A disease left unchecked

Medically speaking, the world has eradicated, or at least controlled, some of the worst diseases known to mankind. Yet when it comes to problems of our own making, the focus can become much more skewed.

There is no question that transport affects every person as soon as they leave their home; even as pedestrians, we are impacted. The current vogue is to talk about air quality, and there’s a reluctant admission by some politicians that congestion leads to poor air quality.

Despite this, what bugs most politicians is not how to solve congestion, but who owns what and the command and control of transport.

The signs from this week’s Labour Party conference follow this mantra entirely – that nationalisation and state control are good, private enterprise is bad.

Yet in the one city where this happens, the fully-regulated London, the effects are clear and the consequences dire.

Long held as a virtue of goodness, growing congestion and falling bus speeds have proved that despite very cheap fares, plus widespread free travel, congestion is driving people away from buses.

Having spent 15 years at Transport for London (TfL) as Surface Transport Director and then Transport Commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy knows what he is talking about.

He says: “In urban areas the best operation in the world will be sabotaged if congestion destroys reliability and journey speed. In London, fewer but faster and reliable buses will both solve an acute financial problem for Sadiq Khan (the combination of his fares freeze and the complete removal of subsidy from TfL by 2018), and restart bus passenger growth.

“Outside London, the same proposition would produce more and better services, with the same results. Not to mention the beneficial effects on driver recruitment, retention and resultant customer service.

“In London,
for Boris, we took out significant road space for cycling.

“Now our towns and cities are going to have to make the same sort of radical choices for more protected road space and more and cleverer signal priority, for buses across the UK to enable the growth, jobs and house building the bus service can support.”

And it’s not just buses, but access for coaches to drop-off and pick-up points that are convenient for passengers.

Sadly, few politicians seem to want to grasp this particular nettle.

Mel Holley, Editor