Last month, research published by the North East England Chamber of Commerce (NEECC) and Bond Dickinson made it clear that we all have a part to play in developing an integrated approach as to how we review and improve the public transport offering across our region.
Public transport is a vital enabler of North East England’s economy. In a region with the lowest level of household car ownership outside of London (29 per cent of homes have no access to a car) an efficient, easy-to-use public transport system is essential.
The Public Transport Priorities report, published by the Chamber and Bond Dickinson, highlights the many positive aspects of transport in the region.
Take, for example, the exciting plans for the Metro, which include a new fleet of trains, major investment in infrastructure and the potential for new routes. There is also the promise (subject to the result of the snap general election in June) of additional regional transport funding coming from central government to improve the infrastructure in the North East.
Importantly, however, the report also seeks to bring to the fore those critical transport issues that have been identified by the business community, including the cost of tickets, the reliability of services and the difficulty in making connections between different modes of transport.
Some, if not all, of these issues are already high on the agenda of transport operators and local and central government.
We will soon be seeing new and refurbished trains, as well as extra services across the North as part of the commitments embodied in a large number of the rail franchises that serve our region. And we are already seeing a real commitment from local bus companies to introduce innovative ticketing solutions through the development of mobile, contactless and smart ticketing solutions.
Yet more can be done to make our transport more accessible and more sustainable. If we can get public transport right then there is a real likelihood that this will boost our region’s economy.
Since the report was published, the Chamber and Bond Dickinson hosted an event at which Nigel Foster, director of Strategy at Transport for the North, urged business leaders from across the region to collaborate and communicate so that their voice could be heard on public transport issues.
The event also proved to be a useful reminder of the fact that one of the main aims of the much-discussed Northern Powerhouse is to improve the transport links between the North’s major cities, enabling them to compete together as one major economy, rather than competing against each other. As a region, we must not fail to take this moment seriously.
Yet before we can expect good connections between our neighbours in Yorkshire and the North West, we need to get it right in our own backyard. In short, we have a real opportunity to showcase the transport operations of the North East as a true ‘heavyweight’ of the Northern Powerhouse.
So, I end with a ‘call to arms’ to all businesses across the region to take a more active role in working with the Chamber, local authorities, transport operators and local and central government to explore and, more importantly, deliver on the needs and aspirations for the region’s transport network
Put simply, and using the core message of the Chamber, “together we can be stronger” in formulating the priorities for public transport in the North East.