When New Labour came to power in 1997, one of the benefits it promised - and it was much talked about at the time - was a "joined- up" transport policy, a rationally thought-through national transportation system. Now we find that train and bus costs are soaring while car costs are plunging, and whatever that might be, joined up it surely isn't. What's gone wrong?
Despite the rhetoric, Labour stuck with the basic attitudes to transport it had inherited from the Tories, especially on the fundamental issue: should public transport be thought of as a social service, or a profit-making business?
The Tories firmly believed it should be a business, standing or falling by the dictates of the market. They deregulated the bus industry; they privatised the railways (while privatising British Airways into the bargain). They wanted to reduce state subsidies, and they wanted the disciplines and benefits of competition.
Well, competition can give you some benefits, such as increased efficiency, but as we have learnt to our cost it doesn't give you a clean environment, and neither does it give you transport convenience or a national transport network. If the prime object of a bus or train company is to maximise shareholder return, why should it provide a service to your out-of-the way village if that service makes a loss? …