Keith Mitchell, partner at Peter Brett Associates, asks if Birmingham will welcome the first integrated transport authority.
In the last ten years, the number of people using buses in the West Midlands has fallen by 12.5 per cent yet in London, bus use has risen by over 50 per cent. Why is this - and why is it important for Birmingham?
The report by Centre for Cities, ‘On the Move…Delivering integrated transport in Britain’s cities’, says that the quality and use of public transport in most British cities has declined over the last ten years. Yet effective transport is a crucial component of stimulating economic growth and improving social inclusion. This decline is a real concern. What we need is better transport now to support the battle against looming recession.
Over the past few decades, both Conservative and Labour governments have failed to stem the tide of decline. Bus de-regulation and rail privatisation under the Tories were followed by Labour’s 1998 Integrated Transport White Paper and 2000 Transport Act, which failed to improve the situation. The report acknowledges the difficulty that successive Governments have found in tackling integrated transport policy, referred to as ‘…a bed of nails, a crown of thorns, a booby trap’ in Yes Minister.
Despite the political difficulties around promoting an integrated transport policy, this new report has tackled the ‘bed of nails’ by reviewing UK and international experience to consider what can now be done to address the problem. It argues that there is an opportunity to deliver more integrated transport in major cities such as Birmingham and suggests that there is considerable evidence to suggest that a more integrated public transport system would be highly beneficial in both economic and social terms.
The report makes six policy recommendations focused on helping city regions to deliver a joined up public transport system that is attractive to the travelling public. One proposal, which suggests that Government should compel city regions to adopt Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs), would have a major impact on the delivery of public transport in the West Midlands by going some way towards creating a Transport for London style body for the city-region.
Reserve powers to create these new bodies are included in the Local Transport Bill which is currently completing its final stages in Parliament. The report suggests that Birmingham should be in the first wave of these new authorities. It argues that the establishment of ITAs in major city-regions would help to address many of the coordination failures, act as a powerful advocate for improved bus services and lead to greater oversight of local bus routes. In Birmingham, recent battles over the implementation of information at bus stops and bus lanes between councils, Centro and the operators could be avoided by such an authority and speed up implementation.
Other recommendations include support for the introduction of integrated ticketing, like London’s Oyster card, the increased use of behavioural measures to promote walking and cycling, and changes in governance that support joined up transport at every level.
Perhaps most important, however, is the need to change the way we justify investment and deliver funding for transport projects – from big schemes like New Street Station down to local bus stops. This will help to ensure that the decision making process reflects the economic benefits that transport integration, driven through investment in a range of low cost high impact transport projects, can bring.