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Where are Labour and the Conservatives going on transport?

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Both parties are promising to improve our broken transport system, but which manifesto will really deliver for working families?

Our privatised rail network has had a very bumpy ride over the past couple of years, so it’s no surprise that there’s been a lot of attention on what each party is promising to fix it.

But just as important is what they have to say about buses and other forms of public transport.

After all there are more journeys taken by bus in the UK than by train – so bus policy is an issue that really matters to a lot of people.

So what is each party planning, and how realistic are their ambitions? Let’s take a look.



Conservative Party commitments on rail are minimal.

Ironically, this is because the party has outsourced a significant portion of the rail policy portfolio to Keith Williams, who is carrying out a review into the rail industry.

Williams was due to report this autumn, but this has been delayed by the election. As a result, the Tories have dodged the issue and simply committed to implementing its recommendations.

The end of franchising

Details on Williams’ findings are sketchy, but there are some clear indications that the Tory manifesto picks up.

It’s likely that the current model of franchising will be replaced with a system similar to that operating in London.

In the capital, the transport authority Transport for London (TfL) signs management contracts with private sector transport providers who receive an agreed fee for their services.

This model would be rolled out via a series of regional bodies such as Transport for West Midlands.

Would it work?

There is little doubt that the current franchise model has failed .

However, replacing franchises with management contracts does little but swap one model of privatisation for another.

It does nothing to address the key flaws of a privatised system , which include a lack of investment, huge pay-outs in profits and dividends, and an atmosphere of competition rather than cooperation.

Privatisation also leads to a fragmented system instead of an integrated one, with passenger and staff interests sacrificed for profit.

Minimum Service Levels

One area where the Tories have produced their own policy relates to industrial action.

Their manifesto promises to change the law to ensure a minimum level of service on public transport during industrial action by forcing a minimum number of staff to carry on working.

Would it work?

The UK already has the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe, exacerbated by the undemocratic and draconian Trade Union Act 2016.

Strikes are always the last resort and trade unions would always prefer to negotiate a settlement.

But this policy would only act to further embolden train companies, heighten tensions across the industry and create more disruption in the long run.


The Conservative manifesto contains some plans to better integrate public transport modes including buses, trains and trams.

Will it Work?

Integrating public transport options is a good idea, but there’s a limit to what can be done under a system of privatised transport.

Until local authorities can offer publicly-owned public transport, we won’t get the level of integration we need for a truly world-class public transport system.


Publicly-owned rail

Labour would bring the rail system into public ownership by bringing franchises back under the control of the state as they expire.

Labour are also promising to set up an overarching national body responsible for rail infrastructure and the trains.

Passengers, workers and civil society groups will be represented on the governing board of this body, Regional bodies will also be set up along the same lines.

Would it work?

Publicly-owned transport is a much better model than the privatised one.

It allows for collaboration across the network which will reduce the risk of the sort of chaos we’ve seen on our railways over recent years.

And it means that the welfare of staff and passenger and investment in infrastructure and innovation aren’t competing with the need to deliver profits and dividends.

Cut in rail fares

Labour are promising to cut rail fares by a third. Under-16s will be able to travel for free and the party will introduce a new unified ticketing system with no booking fees.

This would be paid for from Vehicle Excise Duty, which the Tories want to spend on roads, and efficiency savings from bringing rail back into public ownership.

Would it work?

We have been raising the alarm about raising rail fares for several years. This cut would be an important step towards making rail fares more affordable and helping more people transition from cars to trains.

Redirecting funding for travel by car towards rail is also a sensible move given the urgency of decarbonising our economy.

Bus services restored and re-municipalised

Labour would restore the 3000 bus routes that have been cut over the last decade. They are also pledging to allow more local authorities to re-regulate their bus services or even set up their own, publicly-owned services.

Would it Work?

Buses are the most popular form of public transport, but have suffered years of neglect outside of London. Private providers often cherry-pick profitable routes and make local authorities subsidise provision for less profitable ones.

Popular, publicly-owned buses operate in Reading and Edinburgh already. Moves to restore and improve services mean that more people will stop using private cars, while people with mobility issues or those who live in isolated areas will benefit from better transport provision.

And the economy will get a boost as people are better able to get to work, to access shops and other services.

We need radical solutions

Our transport system needs radical change if it’s to cope with the rising demand from passengers and meet the challenge posed by the climate emergency.

We need public ownership solutions that work, not fiddling round the edges or draconian and unnecessary anti-strike laws.

So at this election, it’s clear that only Labour’s plans for transport will really deliver for working families across the UK.

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