services that function properly, as part of purposely designed networks rather than just where they maximise the profits of private bus operators.
Transport is the UK’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the worst-performing sector when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. Labour will align the priorities of the Department for Transport with our commitment to tackle climate change.
The department, therefore, must set a carbon budget consistent with the aspirations of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Moreover, I will want each of the sectors – rail, road, aviation and maritime – to have carbon-reduction targets in line with that departmental budget.
We will reallocate departmental spending to realise this and will reform the regulatory structure of transport to drive these behavioural changes. Stronger regulation will also help achieve better value for money and productivity from public investment in transport.
Rail is critical to lowering transport’s carbon emissions. HS2 offers significant scope for a modal shift from road to rail, alongside alleviating congestion on roads, improving surface access links to airports, and enhancing rail freight connectivity to ports. The project has suffered from a chronic lack of political leadership under the Conservatives, and I very much hope Doug Oakervee’s review can get it back on track.
In fact, rail more generally has suffered from a severe failure of political leadership after nearly a decade of incompetence under the Conservatives. Consequently, rail passengers are crying out for leadership and accountability. It remains to be seen what the Government-commissioned review led by Keith Williams will propose.
Labour believes that rail needs one unified public rail company at arm’s length from government, which controls and operates both track and trains. Such a body can deliver the benefits of national integration alongside devolution while underpinned by a long-term strategy and vision. This is the model we have pledged to bring forward to rebuild faith and trust in Britain’s railways and which will provide affordable fares and better services for passengers.
I’m also concerned about where the financial burden falls on users of the transport system. For example, fuel duty has been frozen since 2010 at a cost of £50bn; puts the costs of HS2 into context doesn’t it? Similarly, air passenger duty in aviation has been broadly frozen over a similar period. Yet rail and bus fares are up by more than a third in nearly a decade.
Labour therefore believes that we need a new social contract for transport. The social contract for transport has completely collapsed under the Conservatives, with soaring fares for bus and rail passengers alongside huge cuts to investment in road maintenance, railways and bus services.
So, I’ve asked Professor Phil Goodwin to lead a study into what such a contract should encompass. I want him to investigate the key elements to build a social contract for transport which would be fair to all transport users, all other beneficiaries of transport and to all taxpayers. This is the sort of transport system Labour wants to see.
Andy McDonald is Labour MP for Middlesbrough and shadow transport secretary