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The New Local Government Network is calling for clusters of local authorities to be given new powers to hold franchises to account, including the right to trigger a review of their contract. The call comes following the recent decision by Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis to temporarily take into public ownership the franchise for the East Coast mainline.
National rail services are currently managed by the Department for Transport through a series of franchise agreements, which generally last for between seven and ten years. Under the scheme, groups of sub-regional local authorities could be able to trigger a contract refresh or reconsideration if certain local targets or levels of satisfaction with trains’ services are not achieved. This would give a greater voice to local people in areas that suffer delays, poor services, overcrowding or unreasonable fares policies.
The recall would work by giving new powers to sub-regional authorities to demand that the Secretary of State reconsiders the terms of a franchise agreement where it can be shown that train services are not meeting satisfaction levels or responding to local needs. All franchise agreements would have additional clauses inserted allowing for councils to represent the needs of local commuters in this way.
On the Right Track: New models for integrated transport also proposes a range of new powers and initiatives to integrate transport. Measures include a regional ‘Oyster’ system for rail and bus services which would allow sub-regional authorities to offer cheaper and more convenient travel options throughout their region. Such a scheme would also provide a capital pot to allow authorities to invest in better public transport. According to the report, the scheme could raise a floating loan of almost £50m for the Leeds city-region and almost £45m for the Manchester city-region. The scheme could also allow users to register “land miles”, a reward for using public transport.
To help cut congestion and tackle climate change, the report also urges local authorities to offer financial incentives for local residents to reduce their car usage. One suggestion is for councils to offer forms of car insurance that reward drivers who only use their car sparingly, for example to do the weekly shopping. The scheme could benefit drivers who use public transport to go to work or take their children to school rather than using a car.
Author of the report, Nigel Keohane argues that the new transport Secretary of State should make integrated transport a priority:
“Transport affects all aspects of our lives: whether getting to work, travelling to school or college, accessing hospitals or visiting family and friends. At a strategic level, mobility is an enabler for economic growth, social inclusion and will determine the health of our environment.
“However, transport still remains too disjointed – in terms of how we buy tickets, receive information, make connections and exercise our choice of travel. Without new approaches, congestion is likely to stall economic recovery, we will struggle to meet our climate change aspirations and passengers will be left frustrated and unconvinced by what public transport has to offer.”