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Investment in transport is crucial for economic growth

Constant focus on investment in new buses is undermining the UK's ability to think big about integrated transport, argues NCE editor Antony Oliver
Decent modern public transport systems are the heart of economic growth in the UK. Agreed.
So why then do we still seem to find it so difficult to make the case for investment.
In anything other than new buses, that is.
Now I know that buses are an important part of the nation’s transport portfolio. Their flexibility and simplicity means that they will always play a vital role in the transport mix.
In fact, speaking at NCE’s integrated
transport conference last week transport
minister Rosie Winterton highlighted
that with an estimated 5bn journeys
every year, buses now account for two
thirds of all public transport trips made
in the UK.
Hence her focus in the forthcoming Local Transport Bill on improving bus services – “the backbone of the local transport network” as she puts it.
It is right that we sort out the complex and confused policies which now underpin – and often undermine – bus services across the UK. We need to give local authorities the partnerships and contracts to enable them to deliver services to the public.
But I can’t help but think that the focus on buses has become something of a distraction from more fundamental issues surrounding the delivery of public transport as an integral part of development.
Put bluntly, why do we still find it so difficult to back our economic growth aspirations with investment in truly transformational transport systems?
Strangely the minister seems to agree. “Transport is integral to the development of our communities, our towns and cities, and to the economic competitiveness of the country,” she said last week.
This point is of course well understood by civil engineers. And it is well understood by business leaders. Unfortunately it seems that despite warm words, politicians still seem reluctant to think big.
Which brings me to Crossrail. The prospect of this scheme hitting the buffers once again is almost beyond belief.
After decades of pondering and Royal Assent close enough to touch, surely it cannot be held up again.
It is after all, a great example of transport investment that will make growth possible and so deliver economic return way beyond its cost.
It is the sort of investment that we need to see rolled out across the UK.
As the minister explained “We want to make absolutely sure that transport needs are not considered merely as an afterthought.”
I think that we all agree.

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