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General Election 2024: Manifesto Review

General Election 2024: Manifesto Review
Blog

Welcome to our 2024 party manifesto review for transport. We’ve summarised and broken down each of the five national party’s manifestos (in alphabetical order), adding some context and comment on where we stand.

As a non-party-political group, we endorse policies, but we don’t endorse parties or candidates. Our analysis doesn’t cover aviation (other than where it interacts with domestic transport), maritime policy or Scotland or Wales-specific parties and policies.

The key headlines

What can we expect from each policy area?

There is broad agreement across the political spectrum that rail operation needs to be reformed, one way or another. The franchising system set up in the 1990s ended in 2020, and operation has since been further centralised and controlled by the Department for Transport, although most operators are still private – this has been termed by Modern Railways as the ‘zombie railway’.

In 2021, the (Conservative) Government published the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, promising to create a new arms-length body (Great British Railways - GBR) to absorb infrastructure and oversight and coordination of train operation, though train operators themselves would remain private, let through concession agreements. Although the Government have failed to implement this plan in the three years since, it remains Conservative policy.

Labour have published their version of rail reform in their Plan for Rail, which builds on the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail but proposes that GBR should operate trains themselves, and thus train operation would be renationalised. We think this is a sensible and pragmatic plan, maximising the potential to effect change quickly.

The Green Party also support renationalisation, Reform UK propose a 50-50 model where the railway would be co-owned by the Government and UK-based pension funds, and the Liberal Democrats propose a new ‘Railway Agency’ to bring together track and train, which sounds similar to the Conservative policy.

The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all propose, in various phrases, simplifying the ticketing system, with the Conservatives promising a nation-wide contactless pay-as-you-go system, and the Liberal Democrats proposing a daily cap across all modes. These are both in line with the National Fares System that Enroute have proposed.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos are most detailed when it comes to proposing new rail infrastructure. Much of the Conservative manifesto in this regard is essentially copy-pasted from the ‘Network North’ command paper, promising to ‘redirect’ £36bn of HS2 savings to projects across the country, including the Midlands Rail Hub, as well as a separate £12bn allocated to Northern Powerhouse Rail between Manchester and Liverpool.

There does, however, seem to be a stronger commitment than before to building HS2 into London Euston, which the Conservatives want to do with private funding, although there are reports the Government had been preparing to fund £1bn towards tunnelling.

The Liberal Democrats have promised to review the cancellation of HS2’s ‘northern leg’ (it’s not completely clear what this refers to, but we read this as the leg to Manchester), and also deliver ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ (though this isn’t defined). The Labour manifesto promises to ‘forge ahead with new railways’ as part of a wider focus on ‘rebuilding’ the economy, but names neither HS2 nor Northern Powerhouse Rail.

It has been reported elsewhere that Labour may resurrect HS2 ‘phase 2a’ to Crewe. Reform UK proclaim that they would scrap the entirety of (what remains of) HS2, saving £25bn, though we would advise treating this figure with a heavy pinch of salt. The Green manifesto, like Labour’s, doesn’t mention HS2 at all.

The Conservative manifesto promises to ‘reopen Beeching lines’, suggesting continued support for the Restoring Your Railway programme, which was announced in January 2020 with £500m of funding. It is unclear whether the Conservatives are proposing to expand this fund (we’re not sure if all £500m has even been spent yet).

The Liberal Democrat and Green manifestos similarly promise, in general terms, to explore opportunities to reopen lines and stations. Labour’s manifesto doesn’t mention expanding the railway, which we think is a missed opportunity (electorally, as well as it being good policy).

Both the Liberal Democrats and the Greens propose banning domestic flights, where rail alternatives are available (in 2hr30, or 3hrs respectively). Neither manifesto makes the connection between reducing domestic flights and the importance of high-speed rail in enabling an alternative on the biggest domestic aviation corridor, between London and the Scottish Central Belt (where rail journey times are currently over 4hrs).

The Conservative, Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos all strike similar tones on improving and funding bus services across the country, and devolving further transport powers to local authorities, including the mayors. This suggests a widespread acceptance across the political spectrum that local transport, particularly buses and active travel, should be the portfolio of mayors rather than national government. Devolution of some powers to mayors also features in both the Conservatives’ and Labour’s visions for rail reform.

The Conservatives have promised to retain the £2 bus fare cap throughout the next Parliament, and the Liberal Democrats have promised to retain the cap whilst fares are reviewed more widely. We think failing to endorse the cap is a major missed opportunity for the Labour party, as well as the Greens.

There is very little detail on active travel across the manifestos, with the exception of a Green commitment to guarantee £2.5bn of funding for infrastructure each year. Perhaps this is a reflection that there is a widespread recognition that this is an issue local authorities and mayors should lead on, and not Government, but it is notable which manifestos make reference to a need for a wider strategy (the Liberal Democrats), express general but vague support (the Conservatives) or barely mention it at all (Labour).

Whatever the correct scale of governance, active travel is an essential but neglected part of any policy to effect sustainable modal shift, as well as improve the liveability, air quality and safety of our streets, neighbourhoods, towns and cities.


 

I saw the manifestos and was disappointed in the vagueness of what was on offer, especially in the Labour Manifesto.

There is some confusion around Active Travel funding going forward, as in GM and WM it will become a devolved matter as part of the trailblazer deal. The manifesto seems to imply that Labour want to make AT a devolved matter, however so far that will only apply to GM and WM. We do not know how the funding pots for Trailblazer will be set up or how much of central government funding will be cut to pay for them. For instance we do not know yet if there will be another round of CRSTS2 or if it will be merged into the trailblazer deal.

- Harry Gray, Walk Ride GM

The Conservatives and Labour both emphasise the issue of potholes, something that is seen as a deeply local concern and, as Labour put it, a ‘visible sign of decline’. The Liberal Democrats also promise to redirect road funding to local councils, encouraging them to spend money on maintaining existing roads.

As part of ‘Network North’, the Conservatives are promising to ‘redirect’ some £13.5bn of HS2 funding towards roads, including £8bn for filling potholes. They are also promising to develop the next Road Investment Strategy, which will see billions more being invested in new strategic roads. We don’t support new roads as we believe the Government should be encouraging modal shift to public transport and active travel, but this isn’t our key focus as an organisation – our friends at Transport Action Network are more active in this area.

Interestingly, Labour have promised to ‘redirect’ funding from a proposed bypass on the A27 to filling potholes - whilst we support political prioritisation of public transport and active travel over new road schemes, we are sceptical of the mirroring of Network North’s rhetoric of ‘reallocating’ capital investment to operational expenditure. The Green Party have the boldest stance on the issue – opposing all new road projects.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have both promised to reinstate the 2030 target for ending new sales of petrol and diesel vehicles, which the Conservative Government pushed back to 2035 in September 2023. The Green Party want to bring this forward to 2027, and ban existing petrol and diesel vehicles from the road by 2035. The Greens are the only major party to mention restoring the fuel duty escalator. Reform UK would scrap the target in its entirety.

Breakdown of the party manifestos and our commentary

Manifesto Link

The Conservative Party, led by Rishi Sunak, is hoping to retain their current Parliamentary majority in order to stay in Government. Their transport policies are split into two different parts of their manifesto, with a section on infrastructure investment, and another on 'everyday' transport needs as part of a larger section on investing in communities. Much of their manifesto is a reiteration of previous promises, including October 2023's 'Network North' command paper, which 'reallocated' £36bn of savings from cancelling parts of HS2 (the lines to Crewe, Manchester and the East Midlands, as well as planned savings from seeking private investment at London Euston).

Network North

  • £4.7bn for smaller cities, towns and rural areas in the North and Midlands, to spend on their transport priorities, including cutting congestion and improving buses and train stations.
  • £8.55bn for city regions, for mayors to spend on their local priorities.
  • Electrification to Hull and a new station for Bradford.
  • £1.75bn towards the full Midlands Rail Hub plans, delivering more frequent rail services for 50 stations, benefiting over seven million people.
  • Upgrading the line between Newark and Nottingham, halving journey times between Nottingham and Leeds.
    • Comment: if we're understanding this correctly, this necessitates a new curve to the west of Newark flat crossing.
  • £1bn for new bus routes across the North & Midlands.
  • Improving accessibility at 100 train stations, starting with 50 announced in May.
  • Upgrades to railways in the South West (including the line through Dawlish), the 'Energy Coast line' in Cumbria and the Ely Junction scheme in East Anglia.
  • Electrification of the North Wales Coast Line (£1bn).
  • Alleviation of pinch-points on the A75 between Greta and Stranraer.
  • All other schemes set out in the Network North command paper.
  • Completing HS2 from London Euston to the West Midlands.
    • Comment: This seems like a firmer commitment to Euston than the wording of Network North, which conditioned the delivery of Euston on securing private funding (though this is clearly still the Government’s intention). This follows reports last month that the Government would fund £1bn towards tunnelling towards Euston. It’s unclear how, within the Conservatives’ own cost framework, this extra £1bn impacts the rest of the Network North plan, or if the intention is to fund this retrospectively with private investment.

Rail (Other)

  • £12bn (in addition to the £36bn Network North budget) towards Northern Powerhouse Rail between Manchester and Liverpool.
  • Reopening 'Beeching lines' and stations to reconnect communities around the country, building on the success of the Dartmoor Line in the South West.
    • Comment: This is already policy in the form of the 'Restoring Your Railway' fund. It's not clear from this line in the manifesto that any more money is being allocated to the original £500m allocated in January 2020 - and it's still unclear whether this first £500m has been spent yet.
  • £5m to the evaluation of proposals to extend the Borders Railway from Tweedbank, through Hawick, to Carlisle.
  • Introducing a Rail Reform Bill in the first King's Speech to create Great British Railways. This could include new measures to reform outdated working practices in the rail industry.
  • The rolling out of mobile pay-as-you-go contactless ticketing nationwide.
  • Updating the East Coast Main Line timetable to provide faster rail journeys between Edinburgh and London.
  • Provide funding for the UK Islands Forum Connectivity Project.
  • Funding rail upgrades at Padeswood to unlock the potential for wider improvements on the Borderlands Line, and facilitate the electrification of the North Wales Main Line.
  • Prioritising development of the Pencoed level crossing and progressing work on the South Wales Main Line, to deliver new stations and services.

Bus

  • Extension of the £2 bus fare cap in England for the entirety of the next Parliament. This will be funded by £1.5bn savings per year anticipated from rail reform (see above).

Active travel

  • Working with Active Travel England to make it safer for people to walk or cycle, including projects like ensuring safe walking routes to schools and measures to protect pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users.
  • Penalties for the rare instances where dangerous cyclists kill or injure into line with those for other road users.

Roads

  • Scrapping rules preventing Mayors from investing in strategic roads.
  • Stopping pay-per-mile road pricing, and banning Mayors or local councils from doing so.
  • Reverse the ULEZ expansion in London.
  • Stop top-down blanket Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and 20mph zones. New schemes should be put to referenda, and residents will have the ‘right to challenge’ existing schemes.
  • Reiteration of the ‘Plan for Drivers’, including changes to laws regarding bus lanes, penalties for overrunning roadworks, changing enforcement of yellow-box junctions, and reforming motorcycle licensing.
  • National Parking Platform, to simplify paying for parking.
  • Give councils the power to ban pavement parking, provided they engage with businesses and residents to ensure they are not adversely affected.
  • No new smart motorways, and investment in improving the safety of existing ones.
  • Further investment to come in the next Road Investment Strategy, delivering major roads such as the Lower Thames Crossing and the A303.
  • Automated vehicles will be on British roads in the next Parliament.
  • Expanding electric charging infrastructure.
  • Net Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate.

Our comment

Partly thanks to the inclusion of the list of promises from Network North, this manifesto gives the most detail out of all of the parties on the specific schemes a future Conservative Government would deliver. As we said in October 2023, we strongly oppose the decision to cancel HS2, and we reject the narrative that sustainable transport schemes can only be funded with money that has been ‘reallocated’ from HS2, instead of new spending. Furthermore, worryingly, much of the £36bn (around £13.5bn) has been allocated to road schemes or filling potholes.

Nevertheless, it’s welcome to see specific funding commitments for rail schemes up and down the country, even if these are reiterated from previous policy announcements, including the transformational Midlands Rail Hub plan. It’s also welcome to see a firm commitment to building HS2 to Euston, putting to bed the idea of using Old Oak Common as a long-term terminus, which would be hugely impractical and would permanently limit our ability to exploit or extend the part of HS2 currently being delivered.

The manifesto reiterates the promise to reform the railways, creating Great British Railways as a new arms-length body to oversee infrastructure and train operation, as per the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, published in 2021. Labour’s plans (see below) are criticised for being ‘ideological’, despite the plans’ similarities. It is unclear what a newly re-elected Conservative Government would do differently to its predecessors, who have not implemented their version of the plan despite three years passing since its publication.

We’re pleased to see renewed support for reopening formerly closed lines – though the manifesto doesn’t name the ‘Restoring Your Railway’ programme, and it’s unclear whether additional money will be added to the £500m announced in January 2020; we’re calling on the programme to be accelerated and expanded. The manifesto promises more money (including some of the ‘reallocated’ HS2 money) and powers to local authorities, including the mayors, so that local leaders can prioritise their transport needs, which we broadly support.

The manifesto also promises to renew the £2 bus fare cap, which we strongly support. The commitment to make walking and cycling safer seems vague, and appears to be contradicted by proposed restrictions on new Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20mph zones. The proposal to restrict local authorities and mayors from implementing LTNs, 20mph zones and ULEZ are also a concerning attack on democratically elected local leaders.

Manifesto Link

The Green Party, led by Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay, emphasise climate action in their manifesto. The section on spending commits to a headline £40bn of additional spending per year on a ‘Green Economic Transformation’, including £30bn of investment in a ‘modern, electrified railway’, £7bn on public transport and £6bn on active travel (total £43bn over the course of the next Parliament). The manifesto has a dedicated section on transport.

Funding

  • Increase annual public subsidies for rail and bus travel to £10bn by the end of the next parliament to make public transport reliable, frequent, accessible and affordable, including free bus travel for under-18s.
  • Invest an additional £19bn over five years to improve public transport, support electrification and invest in new cycleways and footpaths; this includes the reallocation of funding earmarked for road building
    • Comment: It isn’t immediately clear why this is a different number to the £43bn figure listed earlier in the manifesto.
  • Ensure £2.5bn a year is invested in new cycleways and footpaths.
    • Comment: It is, again, not immediately clear whether this figure is in addition to, or forms part of, the £19bn or £43bn figures noted above.

Rail

  • Investment in a modern, efficient, publicly owned railway, with affordable fares.
  • Greater investment in more rapid electrification so the rail network can be powered sustainably.
  • A national strategic approach to identifying those lines and stations which could be re-opened. This should be led by regional and local government to ensure the most benefits.
  • Train companies to be gradually brought back into public ownership, as existing contracts expire and rolling stock which is currently owned by leasing companies needs replacement.
    • Comment: We’re reading this as saying new rolling stock should be state owned, but that the party isn’t advocating for buying existing rolling stock from private rolling stock leasing corporations (ROSCOs).
  • A ban on domestic flights for a journey that would take less than 3hr by train.

Bus

  • Local authority control and proper funding for bus services, to increase these in urban areas, and in rural areas ensure that there is a bus service to every village.
  • Empowering local authorities to run bus services themselves if they see fit and provide a service that meets their community’s needs.
  • Cities and sparsely populated rural areas will need different solutions; we need to give them the flexibility and funding.
    • Comment: This sounds like an endorsement of Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT), which we agree could be better suited to more sparsely-populated areas, but this should generally be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Active travel

  • Push to spend £2.5bn a year on new cycleways and footpaths, built using sustainable materials.
  • Reimagine how we use streets in residential areas to reduce traffic and open them up for use by the community.
  • Adopt Active Travel England’s objective for 50% of trips in England’s towns and cities to be walked, wheeled or cycled by 2030.

Roads

  • Restore the fuel duty escalator.
  • Favour the introduction of road-pricing, designed to ensure the protection of users’ privacy.
  • Oppose all new road building plans.
  • Push for an extensive vehicle scrappage scheme to support a rapid transition to electric vehicles (EVs), with funding rising to £5bn per year by the end of the parliament, supported by the rapid rollout of EV charging points.
  • An end to sales of new petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles by 2027, and to the use of petrol and diesel vehicles on the road by 2035.
  • Making road tax proportional to vehicle weight.
  • 20mph to be the default speed limit on roads in all built-up areas, allowing children, the elderly and disabled people to walk and wheel safely.
  • More government support for ordinary car users and small businesses to replace their vehicles as diesel and petrol engines are phased out.
  • More support for firms using heavy goods vehicles to transition away from internal combustion engines and make greater use of rail freight.

Our comment

The Green Party manifesto takes seriously the need to reorient transport policy away from car-dominance towards public transport and active travel, and is the most comprehensive in terms of headline spending figures, giving voters a sense of how spending would be scaled up and weighted. Commitments to expand electrification, reopen former lines, ban domestic flights (where rail offers a journey time of 3hr or less), deepen bus devolution, bring forward electric vehicle targets, restore the fuel duty escalator and put significant funding into active travel infrastructure demonstrate a serious attitude towards modal shift.

It is interesting to see that HS2, which the Green Party have long opposed, is not mentioned at all in the manifesto. Notwithstanding support or opposition to any specific scheme, there is an absence of the recognition that rail capacity will, one way or another, need to be significantly expanded to enable the modal shift this manifesto calls for, both for passengers and freight.

Manifesto Link

The Labour Party, led by Sir Kier Starmer, looks overwhelmingly likely to form the next government. The party’s transport policies are given a subsection within ‘kickstarting economic growth’, suggesting an emphasis on the role of transport in economic growth. The opening section suggests the state of the transport network, particularly focusing on potholes, is a visible microcosm for ‘the decline of the last 14 years. If elected, Labour promise:

Rail

  • Reform the railway and bring train operation into public ownership, per Labour’s Plan for Rail.
    • Comment: We think Labour’s Plan for Rail is both bold and pragmatic, building on the groundwork already done by the Government under the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.
  • Great British Railways will deliver a unified system that focuses on reliable, affordable, high-quality, and efficient services; along with ensuring safety and accessibility. It will be responsible for investment, day-to-day operational delivery and innovations and improvements for passengers, working with publicly-owned rail operators in Wales and Scotland.
  • Mayors to have a role in designing the services in their areas.
  • A duty to promote and grow the use of rail freight.
  • Open access operators are an important part of the rail system and will have an ongoing role.
  • Creation of a tough new watchdog, the Passenger Standards Authority (this would absorb the existing bodies of Transport Focus, the Rail Ombudsman, and some functions of the Office of Rail and Road)

Bus

  • New powers for local leaders to franchise bus services, giving local communities in England control over routes and schedules.
  • Lifting the ban on municipal bus ownership.

Devolution & Strategy

  • Give mayors the power to create unified and integrated transport systems, allowing for more seamless journeys, and to promote active travel networks.
  • Develop a long-term strategy for transport, ensuring transport infrastructure can be delivered efficiently and on time.
  • • Create a new National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority, bringing together existing bodies (including the National Infrastructure Commission), to set strategic infrastructure priorities and oversee the design, scope, and delivery of projects. Make the changes we need to forge ahead with new roads, railways, reservoirs, and other nationally significant infrastructure. Set out new national policy statements, make major projects faster and cheaper by slashing red tape, and build support for developments by ensuring communities directly benefit.

Roads

  • Fix an additional one million potholes across England in each year of the next parliament, funded by deferring the A27 bypass, which is poor value for money.
  • Support drivers by tackling the soaring cost of car insurance.
  • Support the transition to electric vehicles by accelerating the roll out of charge points, giving certainty to manufacturers by restoring the phase-out date of 2030 for new cars with internal combustion engines, and supporting buyers of second-hand electric cars by standardising the information supplied on the condition of batteries.

Our comment

Although the manifesto draws its readers’ focus to potholes (in an apparent attempt to compete with Network North in this arena), it is Labour’s Plan for Rail that jumps out to us as the most transformative policy on the menu, ending the impasse of the rail network since the end of franchising in 2020. Although the manifesto doesn’t specifically refer to the possibility of ending franchises early, it has been reported elsewhere that a new Labour Government would seek to explore the possibility of terminating Avanti West Coast’s franchise agreement on the West Coast Main Line, if it can be shown to have breached its contract.

Like the Conservatives, Labour promise to hand new powers to the mayors over transport, including rail, in their areas, which is welcome. The restoration of the 2030 date for ending new sales of petrol and diesel cars is bold, and welcome. The claim that potholes will be filled with money saved from deferring a new bypass is an interesting rhetorical flourish – whilst we support political prioritisation of public transport and active travel over new road schemes, we are sceptical of the mirroring of Network North’s rhetoric of ‘reallocating’ capital investment to operational expenditure.

The manifesto is disappointingly light on detail, especially when it comes to rail infrastructure and active travel investment. There is a high-level commitment, in general, to ‘forge ahead with new railways’, but no mention of what Labour would do regarding HS2 (it has been reported that Labour may resurrect HS2 ‘phase 2a’ to Crewe), nor Northern Powerhouse Rail.

As the Conservatives note in their manifesto, when it comes to Network North, Labour neither endorse HS2 nor the Conservatives’ ‘alternative’ plans to fund local projects, meaning the future remains uncertain both for HS2 and the various projects announced in October 2023 as part of ‘Network North’, including the Midlands Rail Hub. The Manchester Evening News have reported that Labour have promised to make 'Northern transport' their top priority, but they have neither confirmed nor ruled out support for individual projects (such as new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly).

If it is Labour’s intention to fund such projects once in power, but it is tactically leaving them out of the manifesto for fear of opposition, then it is a poor reflection indeed on the current political and media attitude towards capital investment in infrastructure. And beyond a cursory mention of active travel as part of the mayors’ portfolios, there is no mention at all of active travel (or walking, or cycling – we did a CTRL+F on the full PDF version), a disappointing omission indeed.

We think the lack of any endorsement of Restoring Your Railways (or an equivalent programme), or of the £2 bus fare cap, are missed opportunities, perhaps even open goals electorally, especially in the so-called ‘red wall’. It is notable that it was Labour Mayors who first came up with the £2 bus fare idea, in city regions such as Greater Manchester, before the Conservatives extended it nationally. Why not claim the credit?

Manifesto Link

The Liberal Democrats, led by Sir Ed Davey, have based their manifesto around ‘fairness’, including a section on a ‘fair deal for transport’, emphasising the social and environmental (as well as economic) importance of transport:

Rail

  • Establishing a new Railway Agency: a public body which would help to join up the industry – from track to train – putting commuters first, holding train companies to account, and bringing in wholesale reform of the broken fare system.
    • Comment: This sounds a lot like the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail – perhaps a ‘lite’ version of Great British Railways. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats would do well to take a leaf out of Labour’s book in endorsing or modifying existing detailed proposals, rather than coming up with yet another new plan (with another silly new name).
  • Being far more proactive in sanctioning and ultimately sacking train operators if they fail to provide a high-quality public service to their customers.
  • Exploring the introduction of an annual pass for all railways.
  • Improving accessibility at stations through the Access for All programme.
  • Delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail to connect cities across the North of England.
    • Comment: This is a wider gripe than just the Liberal Democrat manifesto, but it’s never clear from sweeping statements like this how ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ is defined.
  • Reviewing the Conservatives’ cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 to see if it can still be delivered in a way that provides value for money, including by encouraging private investment, or if an alternative is viable.
  • Working with local authorities to implement light rail schemes for trams and tram-trains where these are appropriate solutions to public transport requirements.
  • Establishing a ten-year plan for rail electrification to increase the number of passenger journeys covered by electric trains, investing in other zero-carbon technologies including batteries, and ensuring all new rail lines are electrified as standard.
    • Comment: The last point sounds like a subtle nod to East West Rail, currently being delivered as a diesel-powered railway, which we agree should be electrified from the outset.
  • Improve disabled access to the rail network.
  • Reopen smaller stations.
  • Introducing a national freight strategy to move as much freight as possible from road to rail, supported by a freight growth target and electrification of freight routes.
  • Introducing an international rail strategy to support new routes and operators, and permitting other operators to use the Channel Tunnel and HS1.
    • Comment: Our analyst Jacob, who recently penned this wish-list for international rail, will be pleased to hear this. We, along with our friends at Bring Back Euro Trains would be very keen to see if this includes a plan to restore international calls to Ebbsfleet and Ashford International stations.
  • Freeze rail fares and simplify ticketing on public transport to ensure regular users are paying fair and affordable prices.
  • Extending half-fares on buses, trams and trains to 18-year-olds.
    • Comment: Half-fares on rail are already available using a 16-17 Saver Railcard, but this policy would help make things simpler, remove the need to pay £30 per year, and extend this benefit across modes.
  • Banning short domestic flights where a direct rail option taking less than 2hr30 is available for the same journey, unless planes are alternative-fuelled.

Bus

  • Supporting rural bus services and encouraging alternatives to conventional bus services where they are not viable, such as on-demand services
  • Maintaining the £2 cap on bus fares while fares are reviewed.
  • Replacing multiple funding streams with one integrated fund for local authorities for expanding bus services and switching to zero-emission vehicles.
  • Extending current programmes to encourage local authorities and bus operators to switch entirely to zero-emission buses.
  • Devolve greater decision-making powers and resources to local authorities in England to design public transport infrastructure around community needs, including powers to introduce network-wide ticketing as in London.
  • Work to integrate bus, rail and light rail ticketing systems so that a daily fare cap can be introduced for those taking several trips per day.
    • Comment: The above two bullet points are both very much in line for the ‘National Fares System’ Enroute has called for.
  • Working with operators to introduce a ‘Young Person’s Buscard’, similar to the Young Person’s Railcard, giving 19- to 25-year-olds a third off bus and tram fares.

Active Travel & Roads

  • Transform how people travel by creating new cycling and walking networks with a new nationwide active travel strategy.
  • Give more of the roads budget to local councils to maintain existing roads, pavements and cycleways, including repairing potholes.
  • Roll out far more charging points, including residential on-street points and ultra-fast chargers at service stations.
  • Reintroduce the plug-in car grant.
  • Restore the requirement that every new car and small van sold from 2030 is zero-emission.
  • Supporting new charging points with an upgraded National Grid and a step-change in local grid capacity.
  • Cutting VAT on public charging to 5%.
  • Requiring all charging points to be accessible with a bank card.
  • Protect motorists from rip-offs, including unfair insurance and petrol prices.

Our comment

The Liberal Democrat transport manifesto is the most comprehensive out of all of the parties, mainly focusing on high-level policy aims. It contains some bold policies which will immediately benefit transport users, from freezing rail fares and maintaining the £2 bus fare cap to redirecting new roads funding to local councils to use directly.

The commitments to rail electrification, rail freight, international rail, reinstating the 2030 ban on new petrol/diesel car sales and banning domestic flights (where rail provides an alternative in less than 2hr30) show a serious attitude towards sustainable modal shift.

Although the commitment to review the cancellation of HS2 (the phrasing is a little ambiguous, but we’re reading this as a focus on the leg to Manchester) falls short of a definitive commitment to reinstating the plans, they are the most positive towards extending high-speed rail and its benefits out of all of the major parties.

In line with other parties, there is a commitment to rail reform (though why we need yet another ‘Railway Agency’, rather than ‘Great British Railways’ as already being developed, is a little beyond us), and deepening bus devolution.

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Manifesto Link

Reform UK, led by Nigel Farage, is standing candidates across the country, seeking to seeking to draw voters away from the two main parties, mainly competing with the Conservatives in policy positions. Although electoral maths means they are unlikely to win many seats, their popularity will change the arithmetic of the election results, and in the long-term can shift policy attitudes across the spectrum.

Priorities for the first 100 days

  • Scrap HS2, saving £25bn.
    • Comment: It is entirely unclear how the party have come to this figure. We haven’t seen any other estimates, but given the progress that has been made on phase 1 (London to the West Midlands) since 2020, we have to wonder whether cancelling the project now would even cost less than completing it, not to mention the loss of both the immediate capacity benefits and the long-term potential to expand the line into a full nation-wide high-speed network.
  • ‘Stop the War on Motorists’: Legislate to ban all ULEZ and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, and most 20mph zones. Scrap all Net Zero-related objectives.
    • Comment: Whilst this makes for an effective headline, perhaps a definition of ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhood’ would be helpful here. In a broader sense, any cul-de-sac that doesn’t allow through traffic is, in effect, a Low Traffic Neighbourhood. Is Reform proposing to ban new cul-de-sacs, or compulsory purchase the houses at the end of existing cul-de-sacs to forcibly turn them into through-roads?
  • Scrap bans on selling petrol and diesel cars and scrap legal requirements for manufacturers to sell electric cars.
  • Accelerate Already Announced Transport Infrastructure, focusing on the North, Midlands, Wales & coastal regions, investing in existing rail and road links.
    • Comment: The lack of detail on which ‘already announced’ schemes (but not new railways?) is disappointing. The opposition to HS2 is clear, but what about Northern Powerhouse Rail?

Thereafter

  • Tighter regulation and new ownership model for Critical National Infrastructure: 50% of each utility owned publicly, and 50% owned by UK pension funds, benefiting from new expertise and better management.
  • A Single Government Infrastructure Funding Stream: Overhaul and merge the National Infrastructure Commission and the Infrastructure Bank. Simplify the funding process, save time, cut waste, boost funding and ensure accountability.

Our comment

Needless to say, there is little in Reform’s list of policies that aligns with our vision for transport, although the proposals for a 50-50 utility ownership model and the integration of funding streams are interesting. Populist policies to ‘ban Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ are poorly thought through, and actively harmful to improving and encouraging active travel. The promise to ‘accelerate already announced’ transport schemes in regions such as the North are extremely vague.

We strongly opposed the cancellation to Phase 2 of HS2 in October 2023, and would strongly oppose the cancellation of Phase 1, because (A) we think it is highly unlikely, at this stage, to save any money at all, (B) because cancelling the line would result in a huge loss of benefit to capacity on the West Coast Main Line south of Handsacre, and through Birmingham, and (C) because cancelling the line would result in the loss of future potential to expand high-speed rail across the country.

Transport is the biggest source of carbon emissions by sector in the UK; scrapping all sustainability-related targets and policies shows a blatant disregard for the seriousness and severity of the climate crisis, which for young voters across the country in particular will be among the biggest and most complex policy and political challenges of our lifetimes.

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