Public Transport: Boxing Day 2018

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 24th January 2018.

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Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Keighley 11:00 am, 24th January 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered public transport on Boxing Day 2018.

Christmas 2017 is already a distant memory for most of us, with all the joys of Christmas and some of the minor irritations such as our football team losing, which happened to me in the case of Bradford City, or the turkey going in slightly late, which happened at my family gathering. But there were also other irritations, such as the absence of Boxing Day rail transport in our country.

In my campaigns on this—I have represented various marginal constituencies in Yorkshire for about 15 years—I have always made the mistake of trying to draw attention to it in the month of December. People are concerned at that point and are making their travel plans. Social media on 26 December is full of people realising they cannot get out and do what they wanted to do. I thought I would try a different tactic this year and draw attention to the issue before January ebbs away, so that we can begin to make plans for Boxing day 2018. There is hope, particularly in the north of England, in God’s own county of Yorkshire, that this year there may be the first trains running on Boxing Day since 1980.

Why on earth does that matter, and why is it worth the attention of the House? There are three or four reasons. I was very pleased last week to see the Prime Minister appoint a Minister for Loneliness. A 60-hour shutdown for our major national rail network is just too long. For people who are isolated over that period, getting out and about is massively important. I have referred to Bradford City’s home fixture this year, but football fans up and down the land look forward to the Boxing day fixtures. There are great horse-racing meetings—the King George VI Chase at Kempton grabs the attention of at least part of the nation—various rugby matches and so on, and people should not need a car to attend those events. In an age when the environment matters, that is even more important.

There is also retail activity on Boxing day. For many of our shopping centres, both in town and out of town, it is an important trading day. This year, a lot of retailers experienced declines in sales on Boxing day. It does not help if people cannot get to the shops and the sales to spend their money. There are a number of reasons. Quite frankly, a lot of people have to be back at work at their desks, in their offices or in their restaurants on 27 December if not on 26 December. They cannot travel any distance to go home for Christmas if they have to be back at work on 27 December at eight o’clock in the morning. It affects people’s family Christmases.

Is there demand? I think there is. I draw attention to bus transport, since this debate is titled “Public Transport” and not just “Railways”. In London, I understand that buses have run on Boxing day for many decades, but outside London, the various big conurbations and cities across England have experimented over the last 10 or 15 years with running not a full service, but a service aimed at the shopping centres, football matches and so on. They have done that with some success.

Since 2007 in west Yorkshire, my area, the passenger transport authority, which has subsequently become the combined authority, has been running a service initially based in Leeds and Wakefield—it reached my Keighley constituency in the last three years. It is very well patronised. They have had to put extra buses on between Leeds and Bradford, because in some years they were completely full. There is an element of subsidy involved in west Yorkshire, but I was told that 65,000 passengers went on west Yorkshire buses on Boxing day 2016. They have not yet got the figures for 2017, but the experiment has worked well.

I had a letter from Mike Scott, the head of buses at Nexus, the passenger transport element of the combined authority in the north-east of England. He said that several of the bus services that it initially subsidised

“are now provided by commercial operators at no cost”,

because as people have got used to seeing public transport on Boxing day, they have used it more. Others, such as the Metro centre and Newcastle United, have on occasion subsidised buses because they see their commercial interest in getting people into Newcastle and letting them get home from football matches.

It has worked in the case of buses, but we have not seen a comprehensive train service on Boxing day in our country since 1980. In 1975, under the then Labour Government, the service began to ebb away. In 1975, no provision was made, but it came back in 1976. Members at the time raised concerns about the effect on people without access to a car who had to work on Boxing day, or who would not be able to visit friends and family. It was interesting that in reply, the then Minister Gordon Oakes commented:

“I believe it is essential that in our debate today we should not give the impression that there will be no public transport on Boxing Day. On the contrary, London Transport will run both its underground and bus services on 26th December.”—[Official Report, 21 November 1975;
Vol. 901, c. 456.]

The emphasis is: if it is okay in London and London is all right, the rest of the country can make do.

It is interesting that, once the rail was privatised, the great airports of Heathrow and Gatwick had it put in their franchises that they should have a service on Boxing day, no doubt under the influence of London-based civil servants. Those were the only franchises in which that was specified. Of course, it is important that the great airports are connected on Boxing day, but there is also a great airport at Manchester in the north of England—Boxing day is its busiest day of the year. I will offer some hope before the end of my remarks, but until now there has been no service there.

Most of the time since 1980 outside Heathrow, Gatwick and Scotland, which has run a service as it is not a public holiday on Boxing day, there has been very little provision. There have been some services between Marylebone and Oxford on the Chiltern lines in recent years, which I think have been well used, but 90%-odd of the network has been closed down. It is interesting that no one in the rest of Europe closes down their network for that length of time. I am not suggesting services on Christmas day, but a lot of continental Europe runs a Sunday service throughout the holiday period. Somehow, they seem to get round the problem of engineering works. Where there is a will, there is a way.