Life in Politics column by Fabian Hamilton MP: Transport failures hitting working people
Public transport in Leeds, and across West Yorkshire, is in dire straits.
The Government’s unprecedented focus on London has forced working people in Leeds to suffer immensely, after severe cuts to all local government budgets in the north of England. This, alongside a 3.2 percent increase in train fares, is almost pricing commuters out of their own jobs. The current system is taking advantage of workers that have no choice but to use public transport and remain in their jobs – or face the possibility of becoming unemployed. After the recent rail chaos, increasing fares even further is a brutal way to rub salt in the wounds of understandably outraged train travellers.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University recently concluded that people from poorer communities in Leeds see the cost and inefficiency of local public transport systems as a significant barrier to employment.
Damning testimonies such as this, coupled with a lack of wage growth, shows that the Transport Secretary is living in denial.
Instead of facing up to the fact that he has ultimately failed West Yorkshire, Chris Grayling continues to pass the buck, blaming trade unions, transport workers, and even customers themselves. He has called for rail workers’ salaries to be capped, but will sit back as fares skyrocket into unaffordability. However, the Transport Secretary is now running out of people to blame, as Leeds grinds to a costly halt owing to the lack of a comprehensive rail-based public transport system.
Leeds is now the largest city in Europe to not have a rail-based public transport system, such as a metro, tram or underground service.
Lisbon, for example, currently boasts one of the most efficient metro rail services in the world. The fact that Leeds is around five times larger than the Portuguese capital, and lacks such a system, is testament to the failures of the current London-centric Government, which spends £419 per head more on London transport than public transport in the north of England. However, Yorkshire’s transport woes are part of a much wider problem.
The Government is lacking any will to invest in the north, remaining complacent as its austerity agenda continues to destroy local government funding.
Denying devolution and forcing local councils to make difficult financial decisions to keep frontline services running has been central to the disintegration of customer confidence in Yorkshire’s public transport.
An annual rail season ticket for people travelling from Huddersfield to Leeds now costs £1,412. A sizeable chunk of anybody’s income for an inefficient, privately owned rail service which is proving extremely detrimental to anyone with already costly overheads.
Just getting to work should not put this kind of financial strain on anybody, but without a publicly owned rail-based transport system and an end to the consistent drive by companies to put profit first, it’s almost impossible to do anything else.
Leeds is fast approaching a social crisis over continuous public transport failures and a lack of leadership in the Department for Transport in Whitehall. The transport gap between London and Yorkshire is now at breaking point, as commuters face a stubborn governmental attitude that puts consumer needs, passenger welfare and affordability at the bottom of the pile.
Fabian Hamilton is the Labour MP for Leeds North East.