Transport + Opportunity/Innovation = Prosperity

“Smart businesses do not look at labor costs alone anymore. They do look at market access, transportation, telecommunications infrastructure and the education and skill level of the workforce, the development of capital and the regulatory market. “ 

Janet Napolitano

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It was the age of steam which revolutionised our nation, setting it on a course to lead the world through both technology and the resulting economic domination. Not only was production increased many fold, and costs reduced, but also mass transit of labour and individuals was made possible for the first time. Not only the near but the afar were readily available, and this provided the opportunity for trade of goods, ideas, adventure and reward on an unimaginable scale – and for the first time making distant travel a real possibility for the majority.

Today we take the notion of travel for granted but incredibly it is not something that everyone can take for granted,  In rural areas, and if you do not own a car, you are very much a hostage to the wisdom of local politicians. The towns and villages of the Fens are poorly served by local transport – an absolute absence of any notion of joined up transport.  It is incredible that the largest town in the Fens, Wisbech “the capital of the Fens” has not had a railway link since 1968.

The Conservatives, who have dominated all levels of Fens local government in recent years, argue it is the service user who should pay.  The outcome is simply if you cannot pay then they don’t travel – but the issue is more fundamental than this because for most the bus service that is need simply doesn’t exist – or if fortunate there is no comprehensive service. This is a situation which impacts mostly on the poorer, the elderly and the young.

Labour Party policy is that provision of public transport is an essential which should be funded by the state and local government through general taxation, and for many areas this enables the provision of a basic network and subsidised fares for those in need.  This is not frivolous, this is not for pleasure alone, it is equipping the community with the ability to have a wider ability to participate in learning, and employment too.  It is allowing people to take advantage of opportunities otherwise out of reach, and for many more people to shop locally and participate in cultural events too.

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In the UK we have experienced decades of deliberate policy with the consequence of “forcing” commuters to travel further and further to work as a means to address rising property prices in city centres. It is this which has continued to feed the demand of rail usage, nothing to do with improved service – there is no other means to live or to get to work. However, if you do not have access to the rail then your town will not enjoy property rises from new money, and neither will it attract investment because there is no population or wealth growth. Where commuters have moved with their families new estates have been built, and this has provided additional tax revenue and supported local business.

It is a political imperative to be able to maintain the greatest level of energy independence and economic security. We cannot afford for gas or oil shortages to hold such potential disruption as it had done in the past. This is not just about the on-going political uncertainties in the world but an acknowledgment that both oil and gas are finite – we have to start planning and delivering on this reality now.  Technology must continue to be invested in but more importantly a recognition that only large scale investment on public infra-structure can deliver the long term economic and environmental benefits either across a major city, or across country.

An increased investment in public transportation leads to improved health and a better quality of life by opening the door on prosperity and health. The ease of mobility is a large factor in the development of our youth; providing access to learning, jobs and adventure which might otherwise be a closed door.   This is where the so-called subsidy becomes an investment – allowing the young to fulfil their potential and in return paying tax and contributing.  It is not just people who use rail, removing freight from the road also provides significant cost and environmental impact. Whatever journeys can be removed from the roads will produce an immediate benefit to heart and lung, and the aggregated benefit across many towns of a strategic transport policy is reduced impact on nature.

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Public transport encourages the curious and the consumers to visit – it allows for your own facilities and events to be accessible.  Every town will want to sell itself, it is those which are accessible and “on the map” which have the head start.  Tourism holds significant potential opportunity for the economy but again the absence of any creative thinking is hampering efforts.  With it’s largely level landscape, and the short distance between towns and villages it surely could be promoted as a great venue for cycling and walking holidays but it does require investment and promotion.

Local Conservatives immediately respond to any championing of public transport policy as “anti-car”.  This is not the case, this is about widening opportunities and improving our environment, it is about promoting a greener and safer way to access local services and businesses.  This must also include changes and improvements to our roads but again so very little has even been done about this – I’m not certain the Tories actually “do” anything.  There will always be the need for personal transport but it need not be the first choice, and more importantly for those who don’t have a car this should present the bare bones of why it benefits us all for Government to pay….because we all benefit. It is called community.

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