LOOKING BACK ON A DECADE OF PROGRESS
21 September 2015 | Author: David Fowler, Editor, Transport Times

Developments in transport – especially getting things built – can sometimes seem to move at such a glacial pace that you begin to question whether there's been any progress at all. So it's been instructive to look back over the last ten years and find that the truth is quite different.

Ten years ago when Transport Times was first published, the buzzwords were "road pricing" and "Eddington". Alistair Darling had set up the Transport Innovation Fund, whereby an increasingly large proportion of DfT funding would go the cities that introduced some form of congestion charging.

Unfortunately, as demonstrated in Manchester, voters couldn't be persuaded that huge investment in other forms of transport would make up for the extra cost and slight loss of convenience a congestion charge would mean for motorists.

It took Stockholm to demonstrate that the way to do it was to introduce the charge first and have the referendum a few months later, but by then it was too late.

(Manchester, though, with characteristic determination, created its own transport fund and managed to achieve most of the transport improvements it planned anyway.)

For Transport Times's first 15 months or so, the Eddington report was eagerly awaited and there was much speculation about what the former British Airways chief executive Sir Rod Eddington would say. Would he back congestion charging? Would he propose a high speed rail network?

These days Eddington is a word rarely heard. Those transport aficionados who recall his report perhaps remember its somewhat scathing reference to grands projects – he didn't favour high speed rail, it turned out – or perhaps the doctrine of modal agnosticism.

This meant that transport needs should be considered without preconceptions about which mode was most suitable to satisfy it. Though on the face of it this sounded a logical approach, it failed to gain momentum in the transport community.

The report's significance, as David Leam points out in this issue, was not in its detail so much
as in crystallising the idea in the Treasury in particular of a link between transport investment and economic prosperity, and of Transport as an economic driver.

This was a revolution in thinking that has led to a fundamental change of how the DfT is viewed in Whitehall, a change of which the implications are still being worked through today.

An earlier change had come about through the Railways Act 2005, which brought in the idea of a five-year investment plan for rail. Transport since World War II had been plagued by stop-start funding and annual budgets which prevented long-term planning.

The so-called high level output statement proved a success, to the extent that a similar approach has been adopted for roads.

A surprising omission from the first HLOS was any mention of electrification. It took
Lord Adonis to put that back on the agenda – and then, as David Begg mentions on
p23, single-handedly setting High Speed 2 in motion.

The advent of the coalition Government in 2010 led to fears that transport would be in the firing line for cuts, as had happened in past recessions. It turned out that Philip Hammond and George Osborne bought into the new philosophy sufficiently to protect transport investment to a large extent, though not revenue spending.

Colleagues elsewhere in these pages outline many other advances over ten years – for example the changing public perception of bus travel, where there has been progress but there is still much to do.

There have been disappointments – one area that has not developed as strongly as expected is smart ticketing, where enthusiasm for the idea among passenger transport executives has come up against the necessity of achieving consensus in a deregulated market.

What will we be looking back on in another ten years? Crossrail will be in service; if all goes
to plan we should be eagerly awaiting the start of services on HS2 in 2026. Devolved authorities across the north of England may be transforming the economy of the north of England and elsewhere. And you may be able to go into a showroom and buy an autonomous car.

Whatever happens the next ten years will be no less fascinating than the last.

Reference: Transport Times, September 2015 Issue

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