The increased use of public transport is an important part of a wider programme of changes needed to tackle climate change. However we need to see a significant improvement in our public transport network for this to become a reality.
I welcome the Campaign for Better Transport’s ‘The Way Forward Is Public Transport’ campaign. The pandemic has understandably dominated headlines for the last year, but we cannot forget we are still in a climate emergency and that green, efficient transport must be the future.
In the last few months, the Government has published its plans for both buses and trains after several delays. I am concerned that these plans have not fundamentally addressed one of the biggest challenges with our transport system, which is that different modes of transport are not working together. They do not turn up together when required and they are not joined up. We need a system that genuinely connects people.
The bus strategy should have been used to revolutionise the bus industry, but in my opinion, does not deliver a radical transition to a zero-emission fleet. We are waiting for the 4,000 zero emission buses promised by the Government last year. While we wait, cuts to bus services and rising ticket costs will push more people into using more polluting forms of transport.
After a period of record low passenger numbers, we also need to encourage people back on to trains to help our economy and our environment. Despite this, fares have been increased again this year. The average commuter will pay £3,144 for their season ticket, which equates to a 43% or £950 increase in the last decade. We should be encouraging people to use public transport, not penalising financially those choosing not to travel by car.
Although I welcomed the announcement of flexible rail tickets, I am aware that some now appear to offer little or no savings, with some three-day-a-week ticket options seemingly more expensive than existing full-time season tickets.
Likewise I support the Labour Party in our bid to maintain the mandatory use of masks in public spaces, for those without medical or other exemptions. This is a proven method to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and it would be far too risky to remove this precaution now. As well as saving lives I believe this measure will reassure people that public transport is a safe method of transport again, and help to increase usage during the pandemic.
The recent Government announcement of steps to increase public ownership and control over the railways do not go far enough. I believe greater responsibility for metro mayors, along with fuller public ownership would better serve the public, the state and long-term investment. I want to see us work towards the redesigning of urban spaces and investment in bus and rail, including enabling more cities, towns and rural areas to develop local mobility plans – coupled with an expanded cycling and walking strategy.
I agree with your assessment of Sheffield’s public transport, and I am working on ways to improve buses in my constituency. I am also working with the council on improving cycle routes across the city, to encourage more people to get out on their bikes.
Unfortunately this problem is not isolated to Sheffield. Due to chronic underfunding everywhere outside London, our public transport infrastructure is underdeveloped and under staffed. I am campaigning for increased funding put into public transport in Sheffield, along with a consultation with the community to ascertain which areas need improvement the most.
I have written to the Secretary of State to seek clarification on what the Government is doing to improve public transport and to press them to make the desperately needed improvements.