|Light Rail Transit Association
Light Rail for better public transport
As if there weren’t already enough, Dr. John Reid, the UK’s Minister of Transport speaking at a Chartered Institute of Transport/Waterfront Conference on the new system of Regional Transport Planning held in London 17 February, came up with four definitions of what “integrated” means. He said it is often taken to mean only the physical integration of different transport modes, and though this was sensible if reinforced by information, ticketing etc., he thought there were 3 other meanings - the second is lateral thinking, which he said was why the Government had put all the related functions of economic development and regeneration and environmental impact together with transport in one department (the DETR). The third, he said, is planning at the centre integrated with planning at regional level and planning at local level - this he called vertical integration and said it was just as important as lateral. The final sort of integration is the need to integrate the endeavours of the public and private sectors - spreading the burden away from the public sector to utilise the dynamism and creativity of the private sector, avoiding the problems of inordinate bureaucracy and those of unfettered privatisation, achieving a balance between public and private which would get the best of each whilst minimising the worst aspects of each.
Dr. Reid said the purpose of all this was to provide choice for passengers and for freight users. He wanted the Government’s position to be clear - it is not anti-car - no-one needed to tell him or John Prescott (Deputy Prime Minister) of the benefits of the car, but the level of car use is now such that if we don’t change its use, its benefits would not be extended to future generations. He said you have to offer a choice - too many find that public transport will not get them to where they want to go and do so efficiently, cleanly, safely and affordably. The new sources of revenue which the Treasury had agreed to hypothecate to local transport projects for 10 years was unprecedented. Regional Transport Strategies will provide a 15 to 20 year framework, otherwise the new Local Transport Plans would suffer from short-termism. He said that in future transport schemes will not be looked at in isolation but on an integrated regional basis and they would be expected to make better use of the existing regional transport network. Reducing the need to travel was a key issue - the new Regional Development Agencies’ (RDAs) strategies must be in partnership with and complementary to the Regional Transport Strategies. An active partnership must be forged between a wide range of agencies - RDAs, operators and other interest groups. The lead body would be the regional planning body - the new Regional Chambers.
It was important, Dr. Reid said, to trim down the “wish-list” of transport projects. The previous government had 300 such projects costing £6bn in its list and it would be easy to have a list twice as large but it is important to avoid blight and disillusionment. Agreement about which projects should survive into the Regional Transport Plans will not always be possible, especially if the lowest common denominator principle applies. There would be a public examination after consultation on draft regional strategies. The Secretary of State (Mr. Prescott) will need to be sure the strategy is fully compatible with the national transport strategy.
It will be several years before full Regional Transport Plans can be produced. Multi-modal studies would be needed in the next two to three years and in the interim RTPs will only go so far. Dr. Reid said that Government is committed to achieving the long term agenda and it was not driven by either dogma or doctrine. The right balance would be about changing behaviour and transport policy that will be integrated with planning policy and safe, efficient, affordable and clean transport. He said it would not happen overnight but it must be recognised that in the past there was too much ad hoc policy - the fruits of which are all around us, especially, but not only in the urban areas. There was no real choice in the past - the litmus test will not be whether John Prescott or John Reid are happy with the results, nor even whether the operators and other companies are, but whether the people locally support the services provided and the local politicians responsible.
After painting his picture of a transport planning utopia, Dr. Reid brought the conference down to earth with a crash. Yet again he made clear that public money is going to be tight and it is clear that it will be several years before the new and complex system of national transport strategy and plan, regional transport strategy and plan and local transport plans evolve into anything significant. There are all the signs of a giant new paper production industry here and one could practically see the academics and consultants present rubbing their hands with glee. Still, there seems to be an unbridgeable gap between his high ideals of the perfect hierarchy of strategies and plans on the one hand and any significant change on the ground in terms of the provision of a real sea change in the quantity and quality of public transport on the other. All Government hopes are still, incredibly, vested in the bus to save the day. If Government really believes its own rhetoric (it can’t really be that naive can it?) then it is in for a heavy fall, but that is likely to be five or ten years down the road. Meanwhile, keep up the payments on your car - ‘cos nothing better’s likely to come along. Alternatively take advantage of Britain’s membership of the EU and move to another European country with decent public transport, the choice isn’t difficult, they’re nearly all better!
Secretary General, LRTA
What does 'integrated' mean?: top