Transport System: Failings - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:37 pm ar 25 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Llafur 12:37, 25 Ebrill 2024

It gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Birt, in this debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on the wording for his debate. He has hit the nail on the head, in saying that we have lots of incoherent plans and need a strategy, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, also said. I fully support this, and we have had some very interesting speeches so far.

I shall say a few words about rail, but this debate is about transport. We had a very interesting briefing from the Low Traffic Future alliance, which reminded us that transport is for moving people and goods. Net zero is important but we have big problems, such as the increased dependency on motorised traffic, poor public transport, poor walking and cycling conditions—certainly compared with the continent—and potholes. I actually came off my bike when I hit a pothole a week or two ago, and it was not very pleasant. We do not seem to be doing anything about that either. We are also out of balance in the benefits of transport between the different regions.

There is an argument for, after the next election, before rushing into legislation, thinking carefully about a national transport strategy. Everybody has been talking about strategies today and I will not go into the detail now. That could involve pausing road schemes and putting more investment into healthy and sustainable transport, and probably helping with changes to planning law. On the railways, it is interesting. We now have the two major parties coming forward with plans to reorganise the railway by legislation, putting the customers first, which is wonderful. I wonder whether actually we need legislation at this stage. How much of it can be done without legislation?

Noble Lords will remember the strategic rail authority, which took two years to be created and then, after a couple of years, two years to be removed. During those two years, very little happened and some of us got extremely frustrated that nothing was happening. I think it is worth looking at what can be done to put customers first with some quick wins. Many noble Lords have mentioned strikes. That is the first thing, and I trust that a new Labour Government will address that. I believe that many of the problems that I and noble Lords have spoken about this morning are down to bad management. I am not sure that it matters particularly whether the management is nationalised or private sector; the Rail Partners’ proposals are a pretty good mix of the two. The management, mainly from the Department for Transport, with a bit—I do not know whether it is support or not, and we can debate that—from the Treasury, has not organised at all well addressing many of the problems noble Lords have spoken about.

My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and other noble Lords have talked about train fares, but most are set by the Government. The train operators have to implement them, adding a few of their own fares, such as savers. One of the ideas I shall be pursuing over the next few weeks is that train fares should go to the operator on whose train you are sitting. They do not at the moment, unless it is a saver fare. All other fares are divided: if there are two operators on a route, the fare is divided between the two. That removes all incentive for operators to do better. It is a serious issue. It could be done, as now, most people have their ticket checked electronically. It would mean that the train operator has an incentive to run the trains—as other noble Lords have said, that does not always happen—and to provide decent seating and catering, clean, on-time trains, a timetable that customers want and mitigation for customers when things go wrong. Whether the operator is in the private or public sector does not matter very much. It does not need legislation and it would not cost the Treasury a penny. There is now enough information on tickets for this to be taken forward. Train operators could quickly demonstrate how good they are, if they are, or how bad they are if they are not. That leaves the Department for Transport—until there is a change—to identify whether there should be any changes.

We are having an interesting debate on all this. I do not believe it is necessarily in everybody’s interest, including passengers, to hang around for a couple of years before any legislation gets through. A great deal of this can be done now. If the management in the past few years has been bad—it certainly has been pretty bad—that can be dealt with quickly. We should look at that, rather than saying let us do nothing for two years.

I congratulate my noble friend and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has got to say.