Management & Operations

British Policy Tide Shifting Toward Public Transport

Posted on August 13, 1999

Bolstered by several new reports, the British government says its new polices have begun to show material results in favor of public transport. The first of these new studies, by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), is entitled “Transport Statistics for Metropolitan Areas: 1999.” It showed favorable gains in the use of public transport in all of England’s major metropolitan areas outside London, including Greater Manchester, Merseyside (Liverpool), the West Midlands (Birmingham), South Yorkshire (Sheffield), West Yorkshire (Leeds) and Tyne and Wear (Newcastle). Highlights of the report include: Bus passenger journeys increased by 5% in the West Midlands during 1997/98; The decline in bus usage in metropolitan areas overall has bottomed out, with a decrease of only 1% during 1997/98; and Tyne & Wear has the highest proportion (21%) travelling to work by public transport (the area also has the lowest number of cars registered per thousand). However, the report also found that since the mid-1980s, the proportion of journeys and distance traveled by public transport has decreased in each area, and walking and cycling has also declined. The report is a companion volume to the well-established annual report, “Transport Statistics for London.” It covers similar topics including: travel to work, personal travel, road traffic car ownership, traffic speeds on major roads, road casualties, public transport, air traffic, freight traffic, and air quality. Background data on population and employment is also included for information. Copies can be obtained, free of charge, from the DETR, TSPT4 Branch, Zone 1/31, Great Minster House, 76 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DR. The second new study to cast a positive light on British public transport was also published by DETR. Conducted by the standing committee on roads appointed by the country’s former Conservative government, it concluded that policies designed to curb traffic growth and ease congestion would not necessarily harm the economy. Moreover, the three-year investigation urged more rigorous scrutiny of the economic impacts of transport policies before building new or expanded roads. Such conclusions usually result in a more favorable policy climate for public transport, since they cast doubt on the previous pro-highway policies. The report will do so for the U.K.’s transport investment and policies, the Minister for Transport, Lord Macdonald said. “I am pleased to see the report endorses the need for good quality appraisal of transport investment,” he added. “We have made a good start in our White Paper’s new approach to [project] appraisal and the report builds on this.” He expects his government will have a formal response to the independent study by the end of the year. The government says it has also turned the corner in meeting London’s bus and rail challenges, particularly the Underground. Specifically, it has devised a plan to turn over management of the system as well as other transport issues to a Greater London Council that it hopes will result in an improved infrastructure and service levels. In addition, it has also announced a public-private partnership (PPP) plan to attract greater investment in the Underground. Speaking at a London PPP pre-qualification conference of more than 100 key business people from over 20 companies interested in bidding for the opportunity to improve the Underground’s deep-tube lines, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said, “Finding the right solution for London Underground has been one of my top priorities. I am encouraged by the strong interest there has been in qualifying to bid for the PPP competition.” He added: “We are looking for bidders who will work in a long-term partnership: getting the best out of the public sector and private sector working together. It has taken a little longer than many of us had hoped to get this far but I’ve always made it clear that I am determined to take time to get the right answers. I am determined that when I return London Underground to the Mayor and the people of London, I can do so knowing that everything is in place to address the legacy of neglect and bring the Underground up to twenty-first century standard.” Qualified bidders will be invited to submit tenders in the autumn.

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