Transport System: Failings - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 1:04 pm ar 25 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Llafur 1:04, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on this debate and his opening speech, particularly his excoriation of the railway system for the experience of passengers these days under privatisation, which my noble friend Lord Murphy has just underlined. His anecdote about Newport station takes me back even further than 45 years to when I used to visit my Welsh relatives. I quite admired and was rather impressed by Newport station, and even more impressed by the train service at the time. Sadly, that has deteriorated.

I also welcome, like my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Murphy, the announcement by my friend in another place Louise Haigh, whom I hope will soon be Secretary of State for Transport. We need a drastic change in the way we run our system. Since privatisation, the situation has become even more dire for passengers year by year, and we have ended up in effect with the state having responsibility without power and having to meet a significant part of the cost. The system of franchising is broken and successive regulators have failed. We have had the Strategic Rail Authority, the Office of the Rail Regulator and now we have the Office of Rail and Road. It would have been more accurate if they had all been designated with the title of “Offtrack”, because that is what they are. The system has gone downhill ever since privatisation. Whatever the failings beforehand, they have been multiplied since.

This calls for a broader approach to transport policy—although, before I leave rail, I should mention that the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, has drawn to my attention that, since the start of the debate and his own speech, there have been 10 cancellations out of Euston station this very day.

The question is wider than rail policy. Transport policy has many objectives. Some of them are contradictory, and they need a cohesive and clear approach, both within and between sectors. Some of these contradictions and problems are macro, such as the state of the railways and the fiasco of HS2, but some are micro. I shall give a personal example. I live seven miles from a railway station. There is a bus service to it from my town of only one bus per hour, and outside rush hour there is only one train per hour, but the first three buses in the morning are scheduled to arrive three minutes after the trains for London and Exeter have departed. A little bit of integration could help because that causes people to rely entirely on their cars, increasing congestion on our inadequate rural roads and increasing pollution.

We need integration within and between sectors. I support more space for cyclists, but some of the provision for cyclists contradicts road use elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has just reported one effect of shared space at floating bus stops. We must ensure that pedestrians as well as cyclists are protected and that the provision of cycle lanes—which I support—is done in such a way that it does not increase greater congestion and danger to pedestrians.

We need a real integrated plan. Others have referred to the proposals by the Institution of Civil Engineers for the integration of transport infrastructure; obviously it needs to be broader than infrastructure, but infrastructure is where it starts.

We need to ensure some degree of modal shift away from fossil fuel-using cars and pollution-producing transport. Freight trains, for example, contribute about a quarter of the carbon emissions that the equivalent on the roads would produce. We need to ensure that this is provided for in the infrastructure on the roads as well as on rail.

I shall mention three issues that are dear to my heart but which have not been touched on much today. First, the switch to electric vehicles has slowed down. I was a member of your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee when we produced a report about a year ago on this topic. I would like a clear and positive response about reversing that decline and ensuring in particular that there is a market for small electric vehicles in this country.

My second point is on aviation. I declare my vice-presidency of BALPA. If aviation is to continue to supply domestic and short-haul routes, it has to be more environmentally sustainable. That means more investment in sustainable aviation fuel. It also means concentrating on changing the pattern of flights, scheduling and payload, and the way in which our domestic aviation system works. That has hardly received any attention.

Finally, building on what the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has said on road safety, I was disheartened a few weeks ago when the Minister replied to an Oral Question that he saw no reason to have a road safety strategy. Previous road safety strategies have worked very successfully and saved many lives. We need to integrate driver behaviour, road and vehicle design, road signage, speed and traffic organisation. That is quite difficult, but it needs to be done. To reduce the continuing high level of accidents and danger to pedestrians and car occupants, we need a proper road safety strategy. I hope the Minister can include that in his reply.

I hope that we can see a more integrated approach. I hope that the incoming Government will provide one. The announcement on railways is a good start, but we need a much broader policy that takes in all modes and types of users.