I really should not have been so pleasantly surprised, but following the dismal efforts of the Tory and Labour party manifestoes, I was beginning to fear that none of the political parties really could demonstrate any realistic understanding of transport policy – particularly in regards to cycling. I should have had faith in the Lib Dems – for their manifesto on public transport seemed a combination of sense, ambition and most importantly substance.
This could be because it seemed to have been largely written by the Campaign for Better Transport whose three leading campaigns and messages (cutting train fares, improving everyday transport and against bad room schemes) dominate the section on public transport in the manifesto.
Though like the other manifestos the mention for cycling is minimal, the policies themselves would seem to be more than a little encouraging for the cyclist. The manifesto’s one policy for cyclists is streets ahead of Labour and the Conservatives:
“Include the promotion of safer cycling and pedestrian routes in all local transport plans”
This is far better than the Tories empty and vague promise to “give the concerns of cyclists greater priority” or Labours pledge for more secure facilities at stations – for it addresses the very real concern and need to address cycling as a part of the whole transport infrastructure – rather than a bolt on to secure extra funding for the local council – or extra votes. If a holistic approach can be applied to town planning and other local transport plans then this can only be for the best – for both the environment and the citizens of this country.
The only hope, as with so many of the Lib Dem’s ideas will be for one of the other parties to take note of the sense that they are talking, and pinch the policy. The Lib Dems are great for this (for example: the granting of the Bank of England having operational independence over monetary policy was a Labour act, but a Lib Dem policy) – and rather than bemoaning how Labour or the Tories pinched their policy like suited children in the playground of Westminster, they get on with their job. Admittedly many of their policies seem to have been contrived at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, but occasionally rays of genius shine through – and these public transport policies seem golden.
Every party harps on about the railways, and encouraging more people onto them – but the Lib Dems have realised the best way to do this is to take out the inconveniences and make it cheaper. Cuts in train tickets can only be for the good, and could only have been made better through a promise to push through a ticket simplification policy that would ensure that the purchasing of train tickets no longer needs to be a mystical art. If they can add some further debate and weight into ensuring mandatory and adequate space for bicycles on all lines, then they will have all my issues wrapped up in a neat little yellow bag.
Cutting major roads for more rail? Hurrah! Where will these tracks be placed – on closed lines – lines presumably closed when Dr Richard Beeching orchestrated the closure of over 4,000 stations and the accompanying lines back in 1963.
I am also a particular fan of the policy concerning Network Rail being made to refund train tickets by a third if there is a rail “replacement” bus service. Numerous times I have had to turn back at a station, or work out long complicated routes because these “replacement” services would not take a bicycle. In the past I have questioned various trainlines in advance upon learning of the “replacement” service as to whether bicycles could be fitted, and each time been met with the response that “It is down to the driver and coach operator”.
That usually has me spitting in rage, for I know it means no – but it is the uncertainty and unhelpfulness surrounding such statements which causes such fury. A “replacement” service should provide the same level of service and capability as the train it is replacing. If it does not, then this should be reflected in the price of ticket.
Their public transport policies and transport policies in general make for good and encouraging reading (another favourite is the introduction of a rural fuel discount scheme in remote rural areas), and I can only salute Norman Baker MP and his team for putting this admirable collection of policies together.