Facebook post critiquing the Green Party budget statement regarding transport.

(This is a hopeless policy, all free bus fares do is to make more bus journeys for those without cars, it does not reduce car use – DA)
On Thu, 23 Mar 2023 at 11:53, Sandy Irvine <sandyirvine45@gmail.com> wrote:
You might be interested in the copy below of a Facebook post I wrote critiquing the Green Party budget statement regarding transport. You’ll know all the tram stuff of course but there might be other references you can recycle in your own work.

This May, we’re off to the Vermeer exhibition in Amsterdam. It’ll be interesting to have another look at trams there. I’ve been to the city several times and was always impressed by the way pedestrians and trams co-existed even narrow streets such as Leidestraat.

Hope well

Sandy Irvine
In its response to the government’s latest budget, one of the core threads of the Green Party’s response was transport (there was an alternative Budget ‘statement’, plus two press releases on the party website and a circular to members — see a number of posts below for comment on other issues raised by the material)

Thus the press release had as one of its three core demands: “a £1 single fare on all bus routes across England with free travel for young people”. Later in the document, it demanded “major investment in buses and services (to make) buses work for people, rather than the profit of large companies”. It linked the proposal to the ”costs of congestion’”, “health costs” (of air pollution) and the “carbon emissions” (linking back to the headline of climate action in the original Green Budget statement).

Bus journeys are indeed expensive. Overall, the takeover of bus services by large private companies has been a disaster (https://weownit.org.uk/public-ownership/buses ). However, much as cheaper tickets would be welcomed by most bus users, money is not the only matter. Punctuality is obviously a big concern too. Often, especially at night, an even bigger concern is whether the bus will actually turn up, so unreliable have many services become. Indeed, it is all very well to have cheap fares but they are not much use when there are simply no buses at all (eg https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/jan/24/almost-one-10-local-bus-services-axed-last-year-great-britain ).

Clearly major investment in transport is needed but it has to be asked where best might it go since many other desirable things cry out for money.

Bus problems

The way forward is not just very cheap fares or investment that delivers desired comfort, frequency, reliability and punctuality. You might (should!) have electric buses as well. You can have all these pluses but still have very serious minuses. Buses can still cause ‘bus jams’ on certain streets. Electric buses still consume power and generate serious air pollution form their brakes and tyres (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a9400b37e3c3a8c47522029/t/5e62681e9d30e112279aaf50/1583507486738/EA_tyres_Final.pdf ). The very best buses need roads, lighting and traffic management. New routes for bus can still devastate local environments eg https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/21/hundreds-trees-felled-cambridge-bus-route-tackle-climate-change?fbclid=IwAR2Aa7YijmBAb6aQ3E5pz4xvw-F4D6JcaWPCD1bIHQ_cOT9JjERCpy7aC3I and https://www.bristol247.com/news-and-features/news/tree-top-protest-continues-against-metrobus/ . There are, of course, also conflicts between buses and other road users especially cyclists.

If it wanted a demand regarding what is indeed the critical arena of transport, the Green Party might have chosen better options, ones still more pertinent, distinctive and eye-catching than promises to cut bus fares. One is support for new tram projects. In many ways, trams are superior to buses, not least in terms of luring people out of their cars (https://bathtrams.uk/arguments-for-trams/ ). Many European cities are now embracing new tram schemes and Britain should follow them much more enthusiastically than is currently the case (https://reasonstobecheerful.world/europe-tram-systems-revival/ ). Another option is mass adoption across the country of schemes like this: https://www.visitljubljana.com/en/visitors/travel-information/getting-around/kavalir-getting-around-the-city-centre-by-electric-car/ They could win over many older people and/or those with mobility issues. Cyclists certainly deserve a better deal (https://www.sustrans.org.uk/media/7377/cycling_for_everyone-sustrans-arup.pdf

Fare deal?

Actually, low fares by themselves do not necessarily achieve the goals set out in the Green Party documents (see https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-07-07/inside-luxembourg-s-experiment-with-free-public-transit and more generally  https://cities-today.com/free-public-transport-alone-wont-get-people-out-of-cars/ It is not just a case of making alternatives such as mass transit more attractive. More important, arguably, is making private motoring more expensive and more inconvenient. Otherwise, large numbers of people will stick to what seems to offer the best option in terms of flexibility, speed and privacy (even if its mass use cancels out many of those ‘benefits’, road congestion being a true tragedy of the commons).

Perhaps as a result of its ‘left positioning’ in recent years, the Green Party seems to have succumbed to the false trope that ‘public always better than private, planning always better than market-driven’. It depends! One consequence is that it now fails to see that transport technology is not neutral in term of its impacts. Those noted above regarding buses will happen regardless of ownership or deployment. The same goes for high speed trains (https://stophs2.org/facts and https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/mar/14/hs2-ministers-delays-railway-money ) and indeed every mode of transport, including cycling (https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2023/02/can-we-make-bicycles-sustainable-again.html


As elsewhere, we face ‘overshoot’ in the field of transport. We have arguably reached ‘peak travel’. We need degrowth here as elsewhere. We need to address all three core factors. John Holdren analysed the unsustainable impacts of the US transport system. He demonstrated that the main driver was not the preferred mode of transport (technology, eg SUVs vs buses) nor the frequency and distance of journeys (consumption / affluence) but the sheer number of travellers (ie population): https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01357916

But many in the Green Party deny that human numbers count (be it domestic population growth or net immigration) while they deal in vague talk about “prosperity”, not critically assessing average per capita consumption (see first post in this series). They focus solely on technology and technofixes.

Best foot forward

In the debate over travel, Greens should be giving priority to the mode that almost always gets put back to the end of the queue: walking (cf https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-12-05/urban-planner-jeff-speck-revisits-walkable-city-10-years-later ). The best way to reduce the impact of transport system is to reduce the need to travel and prioritise those on foot. Thus, the key demand should be investments that create far more pedestrianisation and 15 minute neighbourhoods, with far more facilities accessible within easy reach (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/16/15-minute-city-planning-theory-conspiracists and https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2023/03/15/Case-For-15-Minute-Cities/

Overall, we need to prepare now for the brutal shocks that future oil price hikes, as ‘peak oil’ bites, will bring to the movement of goods and people (https://energyskeptic.com/category/decline/transportation-a-1000-cuts/ ). Local accessibility will become even more important in years to come.

We need a holistic approach, founded in sound ecology, not cheap slogans. A ‘Green Populism’ that avoids controversial issues such as radical traffic calming measures might win some extra votes. But they will be hollow victories. Critics of 15 minute neighbourhoods cannot be won over at the moment but Greens can bring closer to them that layer of intelligent citizens who see that the current transport system is well and truly broken. They can be persuaded that patching it up is a non-solution overall, even if in many localities there are many small improvements that could be made (even down to more frequent and longer crossing times for pedestrians at lights). Regarding the transport issue, Greens need to be painting the big picture if they are to be truly relevant and construcively stand out from the crowd.

[Posts below discuss other aspect of the Green Party’s budget response. A final one in the series will explore what it says about “missing workers” and job creation]