Transport leaders were notably vociferous at this week’s Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) National Conference, unafraid to take the Coalition to task over funding, devolution, leadership and maintenance.
While the event was dubbed ‘making local transport work’, the day addressed issues at a national and even global level.
CIHT president David Gibby affirmed the importance of the country’s buses and local rail services from the outset, branding them ‘critical’ to the UK.
His passion was met with widespread agreement, notably from chair of the Local Government Association’s transport board, Cllr Peter Box, who challenged the Government over its commitment to power sharing.
Cllr Box highlighted that London marked a lesson for government on effective devolution, listing the ‘staggering’ number of existing powers in the capital that are unavailable elsewhere. He acknowledged that Transport for London (TfL) could now take financial risks beyond the means of cities, establish new rail routes, raise service numbers, reduce car use and establish cycle superhighways.
Nevertheless, Cllr Box pointed out that ‘the dam holding back English devolution has started to spring a leak’.
He emphasised it was a ‘really exciting’ time for local transport, welcoming the work of combined authorities and applauding the powers handed down to Manchester and train franchises in the north.
Acknowledging that he didn’t want to seem ‘smug’, Peter Hendy, transport commissioner for TfL admitted that the power and support of a directly elected mayor had been ‘fantastic’ for the capital despite being ‘a very un-British concept’. He said the mayoralty was now ‘influencing government and arguing for the city’.
Yet Mr Hendy declared to the room that cities had to acknowledge transport should not be ‘an end in itself’, and instead had to be pushed nationally as a case for economic gain.
‘We need to make those arguments together,’ Mr Hendy appealed to the audience, ‘with any British conurbation that fancies itself as creating wealth’.
Speakers repeatedly affirmed the importance of collaborative thinking on transport. David Brown, chief executive of Merseytravel, said combined approaches had helped develop ‘momentum’ behind smart travel, cementing links between different regions.
However, he challenged transport leaders to now ‘keep up’ with the expectations of the travelling public, who were looking enviously at the contactless roll out in London.
Debates on technology proved key to the conference, with attendees affirming the international significance of work being undertaken in Milton Keynes and by groups such as the Transport Systems Catapult.
Smarter ticketing was said to be a key area of development, one which could establish a consistency across different areas and bring about an end to council boundaries. Where local transport will next develop, speakers forecast, would be stronger communication between infrastructure such as traffic signals and vehicles.
With such prospects to contend with, it’s fair to say the CIHT conference proved it is indeed a thrilling time for local transport in the UK.