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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Metropolitan Mayors Get Transport Powers

One of the interesting aspects of the current Local Elections (we will get on to the General Election later) are comments on local transport oversight being assigned to the new Mayors of Metropolitan districts such as Liverpool/Merseyside, West Midlands and of course Greater Manchester (among other urban conurbations in England).

It appears from interviews and statements by several of the candidates vying for elected Mayoral office that they have in their sights the obvious need to coordinate public transport services. The confusion and profusion of private sector bus companies vying for business on major routes into city centres, and the fall off of interest in providing services to less populated and more rural parts of the urban hinterland - is the nasty downside of public transport deregulation introduced in 1986. This led to the breakup of once efficient and socially concerned municipal bus operations up and down the country. A diminishing number of towns and cities managed to wisely retain control of their urban bus services, but most opted for blandishments from the private sector and usual suspects who moved in to gobble up public assets and service franchises as fast as they could - at highly advantageous sales prices.

Only in London did regulation over services maintain a cohesive and stable system even with different franchised operators taking on the role of London Transport. The consequent mess we now endure alongside it must be said a similar exercise in private sector operated railway franchises, is entirely down to the Conservative Party's fixation on the private sector knows best - and public sector control is wasteful or less efficient - and damn the social consequence.

Perhaps in these newly installed Mayoral Parlours a reversal of this massive mistake may ensue in some of our major cities and urban conglomerations like the West Midlands. Whilst public sector ownership of bus operations is unlikely; at least a semblance of centralised oversight and management for the public interest may emerge to rid city streets of convoys of diesel fume spouting buses (a first step), and rationalisation of services and fare structures benefitting 'hardworking families' and all of us reliant on public transport for our daily lives. Ridding the urban streetscape of multihued buses and replacing them with a conforming feel and flavour of belonging - formerly evident in the proud municipal liveries and emblems of towns and cities (ie communities) would be an important first step.

The tendency these days to daub buses (and trams) with grotesque design studio styling as remote as possible from the communities they serve - has spread across the UK with really awful results divorcing local public transport (and railways) from reality of day to day living. Lisbon, Paris, Budapest, Zurich, Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, are among tram operating cities wedded to longevity and instant association of their trams and buses through maintaining the principal fleet colours known through generations.

In the UK Lothian Transport retains its ' madder and white' fleet livery introduced I believe in the 1920s - whilst Glasgow lost its way after deregulation and morphed its bus operations into a sequence of forgettable styles. Brussels once had its own clean cream based livery which adjusted with the times but at least was a constant until the latest gold and something else daub which consigned over a hundred years of stable vehicle styling to the designer's skip. What would happen in London if something similar was to be attempted and red replaced with blue or green? In fact this was trialled in Sheffield in the early 1950s when the City's transport department ill-advisedly decided to repaint several buses and trams in all over green colours and invited public comment. This it got in shovel fulls. Both green trams and buses were quickly rushed back through the Paint Shop at Queens Road Works to re-emerge in the classic cream and dark blue (prussian?) long associated with Sheffield's transport vehicles. The power of public opinion demonstrated its influence on local politicians in this small episode. Much later it was to have more far reaching consequences as we all know.

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