Planes, trains and buses: 2021 a year in review12 January 2022
Sitting down to write this blog about our some of our biggest achievements last year made me realise just how hard we’ve all been working. I think there is a slight misconception about the size of the organisation – largely a result of how loudly we campaign – but we have a tiny staff of just seven with only three of us working full time. I think with that knowledge, it makes our achievements even more incredible and something I am personally very proud to have been involved with.
After a year of reduced campaigning due to Covid, we started 2021 with some good news when the long-awaited National Bus Strategy was finally published in March. The plight of local buses was something we had first brought to the attention of politicians and the public back in 2011 when we launched the first of what became an annual summary of the state of local authority supported bus services. For the next decade we continued to highlight the decline and called for a national strategy to reverse it. The resulting Strategy contains many of the things we campaigned for and has the potential to turn around the fortune of the humble bus but unfortunately, as with many things, the pandemic has brought significant disruption to its delivery. We will continue campaigning and lobbying hard to make sure this valuable opportunity to provide every community with usable, reliable and affordable bus services isn’t lost and are working directly with the Department for Transport on certain aspects of the Strategy, including producing a report on local authorities’ capacity and capability to deliver better bus services in their areas. We also held a highly successful Zero Emission Bus Summit, hosted by the Mayor of London at City Hall, to help local authorities begin to deliver the cleaner, greener buses promised in the Strategy.
In May we launched our The Way Forward is public transport campaign, which aimed to highlight the danger of allowing a car-based recovery to take hold and encouraged people to return to public transport post-lockdown. As always, our supporters have been with us every step of the way, rising to the challenge when called upon. More than a thousand of you sent emails to your MP asking them to back the campaign, resulting in more than half of all MPs receiving an email. The campaign is open ended so expect to see more work in this area. Bus and train passenger numbers remain below what they were pre-pandemic, unlike car traffic – and congestion – which has returned to its former levels meaning we need to keep up the pressure on Government for policies and measures to reduce car use in favour of more sustainable modes of transport.
Back in October we had a bit of fun when I raced my colleague – and former Transport Minister – Norman Baker from London to Glasgow. I lost the toss and got the plane, while Norman got the train journey. It was a surprisingly close-run thing, with my flight only beating his train journey from our start in London to George Square Glasgow by two minutes. A time saving not worth the extra hassle of multiple changes, security checks, cramped cabins and queues! Whilst the race was a bit of fun it had a serious message behind it as Glasgow was set to host the UN Climate Summit, COP26, the following month. The race captured the public’s imagination with just one of our tweets seen almost 250,000 times, and our call for a ban on domestic flights where there is an equivalent rail journey of under five hours caught the media’s attention for weeks.
As well as our train vs plane stunt, we also marked COP26 with a successful panel event at the summit itself with our partners in the Sustainable Transport Alliance. Our work paid off when a last-minute amendment was made to the final COP26 Transport Day declaration to include recognition of the importance of public transport, walking and cycling in tackling climate change.
The law of averages meant we weren’t successful in all our campaigns in 2021. We campaigned hard for a rail fare freeze for this year to help encourage people back into workplaces. Sadly, the Treasury is hoping that higher rail fares will mean more income for the railways and, keen to recoup some of the money spent keeping the wheels turning during the pandemic, has merely delayed the rise until March. We have yet to see any evidence to back up this theory – not for want of asking – with many passengers telling us that any increase in fares will be a key factor in their decision to return to workplaces at all given the ongoing (and potentially) permanent choice between commuting and working from home. We will have to see when fares go up in the Spring if people decide to vote with their feet, or worse still their cars, and abandon the trains. Our campaigning on rail fares isn’t over though and with the long-promised and much needed ‘root and branch’ reform of the whole ticketing system imminent, we will continue to work with rail companies, the Department for Transport and the Rail Delivery Group to ensure the best possible outcome for passengers.
Last year the word unprecedented was used a lot, but it was apt, and this year we continue to deal with the consequences of the pandemic on transport. So, 2022 will be another hugely important year for transport, with the decisions made now having repercussions for generations. As always, we will be doing all we can to steer those decisions towards a sustainable, greener transport future. We can’t do it without you – our supporters and our donors – and we have been busy discussing future financial support from charitable trusts and foundations to maintain our position as the independent people’s champion for better transport. If you don’t already receive our regular campaign updates by email, please sign up today and if you are able to financially support us for another year, or the first time, we appreciate and use each and every gift we receive wisely. Together we can build a green transport future.