It is important to have a good transport system.
Social and economic benefits will flow if an area has good linkages to other places – you can widen your scope for getting a job if the transport is good, or investors are more likely to put money into your area if they can visit and keep an eye on their investments in a quick and efficient way, or people can feel less isolated and go to visit friends and family.
I do think a cheap, modern, reliable and efficient public transport can provide huge benefits.
I’ve said many times that Hartlepool is ripe for a good, integrated public transport system, particularly through the use of buses: the town has relatively low car ownership, but is more or less centrally urbanised with outlying villages.
It shouldn’t take long to travel from, say the Headland, into town and onto Seaton.
Yet we have an appalling public transport system.
I’ve written many times about buses, which I think could be the lifeblood of an integrated public transport system.
I don’t think de-regulation of buses has helped provide a better service for passengers. Trains in the region are not much better.
I’ve spoken in Parliament about the cattle trucks of Pacer trains running on the lines in the North, including between, Middlesbrough, cutting through Hartlepool and on into Newcastle.
I took my kids on a train to Newcastle during the school holidays: it was packed, standing room only, with no facilities.
If you contrast that with trains in London and the South East, you will see modern carriages, with digital displays showing your next stop and free wifi.
Wifi isn’t available on Northern Rail services. In fact, it’s like stepping back to the 1980s, which isn’t surprising, because that was when the Pacer trains came into operation. They are the oldest rolling stock on Britain’s railways.
In London, bus use is soaring. Seven million journeys are made by bus in the capital each day.
Of course, London will be vastly different in scale and size to Hartlepool, but I think it is very interesting that Transport for London, the organisation chaired by the Mayor of London, is a public sector organisation and the bus network in the nation’s capital is very heaviliy regulated.
In this case, public ownership and regulation has resulted in a comprehensive and integrated service between bus and rail system.
I’d like to see something similar in Hartlepool.
It’s not good enough that transport services, the lifeblood of a local economy, have seen a reduction in investment over the past couple of years.
I don’t think the North-East should play second fiddle to London and the South East, receiving only a fraction of the money allocated for transport and ensuring that we have to make do with non-existent bus services and shoddy rail journeys.
Last week the Institute of Public Policy Research published a report saying that transport in the North has spluttered and stalled.
Deregulation of the bus market hasn’t worked and privatisation of the rail services some 25 years ago has not resulted in better competition, improved services nor cheaper fares.
The report calls for public sector rail operators to compete for franchises – essentially allowing public ownership of the railways yet again.
It recommends greater powers and responsibilities to local bodies like Hartlepool Borough Council to shape local bus services, including greater integration of transport spending by the NHS and education providers to give a more co-ordinated transport system.
I like the recommendations in the report.
It’s clear that things can’t go on as they are if the North is to thrive – we need a better transport system.
I’ll continue to raise this in Parliament for the benefit of passengers and the wider economy of our area.