“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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Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.

Funding

The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.


Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  

Problems

A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.