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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 4:18 pm, 5th February 2020

I agree entirely. It is remarkable that London is the only city of any comparison that is without a central Government grant. Some of the measures that we would be taking, were we in government, would have gone some way to addressing that. Madam Deputy Speaker, I will not be taking any more interventions. I am very much aware that a great number of people want to speak in the debate, so if colleagues will bear with me, I will carry on.

We said that we would totally reverse the cuts made to bus services since 2010, then invest the same amount again. That would allow for 3,000-plus route cuts to be reversed, and for the expansion of new services through the redirection of funds currently being channelled into road building. We could then provide free travel for the under-25s in the areas that own or regulate their buses, in order to address generational inequalities, encourage lifelong public transport use and help reverse the long-term downward trend in bus patronage in England outside London. Electrifying 35,000 buses by 2030 would reduce their emissions by 72% as well as boosting manufacturing. However, progress has been painfully slow over the past decade, and I wonder whether the Secretary of State might furnish us with any proposals in that regard.

Similarly, we have seen rail fares rise by 40% since 2010. In contrast, fares in Germany were cut by 10% at the start of this year to encourage more people to travel by train in order to cut emissions. It is frankly absurd that UK rail fares have risen so excessively while the cost of short-haul flights remains low, with taxes broadly frozen. That is why we pledged in the election campaign to reduce fares by 33% by using part of the revenue brought in by vehicle excise duty. This financial offer to commuters would have encouraged the shift from car usage to public transport that will be essential in the coming years if we are to be successful in decarbonising the transport sector.

However, capital investment in our railways will also be required to reverse the electrification cancellations that we have seen under the Conservatives. Despite the clear environmental and performance benefits of rail electrification, the Tories cancelled the promised electrification on the midland main line, on the line between Windermere and Oxenholme, on TransPennine and on parts of the Great Western route.

Rail freight is a low carbon transport choice, emitting 76% less carbon than the equivalent road journey, and has massive potential to lower UK transport emissions, so I regret that the Government have done so little to encourage it. For example, the TransPennine upgrade has no new capacity for freight. Labour’s policy of bringing the railways into public ownership would allow a long-term strategic approach to investment, delivering a more consistent approach that would better support UK industry and help to decarbonise our railways.

I welcome Eurostar’s announcement this week that full direct rail services from London to Amsterdam will begin on 30 April, with direct services to Rotterdam beginning on 18 May. More rail links between the UK and Europe are vital to reducing carbon emissions from short-haul aviation, and I will work with EU colleagues to promote better rail connectivity.

Ahead of the Budget next month, I remind the Transport Secretary and the Chancellor that we cannot road build our way out of the climate crisis. New roads quickly fill up with cars, and “predict and provide” is a 20th-century concept. Ministers claimed that the road investment strategy for motorways and major A roads between 2015 to 2020 would revolutionise the network. In fact, one in three of the projects has been cancelled or delayed, and the strategy is in complete disarray. Road spending should focus on providing more capacity for sustainable transport, such as provisions for bus priority and integrated transport schemes. We need to develop a more holistic approach to transport funding that is geographically rebalanced across the UK.

Labour committed to repurposing vehicle excise duty to establish a sustainable transport fund. Such a fund could provide £550 million a year for walking and cycling routes, £1.4 billion a year to fund free bus travel for under-25s when bus services are re-regulated, £1.3 billion a year to restore the 3,000 bus services lost and deliver an additional 3,000 on top, and £500 million a year to fund local road improvements and maintenance. Most journeys start and end on local roads, which are also used by cyclists and pedestrians, so fixing potholes and better maintaining those roads and pavements should be a priority.

Tackling road transport emissions requires an enormous investment in electric vehicles to see a just transition of the UK’s fleet of road vehicles.