Transport System: Failings - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:18 pm ar 25 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Goddard of Stockport Lord Goddard of Stockport Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 12:18, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing this timely debate on the failing transport system. We are normally limited to 30 seconds of quick-fire questions to the Minister, which are batted back. We need to give the new Minister time to understand the problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, had. Now that she skips around the House of Lords without the responsibility of answering for Avanti, she looks about five years younger.

I think we would all agree that the UK’s long-term economic, environmental and social objectives are not being realised at the pace required, and transport has a key role to play in meeting those strategic objectives. It

“enables productivity and economic growth as well as quality of life and social well-being”— not my words but those of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Mind you, as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, said, there are many forms of transport, and the roads are not much better. There are smart motorways with cameras not working and no safety lanes. If you are on a smart motorway and you break down, you wonder whether your life is literally in your hands. It is unacceptable. There are prolonged lane closures and endless repairs due to budget cuts. There are speed restrictions and, in Greater Manchester, bad design. The M60, the orbital motorway that runs around it, floods around Denton in heavy rain. If there is a motorway that floods, somebody needs to think about that.

There are bus services, again mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Snape. Greater Manchester has dealt with that problem now. That is the beauty of elected mayors: collective responsibility for local people making local decisions. They have taken the buses back into local ownership. Those bus routes will now reflect the routes that they need to run on, at a price that people can afford. They will give a better service and will be integrated with other services. In Greater Manchester, we are now working to try to integrate them with the taxis and trains, trying to get something like an Oyster card going.

As I travel down to London daily on the two-hour grind—well, two hours on a good day, normally two hours 20 minutes upwards—I listen to podcasts. The last one I heard was from Transport for the North, which is chaired by the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, who is in his place today. They had Andy Mellors, the MD of Avanti, on. It is worth a listen. Mayor Burnham, and Mayor Rotheram from Liverpool, were questioning Andy about tickets sold for a Saturday service. They were asking him, “When are your trains cancelled for a Saturday service?” He said, “We cancel those trains on Friday afternoon”. They said, “When do you stop selling tickets for those trains on Saturday?” He said, “At 2 pm on the Saturday afternoon”. So Avanti was selling tickets for a train that was never going to run.

That particular Saturday, Chelsea Football Club—which I have no love for—was in Manchester to play a football match. There were hundreds and hundreds of supporters trapped in Manchester; you could not get back to London. Following that meeting, they asked the Minister to remove the franchise immediately. It is very funny: I think that that meeting was on Tuesday or Wednesday, and on Friday ASLEF was called in, and—surprise, surprise—£600 a shift was offered to ASLEF drivers to work weekends, which they gratefully accepted without any negotiation. That has made it a bit easier.

But trains are being cancelled. I got the 8.04 this morning; the next train and the one after that were cancelled. Had I not made the 8.04, I would not be stood here this afternoon speaking in this debate. I have heard today of Labour’s plans to run down the contracts of failing companies over five years, but I have to say that that will only add to the misery of thousands of travellers. I will try to explain why.

Avanti trains have three types of travel—actually, they have four. They have standard class, upper premium and first class. They also have another class: sitting on the floor from London to Manchester, which happens very often when trains have been cancelled and they declassify and allow complete overcrowding on them. I have photographs of me sat there. People who know me find it highly amusing to take pictures of me, sat on the floor, demanding I do something about it—which, unfortunately, I do not have the power to do.

If you go in standard class, you buy your ticket and sit down, and then the messages begin to come: “Today, we are not taking cash. Today, we are not taking card. Today, the coffee machine is not working. Today, the toilets are not working”. It goes on and on. These are new trains. You go to upper premium, which is a standard class ticket that you can buy in advance, pay £25 and sit in a first-class seat with a table and wifi. Unfortunately, in the last pay round, they put an extra £5 on that. It is now £30 to sit in the same seat you sat in last week, with no additional benefits. First class is apparently even better: “Chef’s not turned up today. No service. Food has not been delivered today. No service. Water leak in the kitchen. No service”. It is just unacceptable all around.

I wrote down a point about staff morale and the noble Lord, Lord Snape, has done it. I know that train operators do their best, but they do not: if you talk to train managers who have been there for 20 or 25 years, they will tell you that they are absolutely terrified of turning up for work. They have no idea whether the stock will be there and the kit will work, and they take abuse from the public, day in, day out. That is absolutely unacceptable. They do a great job and should be supported more. Just to say that the contracts can run down is an abrogation: thousands of people go up and down every day and they deserve a better service.

Finally, Trooping the Colour is this year, on 15 June. I know lots of people who have tickets and are going to it. Unfortunately, on that Saturday, there are no direct trains to London from Manchester: you can go via Wolverhampton or have a double diversion at Crewe. It is absolutely incomprehensible that this company can keep the contract. I hope the Minister will keep the pressure on—because I know, as we say up north, that he gets it—and does something to accelerate the removal of this contract or demands immediate improvements with huge penalties if that does not happen.