13 April 2010

The will of government

You may recall last year that Manchester's population effectively ended the possibility of the expansion of congestion charging in our city centres for at least a generation, after residents unanimously voted 'no' to this, despite the unrivalled package of improvements this would create for public transport in the region. After dabbing its bloody nose, Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority has been looking at other ways the revenue, needed for these schemes, can be raised.

Despite the no-vote, Metrolink's got its extension and Network Rail is in consultation with the local authorities about creating a major railway hub in Manchester, with proposals for a new spur north of Piccadilly to ease cross-city train services. Now, the Department for Transport (DfT) has announced it is to use Manchester as a test bed for national bus policy, part-funding a study into ways in which current methodologies in delivering bus services can be honed to produce a better outcome.

You might want to roll your eyes now - albeit briefly - when the word 'efficiencies' was deputised for a whole sentence of consultant-speak by GMPTE's chief executive David Leather: "The work will address the extent to which local and national resources are being deployed to sustain bus transport and usage and what outcomes are delivered".. and.. "whether there are greater efficiencies to be secured in the delivery of bus services… through different delivery outcomes”.

Doubters will be persuaded to keep an open mind as the scheme will run alongside one being undertaken by the local authority and the Highways Agency, that will look at alterations to the road network that could help 'facilitate' these new 'delivery outcomes' for the bus network in the city and its environs. No one in the bus industry will turn their noses up at additional bus priority measures. And despite the roundabout manner in which this scheme has been announced, anything that furthers the cause of the bus industry is welcome news indeed.

A new traffic control centre will be established, whose likely role will be controlling the road network, using Transport for London's model, and equipped with an extensive toolkit comprising operational responsibility for traffic signals, speed cameras, CCTV systems, variable message signs and car park signs on all roads.

Reforms to the governance of the area will be needed and the proposed solution is a Combined Authority, made up of the 10 district councils. This will effectively be known as Transport for Greater Manchester. Doubters claim that despite the will of residents, the DfT and local councils are trying to force Manchester into a scheme it voted against, albeit without the imposition of congestion charging. But is that a bad thing? It was widely regarded as failing at the ballot box over the thorny issue of charging to enter the city centre; now, many of the benefits are attempting to be realised without the requirement to charge.

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