Modernising transport: active travel, not staff-less trains

Sheffield Green Councillor Martin Phipps outlines what real transport modernisation looks like, reflecting on Grant Shapp’s statement on the rail strikes.

Sheffield train station
Sheffield train station

Image: Michael Thomas / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0

Cllr Martin Phipps

In saying that he is trying to ‘modernise’ the railways, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is trying to cast images of shiny new trains and railways ready for the 21st century. The reality of his ‘modernisation’ is trying to remove the majority of ticket offices, cut back on rail maintenance workers and station staff, and make trains driver only, as well as threatening railway staff with draconian, P&O-style fire and rehire and to take away their democratic right to strike.

As the RMT says: "This is not modernisation; it is the managed decline of our railways where cuts will worsen services for passengers and make the railway less safe and accessible."

All while we need to urgently actually modernise our transport system to reduce carbon emissions in the face of the climate emergency.

As of 2019, transport is the most polluting sector in the UK, producing 27 per cent of the UK's pollution (CO2 equivalent), and with 91 per cent of the transport sector's emissions coming from motor vehicles, a modern transport system must be focused on improving public transport and active travel infrastructure to reduce private car use and reliance.

How to actually modernise rail:

✅ Engage with workforce and unions
⚡ Electrify the North
🚅 Ensure green, regular, reliable and affordable services
🛤️ Invest in local train networks, as well as national and commuter services

— Martin Phipps (@MartinPhipps13) August 2, 2022

In order to do this, real investment is needed in public transport and active travel infrastructure. Much of the North's railway is still awaiting electrification and suffering for it. Sheffield, for example, has no electric trains and is one of the most polluted stations in the country.

Instead of investing £27.4 billion in a road building program, investment should be targeted for regular, affordable, green bus and train services. Like most of the country, the Green Party believes the best way to achieve this is to bring the operators back into public ownership so the services can be run for the benefit of people and the planet, instead of profit for executives and shareholders.

A modern transport system also needs meaningful investment in segregated bike lanes, cycling, walking and active travel infrastructure to enable people to travel safely by active travel for short distances. Changing short distance behaviour from car use to active travel would not only reduce air pollution and save people money, but also has health benefits in itself.

National investment is needed, but local change is possible. Locally, ahead of this May's South Yorkshire mayoral and local elections, Sheffield Green Party members put together a vision of what we want transport to look like in Sheffield and South Yorkshire. Measures like an Employers Workplace Parking Levy can bring significant investment to local transport infrastructure, with it directly raising £9 million a year in Nottingham so far, and helping attract a further £600 million in grant funding.

Victory to the @RMTunion

Great to join striking workers at Liverpool Street Station with @sianberry this morning @TheGreenParty always stands with workers 💚 pic.twitter.com/6Hnk2E1g5K

— Zoë Garbett (@Zoe4Hackney) June 25, 2022

I have been proud to see the Green Party and members standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the RMT on picket lines, opposing Grant Shapps's phoney ‘modernisation’.

A modern transport system is possible, but a completely different approach is needed than the one Grant Shapps is taking, not least actually listening to workers and the unions that represent them.

Up the RMT.

The RMT is asking for donations to their national dispute fund, which makes hardship payments to support striking members taking part in disputes.