Passenger Voice June 2015: Anthony Smith’s editorial

29 May 2015

New government: more of the same for passengers? 

The dust is now settling after the general election. The picture for transport users, based on the Conservative manifesto and activities since the election, is coming into sharper focus. Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech sharpened this further. Will there be differences for passengers and road users?

The broad strategic direction has already been set with the five-year investment programmes in rail and English strategic roads. We anticipate this will continue bringing benefits to passengers and road users.

The ‘Northern Powerhouse’, perhaps one of the newest initiatives, will be significant for users in the north. It aims to rebalance the economy between northern and southern England. Powers and budgets for transport (and housing, planning, policing and possibly health) will be devolved to city authorities. Alongside this a Buses Bill will give directly-elected mayors the responsibility for running local bus services, including through the option of franchising. But this will only happen if those bodies accept an elected mayor.

It is driven enthusiastically by the Chancellor and is buttressed by ministers in different government departments to make it a reality. This legislation to make this happen was in the Queen’s Speech with a Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. However, as this project develops, we need to ensure that transport users’ interests will be at its core.

Firstly not all government activity is legislative. We look forward to seeing two new commitments on rail, flagged in the Conservative manifesto. The problems at London Bridge earlier in the year gave us the opportunity to press for better compensation for passengers when their trains are consistently late, proposing a fairer formula.

We welcomed this initiative making its way into the Conservative party manifesto as it should make significant differences to season-ticket holders. Passengers will also be pleased to know that rail fares will increase by inflation only rather than inflation plus one per cent.

Secondly over the last few years rail franchising has evolved to become more passenger-friendly. We believe there is still scope to make it even more so, and we will continue pressing for a better deal for passengers.

However one particular initiative has been missing. Now that we have long-term strategies for rail and roads, why not for bus too? Don’t they also need the long-term stability of a five-year strategy?  But perhaps we might see something along those lines in the Buses Bill.


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