A Labour government will take on the “vested interests” of private bus and rail companies, says shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle (pictured)

Labour will be “bolder” about taking on private bus and train operators if it wins the next general election, shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle vowed last week.

In the foreword of a new pamphlet, Socialising Transport – a strategy for the left, by Paul Salveson, a transport commentator, Eagle writes: “The New Labour approach was to be relaxed about the eye-watering profits being made by private train and bus companies.”

She continued: “A One Nation Labour approach will require us to be bolder about taking on the vested interests in the privatised rail and deregulated bus industries to get a better deal for fare-payers and tax-payers.”

Eagle said that Labour’s new, bolder approach for rail would mean “doing more to tackle the costly fragmented structure of the industry”. It would also mean extending the not-for-dividend model used for Network Rail to train operating companies. “That’s why, as a first step, Labour is opposing the reprivatisation of the Intercity East Coast service which has delivered £416m back to taxpayers since being run by the government’s own rail company,” she wrote.

For buses, Eagle said Labour had to recognise the gulf between London and the rest of the country in the ability of elected transport authorities to set fares and plan routes.

“We legislated to make it possible in theory to reverse bus deregulation, but it remains difficult in practice,” she said.

“The next Labour government must do more to ensure the private bus companies can no longer stand in the way of elected transport authorities who are simply seeking a better deal for the tax-payers money already being put into local bus services.”

Responding to Eagle’s remarks, a spokesman for the Confederation of Passenger Transport said: “CPT firmly believes that partnership working between bus operators and local authorities/stakeholders is ultimately best for bus passengers. A commercialised market allows for competitive pricing structures, leads to improved services and a vibrant bus industry.

 

A strategy for the left

‘Socialising Transport – a strategy for the left’ by transport commentator Paul Salveson (pictured) sets out the basis of a “socialist transport policy”. Below is a summary of its recommendations for bus and rail transport:

Rail

Paul Salveson argues that the franchising system has not worked, and he wants a new social enterprise model to replace it. “We need a new kind of rail operator which combines many of the good things achieved by the private TOCs but with an ethical approach, founded on co-operative values, which recognises there is more to the business than the financial bottom-line,” he writes.

He continues: “It should be stressed that many senior railway managers would welcome being part of a social enterprise which puts people before profits rather than be at the whim of faceless international groups whose only concern is their ‘bottom line’.

Salveson says that regional franchises could be restructured as licences, with periodic reviews but not necessarily a compulsory competition, at periodic intervals. “If performance is good, why have to go through the turmoil and cost of a new competition?” he says.

A ‘social enterprise’ train operator could be composed of several bodies, including employees, passengers and local businesses. Salveson says that the obvious place to start would be Wales, which has a Labour Government and a franchise which expires in 2018.

Instead of reprivatising the East Coast intercity franchise, Salveson says that the current operator, Directly Operated Railways, should become the national ‘InterCity’ network – absorbing West Coast, Great Western, CrossCountry when current franchises expire.

Bus

Salveson welcomes Labour’s consideration of “deregulation exception zones”. “This represents a big step forward in Labour’s thinking,” he writes. “Deregulation ‘exemption zones’ could, in theory, be as wide as you want. Deregulation has clearly failed to deliver and making the most of exemption zones could help deliver a more efficient, passenger-focused bus network quickly and effectively.”

He argues that London’s regulated system has created a world-class bus network, although he makes no mention of the high levels of public subsidy that underpin its delivery. However, he does not believe that there is a single UK-wide solution for buses.

Meanwhile, he suggests that quality bus contracts could be used to merge some local bus networks with rail franchises to create one integrated transport provider in a defined area. “The ‘Syntus’ operation in western Holland is a combined bus and rail concession where drivers are competent for both bus and train driving, and buses and trains are totally integrated,” says Salveson. “This is not just about timetabling, but also fully integrated fares and ticketing, information services and physical interchange at stations.”

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport. Click here to subscribe – 25% off until the end of this month!