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Get on board

When I was elected to serve the people of Scarborough & Whitby in Parliament I travelled with the demands of 29,000 local pensioners for improvements to public transport and specifically a national concessionary fares scheme.

After almost one complete session here John Prescott and his team have made these constituents and 3M other pensioners extremely happy with him, me and the Government's long awaited White Paper on transport.

Through two long years campaigning in one of England's most beautiful constituencies I met many frustrated local people who could not see the logic behind transport planning and policy.

From residents of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park to the frustrated business community on the glorious Yorkshire Coast and most significantly young school children the message was clear: 'Urgent action needed on transport'.

As a back bench MP, top of my lobby letter pile, way ahead of health and education is the demand for easier, safer and preferably cheaper ways of moving people and commodities to and from Scarborough & Whitby. Now, perhaps this level of interest is linked to my own professional background, but just like that old British Rail sandwich joke every MP I speak to has their own favourite constituency transport story and puts it in their top three policy concerns.

These political realities drove John Prescott's team in the past 15 months. Along with MPs' local concerns and the largest consultation carried out by this Government Prescott has delivered a vital piece of the jigsaw making up the big picture promised in the days leading up to May 1st 1997.

As I travelled to the railway station on the bus on Monday I was rather staggered to meet one of the failed Tory hopefuls from last May. He sniggered that it was the first time he had seen an MP on a bus. I asked him how often he travelled by bus - his car was in the garage.

I contained my laughter and pointed out the stationary cars in the adjacent bus lane he had objected to as a vital part of his attempt at a parliamentary career. Without doubt he and his colleagues have missed the bus in so many ways in the last two decades, I thought. I travelled on to Kings Cross and John Prescott's delivery of the White Paper.

For me the opportunities for a change in travelling culture offered by the White Paper far outweigh the physical infrastructure bonanza suggested elsewhere in recent weeks by NCE.

The impact of the arrival of the railway at a small fishing village on the North Yorkshire Coast in the mid-1800s saw the birth of the Scarborough Spa resort and indirectly stimulated the prosperity of West Yorkshire's mill towns as the concept of recreational travel did its bit for Queen and Empire.

The partnerships suggested for local, regional and national levels by Prescott's team will contribute significantly to breaking down the problems of social exclusion and isolation facing so many in our nation, 150 years after the first mill workers paddled in the South Bay at Scarborough.

Last year a pilot scheme was launched by the National Park Officers in the North Yorkshire Moors to encourage visitors to use public transport to travel about the Park. I was staggered to be told that a professional suburban family spent almost one hour waiting at the opposite side of the road to a bus stop not realising their bus stopped a few hundred metres over the next hill! They were 'rescued' by park rangers who'd observed them earlier and were keen to get them to see the humour of the situation.

I feel that Prescott's statement on Monday and the results of the roads review next week are rather like the intervention of those park rangers. UK plc has now been placed at the right bus stop and we've all got a real choice whether to board to a better transport system or stand back and let another generation of opportunity pass us by.

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