Thank you to every constituent who has contacted me about support for public transport.
I welcome the Campaign for Better Transport’s ‘The Way Forward Is Public Transport’ campaign. Many households in Lewisham Deptford do not own cars and rely on public transport to where they need to be. The pandemic has understandably dominated headlines for the last year, but we cannot forget we are still in a climate emergency and that green, efficient transport must be the future. We must also work to ensure that our public transport is accessible and as Shadow Minister for Disabled People I often hear from disabled people who stress how truly accessible public transport will transform their lives.
In the last few months, the Government has published its plans for both buses and trains after several delays. I am concerned that these plans have not fundamentally addressed one of the biggest challenges with our transport system, which is that different modes of transport are not working together. They do not turn up together when required and they are not joined up. We need a system that genuinely connects people.
The bus strategy should have been used to revolutionise the bus industry, but in my opinion, does not deliver a radical transition to a zero-emission fleet. We are waiting for the 4,000 zero emission buses promised by the Government last year. While we wait, cuts to bus services and rising ticket costs will push more people into using more polluting forms of transport.
After a period of record low passenger numbers, we also need to encourage people back on to trains to help our economy and our environment. Despite this, fares have been increased again this year. Although I welcomed the announcement of flexible rail tickets, I am aware that some now appear to offer little or no savings, with some three-day-a-week ticket options seemingly more expensive than existing full-time season tickets.
The recent Government announcement of steps to increase public ownership and control over the railways do not go far enough. I believe greater responsibility for metro mayors, along with fuller public ownership would better serve the public, the state and long-term investment. I want to see us work towards the redesigning of urban spaces and investment in bus and rail, including enabling more cities, towns and rural areas to develop local mobility plans – coupled with an expanded cycling and walking strategy.
I know that as London Mayor Sadiq Khan realises the central role that public transport plays in the lives of Londoners. He inherited a £1.5 billion deficit but before the pandemic he had reduced that by 71% since 2016. He has been committed to ensuring we have a public transport that meets the demands of our global 24/7 city but also remains affordable. Londoners have followed public health advice which has seen passenger numbers plummet during the pandemic. TfL’s income is far more reliant on fares than comparable cities as a result of the then Mayor, Boris Johnson, and George Osborne, then Chancellor, agreement in 2015 to phase out the Government’s operating grant. Despite this throughout negotiations with the Government to secure funding in response to the pandemic’s challenges Mayor Khan has sought to get the best deal for our city.