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What do the election manifestos say about transport?

Stephen Joseph's picture
Photo: cars and children playing

With the election underway, I posted a blog a couple of weeks ago setting out some challenges and suggestions for what we'd like to see on transport in the manifestos. Now they've all been published, I thought I'd take a look at what they are offering.

Some of the proposals are much as expected, such as the Labour Party's commitment to bringing the railways back into public ownership. In a way, however, what's interesting is some of the other pledges and proposals - and the common ground that's there.

One area of common ground is rail fares. Every party is promising to tackle fares and simplify the fares structure in some way (only UKIP doesn't mention this). Given that the Department for Transport and the rail industry have tended to resist this, this is one area where change will happen whatever the election result. However, none are committed to ending above inflation fares rises or introducing season tickets for part-time workers (as the 2015 Conservative manifesto did) - we'll be pressing politicians, especially those in the large number of constituencies with many rail commuters, to say where they stand on these. 

There's also common ground on continuing rail investment. This includes HS2, which all parties except the Greens and UKIP are committed to, but also on the rest of the rail network. The Conservatives talk of new stations and lines, especially in areas with housing growth, and improving existing lines, including for freight. Labour commits to extra schemes like a new Brighton Main Line as well as more rail freight. The Liberal Democrats and the Greens also talk about new stations and lines, and support for rail freight, and with UKIP and Labour support investment in rail lines across the North of England. All of this reflects our and others' lobbying, especially on reopenings and rail freight, and we will hold the Government after 8 June to these commitments.

"The task will be for us and our supporters to push the politicians elected on 8 June to follow the commitments they've made..."

Buses also appear in every manifesto, and there seems to be an awareness of the impact of bus cuts especially in rural areas. All parties are promising to address this - Greens, Lib Dems and Labour are promising bus reregulation and greater investment, while the Conservatives and UKIP say they will invest in community minibuses in rural areas poorly served by public transport. This is good news, because there have been many elections where buses haven't been mentioned at all, and we like to think this reflects the Save our Buses campaigning we've been doing. All parties are promising to protect free travel for older people (thought none say if they'll actually fund it properly); concessionary travel for young people is mentioned by Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens, with this being a headline offer by the Lib Dems. 

Air pollution is also a common issue - Labour is promising a new Clean Air Act, the Lib Dems have the Green Transport Act (both of them, and the Greens, talk of incentives to scrap diesel cars), while the Conservatives and UKIP are committing to significant investment in electric vehicles, which the Conservatives would extend to new low emission buses. However, none of the parties are overtly joining this issue up with roads policy - even the Greens' promise to redirect funding from national road building to rail and local public transport isn't directly linked to their air quality plan, while the other parties all variously promise road building of some sort (and Labour and UKIP are committed to free parking at hospitals). More promisingly, most mention road maintenance in some form, with the Conservatives promising action on potholes on residential roads. And all manifestos except UKIP promise some kind of investment in cycling too. 

So there is perhaps more common ground, for good or ill, on transport than one might expect. Some of the broader commitments in the manifestos also matter for transport. In particular, the parties' housing policies could make a real difference - the Lib Dems are offering 10 garden cities with good public transport, Labour and UKIP are offering a focus on brownfield land, avoiding urban sprawl, and the Conservatives suggest that they will seek to capture the value of investment in new homes for infrastructure, and promote better housing at higher density. All of these in different ways link to transport and might make new housing easier to serve by public transport. 

So there is surprisingly quite a lot about transport in the manifestos, given that this is an election overshadowed by Brexit, and at least some of this reflects our campaigning. The task will be for us and our supporters to push the politicians elected on 8 June to follow the commitments they've made, to tackle the funding issues facing local transport in particular, and underlying transport problems, like air pollution, poor planning and climate change.

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