World Class Public Transport in our Cities? The Cynic is Watching….

272 London’s public transport has received huge levels of investment…

It isn’t so much a wind of change – because the nuts and bolts are yet to be seen. But George Osborne’s rather large carrot of transport control in Manchester in return for a whole load of other devolved responsibilities under a “Metro Mayor” would seem to be the first of many. What is good for Mancunians will be good enough for other City-Region areas.

The North East’s push for more Authority control has almost been eclipsed by the near-certainty that Manchester’s private bus operators will have to cede control of their operations to a public body.

I have long-argued not specifically against Quality Contracts and the like – rather I don’t see the point unless something radically game-changing is on offer. And there certainly doesn’t seem to be in Nexus-land.

While Sir Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport for London, has been receiving the plaudits for sustained transport investment for the Capital at the recent International UITP shindig, the inevitable point has been offered: why can’t the rest have what London has? And it seems to be closer now than for a long time.

Of course London is different, unique in many respects. Great tube, great bus network, high car park charging, congestion charge…the list goes on. In many ways, sustained transport spending in London has been a necessity, due to the incredible population explosion in the City in recent years. Car ownership is low, thus a good public transport system is used more and more. That is a good thing. Why indeed can’t we have that elsewhere?

It is down to politicians. It is they who will have to step up to the plate, should we have London-style operation elsewhere. It is they who will have to emulate their compatriots in the London Assembly and pledge long-term decent investment in public transport to get something even remotely close to London. It is they who will have to pledge larger proportions of council tax, take the rap in the media from irate motorists who, far from wanting to see investment in public transport, want rid of pesky bus lanes, which exist only to catch them out with their ignorance of why we need more bus priority.

And it is local councillors and politicians who will find no hiding place when specification of bus services is down to them, and not some “money-grabbing” private bus operator, which exists supposedly only to line the pockets of its shareholders. Will we see Councillors rubber-stamping a five-year investment plan for millions of pounds of new buses? I wait with bated breath. What happens when all these new bus services – which private operators won’t operate – suddenly pop up and then – unsurprisingly – prove not to work and are quietly withdrawn? What happens when the budget goes awry and social services need a few million quid to top it up? Chop a few bus services? We may just have been here before…

I don’t mind being proved wrong. Because, in 10 years’ time, if we have London-style bus services in our provinces, it will benefit all of us. It will also mean that politicians and councillors will have taken very difficult decisions that will have seen millions of additional pounds pumped into public transport to bring us up to a London style system that is world class.

I look forward to that point.

But the cynic in me is waiting. And watching….

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