“Transport has struggled to get noticed”: the Campaign for Better Transport on its four key policy priorities

Be good to sort out this mess for a start. Image: Getty.

The chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport on his policy priorities.

In an election dominated by other issues, transport has struggled to get noticed. But the next government of whatever shape will face a number of transport challenges which can't be ducked or ignored.

The first is air pollution: how to clean up air in cities without annoying motorists and their media friends. The risk is that the next government will shy away from tackling polluting diesel cars and trucks or promoting modal shift, and instead will go for soft targets like buses. 

Second, there is the crisis in local transport, where successive spending cuts have led to a huge backlog in maintenance in local roads, cuts in local bus services, limited and sporadic investment in sustainable transport and a loss of experienced council staff. This means that proper planning of transport and development is giving way to chaotic car-based sprawl where developers get anything they want and local roads jam up. 

Third, there are big delivery challenges, especially on the railways with franchising and Network Rail. Finally, trends in transport costs will be a challenge, with motoring and road freight costs stable or falling while public transport fares and rail freight costs have increased. 

Resolving these will require new and sometimes radical measures – more devolution, more public involvement, and new forms of taxation, charging and financing for transport, especially for promoting clean air and reduced carbon and traffic.

Specifically, we want to see the next government take forward four key policies:

“Fix it first”: A shift of funding away from Highways England and trunk roads to local transport, including maintenance of local roads (and pavements).

This can also fund proper bus priority and also make real the targets for increasing cycling and reversing the decline in walking that the government signed up to just before the election. We are suggesting that this should come from the planned Roads Fund that will use the revenues of Vehicle Excise Duty from 2020-21

Stop the bus cuts: We've managed to get a Bus Services Act, which gives options for improving bus services, but we need proper funding for buses and local public transport generally. In the past we've suggested a “connectivity fund” paid for by the different government departments that benefit from good bus services.

We also need a national strategy for buses, including long term and sustained Government funding for greening the bus fleet, to deliver modern bus services, clean up air pollution and stimulate low carbon industries

Expand the railways: The next government should continue to invest in rail upgrades, better stations, electrification and the Strategic Freight Network, and find new ways of delivering these so as to bring down costs and increase efficient delivery.

But we also need to expand the rail network – we need something like a £500m New Stations Plus fund targeted at bringing disused or freight-only lines back into passenger use as well as new/ reopened stations

Make public transport affordable and attractive: The next government should roll out simple, smart ticketing to the whole country. It should protect the existing bus pass but fund it properly, and create a national concessionary travel scheme for young people.

We'll also want to see the next government continue to limit rail fare increases to inflation, introduce season tickets for part time workers, and simplify the structure and range of fares. 

Stephen Joseph is chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport. This article was originally published on the campaign’s blog.

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Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.

Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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