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Transport group says: choose smarter cuts not easy cuts

Big hikes in rail fares, more potholes and huge cuts in bus services could be the result of cuts in transport budgets, according to the campaign group Campaign for Better Transport.

In the first in-depth look at the implications for transport of the Government’s deficit reduction programme, Campaign for Better Transport’s “Smarter Cuts” report sets out choices in transport spending.

The group’s Executive Director Stephen Joseph said: “Our research shows that on transport spending the Government has a choice: it can go for easy cuts, taking money out of all budgets, upping fares and giving priority to big roads. Or it can go for smarter cuts which protect the spending that helps the economy, meets carbon and environmental targets and strengthens communities.”

The report offers an alternative scenario giving priority to funding local public transport, cycling and maintaining existing roads, paid for by canceling some large road building projects. It also sets out new approaches which would save money by integrating transport better with other services. But the report says that if the Government just follows the line of least resistance:


  • Buses could be decimated: just cutting the Government’s Bus Service Operator Grant would result in 7% less services, 6.5% fares increases; and 94m miles less of supported services
  • Train fares could rise by 33% in this Parliament if the fares were to increase by RPI+3%
  • Overcrowding would increase without extra carriages

Buses: wait and wait... and then none come along

“There is a real danger that buses will become extinct outside the centres of cities and towns, as funding for them will be under threat. Bus cuts and fares rises will be below the radar, happening at a local level around the country, but they will have a huge impact on the poorest people and communities, and act as a barrier for people to get access to employment, training and public services,” said Joseph.

Road maintenance at crossroads

“There is a choice to be made between properly maintaining the roads we have and building big new ones. Last winter showed the consequences of skimping on maintenance. Our evidence shows that road building projects are poor value for money, and subject to big cost overruns, and poor forecasting and modelling. They are also very expensive, and there are low cost alternatives to many of the schemes currently proposed. Maintaining the roads we have, and making better use of them, should be the priority,” he said.

Trains: efficiency or overcrowding?

“For trains, we should protect and enhance existing services, and fund local improvements that make better use of existing lines, while seeking out genuine efficiency savings, such as cutting out transaction costs between parts of the industry. The danger is that if significant cuts are made in the wrong places, there will be increased overcrowding, fares rises and reduced or slower services,” he said.

The report also suggests:


  • Joining transport up to other Government decisions and services, with a “transport test” for all new policies and service changes
  • Linking transport and planning so as to reduce car dependence and promote alternatives to travel
  • Reviewing the assessment methods for transport projects, with more emphasis on climate change and health and less on very small log term time savings
  • Investigating alternative sources of funding for transport, such as parking charges, developer contributions and business rates
  • Ensuring that funding for the high speed line promised by the Government is separate from and extra to the transport budget, if major further cuts are to be avoided.
  • Clarifying how the Government’s commitment to localism and devolution should apply to transport, where many journeys and operations cross council boundaries

Mr Joseph concluded: “We think the Government can achieve 25% cuts in transport spending, but only if it does things differently and thinks about transport with other policies and funding. We are optimistic about what can be done with smaller amounts of money carefully invested – we think that choosing the right transport priorities can help the Government revive the economy, improve health, strengthen communities and be, in the Prime Minister’s words, “the greenest Government ever”.


Notes to editors:

“Smarter cuts: making the right cuts, not the easy cuts in transport”, published on Tuesday 15 June 2010, is a draft submission to the Government’s spending review. Download the "Smarter Cuts" pdf report here (572KB).

Campaign for Better Transport will be inviting people and community groups to comment and say what transport spending they think should be protected and what should be cut. We will use these comments to shape our final submission.