Archive for Transport

Tom hits out at Arriva’s ‘double whammy’ of service cuts and fare increases

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (December 30th) hit out at what he called a ‘double whammy’ landed on local bus passengers by multi-national transport giant, Arriva, who are simultaneously planning service cuts in East Cleveland and fare increases.

Tom said:
“Arriva are yet again abusing their monopoly power in East Cleveland by both planning to cut services in Guisborough and, from next Sunday, putting in place higher fares for those buses still running.

“Arriva – although they have not yet properly told local bus users – are looking to cuts in in their services in Guisborough from February. They are going to reduce the service on the 81 route from Guisborough Market Place to Hutton Gate to hourly from the present half-hourly. I oppose this as it limits public transport links for people in the Farndale Drive area – an area that will soon be seeing significant new housing development with a need for transport links. They are also planning to basically axe the section of the 28 bus that serves the Hunters Hill estate, and only keep one or two peak hour buses. Again, this cuts our bus services for a large estate on the edge of Guisborough, hitting many elderly people dependent on the bus network there and Belmont Primary School.

“Only with last minute information for passengers they are announcing new fare increases from next Sunday – the 5th January. It’s not as if Arriva are cash-strapped, it is the opposite, they are highly profitable – with fare money from local bus users going back to their HQ in Germany. It seems that such increases are happening ever more frequently, and some passengers might feel that these increases are now more regular than their buses.

“I have made my feelings known to Arriva, asking them to think again on these services cuts, but have yet to receive a reply. Even at the 11th hour I would ask Arriva to think again and act to keep their bus service lifeline open for their Guisborough customers, and to keep bus travel affordable for passengers who are either on fixed incomes or pegged wages.”

Tom attacks findings of London Airports Commission as ‘a kick in the teeth for regional airports like Durham Tees Valley’

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop today (8th October 2013) hit out at the first interim findings of the Commission set up to look at Airport capacity in the South East for what he called “simply dismissing the case for regional airports”.

In their first report, released today, Commission Chairman Howard Davies, said that the South East of England will need more runway capacity in the years to come, and to reply on existing UK runways would lead to “a distinctly sub-optimal solution”.

In a speech, Sir Howard said that “regional airports are already serving their local markets effectively but it is difficult to see how they can absorb all the excess demand.”

Tom said:
“This is a pure and simple kick in the teeth for Britain’s regional airports, like our own one, Durham Tees Valley. Britain is a small country, and there is no reason why all the eggs and the goodies have to be put into the South East basket.

“DTVA has one of the longest runways in the nation with a location literally minutes away from the A1 and the A19 and a main line railway running past, it has serious potential for air freight as a way of taking pressure off of airports like Heathrow and Gatwick should be obvious to anyone.

“Now we see the man who was supposed to be taking a strategic look at UK airport capacity, dismissing the DVTA case at the very same time that its owners, Peel Airports, are looking to a new application to the Government’s Regional Growth Fund for expansion. This is plain crazy, and I would hope Mr Davies thinks again about his interim conclusions.”

Unveiling of first East Coast Main Line bidders shows that a Coalition fire sale could lead to Teessiders feather bedding Euro financiers

‘The news of the first declaration from a bidder for the East Coast Main Line shows that another British asset may be sold overseas’. That was the reaction today (September 30th 2013) from local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, to the announcement that a partnership of French transport conglomerate, Keolis, and Eurostar were preparing to bid for the line that serves as a vital transport link for Teesside and the wider North East.

Tom said:
“The reality is that after the last private owner for the line threw in the towel and handed back the keys to the Government the line has been publicly run and it is both successful and profitable. So why put this part of our national infrastructure, one which pays for overall transport improvements elsewhere, out to tender at all? It is positively perverse.

“I can’t help but think that this is yet another Coalition fire sale. If it was to go through it would mean that Teesside rail passengers will be paying to underpin French dividend holders. Surely this is wrong?

“I also think that this was deliberately timed to be slipped out when George Osborne was trying to grab the headlines at the Conservative Party Conference and is yet another example of the Coalition looking for a good day to bury bad news. I would hope that our two local MPs backing the coalition – James Wharton, who represents Stockton South for the Tories and Ian Swales who sits for the Lib Dems in Redcar – will put local passengers before partisan politics when this matter comes before the House of Commons.”

Tom hits out at highway robbery as the North loses out on Government road repair funding

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (September 5th 2013) hit out at new spending figures released by the Department for Transport which showed that local councils on Teesside and the North of England have lost out on over £120m for road repairs, whist more cash has again been allocated to London and the South East.

New figures released this week by the Department for Transport (DfT) reveal councils across the North have received on average 15% less funding for road maintenance per head of population than their southern counterparts since the start of 2011/12.

Tom said:
“These figures clearly show that councils in the North have been short changed on cash for road repairs, safety enhancements and day to day highway maintenance. As a whole, northern councils would have received an additional £124.5m over the past three years for repairing local roads had they enjoyed the same per capita funding as those in the South.

“In total, northern councils received £736.9m for pothole repairs over the three-year period – equating to £51.24 per head of population. Councils in the South received £1.2bn over the same 
period, equating to £59.90 per head, despite drivers in the north having, on average, to make longer journeys from place to place for work, shopping or family visits.

“This is nothing more than naked highway robbery of tax and council tax payers in areas like ours.  A poorly maintained road or crumbling highway surface is far more dangerous to road users than ones receiving regular planned maintenance. The motto seems to be that the Government are looking after their own backyard in the leafy suburbs of the South, whilst we here in the North are left to endure potholes and collapsed verges.”

Local bus service decline borne out by report

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (24th June 2013) said that he ‘totally agreed’ with a report from a cross-party House of Commons Committee who have argued that funding for local bus services should be protected in the Spending Review. The report came from the House of Commons Environmental Audit committee in advance of the Spending Review on Wednesday.

The Committee urged the Department for Transport to focus more closely on improving accessibility as well as on supporting the economy. It recommends that existing transport funding should be better coordinated and directed to accessibility-focused initiatives, and the social value of transport explicitly considered in policy-making.

Tom said:
“This report shows that tight budgets, reductions in bus services, increases in fares and a further concentration of public services are worsening transport accessibility for vulnerable groups and people. Accessibility statistics show travel times to key services steadily increasing over time, particularly for access to hospitals — with nearly half of the population not having reasonable access for treatment.

“We all know how bad local services are on Teesside and in East Cleveland now, with the local bus monopoly delivering cuts in services, reductions in service intervals and increased fares.

“If the Chancellor cuts funding for bus services this week he will be making life harder for the young adults, pensioners, disabled and rural people that are already disadvantaged by the poor provision of affordable public transport in this area. Lots of local people have no option but to rely on buses to get to job interviews or work, attend college or training, visit hospital or access other public services.

“The Government must concentrate on coordinating – not cutting – bus services and making sure fares are affordable so as to ensure everyone has access to jobs and public services.”

New study shows that local complaints about aging trains and poor service are correct and justified

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, says complaints from local rail travellers about elderly trains and poor service are both ‘totally justified’ and ‘are directly linked to the privatisation model run by the coalition government’.

Tom said this as a new academic report on the state of Britain’s railways was published today.

Tom said:
“This report, underwritten by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and undertaken by Manchester University, is damning. It shows that train operators rely on taxpayer subsidy, increasingly ageing and overcrowded trains and high fares – indeed the highest fares per kilometre in Europe.

“Over recent months I have been getting letters from constituents complaining about the ageing trains used by Northern Rail on their local routes from Saltburn and Nunthorpe to Middlesbrough, Darlington and Newcastle. These are called ‘pacer’ trains, built by British Rail in the early 1980’s as a stopgap measure for new carriages and were only envisaged as having a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. Thirty three years on, they are still running and with no sign of any improvement or new rolling stock coming into service. Potentially, as sections of the Disability Discrimination Act come into force, these trains may well be illegal by 2019 yet there seems to be no sign of change.

“This is simply down to the privatisation model used by the Government, which allows Train Operators to pile up dividends for institutional shareholders at the expense of public user investment. Northern Rail are no exception; with a total revenue in the last year of £570.6 million, itself underpinned by taxpayer subsidy of £428.1 million, it made a net profit of £27.6 million. All of which was translated into dividends for shareholders.

“To make it worse, the Abellio half of the Serco Abellio group who run Northern Rail are a subsidiary of the Dutch National Railways – so a good proportion of these profits are being shipped to the Netherlands and underwriting another country’s state rail service.

“This report is a valuable piece of evidence for the need for change on both national and local railways. Local passengers are suffering from privatisation and need a break. These are issues which I will be bringing to the attention of Labour’s Shadow Transport Ministers so that local train users can be confident that change can be planned for and happen.”

Putting out Teesside’s rail link to London is an ‘unwanted madness’

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (March 26th 2013) said the Department for Transport announcement that they intend to put up the East Coast Main Line – the line linking the North East and Teesside to London and Edinburgh – was an ‘unwanted madness’.

Tom said:
“This incoherent announcement has left me speechless.  No-one – not a single constituent – has complained to me that they are worried that the line is still in public ownership, and that it should again be privatised.

“Rail users are happy with the service, which has been back in public ownership for some years, and with surpluses from the operation going back to benefit the railway as a whole.

“People are concerned, but about things like the Bedroom Tax and continuing high unemployment, these are the issues the government should be acting on, not a needless privatisation.

“The timing of the announcement is madness too.  At the moment the rest of the UK’s franchise programme has been delayed, with temporary extensions to most franchises, due to the shambles the government created with the West Coast re-tendering.  This is likely to end up in the courts, something which I suspect will mean the government having to alter the way it puts out tenders for franchises.

“If the East Coast tendering is put out now, it may well have to be revised as a result of any judgement, and this again will simply be more cash down the drain.

“The present East Coast line is both successful and well-managed and it should stay that way. It should not, and must not, become a toy for the ideological obsessions of Coalition Transport Ministers.”

Tom to highlight concerns over the costs of public transport on Teesside in debate

Tom Blenkinsop MP will use an Opposition Day debate tomorrow (9th January 2013) to voice his concerns over the rising cost of public transport.

Tom’s timely speech will come during the same week as bus operator, Arriva, increase fares across many parts of the North East.

Ahead of the debate Tom said:
“Bus passengers on Teesside are being taken for a ride again, this time to deliver yet another fare increase for cash rich bus giant Arriva, a firm which has a virtual monopoly on routes in my constituency. This is part of a dismal pattern which has been in place since the de-regulation introduced by a past Tory Government.

“My campaign last year calling on Arriva to ‘Freeze the Fares’ was well supported by people from all across Teesside. Unfortunately, Arriva failed to listen and residents have every right to feel aggrieved at yet another fare increase.

“The yearly rises do not correlate with the results visible to my constituents namely: the erosion of local routes with minimal notice; a steady decrease in operating hours; huge barriers being erected by cash rich bus giants against small operators who want to provide a genuine local service and a tendency to constantly demand higher subsidies from cash-strapped local councils.

“This should not come as a surprise to the Government. In 2010 a report by the Transport Select Committee warned that Teesside and North Yorkshire were among the parts of the country worst affected by bus cuts, and that matters were to get worse unless there were changes in the policy regime for local bus services.

“On a human level these cuts over the years have prevented people from taking up jobs offered to them, visiting sick relatives, shopping and going to college. These are personal tragedies and personal losses for local people and, cumulatively, the area we live in.”

Tom to vote for freeze on New Year fuel duty

Local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, will today (12th November) join Labour colleagues in supporting a motion that calls for the planned fuel duty hike in January to be postponed.

Tom said:
“The planned 3p hike in January comes at a time when family finances are most stretched following the Christmas and New Year period on top of the recent massive hike on gas and electricity bills by energy firms . So acting now would give relief to motorists, small businesses, families and pensioners in my constituency who are feeling the squeeze as prices rise faster than wages, the record high VAT, and cuts to tax credits and child benefit.

“Whilst the Chancellor may be hinting at a freeze that is simply not enough as families need to plan ahead with their finances. So this vote offers the Government the opportunity to provide peace of mind for millions of people up and down the country and I hope MPs from all parties will stand up for their constituents and back our call for the freeze.”

Government failing Teesside by their refusal to grant RGF money to Durham Tees Valley Airport

Labour Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, has today “slammed” the decision made by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to not award RGF round 3 funding to Durham Tees Valley Airport to develop its freight capacity.

Tom said:
“It is no secret that Durham Tees Valley Airport have been struggling for some years now, but I have always thought it has potential to develop its freight operations. As such, it is really disappointing that Whitehall mandarins and Tory and Lib Dem Ministers have decided not to award the Airport the £6,000,000 it needed to create up to 1,500 jobs.

“It is such a shame that these decisions are not being made regionally, as they were under Regional Development Agencies, but instead by people in London who fail to understand our sub-regional economy’s unique needs.

“This is just another instance where Teesside is missing out in terms of vital infrastructure spend at the hands of this Government, with them previously having failed to announce any electrification of railway between Northallerton and Middlesbrough, despite their planning to electrify the vast majority of the TransPennine route.

“It appears that the Tories and Lib Dems have little interest in investing in our infrastructure on Teesside, something that I consider vital for our economy to grow. Next week, I will be asking Transport Ministers in Parliament what discussions, if any, they had with the Business Ministers responsible for RGFs about supporting this bid, and will be urging the Government to give Durham Tees Valley Airport the funding and support it needs.”