Better public transport creates a virtuous circle

You know that feeling when you turn up at the station, look up at the departures board, and see your train is cancelled?  If you use TransPennine Express you do. 

A week ago I made a statement with the other Northern Labour Mayors.  Fragmentation, mismanagement and underinvestment are so severe that around half of all trains are cancelled.  Transport spending in the north is just £349 per person.  In London it’s £864.  It’s no accident that our rail service is so poor. 

Within half an hour Mark Harper, the new Secretary of State for Transport, emailed us all individually to ask for a meeting.  This shows the power of Mayors working together. 

The train companies are now negotiating with the RMT union without preconditions.  I hope a sensible solution can be found that works for the long term sustainability of our rail system.  That has to mean maintaining safety and service standards.  I’ve always found train crews and station staff friendly and helpful and down to earth.

Rest day working needs sorting out.  By law, train drivers have scheduled rest days – their version of a weekend.  We can’t compromise safety by not allowing drivers time off. 

Companies can negotiate Rest Day Working Agreements – supposedly to cover illness or supervise trainee drivers.  But some Train Operating Companies are using them to cover staff shortages.  TransPennine Express has lost over 60 drivers already this year but recruited about 50 to replace them.  And they started the year with a driver shortage. 

You don’t need a Masters Degree in Business Administration to see the answer: recruit more drivers. 

The North East needs a public transport system that’s reliable, affordable, and pleasant to use.  Our Local Authorities have come together to deliver exactly that. 

From 2nd January to 31st March, Metro fares will be capped at £2 for a single journey and £4 maximum daily fare if you use a Pop card.  So if you’re travelling from Zones 2 or 3, that’s quite a saving.  I use my Pop card all the time.  Even in Zone 1, it costs £1.65 instead of £2.30.  These savings add up.     

Bus fares will also be capped at £2 from 2nd January until March 31st.  Northern Labour Mayors pioneered this idea in Liverpool, West Yorkshire and Manchester. 

In the North East, we want to go further.  All across North East transport area – from Barnard Castle to Berwick – we intend to introduce a £1 fare cap for young people under 22.  That will make a massive difference to young people travelling to college or work from our towns and villages.  I was on BBC Radio Newcastle, and presenter Matt Bailey said when he lived in Stannington, his girlfriend lived in Widdrington and it cost him a fortune to see her.  So we’re helping young love flourish!

We’re putting more staff on at public transport interchanges.  People need to feel safe using stations when it’s dark, especially women and girls. 

The Metro Flow project from Pelaw to South Tyneside will be completed before Christmas, improving reliability. 

New, spacious Metro trains will be introduced early next year.  They have electric steps to cover the gap, improving access for people with limited mobility.  And unlike the privatised rail companies, we’re not paying a fortune to leasing companies – PFI on wheels.  The Metro is publicly owned, and we’re buying them outright.  That saves you, the passenger, money.    

We’re reopening the Northumberland Line, from Ashington, Bedlington, through Blyth Bebside, Newsham, Seaton Delaval, Northumberland Park, Manors and Newcastle Central Station.  That should open December 2023.  

We’re in negotiations with Government to get transport devolved from May 2024.  I’d like to see the transport system run as one.  With real time information on a single app.  Where one ticket covers you from rail, Metro, park & ride or bus.  With secure bike parking and safe walking and cycle routes. 

Better public transport creates a virtuous circle.  As it gets better, more people use it.  More passengers allows for lower fares.  People can access jobs and education.  It’s key to thriving economy, and reduces carbon emissions. 

The contrast is clear.  National Government and a fragmented, market-driven system is in chaos.  Local and regional government gets things done.