We begin 2020 with the new government’s pre-election transport pledges starting to be implemented. Combine this with the need to make rapid progress toward net zero emissions targets, and 2020 looks set to be a year of opportunities and challenges for transport.
The Conservative Party’s manifesto promised major rail investment, including a commitment to build Northern Powerhouse Rail linking Manchester and Leeds. Such investment is sorely needed, especially in those areas that have seen declining services and connections in recent years. There was also the promise of a £500m fund to reopen disused rail lines and stations, which was formally announced as Parliament returned in January. Rail reopening schemes can transform struggling towns, boosting local economies and creating better places to live, but the Government could be more ambitious: our research has shown that a £4.8bn reopening fund could create 33 lines and 72 stations, bringing over 500,000 people within walking distance of a station.
The railways have the potential to deliver huge economic, social and environmental benefits, but at present they are stymied by their ineffective structure and fragmented franchising system. Following the publication of the Williams Review into the system, the government must deliver a new national rail policy and the means to implement it, bringing an end to franchising and giving city regions more control over their rail services. Passengers also deserve comprehensive fares reform.
The importance of buses to communities has now gained recognition and went up the political agenda over the past year. We will hold the government to its commitment to publish a national bus strategy in the spring. The lack of strategic steer for our most-used form of public transport has contributed to dwindling services and rising fares, leaving non-drivers in many communities isolated and excluded.
Bus services need to improve across the country. Tickets need to be cheaper. A new generation of modal interchanges is required connecting bus networks with other forms of transport. And multi-modal ticketing, contactless payment and integrated journey planning needs to be available everywhere. There is also an urgent need to speed up the transition to zero emission buses. The government should set a deadline of 2025 for all new buses to be electric or hydrogen powered, and put in place a bus manufacturing sector deal to support this.
To meet carbon emissions and air pollution targets, and for the sake of long-suffering passengers and disconnected communities, 2020 must see a step change in sustainable transport.