Liberal Democrat calls for improved partnership with bus operators to improve services, fares, and vehicle standards.

September 24, 2016 4:14 PM
Speaking in favour of a comprehensive transport motion (below) at the Liberal Democrats conference in Brighton, Cllr Greg Stone from Newcastle said that it "rightly emphasizes our aim of a Zero Carbon Britain and the need to safeguard air quality in our cities through ultra low emission zones. This should be the norm in big cities in coming decades.
"Support for development of low emission vehicles is particularly important in my region where Nissan is a massive employer - providing of course we remain in the Single Market.
"I want to speak particularly about buses. As part of Newcastle's then Liberal Democrat administration I helped introduce a hybrid electric bus fleet on the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside service a few years ago. It was expensive to do so, and it required good partnership working with bus companies.
"I would argue that whilst some criticism of bus companies is deserved, good partnership with bus operators is crucial. Yes, we support devolution of bus powers to local authorities, but we should proceed carefully along this particular bus route.
"We should not automatically assume that councils know better than bus operators how to run a bus network. In Newcastle, the current Labour council cannot empty the bins on time. I have little confidence in them running the buses on time and on budget. If passenger numbers continue their long term downward trend, the consequence will be greater financial shortfalls and greater risk to council taxpayers. When councils are cutting frontline services, it would be naïve to think that public transport would not also face cutbacks.
"In the North East, Labour council leaders pursued a controversial Quality Contracts Scheme at a cost of several million pounds. It failed several key tests at Inspection, and was scrapped - wasting money at a time when transport budgets are stretched and subsidized services look set to be cut as a result.
"Franchising may sound fantastic, but to run a London style bus franchising system and frequency requires London style passenger numbers and London style funding. That simply isn't the case in most areas.
"I support improved partnership with bus operators to improve services, fares, and vehicle standards, rather than assuming councils can do this better themselves. That note of caution aside, I support the motion, and coming from the North of England, I support the amendment as well."
The motion that was passed read :

Conference notes:

  1. The Liberal Democrat aim of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050.
  2. That Britain's urban areas regularly breach EU limits for NOx which has a severe effect on health.
  3. That our roads suffer from serious congestion and that our rail infrastructure is failing to keep pace with increasing demand.
  4. That many rural areas have suffered a sharp cut in bus services.

Conference condemns:

  1. The failure of both Labour and Conservative governments in the past to provide long term investment to create a modern, accessible, sustainable, environmental and robust transport infrastructure.
  2. The Conservative's Government's failure to commit to the implementation of transport investment as agreed in Coalition.

Conference believes:

  1. A good transport infrastructure is essential to economic development and to the rebalancing of the economy across the UK.
  2. Modern transport development must put the protection of the environment at its heart.
  3. The interests of passengers must be a central priority and public transport must be fully accessible to people with disabilities.
  4. That devolution of greater powers over bus and train services to local authorities, is to be welcomed.
  5. That any widespread reorganisation of railway ownership and management structures would disrupt services over a long period of time and therefore the existing franchise system must be made to work better, and that Open Access Operators should pay the fair rate of track access charges.
  6. That although supportive of HS2, it must be part of a balanced package of investment across the whole country and the scheme must be subject to rigorous and ongoing scrutiny to manage costs.
  7. HS2 and HS3 are essential and long-overdue structural upgrades to the railway network of the United Kingdom; their implementation forms the essential backbone upon further development of supporting heavy and light rail systems will be based and is essential to further investment and revitalisation of the North of England.
  8. That current levels of road congestion are at crisis point and local authorities need greater powers to deal with traffic offences and to create Ultra Low Emission Zones.
  9. That the sustainable future for motoring lies with a range of ultra-low emission technologies and with autonomous vehicles.

Conference reasserts its commitment to introduce a standard reduced concessionary fare for young people, to enhance access to jobs and education.

Conference calls for:

  1. A comprehensive Government Transport Strategy, incorporating long-term planning and investment across the whole country and based on the recommendations of the independent National Infrastructure Commission.
  2. The adoption of further measures to encourage sustainable transport including the promotion of ultra-low emission vehicles, and the inclusion of biofuels as part of the renewable fuels obligation.
  3. The creation of a stronger body to act as the voice for rail and passengers.
  4. An increase in investment in Cycling and Walking as part of the Transport Strategy.
  5. Government to invest urgently in our electricity infrastructure in order to serve electric vehicles of the future.
  6. Rail franchises to include greater sanctions in the interests of passenger satisfaction and accountability.
  7. Increased investment in rail infrastructure and rolling stock, to reduce levels of overcrowding.
  8. The introduction of modern smart-ticketing on an intermodal basis. This new ticketing should involve a full review of rail tickets to simplify the system, introduce part-time season tickets and automatic refunds to passengers when train services are delayed.
  9. Greater powers for Traffic Commissioners to enforce higher standards from operators.
  10. Franchises and partnerships to improve bus services alongside the introduction of new ultra-low emission vehicles, so that all bus fleets reach the highest possible environmental standards.
  11. An obligation on rural authorities to consider and encourage alternatives to conventional bus services.
  12. Reform of the Bus Service Operators Grant so that it is devolved to local authorities.
  13. Investment in infrastructure to encourage rail freight rather than movement of freight by road.