Lord Adonis' Transport Manifesto
Transport Times Conference, 24 June 2009
Transport Times has long been at the forefront of innovative thinking in transport policy, and I am delighted to be making my first major speech as Secretary of State, setting out my transport manifesto, at this conference.
The subject of your conference – “door to door public transport” – is a theme close to my heart. I know it invokes the dreaded words “integrated transport policy”, which Sir Humphrey Appleby famously described as “a bed of nails, a crown of thorns and a booby trap.” But then his minister, Jim Hacker, didn’t seem to achieve anything much at all in his many episodes as minister or indeed Prime Minister, so I am not proposing to take any lectures from him.
When it comes to tackling big challenges, I take the same approach at transport as I took for many years at education. I am an activist, not a fatalist, striving for a vision of a fundamentally better future and constantly working at a step-by-step game plan to get there. Indeed, the policy context has some strong similarities. For decades people said that there were deep intractable cultural reasons – the English class system and all that – why England had underperforming state schools, and that no government could do anything much about it. Furthermore, because the simple headline-grabbing policy solutions were mostly from the extremes of left and right – whether it was the abolition of private education from the left, or vouchers and a market free-for-all from the right – this only heightened the distrust of pragmatic Middle England that bold but sensible reform could bring about fundamental change for the better. Yet with a will and the right policies, it was possible to do so, commanding the broad confidence of the general public, by investment and reform focused on the essentials of improving teacher recruitment, school standards, school organisation and school leadership.
So too in transport. The fatalists are rife here as well. How many times have people told me that we just have to grin and bear congestion, that we in Britain are incapable of carrying through long-term infrastructure projects, that you will never get people cycling on British roads, and that our engineers simply aren’t up to French, German and Japanese standards, so we will never run railways as well.
I don’t buy any of that. On the contrary, there are grounds for optimism, and firm foundations on which to build. More than £150bn has been invested in transport infrastructure over the past decade. Thanks to John Prescott and Michael Heseltine, we now have High Speed One and the gloriously rebuilt St Pancras station. Thanks to John’s successors, who dealt successfully with the aftermath of the collapse of Railtrack, we now have a national rail system carrying more passengers than at any time since before Beeching, with greater capacity and high levels of safety and punctuality. The bus fleet is being modernised; a national concessionary fares scheme is in place for the over 60s and disabled people; and new powers have been given to local authorities to regulate and improve bus services. Road safety has improved markedly.
As for genuinely integrated transport, under Ken Livingstone’s pioneering leadership London led the way with a renaissance of buses and major improvements to the tube, supported by the successful congestion charge. A transformation is now underway of north-south and east-west London rail links, uniting overground and underground through Thameslink and Crossrail. London also pioneered integrated ticketing through Oystercard, which makes switching from bus to tube simple and ticketless, which is soon to be extended to London’s overground lines.
These accumulated achievements give me confidence that, with political will and a combination of long-term vision and practical short term reforms, we can address effectively the three major transport challenges that face us – first, the provision of extra capacity on a sustainable basis; second, shifting, fast and for good, to low carbon technologies and practices within each mode of transport; and third, radically improving the attractiveness of public transport by facilitating far more door-to-door journeys wholly or in part by public transport – whether it be bike plus train, or car plus train or coach, or bus plus train, or different combinations of the above.
Let me take these three priorities in turn.
First, capacity. It is a fact that there is a long-term increase in the demand for transport, and that increasing demand for transport is correlated with both national prosperity and personal fulfilment. The nature of these correlations is to some extent subjective and disputed; and I certainly don’t see simplistic “predict and provide” as the duty of government. Our task is to balance, as best we can, the demand for transport and its economic and personal benefits on the one hand, with resource constraints and environmental impact on the other.
One of the most interesting things I read on joining the Transport department last October was Tom Vanderbilt’s fascinating book on the history and nature of traffic. Vanderbilt points out that “one of the curious laws of traffic, the world over, is that most people spend roughly the same amount of time each day getting to where they need to go. Whether the setting is an African village or an American city, the daily round-trip commute clocks in at about 1.1 hours.” This law of traffic, he suggests, is rooted not only in the search for a livelihood but also in something more fundamental in human nature and desire in terms of mobility and work-life balance. It is why, for example, an area of roughly seven square miles is the mean area of Greek villages to this day, and why the old core of a pedestrian city like Venice has a diameter of 5 km. What has changed over time, and from place to place, is of course how far you can get in a 1.1 hour round trip, and what this means in terms of agglomeration and economic effects.
In these respect, my less exciting but vital reading has been the Eddington report, which concludes that “ a long-term strategic outlook for transport policy in the UK must extend over a 20 to 30 year time horizon”, and that policy and investment should focus particularly on “those key points where economic success has concentrated demand, notably within and around urban areas, at international gateways and on busy inter-urban corridors” where “congestion, delay and reliability are already real issues.”
This is precisely our policy: to focus on capacity constraints; and to do so by a combination of sensible short, medium and long term investments – not forgetting the long-term dimension, mindful, as David Begg so rightly says, that short-termism has been the British transport policy disease.
This imperative to evaluate and plan for the long-term led to the infrastructure announcements we made on 15 January, to which I am fully committed. These include an increase in motorway capacity in congested areas over the next decade, but not by means of new motorways, or even for the most part widened motorways, but rather by means of hard-shoulder running, which has now been shown on the M42 to be safe and effective. Hard-shoulder running generates extra capacity at a fraction of the cost and environmental impact of new roads or conventional widening and goes hand-in-hand with greatly improved management of motorway traffic flows – including reduced speed limits and far better information for motorists – giving motorists more predictable journey times.
On 15 January we also set a strategic framework for the future of Heathrow, recognising that extra airport capacity is crucial to Britain’s prosperity and economic competitiveness over the next 20 years. But also that expansion can only happen in the context of guaranteed limits on its local environmental impact, taking effective action to tackle the climate change impacts of aviation and encouraging better public transport access.
However, the most far-reaching policy departure of 15 January in its implications for Britain’s transport system was the decision to establish the High Speed Two company, and to ask it to recommend to the government a north-south high-speed rail plan by the end of the year. From my reading and international studies, it has long been clear to me – well before becoming a transport minister – that a global transport policy revolution is taking place as country after country adopts high-speed rail as its next generation backbone infrastructure. The question is not whether but when and how Britain follows suit.
Very significantly, our policy is moving in parallel with the United States. In one of his early presidential speeches, Barack Obama described high-speed rail as “a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century,” and he is championing the cause powerfully. So is Governor Schwarzenegger in California, who last November won a ballot proposition for a $10bn bond to start work on a 200mph high-speed line from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Then there is France, Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Belgium, the Netherlands – the list goes on of countries now far beyond us in the relative scale of their high-speed rail networks. In Europe alone, 3,600 miles of high-speed line are in operation, a further 2,000 are under construction and 5,300 planned – but only 68 of them are in Britain.
The most significant long-term transport policy decision of the next year will be on taking forward plans for a north-south high-speed rail line. The need for sustainable additional transport capacity between Britain’s principal conurbations; the potential to substitute lower carbon and more convenient trains for planes and cars; the potential for getting far more freight off the roads and onto rail; the social and economic benefits of high-capacity and high-speed links between the north and the south in England, and between England and Scotland – all these will be key factors in our decision early in 2010.
Environmental factors at large, and carbon reduction in particular, will, as I say, be notable factors in determining policy on high-speed rail. Which brings me to my second key challenge as Transport Secretary – getting Britain firmly on the path to a low carbon future.
All of us here, whatever our role in the transport sector, have a duty to champion low carbon technology and practice, as part of our wider responsibility to help the UK meet our ambitious but essential climate change obligations. However, that duty is not going to be fulfilled by exhortation alone; but rather by making low carbon travel a better and steadily more viable and attractive choice within, and between, different modes of transport. As Anthony Giddens writes in his new book on the politics of climate change, “No approach [to a lower carbon future] based mainly upon deprivation is going to work. We must create a positive model of a low-carbon future – one that connects with ordinary, everyday life in the present … A mixture of the idealistic and the hard-headed is required.” That is precisely my approach – a mixture of the idealistic and the hard-headed – and it is the approach I will set out in the government’s transport carbon reduction strategy next month.
Technology is part of the answer. Within each mode we need to move as fast as is economically, socially and technologically viable to lower carbon options.
For road vehicles, this means government intervention on a number of fronts, from developing new vehicle standards through the EU, to supporting R&D and helping UK industry maximise the opportunities from a shift to lower carbon technology as part of what Peter Mandelson has called Britain’s “new industrial strategy.” We need to secure the significant improvements that are still to be had from improving the efficiency of the internal combustion engine, while also unlocking the market for the new cleaner electric and hybrid technologies that are also emerging fast.
We are taking these steps now. Yesterday I was at the launch of eight branded demonstration models of electric cars, 340 of which will soon be available for public testing at eight locations across Britain, which will be a crucial part of manufacturers’ research on consumer behaviour alongside their R&D on the technology itself. The government has already pledged more than £200 million for consumer incentives, worth between £2,000 and £5,000 for motorists looking to buy electric or plug-in hybrid cars when they come onto the market, which we expect to be from 2011.
A key element in our strategy to decarbonise cars and vans is to enable motorists to make a more informed choice as to the carbon impact of the vehicles they buy. My first announcement as Secretary of State was the extension of the new car fuel economy label to used cars, and the launch of an online database of new van CO2 emissions on the Business Link website.
The purchasing power of the public sector can also help in demonstrating the potential of new technology for decarbonising road transport. So today I am announcing that, as part of a £20 million scheme, four British companies – Ashwoods, Allied Vehicles, Smith Electric Vehicles and Modec – will begin supplying low carbon and all-electric vans to selected public sector organisations within months. They will initially supply the first 100 vans to public sector bodies later this year, including the Environment Agency, HM Revenue and Customs and the Royal Mail, as well as councils from Glasgow, Newcastle and Gateshead to Leeds, Liverpool and Coventry.
There is an exciting low carbon agenda in rail too. We are examining in detail the case for electrifying the two busiest diesel-operated inter-city lines – the Great Western Main Line from London to Bristol and Swansea and the Midland Main Line from London to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. We hope to have announcements to make on this in the coming months.
For aviation and for shipping, our aim is to switch to progressively cleaner, greener aircraft and ships to reduce emissions. We expect industry to drive and adopt technological improvements that will increase efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of these sectors. At the same time we recognise that even in the longer term the decarbonisation of aviation and shipping and the switch to alternative fuel sources will be more challenging than for road and rail.
And uniquely we have set ourselves a tough national target to bring CO2 emissions from UK aviation below 2005 levels by 2050. We will achieve this, first, by the use of market-based measures. These include an effective emissions trading scheme, which is why we argued successfully for aviation’s emissions to be capped within the EU system from 2012 and why Ed Miliband and I will be pressing for international aviation – as well as international shipping – to be included in any new global deal agreed at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December. Secondly, it is also essential that for planes as for cars, we drive the development and adoption of new technology, including fuel efficiency improvements in aircraft engines and airframes; improvements in air operations, both in terms of more fuel efficient practices and air traffic management; and the use of alternative fuels, provided these can be produced sustainably.
In promoting low carbon transport, there is no lower carbon or healthier means of getting from A to B, besides walking, than cycling. Cycling has for too long been the Cinderella of transport policy – adored but neglected, when in fact it ought to be central to our thinking and planning if we are serious about a low carbon and healthier future. Improved cycling facilities will be one of my key priorities as secretary of state. It is no accident that the countries which are most serious about cycling – I think particularly of Holland and Germany – are also among those which have the most joined-up transport systems, because cycling by its very nature is a short distance mode of transport and requires good interchange facilities if it is to be a central part of a wider system.
Nearly half of all people in Britain over the age of 11 own a bike, and two in five of all journeys are under two miles so are in many cases well-suited to being undertaken by bike. The government is investing a lot more in this area; Cycling England has a three-year budget of £140 million and is doing a good deal of useful work including the designation of cycling demonstrations towns and cities from Brighton to York. Sustrans’ Connect 2 is also helping to revitalise cycling and walking in 79 communities across the UK by creating new routes for the local journeys we all make every day. Thanks to Sustrans, crossings and bridges are being created over busy roads, railway lines and rivers. These connections then link into new networks of local paths to get you to where you want to go by foot or bike.
But to be frank, our record on cycling so far is mixed at best. Whilst in London cycling has more than doubled in the last ten years, in England as a whole it is down by nearly 20 per cent and cycling makes up only 1.7 per cent of all trips which does not compare at all well with other European countries.
I am looking forward to discussing with Philip Darnton of Cycling England how we can bring about a step-change in numbers getting their bikes out of the shed or the garage and into use.
One key factor is the ease of interchange between cycling and other forms of travel. Let me take the specific issue of the interchange between cycling and rail travel. While some 60 per cent of the population lives within a quarter of an hour cycle ride of a railway station, only two per cent of journeys to and from stations are made by bike. By contrast, in Holland, cycling accounts for roughly a third of all trips to and from rail stations. This massive difference isn’t in the different genes of the British and the Dutch; it has a lot to do with the provision of facilities for cyclists at stations.
I saw this at first hand last month when I visited Holland. At this point I have a slide show [show photo slides]. The station at Leiden has properly organised and supervised parking for 4,500 bikes; by contrast all of London’s rail terminals put together only have cycle storage facilities for 1,200 bikes. Leiden, a city of just 120,000 people, is planning to increase its 4,500 station bike parking spaces to 6,000 – an increase of 1,500 which is larger than the total number of spaces available at all London terminal stations.
I toured some of London’s mainline stations by bike on Sunday to investigate their cycle parking facilities, and it was a sorry story, as my photos show. [further slides] For the most part cycle storage is very limited, unsupervised, badly signed and difficult to access. Only at London Bridge, thanks to a new initiative by the Mayor, is there proper supervised storage – but that, again, is badly signed, not open in the late evenings and the cycle store is a five minute walk from the station.
To help tackle this problem I am announcing plans to radically improve station cycle storage. I will make available £5 million over two years for transformation projects to improve cycling storage facilities at up to ten major railway stations nationwide, including in London. This will be on top of existing improvement plans – for example our new south-central franchise, which is providing 1,500 extra cycle parking spaces – as well as 1,000 extra car parking spaces – at stations across south London, Sussex and Surrey. I see this as a model for future rail franchises nationwide.
I am asking my station champions Chris Green and Sir Peter Hall to recommend which stations would benefit most from this funding and the sorts of services that would be of most value, for example potentially including maintenance facilities as well as safe storage. I have asked them to report to me on scheme design before the end of the summer.
By enabling people to make the choice to cycle as part of longer public transport journeys we can make a massive difference not only in tackling congestion, promoting rail and protecting the environment but also in making Britain a much fitter, healthier country.
And this is just one aspect of improving transport interchanges. The report of the Door-to-Door working group being launched here today has an entire chapter on them. As the report points out, best interchange practice could be something as simple as ensuring station staff are well informed and easily identifiable and that public announcements are clear and give the right amount of detail. Or it could mean more real time information screens and greatly improved signage to make connections and onward journeys simple to understand and easy to navigate.
Buses clearly have a critical part to play, not only as a form of local transport but also in providing effective interchange with other forms of travel.
In Brighton, a partnership between the local authority and bus operator has not only brought about increases in bus patronage and user satisfaction, but also delivered real time bus information at stops right across the city, as well as in the rail station.
In Oxford, effective partnership, effective traffic restraint and bus priority means that around 40% of trips to and from the city centre are by bus, and buses link to rail services by operating from the rail station forecourt.
In Leeds, passengers can walk outside the rail station and straight onto a free bus service running around the city centre.
In Hull, the new Paragon Interchange brings together buses, coaches and trains under one roof, as well as providing better ticket offices and facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.
I want these to be models of good practice for emulation nationwide. The Local Transport Act provides the powers for local authorities and bus operators to work together to boost bus use and improve interchange, and I am keen that they do so..
Another critical dimension to improving interchange is the extension of smart ticketing across transport networks.
By extending the use of smart ticketing technology, we can transform people’s perception and experience of public transport. In Japan ten of millions of people regularly use their mobile phones as their ticket to travel on railways and subways. In Hong Kong 95% of all those aged between 16 and 65 own an 'Octopus' smartcard and use it both for public transport and for paying for other goods and services.
In London, the Oyster card has transformed the travel patterns of Londoners. As I said earlier, to make it even more attractive, Oyster pay-as-you go will soon be extended to cover rail journeys in London and we are also funding the project to make London compatible with the national ITSO smartcard standard.
And there are excellent examples outside the capital as well - bus passes being used as library cards in Bracknell Forest, free transport being used to incentivise leisure centre use in Nottingham, and disposable multi-journey smartcards in Cheshire to name but a few. If we get this right then the whole country could follow London in revolutionising the connectivity of public transport, and increasing its use radically. Our intention is to publish a consultation document on smart ticketing this summer, including possible incentives to boost development and take-up.
In conclusion, let me return to high-speed rail, which as I say is the critical issue for decision in the next year, to which I will be giving a good deal of personal attention.
My first overseas visit as Transport Minister was to Japan, to study the bullet train revolution which has swept Japan in the past half century. At the entrance to Tokyo Central Station is a plaque which declares the Shinkansen “product of the wisdom and effort of the Japanese people.”
Yet crucial to the history of the Shinkansen is the fact that it was not inevitable that it should have taken place. What happens generally seems pre-ordained, as it was both with Japan’s decision to pioneer high-speed rail and our decision not to. But this is quite unhistorical. On the contrary, the phrase “railway downfall theory” was in vogue in 1950s Japan: the view that rail was an outdated technology which was set to follow horse carriages, canals and sailing ships, to be replaced by faster planes for the longest distances and by far more flexible and individualistic cars and trucks for shorter distances.
This view was indeed widely held within Japan National Railways at the time, and it was only the vision and leadership of a small group of talented managers and engineers which ordained otherwise. They concentrated on the immediate capacity requirements of the densely populated and economically critical Tokyo to Osaka corridor, convincing the government that a patch-and-mend upgrade to the existing line was too cautious for this key route and that new technology offered a much more fit-for-purpose solution. The rest, as they say, is history.
I believe we are at a similar turning point in British transport policy. It is part of a wider low carbon imperative which embraces the nation at large – but with challenge comes opportunity, and it is an opportunity which I am intent we should seize. Thank you.
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