Our future: transport

Hugh Goulbourne is seeking nomination to be the Labour Party’s candidate for the West Yorkshire mayoral election.

West Yorkshire cannot wait for Westminster any longer; our mayor must do things differently!

As the government dithers and delays further on plans to extend HS2 to Leeds, it is critical that leaders in Yorkshire are not distracted from the task in hand. Communities in West Yorkshire are desperate for a transport system that works. The first priority for our new mayor must be to make it easy for everyone to get around efficiently, affordably and safely, as well as making the environmental choice.

I live in West Yorkshire, so I know how hard it is to get between our villages, towns and cities. The long waits in the cold for a bus or train that never arrives. The wasted time sitting in traffic jams. In recent weeks, I have been talking to residents in communities across West Yorkshire. From Hebden Bridge to Seacroft and Wakefield to Crosland Moor, I have heard one consistent message: our transport system does not work.

It does not work for people trying commute from outlying areas into offices in Leeds. It does not work for nurses or shop workers who change two buses and spend three times what they would pay in London when trying to travel into our town centres. And it is certainly not safe or sustainable for families like mine that want their children to be able to get to the park or to school without fear of cutting short their lives through exposure to polluted air.

With a mixture of outdated Victorian rail infrastructure, under investment in bus services and a haphazardly planned road system, it is no wonder that we have got ourselves into this mess. And the problem is that this is a mess that’s holding back our economy, destroying our environment, and compromising our health.

A mayor can resolve this by putting together a strategy that works across local authority boundaries and connects West Yorkshire – our towns, cities and villages.

She/he could start by bringing under public control the existing inefficient, illogical and confusing mix of road travel options so that we integrate road, rail and new clean transport choices, such as electric cycles and scooters, into an affordable, reliable, and clean public transport system.

Work is currently underway within the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to test demand responsive buses. But this project responds to the opportunity to bid for funding from the government’s Future Mobility Fund, and therein lies a problem, because the project responds to the money available rather than to the needs of local people. West Yorkshire cannot wait for Westminster any longer and so a mayor must do this project differently.

Demand responsive transport is already available to us here in West Yorkshire in the form of taxi services, Uber and other digitally enabled and controlled services. The problem is that these services are supplied on an ad hoc basis without any protections for workers or users. They are inefficient, unregulated and expensive.

A new West Yorkshire-wide public/private sector app and operating system would bring all existing services together to use every available seat, from minibuses to taxis to trains, to create on demand and doorstep services that could be shared with other passengers. This would reduce carbon emissions, empty seats and travel costs while increasing convenience, employment and connectivity between Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds and Wakefield. Importantly it would also give the mayoral office the levers by which to ensure consistent standards for all users and ensure the safety of all drivers, for example by installing cameras to monitor what is going on in every vehicle.

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There are already mobile apps of this sort available in city regions in other parts of Europe, which we could adapt to our own specific needs here in West Yorkshire. With some of the world’s best software engineers and data analysts anywhere in the world already based in West Yorkshire, this provides an opportunity for the mayoral office to co-create and own valuable smart transport know-how. We could sell this to communities all around the world and create new and highly paid jobs in growth areas such as data science.

Of course, demand responsive transport cannot rely on taxi firms and other private hire or ride sharing apps alone. However, being able to access large-scale dynamic data on transport demand will mean that our Mayoral Office could commission new services and/or infrastructure based on proven need.

Nor does demand responsive transport mean that all car drivers will dump their cars. The mayor must work with our councils, business groups and communities to redesign our urban centres so that it is easy for out-of-town drivers to swiftly and easily transition into our centres without their cars.

Evidence from cities around the UK has already demonstrated how access to out-of-town carparks creates opportunities for people to then transit into a bus, or cycle or to walk into the centre. As electric transport technology continues to evolve, so we can also start to offer a range of alternative electric mobility options, from bicycles and scooters, to the types of pods that are currently being trialled in placed like Coventry and Milton Keynes. These modes of transport could also be used to transfer commercial deliveries from out-of-town depots to shops, restaurants and other businesses that are located near to the schools, homes and hospitals that we need to protect from heavy traffic.

As we gradually reduce and remove cars from our urban centres this will mean we can redevelop those centres as ‘urban villages’ with more housing, parks, woods and recreation spaces. At the end of the day, it is not just those on high incomes who deserve to live and/or work in villages with lovely rural backdrops. People doing key jobs also have a right to live and travel in clean air surrounded by plants and wildlife. Today’s technology means that our towns and cities no longer need to be polluted, noisy and dangerous places.

The last piece in our transport jigsaw, is to build a partnership to deliver a transport system that can move people and freight between our towns and cities in the North, at speeds that we have never experienced before. New technologies are emerging all the time and a West Yorkshire mayor can and should work with other metropolitan mayors and civic leaders to investigate them to see if they are right for us all.

This is my plan. It will improve the health and wellbeing of every one of our 2.3 million residents in West Yorkshire. It will provide jobs, not just in 2021, but for many decades after as we unlock the ingenuity of people here. It will place West Yorkshire on the map as a modern and connected economy. It will cost billions of pounds but return many times that amount in terms of economic productivity and social good.

Everyone needs to be able to give their input, so that we are all together and the private sector has no doubts about the long-term political commitment to this project. To do this I would like us to set up a West Yorkshire citizens’ assembly in June 2021. This would be similar to the group that was brought together in Leeds last year to devise a set of environmental recommendations. The citizens’ assembly would be made up of a representative mix of over a hundred people from across West Yorkshire and would have the freedom to look at my plans and come up with alternatives.

West Yorkshire devolution provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make these long-term decisions about our future. Most people I talk to here are motivated to get the best for their family and the best for our community. They are hugely frustrated by our transport system. They would like to avoid a more extreme climate and to preserve our habitat for future generations. Most of all they would like better paid and more interesting jobs. With some real vision and a plan for a connected West Yorkshire, we can achieve all of that.

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