Britain lacks a co-ordinated transport system. Different forms of transport are seen as competitors rather than parts of an integrated and interdependent whole. Liberals believe that our transport system must be environmentally friendly, and provide the vital link between and within communities. This cannot be measured in simple monetary terms. Liberals believe that elected authorities are required to plan local transport needs, within national guidelines, and that the public sector should lead the way for the funding of major transport projects. The aim of Liberal policy is to create a democratically controlled integrated transport network in which local community based transport systems connect. Transport should be managed by democratic and accountable local bodies with a responsibility to ensure good co-ordination between different means of transport, including timetabling.
The Liberal Party proposes a series of innovative ideas including:
- forms of taxation on passenger and freight transport geared to fuel consumption and pollution levels;
- tax incentives for those who work from home;
- use of the planning system to discourage out-of-town retail and leisure facilities;
- home delivery systems;
- priority schemes for public transport, pedestrians, cycles and mopeds.
Liberals seek to encourage pedestrians by giving a high priority to the upkeep of pavements and provision of adequate lighting. We call for more pedestrianised shopping centres.
Bicycles do not pollute or require much space for parking or passage. Liberals support the increased use of cycles and seek ensure better cycleway provision in built up areas. Rail travel and cycling are complementary and so we call on the rail companies to draw up a positive policy for the carriage of cycles on all passenger trains.
Government statistics show a decline in the use of public transport over the past 40 year’s; in 1961, for example, a quarter of all travel was by bus or coach, but, by 1986 that proportion had fallen to about one fifteenth. The quality and quantity of services has also declined and some sections of the community have suffered as a result with those too old, too poor, too ill, or too young to drive a car being worst affected.
The Liberal Party supports the development of tramway, trolley bus and metro systems in all conurbations and major towns. Liberals also propose a programme of public works to reinstate and rehabilitate Britain’s canal and railway networks. We further believe that unused railway lines should be maintained for other transport uses such as wildlife corridors, footpaths and cycleways.
Deregulation of bus services was supposed to have reversed the decline in the use of public transport but has not been a success, having instead resulted in the loss of many evening and Sunday services. Liberals opposed deregulation for this reason and we have consistently argued that only local communities can decide what sort of bus services they require.
Liberals call for the introduction of an enabling framework for competitive tendering, empowering cross subsidy and participation by operators as varied as municipal authorities and co-operatives. Regulations relating to the special transport needs of people with young Children or disabled persons should be embodied in such a framework. We further believe that all new public transport vehicles should be accessible, comfortable and able to take buggies, wheelchairs, bicycles and shopping with services geared to the needs of all sections of the community. Local communities should be consulted about changes to legislation to ensure a properly co-ordinated network of bus routes, avoiding wasteful duplication and ensuring proper provision in rural areas.
The Liberal Party was opposed to the privatisation of British Rail and its breaking up into regional, local or competing units. We believe that only a national publicly funded service has the potential to provide Britain with a network of regular, fast interconnecting services completely divorced from the free-for-all on our roads. Liberals recognise that a railway system and the type of traffic it is best suited to carry is best operated as a national network. : As a first step, we believe that the current plethora of railway companies should be merged at no cost to the Exchequer along the lines of the 1921 Railway Act, to form one 21st Century British Rail plc, pending eventual re-nationalisation.
Liberal proposals include:
- a track and station reopening programme, including reinstatement of routes of a strategic nature and lines serving national parks and leisure resorts;
- a programme of rolling stock, track and infrastructure renewal, together with electrification of all main lines. Continental double-deck trains could be used on busy commuter lines;
- the regulation of the various rail operations, especially in relation to the frequency of services and the fares structure. Liberals find merit in pegging fares at half the direct cost of running a small car;
- the extension of Government grants to enable the transfer of freight from road to rail, and positive action to ensure the availability of a comprehensive freight service for small non-bulk traffic;
- the preservation of the lineal integrity of all disused railway lines and trackbed for possible future transport use, allowing local authorities to lease stretches for cycle paths and footways or for recreational purposes;
- the creation of an independent “Rail Safety Authority”;
- the nationwide introduction of the sophisticated automatic train protection (ATP) system which prevents trains from passing signals at danger.
Under Liberal plans for local government reform, rail operators would be required to report to, and would have a seat on, the relevant transportation committee on all local councils, to enable liaison on all matters concerning rail services in the locality in question.
Liberals believe that a number of regional freight centres are needed if the benefits of the Channel Tunnel are to be felt nationwide. We are also concerned at delays in agreeing the funding for the Crossrail line in London. Liberals believe that the public sector should take the lead in providing the funding to ensure that Crossrail is built and that it has proper links with Heathrow and the Channel Tunnel lines.
Road vehicles and traffic jams are not a 20th century phenomenon; they have been with us for hundreds of years and Liberals recognise the freedom of movement and flexibility that a private road vehicle offers. However, the number of vehicles continues to increase with Government figures forecasting an increase in road traffic of up to 142% by 2025. Liberals recognise the impact this continues to have on the environment, on the amount of energy consumed, on atmospheric pollution, and on the quality of life, apart from the economic cost of delay caused by traffic congestion. Liberals are also concerned by the increasing speed/acceleration disparity between motor vehicles and other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
Liberals do not believe that it is possible, or desirable, to undertake more major road building. We are particularly concerned at the effects such a policy would have on by the availability of road building materials, much of which would have to be imported as to the nation’s own supplies were be exhausted.
Liberals believe that if comfortable, secure, reliable and competitively priced alternatives exist, people will readily leave their cars at home. However, such alternative transport networks must already be in place before an attempt is made to restrict motor vehicle use. Liberals envisage:
- halting all new trunk road building and diverting funds to public transport. Work on the elimination of accident black spots and improvement of existing road infrastructure would not be affected;
- limiting the environmental impact of motor vehicles by manipulating traffic regulation and excises and taxes so as to penalise large, powerful vehicles. Large lorries should be restricted to a designated network of “juggernaut alleys”, such as motorways, trunk roads, and parkways linked to “break bulk” depots, where freight would be transhipped for onward dispersal in smaller vehicles. Heavy lorries should be prohibited access to cities, towns, villages and residential areas;
- the introduction of tax and access concessions on small vehicles built to certain standards and dimensions. Specifications for an ‘Eco Car’ should be drawn up and reviewed every three years to take account of advances in technology. Concessions should be funded by increased taxation on all other vehicles that fell outside the specification, so that over a period of years people are given a clear incentive to buy and run small economical cars and to dispose of large vehicles. Eventually such a ‘small vehicle’ policy would ease traffic congestion and the shortage of parking spaces;
- substantial premiums over and above the rate of inflation on vehicle fuels and the increasing subsidisation of a properly regulated and integrated public transport system;
- speed limits regulated according to traffic conditions, including a new road designation introduced for residential roads with a speed limit of, say, 8mph. Residents should be able to petition the local authority for such a designation and it only be refused if:
- the road already serves a necessary distribution function;
- no part of the 8mph zone is more than 100m from a 30mph road;
- new road classifications to include locally determined speed restrictions;
- the creation of car-free residential areas.
Additionally, Liberals believe that, if widespread gridlock on our roads is to be avoided in the future, some sort of rationing of vehicle use and even vehicle ownership is inevitable. Accordingly, we would draw up proposals for road transport rationing, with a view to implementation of such a scheme, once a properly funded and integrated public transport system has been introduced.
Liberals recognise the number of road accidents attributable to alcohol, and call for the imposition of lower limits of blood alcohol for disqualification.
Liberals opposed the development of Stansted as London’s third airport and believe that where necessary, regional airports can be appropriately developed for international traffic.
Liberals are concerned about the safety standards of air travel. While the CAA is recognised as being the most trustworthy air regulatory body in the world, many of its requirements are ignored by foreign aircraft builders, thus putting our home based aircraft industry at a disadvantage. Liberals are minded to penalise, and draw the flying public’s attention to, aircraft which do not comply with any regulations that the CAA may wish to impose. This would include smoke-hoods or ‘ditch testing’ of transatlantic aircraft and other such regulations that might be adopted in future.
Liberals call for a public information service using the media which would include an “Air Travellers Code” campaign, sponsored by the CAA, to combat the growing breed of careless or ignorant passengers whose behaviour can jeopardise the safety of themselves and their fellow passengers.
Liberals note the increase in air traffic world-wide, in both numbers of passengers carried and in freight tonnage, and are concerned about atmospheric pollution being generated by the engines of heavier-than-air craft. We believe that new technology and materials that were not available to pre-war engineers now present an opportunity to develop a new generation of air ships which rely on helium gas for lift, rather than the thrust of aircraft engines and therefore have the potential to provide environmentally friendly air craft ideally suited for the transfer of heavy freight and passengers “door-to-door”, for ferrying emergency supplies to disaster areas and for patrol duties. We feel that that the Government should be doing more in liaison with the aircraft industry, the Military and airline passenger and freight operators with a view to promoting airship construction and development.
Our waterways handle 4 million tonnes of freight a year, most of it bulk freight and hazardous materials, for which this mode of transport is well suited. Liberals believe that Britain’s network of coastal waters, waterways and rivers has been a neglected means of transport and call for investigations into the possibility of extending existing development grants that are currently available for building wharfage under the 1981 Transport Act.
Liberals support the concept of ‘short sea’ shipping, which is environmentally friendly and can achieve a considerable saving in transport costs. It would also provide many of our smaller ports with remunerative business. Liberals call for a feasibility study to be undertaken to see if it is practicable to extend navigation of coastal craft and barges further inland on the East, West and Southern coasts, either by using existing estuaries and waterways or by building new canals. While much of Britain’s canal system was built two centuries ago to restrictive dimensions and therefore has limited commercial application, the network that remains ought to be progressively restored for leisure, wildlife conservation and drainage purposes. Liberals also believe that certain stretches of water ought to be exploited for carriage of passengers, such as that part of the River Thames running through the heart of London.
Liberals recognise the concern about security on public transport, especially among women, and believe that the Transport Police should be expanded, together with improvements in the use of surveillance equipment, and staffing of all public transport facilities. In this respect, Liberals find merit in the relocation of the nation’s police force out of existing fort-like centralised headquarters into community locations such as rail and bus stations.