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Time to put integrated transport back on agenda

News feature

The government stands accused of abandoning its integrated transport policy. Damian Arnold asked director of Transport 2000 Stephen Joseph how to get the integrated transport agenda back on track?

NEXT WEEK, transport minister John Spellar is due to address transport engineers at Interchange, the integrated transport event. Before he does, cynics might suggest he take a trip to Number 10.

'Excuse me Tony, but do we still have an integrated transport policy?' he might ask.

Since the 1998 Integrated Transport White Paper, critics such as Transport 2000 director Stephen Joseph have complained that certain measures in the document have been placed in the 'too difficult to deliver box'. Others, it is claimed, have been postponed as unpopular by a Prime Minister accused of promoting more car friendly policies.

It has been a lean two years for the integrated transport lobby as the measures it championed, such as charging vehicles to enter towns and cities or along motorways have been 'soft peddled'.

Billions of pounds need to be found to make the multi-modal journey easier and the government seems to have made up its mind that it won't be asking the motorist to pay for it, says Joseph.

'I think the government really lost its nerve after the fuel crisis, ' he says. Even before the protests in September 2000 - triggered by the soaring cost of petrol - then transport minister Lord MacDonald had already appeared to turn the agenda back towards the road building culture of 1980s with a 10 year transport plan promising 100 bypasses and 580km of motorway widening. This appeared to contradict the aims of the New Deal for Transport white paper of 1998.

'The transport white paper was based on the premise that road traffic needed to be restrained and that simply building new roads wasn't going to work, ' says Joseph. The government has since been duped by the fear of 'big Daily Mail headlines' labelling it anti-car, he adds.

Today, car sales are at record levels and motoring costs are predicted to drop 20% in real terms in the next 10 years, but this is not necessarily giving the people what they want. The 'oppressed motorist brigade' represents no more than 10% of drivers, claims Joseph.

'It's a fallacy to say that most people are interested only in more roads, ' he says.

Policy delivery Delivery of integrated transport solutions has foundered because there are far too many planning hurdles, says Joseph.

He cites Cambridgeshire, where delivery of a guided busway between Cambridge and St Ives is expected to be much more difficult than widening the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon.

'To do the guided bus project, the local authority will have to jump through about 50 different hoops and consult too many people. It's not a level playing field, ' says Joseph.

There isn't a single delivery mechanism for local transport schemes outside the passenger transport authorities, which only exist in the big metropolitan areas, he says. It is a key problem ignored by proposed planning legislation which focuses on streamlining delivery of major infrastructure projects.

In the meantime, it is feared that the government will concentrate on big road building projects that legislation will make it easy to deliver.

'Multi-modal studies are coming up with road building, demand management and large scale public transport schemes.

What is clear is that the mechanics for delivering anything other than road building is really complicated.

'The Strategic Rail Authority has made it very clear that it is not going to get involved in some of the smaller rail proposals. It has given the impression that it is closed for business until 2015, concentrating on the main routes, ' Joseph says.

Local authorities A quick tour of Britain however would show some encouraging signs of local authorities spending their enlarged transport budgets on good, integrated transport projects, says Joseph.

The shortlist for next week's Interchange Awards highlights progress made in some of the less publicised areas. Swinton, Eccles, East Croydon, Bangor, Oldham, Sunderland and Paisley are up for awards.

Joseph praises Brighton City Council for developing a highly successful quality bus partnership with bus operator Go Ahead group.

'Local authorities at Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Surrey, Devon, York, Edinburgh and Suffolk are getting on top of what's required, ' says Joseph.

'There is a tier of local authorities that has done some of the right things but is not really pulling ahead.'

There are still plenty that have failed to take integrated transport seriously, says Joseph.

These include North Yorkshire whose local transport plan was criticised by the government office for Yorkshire and Humberside as a wish list of road schemes that could never be delivered, he says.

What does the government need to do?

Next week, Joseph is meeting junior transport minister David Jamieson to spell out his fears.

His advice to the government to get integrated transport back on track goes something like this: 'We need more investment in lots of small, relatively cheap schemes such as bus priority, that could show some returns by the next general election.'

Specific integrated transport targets such as a safe route to school for every child by 2020 should also be included.

Consultant Halcrow, which this week presented its findings on the South West Area Multi Modal Study (SWARMS), urges the government to come up with a 'multi-modal studies implementation plan' to show how all the recommendations in the studies, including local rail upgrades, will be funded equally and fairly. It is hoped that the government will come up with such a strategy in its current review of the 10 year transport plan.

The Department of Transport Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) could also do with reviewing its relationship with other government departments, says Joseph.

The development of interticketing between bus services, for example, has foundered because of the continuing failure of the Department of Trade & Industry to take action to exempt the bus industry from the Competition Act which forbids them to develop such schemes.

'This has been dragging on for years, ' says Joseph.

Government policy would benefit from a clearer definition of what integrated transport actually means, says Halcrow director David Bayliss.

'People are walking around talking about 'seamless interchanges' but how can a journey that involves going from a car on to a bus or a train be seamless?'

Interchange Many of the 'unresolved' integrated transport issues will be discussed at next week's Interchange event and exhibition at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre on 21 and 22 May, organised by NCE publisher Emap with Montgomery Exhibitions.

Speakers on day one will include Interchange president Steve Norris followed by chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport Professor David Begg and transport minister John Spellar.

The first morning will be completed by Strategic Rail Authority chairman Richard Bowker; Highways Agency chief executive Tim Matthews and Transport for London rail services managing director Ian Brown.

Day one of the conference is themed 'funding the integrated transport vision', while day two looks at 'urban renaissance through integrated transport'.

To pre-register for the conference tel: 0870 7502 8564.

INFOPLUS Find out more about Interchange on www. interchangeplus. com

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