Conurbation con fus
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THE MINISTER'S NATIONAL PLAN WILL PRECEDE DECISIONS ON MUNICIPALIZING THE LTB OR NATIONALIZING SCOTTISH MUNICIPAL SERVICES
By Derek Moses
WT`HE suggestion that the Greater 1. London Council should assume control of the London Transport Board was merely a bit of kite-flying on the part of Sir William Fiske, the council's leader," an executive of a leading Home Counties bus operator told me last week. It could well be, but it is nevertheless in line with the Government's avowed policy towards urban traffic and transport problems, as laid down in Mrs. Barbara Castle's White Paper. I quote from the White Paper, paragraph 49:
"One thing is now clear. The urban traffic and transport problems can be successfully tackled only by a combination of policies. It is not enough simply to concentrate on more roads or tough traffic management or improvements in the public transport services. All these are needed as part of integrated policies worked out for each town and region. Nor is it possible to solve transport problems in isolation. Town planning and transport planning must go hand in hand as the proposals put forward by the Planning Advisory Group stress. The land use/transportation studies and traffic surveys now being carried out in the conurbations and in larger towns provide the basis for this planning, but the Government must provide the proper framework within which local authorities can act."
In the light of such a statement, Sir William's remarks, however much an expression of personal opinion, become much more than mere kite-flying. For the GLC to assume control of LTB would be a logical development—politically, if not practically. And some people might say that we are governed by idealists, rather than realists. People I have spoken to on this subject during the past few days have not taken the proposal too seriously. This, I believe, is a serious mistake.
Many question marks hang over the future of London Transport should the GLC take control. How far would this control go? What would the London Transport user stand to gain? Would the GLC be responsible for day-to-day management, or merely dictate overall policy? Would the overburdened London ratepayer have to pay more to subsidize the service if it could not pay its way? All these questions must be answered.
Advantages claimed for the take-over are that, in line with the White Paper, traffic management and roads would come under the same roof as transport. Traffic management could therefore be made much more helpful to buses and planning authorities would have more say in the routeing of new tube lines. Interchange arrangements could be improved at mainline stations.
But why is it necessary to take over the London Transport Board to do all this? Would such a change of control lead to lower fares? Or a stabilization of existing fares? I doubt it—unless the ratepayer is brought in to foot the bill. It is nonsense to suggest—as has been suggested—that greater priority can only be given to buses if the buses are owned by the GLC.
Provided that proper consultation took place, the same ends could be achieved within the existing framework. Perhaps an overlord, as suggested by the Conservative group on the GLC, with powers to convene meetings between the LTB, British Railways, the GLC and the Metropolitan Police, would be a much quicker and at least as effective a solution. London Transport has already started consultations with the bodies mentioned and the Ministry of Transport with greater co-ordination in view.
Two years ago I might have advocated a GLC takeover myself—in fact I believe I made just that suggestion. I felt that anything to inject a bit of new life into the LTB at that time would have been welcome. But a great wind of change has blown through 55 Broadway since then and the present is perhaps the worst possible time to interfere. On its own initiative and with a certain amount of co-operation from the busmen, the LTB has produced a farreaching plan to modernize and streamline its operations. Politics must not be allowed to stand in the way of this project or in any way delay its implementation. It is long overdue.
A Move to Merge
Meanwhile, there are reports that exactly the reverse procedure might happen in Scotland. A plan has been submitted to the Ministry of Transport proposing the merger of the country's four municipal passenger transport undertakings with the State-owned Scottish Bus Group.
This time it is the national bus officers of the Transport and General Workers' Union who are flying the kite. Scotland would, in their plan, be an experimental pilot scheme prior to the establishment of a national bus authority. It is understood that discussions have already taken place with Mrs. Castle.
Glasgow is already known to be in favour of leasing its transport system to the Scottish Bus Group; transport officials in Dundee and Aberdeen are reported to have welcomed the proposals, although Mr. Russell, general manager of Dundee, told COMMERCIAL MOTOR that his undertaking had received no official approach and he had no comment to make.
Edinburgh is not taking the TGWU plan too seriously, being much more concerned with its future in regard to the national policy towards conurbation areas.
The most sinister part of the TGWU proposals towards Scotland is the taking over of small privately-owned rural services and merging them with the State-owned group. Mr. Morris, secretary of the Scottish branch of the Passenger Vehicle Operators Association told me on Friday that the plan was all hearsay and there was no truth in it. Such a takeover could not come about until the necessary legislation had been passed, he considered.
Many operators must be bemused by all this, and looking for guidance. The only help I can offer at this stage is that a Ministry of Transport spokesman told me this week that Mrs. Castle will not approve any plans such as the Glasgow take-over plan, the TGWU Scottish plan— and presumably also the GLC take-over proposal—until an announcement is made with respect to the national plan for conurbation areas.
When will this national plan be announced? At the moment, it is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, operators must keep on their toes and make their representations to the Minister. • As Mr. Little said at the PTA annual dinner, passenger transport is most successful when organized in modestly sized local units.