An end to rail franchising – but what next?

Rail franchising has been an expensive failure and I think most involved with the rail industry will acknowledge that due not least to the fragmentation it’s caused to what needs to be a national infrastructure.

Northern Rail Franchise Class 319 electric unit at Liverpool Lime Street Station

In effect rail has been re-nationalised as the 1980’s high profile privatisation project has hit the buffers, indeed it’s been bumping into those buffers for a long time now. Of course Railtrack was nationalised into Network Rail quite a while ago.

The Railway Gazette has an interesting article on its website – see link below:-

www.railwaygazette.com/uk/uk-government-announces-the-end-of-rail-franchising/57396.article

Being a railway enthusiast means that I’m probably not a reliable witness but I’ll have my say, biased though it may be, anyway. That British Railways was in many ways a bit of a mess is a given but the route the Conservatives took to address its shortcomings was to say the least drastic, although I also appreciate that they did it to big up their policy direction of the day and there will have been little thought for what they were setting in train (sorry) and how things would actually look further down the track (sorry again). Such is politics, short term voter approval is all that is required and beggar the consequences as the other lot will be in power when the train derails!

What we managed to lose during the 1960’s, 70’s & 80’s was anything approaching an integrated transport system (remember that the infamous Bus Deregulation Act plays into this too) and now we are paying the price. Yes of course there have been some positives with rail travel increasing year on year until Covid 19 came along. However, we now need to reinvent the wheel and build an integrated transport system which rail (both train and tram) will need to be at the heart of.

That many European countries and beyond have successfully done this means it can be done and should be. We’ve ended up in a kind of halfway house between many counties who have progressed integrated transport very well and the likes of the US and Canada who have all but tried to kill off public transportation completely.

A Virgin Trains Frabchise Pendolino train at Liverpool Lime Street Station.

The big question now is where will our Conservative government drive transport policy now. Certainly they are big on roads and cars and are planning huge infrastructure investment in new highways despite roads being the very opposite of what is required to tackle climate change. The old ten bob note they recently held up to pay for the reversal of Beeching cuts in our railways was of course all political froth as that tiny budget will pay for nothing much at all.

Of course Conservative voters don’t use buses and trains much, if at all, although all those right wing former Labour voters who backed Johnson at the last GE do.

Can’t say I’m optimistic about the future of public transport under the present occupier of 10 Dither Street, London.

My thanks to Bob Robinson for the lead to this posting

Free parking/travel – putting transport in a climate change context

I often feel that this highly emotional subject actually hides a much bigger travel issue which involves us all and needs to be tackled if we are serious about climate change.

The bottom line is that use of petrol and diesel powered vehicles has to come to an end and the sooner the better. More of us need to walk or cycle shorter distances. Public transport, when it becomes OK to use it again, needs to be significantly extended as motor vehicles start to be used less often.

Parking of vehicles is a big issue, whether that be at hospitals (staff and visitors) or indeed anywhere else. Our streets are becoming choked with abandoned (I use that word deliberately) cars when they are not in use. We expect somewhere to park our cars wherever we go and when we can’t park legally/in a car park we abandon our cars on pavements, grass verges, in cycle lanes, across private/business accesses/driveways.

In short privately owned motor vehicles are our problem, not the solution to our travel difficulties.

Of course public transport has been run down over many years via cuts in subsidies and by people not using it. You can track it back to prior to the Beeching era as Beeching was in itself a reaction to the rise in road transport. Ironically the buses which were, with cars, seen to be the solution when railway lines closed have in themselves been pushed further and further to the sidelines as cars have taken over our roads.

We’ve designed/planned a society that has become reliant on the ownership of the private car with those who don’t have one being left to fend for themselves. We’ve invested countless Billions of £’s in a transport system which has. however inadvertently. encouraged the continual growth of the private car. We now face the prospect of trying to put all that into some form of what will most likely be a disorderly and unpopular reverse to try to save our planet. Imagine what the Daily Mail will say!

My view has long been that local public transport should either be free or with just a one-off daily charge for it’s use such as a £1 a day. But that in itself is only part of the solution as we need to significantly improve the bus network so that it’s clean, frequent, reliable, easily accessible and it works in harmony with our local rail networks. Bus, rail & trams are not rivals, they need to be integrated, efficient and cheap to use. We need to arrive at a point where car users say to themselves that running a car is too expensive and they’d rather read a book travelling to work on a train/bus than sit in traffic jams. And don’t scoff, this is all possible should be want it to be.

And yes I’m a car driver a pedestrian and a cyclist. I try to use my car as little as I can and I feel we need to find a way to make the use of cars more expensive the greater the mileage that is done. If you choose to work many miles away from where you live that journey has consequences for our environment. So surely that should mean you paying more per mile into public coffers than someone who has chosen to live much closer to their place of work and does much less mileage. Of course if you live close to your place of work there should be rewards in the system especially if you use public transport, walk or cycle. Putting it simply the taxation system should reward walkers, cyclists and public transport users.

The case for free public transport and getting on with (rather than talking about) bus re-regulation

Vintage Ribble bus photoed at the West Lancs Light Railway in 2018

Very soon after I got involved in politics I attended a Liberal Party conference in Blackpool, I think it was in 1980. On the agenda was a motion for debate that was all about making public transport free to use in and around towns and cities. If memory serves David Alton, MP for Liverpool Edge Hill, was backing the motion and he must have made a powerful case because ever since I’ve held the view that free public transport (or with a nominal fare) would one day become a reality.

David Alton MP

That conference motion of 40 years ago was clearly well before its time so to speak but the reasons for it were sound then and look even more sound now as we have arrived at a Climate Emergency and are suffering air pollution problems that are quite literally killing us!

Of course the underlying reason for that 1980 debate was to try to start a process of reducing reliance on cars by making high quality public transport a viable attractive alternative particularly in urban areas. That only 2 years later the Conservatives passed the Bus Deregulation Act pushing things in totally the opposite direction is at best ironic! What’s more urban areas like Manchester and Liverpool are presently trying to find ways to re-regulate bus services because they are in crisis, but more on that later.

In rural areas, sadly, bus services are all but extinct in parts of Lancashire although that’s as much about the lack of public money to subsidise vital routes as it is a cause of the Bus Deregulation Act. Add into all this the chaos created via the privatisation of our railways, which are now widely seen as dysfunctional, and it should make politicians who created this mess (and those who have failed to get us out of it) feel very much ashamed – but of course it doesn’t.

So whilst we should have been developing high quality subsidised public transport to tackle road congestion, air pollution and accessibility to all kinds of services for those without access to cars our governments have been pushing public policy further towards reliance on cars!

Merseyrail train at Maghull North Station

But across Europe’s cities and regions there’s been experimenting with and policy changes in favour of free public transport, whilst they’ve rarely gone down the road & rail to ruin routes that the UK has chosen for itself. I think Luxembourg is the latest convert. The downside to public transport being free (other than paying for it of course) is the potential for it to have the unintended consequence of encouraging folk to do the exact opposite of what they need to do. I’m talking here of walking and cycling because if we create a system where say short walkable journeys reduce because folk get on the free public transport we’ve solved one problem but inadvertently created another with negative health consequences.

But to go back to that re-regulation issue, which I’ve heard talked about for more years than I care to mention particularly on Merseyside, is it going to be action or more taking? I ask as the Liverpool City Region Mayor has popped up recently to rehash all the old arguments in favour of re-regulation. Now don’t get me wrong I with him but I just wish he’d get on with it! No more talking Steve!!!!

310 Ribble bus in Maghull – Photo credit Arnold Richardson/Photobus

We know the bus companies and their shareholders won’t like it, that’s a given, but we need as a matter of some urgency an integrated public transport system of high quality buses and trains. What’s more we need it to deliver far less CO2 emissions (thinking of diesel powered buses in particular here)and be good enough (punctual, fast, reliable and running 7 days per week) to make us want to ditch our cars for many local journeys.

So yes re-regulate the buses, integrate them properly with the trains and start to look seriously at either free public transport or nominal ticket prices.

Liverpool City Region comes under pressure to take back control of buses

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpool-city-region-urged-follow-17059083

This is a welcome move by Lib Dem members on Wirral Council as their initiative will, if supported, have a beneficial effect on bus services across the Liverpool City Region (LCR).

I recall hearing Merseytravel Chairperson, Cllr. Liam Robinson, talk about such a move at an OPSTA meeting in Southport in November 2018. However, my concern then, as it has been for many a year, was that regaining local control over buses was becoming a matter oft talked about rather than actually being energetically taken forward. My note from the Southport meeting said this – Cllr. Robinson presented his vision of how bus services could be improved in the Liverpool City Region (beyond the present Bus Alliance with Arriva and Stagecoach)

Good luck to Wirral Lib Dems in their attempt to push LCR/Merseytravel to deliver on this sooner rather than later. Righting the wrongs of the Thatcher’s appalling 1980’s Bus Deregulation Act, which plunged all local bus services (except for those in London) into a further spiral of decline has been a long time coming – like some local bus services!

Arriva Buses on strike in Liverpool area – A passenger’s response

I’m no fan of local bus services generally because since Bus Deregulation in the 1980’s services have declined and are in the main poor to average.

I often wonder whether Arriva run buses to suit themselves as they do not seem reliable on the 300 route in particular, or so I have heard regular users complain about. Missing buses during afternoons is something I have been hearing folks grumble about for a while now.

If a bus does not run, is cancelled or significantly delayed why aren’t passengers told why? Surely a screen on a bus could give messages that explain why say a previous bus had not turned up at the advertised time or at all. It’s as though passengers are a secondary thought, but then again bus deregulation was meant in part to lead to competition on routes to drive up customer service standards etc. Well that did not happen as the larger bus companies simply bought out or saw of their smaller competition so they had route monopoly.

My view is that local bus services should be re-regulated in a similar way to how railway franchise operators are so that fines can be levied against bus companies not delivering to specified service standards.

And the thought from a frustrated passenger? This was said to me with regard to the first Arriva local bus strike here on Merseyside a few days ago. The thought was along the lines of ‘I thought the idea of a strike was to put pressure on your employer to address whatever the grievance is about that caused the strike whilst at the same time making the employer worry about the company not being able to offer its specified services. But with Arriva they don’t seem to care whether they run a 300 bus or not anyway, strike or no strike, so how can Arriva staff going on strike cause the company to be concerned about their buses not running?’ Now that’s an illuminating comment is it not?

With thanks to Jen, a regular 300 bus user, for the lead to this posting.

I’m happy to post any response from Arriva, I might add.

Bus routes in Sefton – More cuts in subsidised services?

With a review of Sefton’s bus services on the near horizon (and you can I think sadly read into that more cuts in the subsidised routes) this photo is telling:-

No passengers

Click on the photo to enlarge it

I took it around 7.30pm on 13th July at the Meadows shops in Maghull – it’s the 310 bus out of Liverpool. I happened to be there quite by chance when the bus arrived but the telling thing is that whilst the bus stopped there was no one on it and there was no one waiting to get on it.

Oh yes, and the review is being undertaken by Merseytravel the transport committee of the Liverpool City Region.

It was the recent ‘Knowsley’ Review that has led to the re-routing of the 133 bus route through Maghull & Melling. My previous posting refers:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/06/04/melling-gets-another-bus-cut-as-133-is-re-routed/

As someone who has campaigned to retain local bus routes for many years – the loss of the 311 Arriva route being the most recent one – I really do fear that with empty buses like this we are going to end up with fewer buses as we move forward. It reminds me of the decline of our railways after the Second World War. With less people using the trains the number of trains were reduced. Then as there were few trains less people used them etc. etc. You get my drift…….

But trains are making a remarkable come back, will the same happen to buses in years to come?