PTEG chair Geoff Inskip tells Robert Jack how England’s city regions can double market share for public transport and aid economic recovery

At the beginning of this year Geoff Inskip took on one of the biggest jobs in UK passenger transport. The chief executive of Centro, the integrated transport authority for the West Midlands, took over as chair of PTEG, the body which represents the transport interests of England’s six PTE areas. These metropolitan regions cover a population of 11 million people – larger even than London – but their combined annual transport budget is a relatively modest £700m.

And it’s not just their budget that is limited. Inskip and his PTE colleagues do not possess the same powers over their networks that Transport for London enjoys. Buses are operated in a deregulated environment by private operators. Train services are meanwhile franchised by the Department for Transport.

However, two influential reports – the McNulty review of rail value for money and the Competition Commission’s investigation into the market for local bus services – may result in the PTEs/ITAs being given new powers.

At the same time, Inskip is calling on the government to set an ambitious target to double the market share for public transport, and to use investment in transport to spur economic recovery.

For Inskip, in order to achieve mobility in a sustainable fashion there is a very strong role for public transport. Electric cars cannot be considered as the only answer. Even if they are rolled out rapidly, they will not solve the problem of congestion. “There’s no such thing as a green traffic jam,” says Inskip.

More public transport is the answer and an important challenge will be to make sure that everyone understands this. “Everyone has been sat in a traffic queue and everybody goes ‘oh look at this traffic’. What they don’t say to themselves is ‘I am the cause of this traffic queue’,” he says. “The truth of the matter is that we all have that problem and we all cause the traffic queues and congestion.

“If we can move about 10% of the traffic off the road, suddenly you get free flow back on the road again – it’s quite small.”

That 10% might make up a small share of car journeys, but if those journeys shift to public transport it results in an enormous increase in passenger numbers – pushing capacity to the limits, and beyond. That is why Inskip is a keen supporter of major capital investments, like high speed rail.

This investment delivers the local, national and international connectivity that Inskip says is vital for the competitiveness of the big city regions he represents.
“Our metropolitian cities are not competing with each other, but with cities in continental Europe, in Asia, China, Brazil, the Americas, because companies these days do not necessarily have an affiliation to a nationality,” he explains. “When you’re promoting your city, you want to offer easy access to a skilled labour force. Connectivity is key to that.”

Inskip’s own role transends local, national and international – local (Centro), national (PTEG) and international (UITP). He vice-chair of UITP, the international association of public transport, and he is keen to talk about the PTx2 project, which aims to double public transport use (see panel).

“We’re not trying to double the number of people using public transport because we think it’s a good thing to do in itself – it’s because of all the other things it brings with it,” he says. “We just don’t believe our cities can be sustainable if we’re going to move everyone around by car.”

He wants the UK government to seize this agenda. “I think it’s one of the things that we should be pushing government for. They ought to think about having that vision for doubling the number of public transport trips – it’s a brave thing to do. You don’t have to do it overnight but maybe they should think about doing that by 2025 or 2030 or 2050 or whatever.”

If the government was to throw down the gauntlet, Inskip says he would then produce a prospectus setting out what capital investment was required to achieve the goal. But, he says that to make real progress, capital investments budgets for the PTE areas would need to be brought into line with London.

“The balance is wrong,” he says. “If you rebalance that and let’s just say put in another £1bn a year into our met areas through capital transport settlements, spread across the six PTE areas we’re talking about £125m each. You could see public transport really transform for that sort of level of funding.”

He continues: “PTx2 isn’t overnight – it’s 2025, and I believe that if that level of investment came into the PTEs we could get very close to that. I don’t think it’s a big ask in way really.”

Inskip accepts that the budgets are being tightened rather more than expected because of the recession. However, he believes that every pound spent on public transport will help to bring the recovery forward.

“Our metropolitan areas are big powerhouses for economic regeneration,” he says. “We can do a lot more than we are doing, but we do need to have improved transport connectivity to do that.

“It’s good to have a secretary of state in Philip Hammond who gets it. He does understand that link between transport connectivity and economic regeneration.”
So will Hammond will support Inskip’s call to double public transport use?

In June 2009, UITP, the international association of public transport, set out an ambitious aim for the sector, namely to double the market share of public transport worldwide by 2025. This ambition goes by the name of ‘PTx2’.

Whilst this aim is undoubtedly bold, UITP claims that it is not unrealistic. “Many cities have already taken up the challenge and are working towards this goal, in line with their specific political, geographical and historical contexts,” the association says.