Overhauling Transport Policy

Daniel Mayhew outlines why Labour's transport policy is outdated, and proposes a comprehensive alternative that considers the rural travelling public. 

Debate over public transport is ever present both within and outside the Labour Party, however it seems that they are both at odds with each other. The disparity seems to always come down to the definition for what the “public” means in public transport.

The view within Labour is that public transport means groups travelling, e.g buses, trains and so on, but the public see it as all forms of transport. In this author’s view, the public are right. It is the government’s duty to ensure transport is free and painless to use, and this include the road networks.

Labour’s transport policy often falls back on three policy points. Nationalisation of the rail network, bringing back buses to urban council control and restoring rural buses routes. The major issue with this is that these are clear urban based policy points ignoring the concerns of the rural travelling public. It does not address some of the biggest issue for us in the sticks:

  • The lack of road capacity as people increasingly move out of London but continue to commute in for work
  • The fact the roads underneath are not fit for public use. I have had to replace both my coil springs due to potholes for example.
  • That it is not viable for buses to work and cars are the only solution that work.

The idea that urban areas are an epicentre to which people from rural areas must travel to, is an outdated concept these days when you consider that businesses have expanded into the villages and very small towns. Large sections of the UK are just a collection of small towns and villages with people traveling between them. For large amount of these people, Labour’s policy is just downright insulting. All of this is doubled down when Labour has a policy of removing funding from existing road improvements to fund free bus passes that will only really benefit areas with good transport links.

Labour needs to have policy that deals with these issues. The first policy the party should have is to integrate Highways England’s funding down to the local councils. It is not right that the political control of British A and B roads are at the local level and then not fund them right; this is the mean reason for the crumbling roads.  Planning regulation needs to be updated so when reviewing traffic impacts that means 2020 levels; not the ones set out in the 1970s and then force developers to fund road improvements. 

As a country we need to work out better integration between councils so when a district builds a new development of a road the county controls funding and improvements occur. We also need to find a way to empowering local people to participate in the decision making, as too often complaints get lost in a loop. Alongside major rail network improvements to east Anglia, it should finally get a motorway up to Norwich.  

But what about climate change I hear some people saying.  Yes, you are right it should form a big cornerstone of any future policy so why invest in roads?  By investing in the road network, you remove bottlenecks that cause traffic to build which means cars travel at a more constant speed and are far more efficient and produce lower level Co2 and emissions. This removal also means buses more efficient by improving reliability of routes. You can also create routes that couldn’t have existed before. This helps to encourage people to move to buses. 

One of the major benefits of upgrading the road network is you can implement more integrated solutions.  You could add dedicated bus lanes, can add new cycle lanes separate form cars. The overall design can be made out of greener materials and better environmental engineering and, at the same time, you can future proof by installing new electric vehicle charging stations.

Daniel Mayhew is a scientist who lives in rural Cambridgeshire. Dan was the vice chair for grantham and stamford from 2016 to 2018 and was on the "Scientists for Labour" executive from 2017-2020. He is passionate on standing up for rural Britain and environment issues.

He tweets at @mrmayhembsc 

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