Where We are on Transport in Greater Manchester

David Campbell (author) is a Transport Partnership Officer at the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation (GMCVO), and in this piece he follows up on an earlier piece he wrote as part of a wider discussion pre the 2010 General Election on the transport challenges facing the Manchester city region.

Manchester Piccadilly

THIS is the age of…

…‘sustainable transport’ – ? The White Paper and supporting Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) is seeing a drive to focus transport policy and investment on twin objectives of economic growth and reducing carbon. Increasing alarm about the economy is seeing the Government urge transport authorities to prioritise growth supporting measures.

Previously I wrote about how while Greater Manchester’s economic miracle transformed much of the conurbation, some residents and communities fortunes changed little, or even declined. The transport network tried to keep pace with the rapid increases in demand for travel from many quarters, and struggled to maintain or improve levels of access for isolated, deprived communities, where car ownership was lower and other transport options were fewer.

The significant deprivation remaining around the core of the conurbation, in isolated & outlying areas, and in pockets across the districts is reflected in all aspects of life including employment, education, health and quality of life. It prevents many residents and communities from fully taking advantage of the opportunities that the city-region can offer. It inhibits GM’s productivity through persistent worklessness and sustains a local and national benefit cost burden.

A renewed effort to tackle this problem is a critical priority for GM’s governance. Encouragingly, the latest Local Transport Plan (LTP) identifies a clear role for the transport network, in better connecting deprived and isolated communities to centres and transport hubs to improve access to employment, training, education, services and support.

The Greater Manchester Transport Fund, drawing together £1.5bn of funding from different sources, has allowed GM to proceed with measures prioritised according to their potential value to the economy. The long-planned Metrolink extensions are now under construction or funded. While expansion to key employment sites and more affluent suburbs have come at first, routes connecting the older industrial areas to the east and north, and Wythenshawe (and ultimately the Airport) to the south will follow.

The LSTF bid hopes to accelerate specific LTP priorities, and GM is in a strong position to progress its bid. Walking and cycling or ‘active travel’ will be promoted as a practical travel choice for many more people, particularly around commuter cycling. ‘Smart’ technology will be used to transform and de-mystify public transport ticketing, information (including real time), promotion and marketing. Work will continue building the capacity of the not-for-profit community transport sector to provide enhanced accessible, demand responsive and door to door services for deprived and isolated communities, especially where conventional public transport services are limited or declining.

However, the weak recovery, uncertainty, and radically reduced availability of public funding has presented new challenges, with tough decisions facing the Combined Authority and its new ‘Transport for Greater Manchester’ structure for implementing transport policy.

Bus remains the predominant mode, and non-commercial services ‘subsidised’ by public funds for social reasons have been critical to maintaining access for communities where travel demand is lower – often deprived and isolated communities. Falling passenger numbers and reduced public funding has threatened services, leading to a service level reductions and in some cases complete withdrawals. Highly unpopular changes to concessionary fares have been made, with the argument that older people and schoolchildren may have to pay more, to ensure there are still buses for them to get on. There is a growing political acceptance that in many situations the existing model of continuing to subsidise scheduled bus services is not sustainable, and demand responsive transport (DRT) can be a more efficient and effective option. A significant proportion of evening services in Rochdale have already switched to DRT. There is also a view that long standing issues stemming from deregulation inhibit the growth and development of the overall bus offer, which are examined in the Competition Commissions recent report.

On rail, additional capacity (carriages) to tackle overcrowding has arrived this year with more anticipated, and GM continues to lobby hard in this area, which of course has a national dimension. The Government has emphasised it recognises the importance of this kind of infrastructure, not least in its support of High Speed Rail – though there are major concerns that the argument for HSR is based on some fundamentally mistaken assumptions about Britain’s economic geography. On conventional rail it is likely investment will be limited in the short term, particularly given the Government’s commitment to sticking to its deficit reduction strategy. There are however encouraging signs around the northern rail ‘Hub’ which could deliver a step-change in rail services across the whole north.

However, the most effective way of managing travel demand – is to reduce the need to travel. Critical priorities for GM’s governance are the integration of spatial and transport planning, improving access to services at the local level, extending fast broadband coverage, facilitating more remote working and promoting flexible and tele-working and encouraging the design of residential areas that give priority to walking and cycling – and promote access to public transport.

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