With all the uproar following the Brexit referendum nearly a year ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that the UK’s divorce from the EU was the only political issue of any significance at the moment. Whilst it is undeniably the most important given that the knock-on effects will be felt for decades to come, we cannot afford to not properly scrutinise the other policies of those seeking to represent us. For your convenience, here’s what the main parties in the country are proposing related to public transport and how these policies could impact the environment.
With their manifesto fresh off of the press, now is a fine time to take a look at what the Conservatives are proposing to do with transport. On pages 23-24 is where the specific information can be found, spearheaded by a pledge to invest £40 billion into the nation’s transport over the next decade.
The manifesto in particular targets an increase in capacity on the railways and looks ‘for Britain to lead the world in electric vehicle technology and use’. The first of these places a lot of emphasis on the continued development of major projects such as High Speed 2, the expansion of Heathrow, and Crossrail. The latter of these in particular typifies this approach to get commuters onto public transport in place of driving, as once completed it will provide around 1.5 million passengers with access to Central London in just 45 minutes.
As for how the sitting Government intends to shift the transport network to one dominated by electric vehicles, that could prove trickier. It appears that the first step on this plan is to first provide incentives to vehicle owners to make the switch using an earmarked fund of £600 million. In regards to public transport as well, the Conservatives will invest specifically in low-emission buses as part of a wider scheme to invest in rural areas that currently are lacking good transport links. The Government has often been criticised for seemingly over-investing in transportation in London and its surrounding areas, so this could very well be a move to finally put such criticism to bed.
The UK’s main opposition have also released their manifesto, and it is without question a bold vision should they take power in June. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has long been an advocate for major reforms to the UK’s transport network, supporting the re-nationalisation of train and bus companies which had been privatised under Conservative rule.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Labour manifesto has have announced the intention to pass a law through Parliament that would repeal the existing law from 1993 that privatised the railways in the first place. Accusing the existing system of being an ‘abject failure’ in regards to ‘deregulation, privatisation and fragmentation’, Labour’s state-owned system would provide an alternative that prioritises quality and user safety over shareholder profit.
Labour is similar to the Conservatives, though, in the sense that they would guarantee funding for projects such as the HS2 high-speed rail between London, Birmingham, Leeds, and Manchester before heading into Scotland. In fact, they would expand its reach even further, connecting it with the ‘Crossrail of the North’ which in turn links the northern cities of Manchester and Liverpool amongst others.
Like the Conservatives, Labour mentions investing in options that prioritise the environment: low-carbon technology and other pro-environment programmes to cut down on vehicle emissions. Interestingly enough, it would appear they mean to amend the existing tax paid by vehicle users on diesel fuel so as to encourage ‘the development, manufacture and use of ultra low emission vehicles’. Whatever their differences, both parties seem to have chosen this policy as part of their platform, so expect to see a lot more electric cars whizzing around in the near-future!
The Liberal Democrats have targeted air pollution and clean transport as a key problem to tackle as part of their wider environmental policy. Drawing attention to the human cost of air pollution as well as the financial cost to the NHS of £15 billion, Lib Dem policy is keen to legislate with a view to reducing these figures. If elected, they would seek to pass a ‘Green Transport Act’ and an ‘Air Quality Plan’ to tackle air pollution, especially from vehicles.
Their economic arguments mention the investment of ‘significant capital resources’ within infrastructure projects across the Midlands and North of England. The specific projects are unnamed, but it is strongly implied that they too are looking to diversify investment away from London-centric schemes.
It is under the ‘Families & Communities’ banner that we can find the detailed transport policies of the party, which says a lot about how integral they believe travel is to ensuring social cohesion. Their stance towards the question of railway privatisation is a relatively moderate one that allows public bodies to bid for franchises, but it does not explicitly state a desire for mass re-nationalisation. Southern Rail and Govia Thameslink are named, though, as having been mismanaged to the extent that state intervention would be required, and this theme of responsible guardianship dominates their approach to public transport in all forms.
As their name might suggest, the Green Party, since their inception, have prioritised measures to help tackle climate change, pollution and other causes related to the environment. As part of their ‘Green Guarantee’, the Greens have dedicated an entire segment to discussion of ‘A People’s Transport System’.
Headlined by a pledge to increase investment into transport, this part of the Guarantee emphasises the environment- cleanliness and safety in order to provide an easy alternative to taking cars onto the roads. This would be done via the re-nationalisation of the railways and buses, with investment focusing primarily on the North and South-West of the country, and with funding taken from HS2 and other projects that are solely road-specific.
Whilst it would perhaps be unfair to say the Greens are deliberately making things as difficult as possible for road drivers, they are, in their own words, advocating a rapid solution to the ‘public health crisis’ caused in no small part by vehicular emissions. In this respect they are undoubtedly giving the issue of poor air quality the most attention out of any party standing. A lack of clean air has been flagged as a major cause of health problems even in schools, such is the extent of the threat to our collective well-being.
Overall it comes as absolutely no shock that the Greens support such arguably radical changes to the ways we address the question of environment protection. Public transport that utilises less polluting energy sources is something that concerns everyone. The question remains whether they can offer viable alternatives to motorists totally dependent on their cars for day-to-day living.
Unlike the parties previously discussed, the Scottish Nationalists make little mention of transport-specific policies in their manifesto.
The SNP, unlike the other challengers, do have a track record of prior actions. They point to their investments infrastructure since 2007 to the tune of more than £14 billion, with a further £20 billion that would follow over the next five years. A quarter of this will focus on railway improvements. There have already been 23 major road/motorway improvements in past years.
Incentives are also offered that would encourage a quicker transition to vehicles that give off lower rates of carbon pollution. The specifics of such incentives aren’t mentioned, but they will be pursued alongside other ideas to ensure public transport is more convenient and easier to use.
Regardless of their electoral success, the power of the First Minister and the Holyrood government will always be constrained by Westminster. Recent legislation, such as last year’s ‘Scotland Act’, has enabled them to allow a public sector bid for rail franchises, but the specifics of the bid are still all to play for.
With politics as turbulent as it is, who knows what shape it will take?