London has fantastic public transport, possibly the best in the world. I know it. I envy it. I want something similar in North England’s great cities. I’m helping to build that.
But, to paraphrase Barack Obama, London didn’t build that system. It was built, in its modern form, by huge and sustained UK government investment over many decades, and sweetheart laws made by the UK government in London.
I mention this because I keep being told to learn from London about transport.
“Haha, why’s Manchester’s smartcard crap you stupid Northerners? Just license London’s Oyster”, I’m told by people unaware that to do so outside of London is illegal.
“We’ve got a great ecosystem here, it would be wasteful not to make use of it”, I’m urged by people unaware that Amsterdam, Paris, and Rennes also have great systems, in much more similar and open cities, and that we’re working with these people already.
“Pay for it yourself like London did”, I hear from uninformed commentators with no idea of the privileges they enjoy in the Capital, or that Leeds begged to be allowed to pay its own way on transport and was denied that liberty by the UK government in London.
We need to get real about public transport in this country. The shocking state of it in big cities outside of London is a key reason why the UK’s cities are about 30% poorer than their European counterparts. We’ve pissed about for decades, and I still have far too many meetings with people far too senior within government where we’re still pissing about.
If we seriously want to solve transport and grow our city economies outside of London then we need to get people like me the power and money to take decisions. We need investment, we need regulation, and we need it all to be led, with as few strings attached as possible, from the city regions themselves.
It’s clear to me that we aren’t doing that yet. London is still clinging on. And if London continues to cling to power and money, we will fail just as badly as we have for the past three decades
This must change!