General election – transport policies lost up a cul de sac


It’s election time and all the political parties are showing their usual enthusiasm for transport, which will miraculously disappear as soon as the election is over. Probably just as well given many of their policies will do little to address the main transport problems facing the country. Eddington stated that the strategic economic priorities for long term transport policy should be addressing growing and congested urban areas and their catchments; the key inter-urban corridors; and the key international gateways. In addition he stated the transport sector also needs to play its role in economy-wide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in part by ensuring it meets its full environmental costs.

So what are all the parties coming out in favour of – high speed rail –  despite no-one having a clue how to pay for it and that it is as likely to lead to an increase in carbon emissions as a decrease.

In terms of the rail network generally, there are some sensible proposals: for electrification; less micro-management of the network; and fare reductions on rail replacement buses. Then some less sensible ones such as: widespread rail reopenings, often of lines that closed because they served the back end of nowhere; and greater fare subsidies. UKIP, just to be different advocate scrapping London’s Crossrail which would be a good waste of the couple of billion already spent on the scheme. 

On the buses, which are of course used by far more people than the railways; the move seems to be towards more regulation and subsidies for “green” buses.  How that will attract more people to use them without additional constraints on car use is of course generally glossed over. Little mention of light rail and trams although the Greens are positive and UKIP state they will use saving from our European contribution to pay for some.

Lots of warm words about bicycles but again not clear how warm words will lead to a cycling revolution.

Rather surprisingly Labour comes out as the most pro-aviation party, while the rest are generally against airport expansion in the south east if not altogether. Shipping as usual barely rates a mention.

So finally what about the road network on which we are all dependent. Here the usual weasel words about making more efficient use of roads – whatever that means – and passing the buck to local authorities to tackle road congestion. Road pricing is generally limited to nasty trucks and preferably nasty foreign trucks. The Lib-Dems will scrap road building while the Tories will build some and toll them.

So where does that leave Eddington – generally ignored. No one has any real answers to the issue of congestion in our urban areas, the only policies on inter-urban links are a few rail electrification schemes and international gateways are forgotten. And the greatest market failure in the 21st Century as Stern referred to, climate change, and ensuring the transport sector meet its full environmental costs?  Forget it, even the Greens are not really pushing for road user pricing.

In other words the elite London intelligentsia of the political world remain wholly disconnected from reality and the electorate. The latter’s top transport priority, according to a poll by the RAC Foundation (who incidentally seem to be the only group lobbying for road charging these days), is filling in the pot holes.

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3 thoughts on “General election – transport policies lost up a cul de sac

  1. Tranpsort policy has always been problematical for Politicians. They need the big vote catching potential of grand projects but struggle with the Gordian knot of balancing enabling economic growth against the consequences of transport. Most answers to the latter involve unpalitable solutions (see public opinion on Edinburgh and Manchester road user charging). Politics does matter – the transport profession needs to get better at communicating with Politicians and offering solutions that can be implemented in a way that can be adopted. Mind you it takes a brave Politician to tackle transport issues. That’s why they tend to be mid-term agenda items rather than election grand-standing.

    I do hope that high speed rail (HSR) linking the major cities of the UK becomes a reality – it simply makes more sense to use land based high speed transport for short haul trips circa 500 miles – HSR will provide greater efficiency in economic and environmental terms than our current aviation policy.

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