In a Brexit-dominated election, issues like transport will struggle to get noticed. But the next Government of whatever shape will face a number of transport challenges which can't be ducked or ignored.
The first is air pollution: how to clean up air in cities without annoying motorists and their media friends. The risk is that the next Government will shy away from tackling polluting diesel cars and trucks or promoting modal shift, and instead will go for soft targets like buses.
Second, there is the crisis in local transport, where successive spending cuts have led to a huge backlog in maintenance in local roads, cuts in local bus services, limited and sporadic investment in sustainable transport and a loss of experienced council staff. This means that proper planning of transport and development is giving way to chaotic car-based sprawl where developers get anything they want and local roads jam up.
Third, there are big delivery challenges, especially on the railways with franchising and Network Rail.
Finally, trends in transport costs will be a challenge, with motoring and road freight costs stable or falling while public transport fares and rail freight costs have increased.
Resolving these will require new and sometimes radical measures – more devolution, more public involvement, and new forms of taxation, charging and financing for transport, especially for promoting clean air and reduced carbon and traffic. Specifically, we want to see the next Government take forward four key policies:
- 'Fix it first': a shift of funding away from Highways England and trunk roads to local transport, including maintenance of local roads (and pavements!). This can also fund proper bus priority and also make real the targets for increasing cycling and reversing the decline in walking that the Government signed up to just before the election. We are suggesting that this should come from the planned Roads Fund that will use the revenues of Vehicle Excise Duty from 2020-21
- Stop the bus cuts: we've managed to get a Bus Services Act, which gives options for improving bus services, but we need proper funding for buses and local public transport generally. In the past we've suggested a 'connectivity fund' paid for by the different Government departments that benefit from good bus services. We also need a national strategy for buses, including long term and sustained Government funding for greening the bus fleet, to deliver modern bus services, clean up air pollution and stimulate low carbon industries
- Expand the railways: the next government should continue to invest in rail upgrades, better stations, electrification and the Strategic Freight Network, and find new ways of delivering these so as to bring down costs and increase efficient delivery. But we also need to expand the rail network – we need something like a £500m New Stations Plus fund targeted at bringing disused or freight-only lines back into passenger use as well as new/ reopened stations
- Make public transport affordable and attractive: the next Government should roll out simple, smart ticketing to the whole country. It should protect the existing bus pass but fund it properly, and create a national concessionary travel scheme for young people. We'll also want to see the next Government continue to limit rail fare increases to inflation, introduce season tickets for part time workers, and simplify the structure and range of fares.
We are also with others supporting a new Clean Air Act and keeping or even upgrading environmental protection post Brexit.
As we've done in the last two elections, we're hoping to host speeches by the transport spokespeople for the main parties, giving them a chance to set out what they would do if they are elected.
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