Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Merseytravel (TYP 44)


  1.1  Merseytravel is the operating name for the Passenger Transport Authority and Executive on Merseyside. Merseytravel co-ordinates public transport and acts in partnership with private bus and rail operators to provide public transport on Merseyside and it owns and operates the Mersey Ferries and the two Mersey Tunnels. We are pleased to submit evidence to this important inquiry into progressing Government's 10 Year Plan for Transport.

  1.2  Merseytravel's key objective is to successfully implement the Merseyside Local Transport Plan. We are a Centre of Excellence in Integrated Transport and Integrated Transport Planning.

  1.3  The specific transport policy issues addressed by Merseytravel are:

    —  the procurement of socially necessary bus services not provided by the private sector;

    —  the provision of a concessionary fare scheme which is the most comprehensive outside of London;

    —  providing and operating bus stations, state of the art bus shelters and bus stops;

    —  operating, in partnership with the local Bus Operators, the local transport information line;

    —  specifying the level and quality of services on the local rail network; and

    —  planning, via the Merseyside Local Transport Plan, the long term development of the public transport network.

  1.4  Merseyside PTA comprises 18 councillors drawn from the five district councils of Merseyside. The Executive implements PTA policies and provides suitable professional advice which is accurate, relevant and timely. Merseytravel is unique amongst the six English PTEs in having an integrated organisation.

  1.5  This evidence addresses the questions raised in press notice 22/2001-02 dated 5 December 2001.


  2.1  The publication of the 10 Year Plan has rightly been recognised as a significant step forward for transport policy. It provides a coherent and ambitious strategic concept for the industry that was not previously in place. The policies contained in the 10 Year Plan should take away the short-termism and uncertainty that have plagued the industry for too long.

  2.2  The Government deserves a great deal of credit for its vision and ambition in producing its Plan to provide an overall framework to progress the Transport Agenda.

  2.3  Local Transport Plans must not be seen in isolation from the 10 Year Plan if they are to be successful. Indeed, the quality of the Local Transport Plans that have been produced since the 10 Year Plan was published are a testament to the fact that they are symbiotic strategies, ie one cannot succeed without regard to the other.

  2.4  Perhaps the most immediate and powerful impact that the 10 Year Plan has had is to identify the large sums of additional money that need to be made available for investment in the transport network. The effects of the £180 billion that the Government has promised over the period of the Plan are already being felt.

  2.5  In Merseytravel's case, we have just been awarded more than £47 million as part of the Government's settlement for our Local Transport Plan. This LTP finance across the UK has enabled transport authorities to formulate the ambitious and bold policies that are required if we are to have an effective and integrated transport network.

  2.6  The successful delivery of an integrated transport policy also requires improving the planning and approvals process. For example, the Transport and Works Act process is lengthy, complicated and expensive with little certainty of the outcome. It is this uncertainty that further adds to the difficulties faced by those seeking to deliver an integrated transport system.

  2.7  While the Government has indicated that it intends to address the problems associated with approvals and planning processes, this initiative needs to be supported by some tangible action in the short term.

  2.8  While the industry is supportive of the 10 Year Plan, there is a growing feeling of cynicism that can be detected within the industry. There is a need to demonstrate that the policies that lie behind the 10 Year Plan are integrated. There is a need to reassure the industry as a whole that this is a joined up solution to many disparate problems.

  2.9  The 10 Year Plan requires a significant investment over the lifetime of the policy. In order to achieve this HM Treasury must be held accountable and the relevant finances must be forthcoming beyond year three of the Plan. Under the Government's current spending rules, no money is guaranteed beyond year three. If the 10 Year Plan is to be successful, this issue must be addressed at the highest levels of Government. Without the necessary funding throughout the lifetime of the 10 Year Plan, this crucial opportunity may be lost.

  2.10  The vision outlined in the 10 Year Plan requires a process comprised of timing and funding. This process must be driven so that it delivers. This depends to a large extent on having the calibre of people with the necessary skills and experience to meet the challenges that the industry faces.

  2.11  It is widely accepted that there is a skills shortage in the transport industry in the UK but with the task that lies ahead and the critical issues that are at stake, it is essential that the industry collectively addresses this shortfall.

  2.12  The levels of funding that are needed cannot be met by the public sector alone. That is why Merseytravel believes so strongly in developing effective partnerships with local stakeholders, from the public, private and voluntary sectors in formulating and implementing the LTP. The 10 Year Plan will require similar partnership arrangements.

  2.13  Further supporting evidence can be given to the sub-committee if required.


  3.1  What assumptions should be modified or challenged?

  Congestion is a key and significant problem which can be reduced by a programme of targeted capital investment. However, the predictions in the 10 Year Plan depend upon the definition of congestion, a point noted in "Transport 2010—The Background Analysis". Secondly, it is not clear how workplace parking and road user charging are going to be successfully implemented to provide real and measurable congestion benefits.

  3.2  Will the expected number of congestion charging and workplace parking levy schemes by implemented and when?

  Given the technological issues involved in the implementation and adverse comments generated in the press against charging etc it will be unlikely that many such schemes will come forward in the early years of the Plan. The London scheme can be expected to progress together with certain smaller specific local schemes, it is unlikely that major schemes will be in place for a long time due to:

    —  The real chance of displacing inward investment from one area to another as a result of these proposed charging schemes. Merseyside's economy is fragile, referenced by our second "round" of Objective 1 funding.

    —  The need to have in place effective and efficient public transport networks to absorb any displaced car trips before introducing charging schemes. Given the long term decline of public transport networks outside of the capital this will be difficult to implement in the short term.

  3.3  How important are the assumptions to the outcome of the plan? What remedial action is necessary if assumptions or targets need to be changed?

  The successful implementation of charging mechanisms makes the target of 15 per cent reduction in congestion difficult to achieve. The real cost of motoring is reducing which will make this target difficult to hit in practice.

  3.4  Are the skills and capacity available to deliver the improvements suggested?

  There is a skills shortage of qualified transport professionals and engineers in the industry. This means that in order to deliver the capital programmes highlighted in the LTPs and the 10 Year Plan, inevitably, less experienced staff are being used.

  3.5  How will the current situation in the railway industry affect the need for a provision of private and public sector finance?

  The trouble with targets is that they quickly become irrelevant.

  The former Chairman of the SRA believed that his 10 Year Plan targets could be met by investing only "south of Watford". The Chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport points out that the 10 Year Plan target for increased bus use might be met by London alone—while elsewhere, under de-regulation, bus use gently declines.

  Yet the transport crisis spreads right across the country. The more remote, the further north, in fact, the greater the dependency on transport services for sustaining the regional economy.

  So while the 10 Year Plan, which sets out targets and a funding programme has been widely welcomed, we can already see two problems:

    (i)  (and this has been widely observed) the Railtrack debacle has undermined confidence in the ability of the rail sector to deliver its (substantial) part of the bargain

    (ii)  the targets need to be thought through and expanded at a regional, as well as a national level.

  The latter is not simply proposed as a numerical allocation exercise. Indeed, there is no virtue in (say) increasing rail patronage by +50 per cent per se; the objective is to create a better alternative to increased private car use, to tackle both the congestion issue and to find a solution which is less harmful to the environment.

  So what is needed is a regional expression of national targets rooted in a perspective of the real needs of the individual regions. Central to this approach is a need to re-visit the basic linkage between land development and regeneration on the one hand, and transport demands on the other.

  The relationship between the two is close and well understood, but there is a need to put in place delivery structures that place the two together within a single organisation.

  For 10 years or so, the major national road building program, has been at an end; true the multi-modal studies are identifying some new capacity schemes, but in general there is simply no prospect of traffic growth coming to a halt.

  It is true that the SACTRA report of 2000, suggested that elsewhere (eg in Sweden) the historic presumed causal link between GDP growth and traffic growth had been broken and it might happen here to. But transport demand, is still growing in the UK, and now none of the modes have spare capacity to avoid a rapid escalation in congestion levels.

  Prior to rail privatisation, there was little expectation of growth in rail usage (for either passenger or freight). In the last five years, driven probably more by the relative decline in the attraction of the alternatives (despite the plummeting public esteem for the railways) than by service improvements and marketing initiatives, rail use has soared. At least it did until the Railtrack debacle, but the truth of the matter is that while the rail network of five years ago could and did handle a +25 per cent demand increase, growth much beyond that level has proven virtually unmanageable. The rail network itself is congested (hence extended delays) and of course trains themselves are more over-crowded.

  Fortunately, the importance of tackling the transport problem is now widely understood. The CBI, for example, is adamant that resolution of the country's transport crisis is the number one challenge for the government to improve national competitiveness.

  Clearly too, government is deeply concerned, from the prime minister downwards, as reflected in Tony Blair's New Year speech which highlight the currently unacceptable position of the national rail network.

  Actions are following these concerns. Fresh management has already been drafted into the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and to Railtrack.

  The SRA, under new leadership, will publish its strategic plans on 14 January 2002. Already the new Chairman has:

    —  said that it will work jointly with the previously determinedly independent office of the rail regulator to provide a solid economic basis for the industry—a prospect of putting an end to inter-regulatory squabbling; and

    —  called for a reduction in the number of franchises, with one, Merseyrail Electrics, to be managed in future by Merseyside PTE.

  But there are limits to what can and what should be planned and implemented by Whitehall in London. We have a sad history of large scale bureaucracies—the British Transport Commission in the 1950s, BR in the 1960s—failing to appreciate regional, leave alone local, concerns.

  The Thatcher model was to replace such agencies with private sector interests. Under suitable management (franchising agreements, for instance) they would recognise local/regional needs and deliver improvements where they were needed and wanted. Patently, this is an inadequate model. Control still lies in London and the transport service providers have not (yet) been brought into the kind of regional partnerships that will be necessary if the new style of integrated transport development planning that is needed is to be achieved.

  The message to the HM Treasury must be this. We are seeking to invest in transport to create medium term improvement in economic competitiveness. There is no alternative which represents better value for money. The philosophy is one of partnership with the private sector aligned with regional understanding.

  To national agencies such as the SRA, the message is also clear. This is not a grab for power. Responsibilities for setting priorities must ultimately be with the national authorities. A good transport system, all will agree, requires the careful integration of national, regional and local services. The aim here is to provide the specification and management know-how at the local level to ensure that these are properly tied into economic aims.

  The ultimate prize is a closer alignment of development and transport investment and more sustainable future.

3.6  Is the balance and phasing of investment across funding areas correct?

  It is too early to tell at this point. The rail industry is under the spotlight, but more trips are made by bus in the conurbations.

3.7  Are more flexible financing arrangements required to deliver major local schemes?

  The LTPs indicative settlements and specific allocations are most welcome. In common with GMPTE, we subscribe to the following helpful suggestions:

    —  The scope for revenue support offered by government in support of transport capital programmes to be channelled directly to PTAs rather than via district councils which then needs to be "reclaimed" by the PTA via the levy.

    —  Scope for rail funding, currently channelled via Railtrack to be via PTEs and also the possible transfer of ownership or management of local rail stations to PTEs.

    —  Significant improvements to local bus services will only partially be achieved through investment in measures such as Quality Bus Corridors.

    —  A need to recognise the revenue implications of new capital investments, for example the costs of maintaining Quality Bus Corridors at a high level of quality, in terms of priority detection for bus traffic signal equipment costs, additional shelters, enhanced passenger information (real time) and coloured road surfacing costs, together with higher enforcement costs, should be reflected in on-going revenue support settlements. Again providing this revenue resource directs to PTAs would also be beneficial for management purposes.

    —  The value of revenue support for bus services needs to be recognised more clearly. This is currently constrained by legislation, which makes partnership and cross-subsidising initiatives difficult. Also Urban Bus Challenge resources are short term so long term benefits are in doubt, but this is a welcome development and will provide valuable pump-priming assistance.

3.8  How do the emerging multi-modal studies affect the 10 Year Plan?

  These key studies should, if managed correctly, provide goal congruency with the relevant LTP (ie the current multi-modal studies do not directly affect Merseytravel).

3.9  Should the plan represent a better balance between large and small schemes, and between infrastructure, management and operations?

  There is considerable scope for improving performance and service quality by increasing staff numbers at rail stations. At present the local service operators tend to employ the bare minimum of management and supervisory staff.

3.10  Are the targets and the dates for their achievement well designed (eg is reducing congestion the right objective)?

  Looking at four of the key targets by 2010 we would comment as follows:

    —  50 per cent increase in rail passenger kilometres—this should be achievable, the Merseyrail network experiencing increasing patronage even with a sometimes indifferent service.

    —  Road congestion reduced below current levels; particular in large urban areas. This is a particularly difficult target and has already been partially considered above.

    —  10 per cent increase in bus passenger journeys. The Plan target needs to be clarified. This will be a challenge. In Merseyside our SMART bus initiatives and working closely with the bus operators has reversed the downward trend.

    —  More cities and towns with park and ride schemes—The plan seems very encouraging about Park and Ride.

3.11  What other targets, if any, should be included (eg modal shift, walking, traffic levels)?

  We have no views on this as a raft of targets are articulated in our Local Transport Plan.

  One target of major concern however, is that which seems to encourage the SRA to pursue South East and Inter City based schemes at the expense of the conurbations.

3.12  Should a more regional approach be adopted for target setting?

  In general we would support this.

3.13  How well does the Plan balance social and environmental policy with efficient investment?

  The Plan tends to be more focused on the delivery of large transport infrastructure investments aimed at reducing traffic congestion rather than on the impact that those investments will have on supporting wider social, including exclusion uses, economic and environmental objectives.

3.14  Does the Plan set out a balanced approach to all modes (eg walking)?

  Insufficient weight is given in the Plan to initiatives to reduce the required to travel either by reduced trip lengths or by encouraging non-motorised trips.

3.15  Are there any conflicts between the Plan and the policies in the White Paper—A New Deal for Transport?

  Quality Contracts would appear to result in better bus services and greater growth in bus patronage.

3.16  What impacts will policies in the European White Paper on Transport have on the Plan?

  It is not clear yet how these policies will help deliver the objectives of the Plan. Our response to this paper is available for the Committee's information.

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