2023 was a bit of a rollercoaster with transport decisions often making the headlines. Sadly, forward thinking decisions were far and few between. The £2 bus fare cap stands out as one of very few highs. Instead depressing decisions and unannounced u-turns were delivered regularly throughout the year. So much happened in 2023 that our review of the year turned into three posts!
Here, we look forward to what awaits us in 2024.
Carry on campaigning
A new year can bring a sense of optimism but it is difficult to feel positive for the future with the Government’s current direction of travel.
Despite this, we remain hopeful. This is thanks to the continued efforts of campaigners up and down the country. They have come in many different guises but all have been impactful. Thousands took the time to respond to numerous road and rail consultations. Many diligently took part in exhausting six-month long road scheme examinations. Come rain or shine, people came together to protest against the destruction of veteran trees and our natural habitats, dangerous roads and air pollution. The number of u-turns and postponements by the Government, on vital things like rail ticket office closures, is a testament to campaigners’ efforts.
We are looking forward to getting together again with campaigners at our postponed national conference in March. Hopefully the long rail negotiations will have concluded by then and we won’t have the risk of strikes hanging over us.
Traffic reduction is a key goal
The Climate Change Committee and Commons Transport Committee both agree with us – we must reduce traffic.
Action on this should have started some time ago. The next best time is now. Yet we have an increasingly dysfunctional Government that has adopted the rhetoric of right wing conspiracy theorists.
Following Mark Drakeford’s resignation at the end of 2023, a new First Minister in Wales could be in place by Easter. Whoever is elected, we hope they will continue the forward thinking approach to transport that Wales is becoming internationally known for.
The timeline for a new UK Government is less clear. In 2022 we had three Prime Ministers and three Transport Secretaries. This year, with a general election looming at some point in 2024, at least the changing faces in Government will be planned for.
What’s on the horizon
As the general election approaches, we expect an increase in rhetoric and a decrease (if that is possible!) in sensible long term decisions. Judging by recent history, we may see a rush of road approvals and rail contract signings to hamper the ability of a future Government to reform services and tackle climate change.
We await the publication of a draft roads programme (RIS3) and a new national roads policy (NNNPS). RIS3 will determine the roads spending budget for five years from 2025 to 2030. It will show whether the Government is serious about tackling maintenance on our main roads and motorways. Sadly it is more likely they will waste more money on destructive road schemes. The NNNPS sets the policy framework that all road and rail decisions are made within, so couldn’t be more important.
The court hearing for our legal challenge against the cuts to active travel funding is likely to be in the first few months of the year. There are also a number of significant legal challenges to be heard or ruled on, such as for the A38 Derby Junctions, A57 Link Roads and A303 Stonehenge. Perhaps the most significant is Dr Andrew Boswell’s case at the Court of Appeal on 16 January, on three A47 schemes. The decision of this case (that the Government has illegally assessed the carbon impact of new road schemes) will have a direct impact on these other cases and potentially other roads the Government wants to approve. Will we as a country prioritise heritage, nature, and our health? Or will the potential short term saving of a few seconds in journey times take precedence?
With the £2 bus fare cap in place until the end of the year, we hope for an increase in services across the country. There was a reduction in bus routes by nearly 20% between 2022 and 2023. More affordable fares can only do so much. For people to use buses more, there actually needs to be some!
Rail fares will increase by 4.9% from 3rd March. This is much lower than the 9% that it could have been, had the Government linked it to inflation figures from last July. Yet it is higher than the current inflation rate, which is expected to fall further.
The Government set a target to increase rail freight by 2050. We hope to see some positive steps being taken to work towards this.
After five fantastic regional events in 2023, Low Traffic Future will continue its good work on Local Transport Plans (LTPs) while also looking to expand its national membership. We set up the alliance to promote the numerous benefits of less motor traffic. This year seems a critical time for change. Can we build on the positive changes at a local level, or will the push back against low traffic neighbourhoods and 15 minute cities grow? The key issue is whether local politicians will listen to the silent majority or the noisy few.
The publication of Government guidance on LTPs was expected last year. Now it seems unlikely to be published before a general election, we could have a pivotal role in helping local authorities. They will need help and persuasion to adopt traffic reduction targets. Local authorities will also need monitoring to ensure they follow through and deliver. Without this there is the risk of them going the way of Oxfordshire County Council, who despite recently adopting a new LTP with ambitious traffic reduction targets, is busy trying to build lots of new roads.
Ways to make 2024 a year to remember, for the right reasons
2023 had so many memorable moments for all the wrong reasons. There is no indication of this changing in 2024 anytime soon. Therefore, it is more important than ever that we come together to challenge the Government with its short sighted obsession with road building and public transport and active travel cuts. Some ways to do this are:
- Join us at our national conference to share ideas on active travel, public transport, fighting new roads, and tackling climate change and air pollution.
- Sign up to receive our emails (if you haven’t already) so you hear about the latest consultations and news.
- Help us to continue challenging the Government on their obsession with increasing people’s reliance on cars.
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