Speech

We put the travelling public first

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling sets out priorities for the Department for Transport.

The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP

Ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a great pleasure to be here talking to you tonight and to give my first major speech as Transport Secretary. I have to apologise for the fact that I won’t be staying to join you for dinner. All of us, even Secretaries of State, have constituencies to look after – and I also have to be at a constituency event this evening.

Let me start by saying that I am the Transport Secretary who wanted to be Transport Secretary. Many of you will remember that I was on the Select Committee when I was first elected, and a decade ago was Shadow Secretary of State under David Cameron.

For anyone that knows me, or has been in my Parliamentary office, you will know that it is filled with planes, trains and automobiles.

My predecessor Patrick McLoughlin, who has moved on to become Chairman of the Conservative Party, was a brilliant Transport Secretary. I know he was respected throughout the industry, and he led a well-run and happy department. I am hugely indebted to him for leaving me a great inheritance.

So who am I as Transport Secretary?

Well I am one of your customers.

I catch the train to work most days.

I drive around the country.

I use buses, trams and the tube.

I fly overseas on a range of airlines.

I have to confess to not having been a cyclist since my university days. But I think the revolution taking place in cycling is good for Britain.

I am someone who thinks our transport system is pretty good. We tend to think that other countries do it better.

But if you go to Paris these days, you quickly realise that we are easily as well served by our trains, buses and tubes in London.

We tend to hear that we have fewer miles of motorways than many other countries. But if you travel on roads like the A14 and the A50, you quickly realise that many of our major non-motorway trunk roads are just as good as the motorways in other countries.

Indeed if they were in France, these roads would be labelled as motorways.

The polling shows that the majority of people are happy with their experience of our transport system.

That’s largely thanks to you, and the outstanding work you do.

If anyone needed proof of the improvements going on all over the transport network, then they need look no further than these awards this evening.

But.

And there are some very big buts.

I am also one of the customers who sits on delayed trains wondering what on earth is going on.

I am one of the motorists who sits in a traffic jam because of a poorly designed junction ahead, or a lack of adequate information to tell me to take a different route.

I am one of the passengers who queues at a machine in the morning to buy a paper ticket, and yet I can buy my lunch with my mobile phone, in the one of the oldest parliaments in the world.

We may have the very best of the transport world gathered here this evening.

But out there, there is a lot still to do.

When I arrived in the department, I gave my team a very simple message.

We put the travelling public first.

Our focus should be constantly on how we improve things for the motorist and the passenger, or for the businesses who depend on our transport system. If we are planning to do something that doesn’t make a difference for them, then we should be asking ourselves long hard questions about why we are doing it in the first place.

Of course it’s not always easy. The Southern Rail issue brought that home to me very quickly. More on that later.

But every one of us in this room needs to be a champion of our customers.

It’s sometimes perhaps tempting to think of the transport sector as running infrastructure. I want everyone to think differently. We are running what is, and always should be, a large customer service business. The customer should always be our priority.

So I want today to set out some of the priorities I have given the department to build on the excellent legacy I have inherited from my predecessors.

The first thing to say is that I already believe we are making a difference.

Projects that have been needed for years are now happening.

Upgrading to motorway standard the last non-motorway section of the M1/A1(M) between London and Newcastle.

The link road between the M6 and the M56 to relieve the A556.

The electrification of the Great Western Mainline.

£340 million of improvements to Liverpool’s rail network.

Approval for a new taxiway at London City Airport.

And there are many more to come.

We will soon move ahead with improvements to the A14 from Cambridge to Huntingdon.

We’ll electrify the Trans-Pennine rail route.

We are heading into the home straight with Crossrail.

New trains are on the way for East Anglia and the north of England.

Planning approval has just been announced for the latest expansion of the Manchester Metrolink.

And we’ll shortly announce our decision on new runway capacity for the south-east.

But I have asked my team to look at our capital programme again to make sure it really is going to make a difference to the travelling public. We should not be spending money on projects that don’t.

On the roads our focus should be congestion busting for both the public and business users - and opening up the developments that will help the next generation get on the housing ladder.

On the railways, our focus should be creating extra capacity on a system that really is bursting at the seams.

So for me, longer trains, longer platforms, new road junctions to ease traffic jams, by-passes and simple schemes to integrate our transport system are just as important as the grand projects that catch the headlines.

So whilst we will begin work building HS2 next year, and we will continue to shape plans for better east-west links in the north and across the Thames east of London, you should expect more schemes that are barely worth a mention in the media, but still change lives around the country.

But change needs to be about much more than building things.

I want to set out for you tonight 3 changes that are long overdue to help passengers on our transport system.

Firstly, if people pay for a service they should expect to receive it. On a congested transport system, not everything will ever be perfect. Every one of us among the travelling public have to be a little patient on occasions. And things will go wrong which are beyond anyone’s control.

The burst water main.

The collapsed sewer.

The trackside fire.

A tragic accident.

None of the people who work on our transport system are to blame when these things happen.

And when the system is as crowded as it is today, when things do go wrong, the knock on effects are often quick.

But the travelling public still have a right to expect that the system will work for them and not against them.

That’s particularly true on our railways. I will have much to say about the operation of our railways over the coming weeks. But for tonight I want to focus on the customer who suffers long delays and a disrupted day.

I get the emails from them, rightly asking why they should have to pay a not insignificant price for a service that doesn’t work.

I agree with them.

So I am announcing tonight that we will change the way that compensation works on our railways, and that we will immediately start the process of introducing what is known as Delay Repay 15.

What that means in the real world is that right now you are entitled to compensation if your train is half an hour late.

We will now move to a system where that compensation starts after a fifteen minute delay.

And you will not be surprised to learn that the first routes to see the new system will be those operated by Govia Thameslink Railway - which includes Southern.

Delay Repay 15 will begin as quickly as possible, and will become easier for passengers next year when smart card users will be emailed by the operator and told when to claim compensation.

It will then be rolled out in stages across the whole railway, starting with the South Western, West Midlands and South Eastern franchises.

But this isn’t just about train operators.

Often, when things go wrong, it’s down to Network Rail and problems with the tracks.

Network Rail already compensates the train companies for delays it causes through its own scheme.

I want this to be improved so passenger interests are put first.

I will be asking the rail regulator to make this a priority.

Let me also say a brief word about the situation on Southern.

I feel enormously for the passengers suffering disruption on a regular basis.

When I became Secretary of State, I said it would be top of my priority list. It was, and is.

I was not satisfied with the way the routes were being run. And not just by GTR. By Network Rail as well. That’s why I sent in Chris Gibb to drive the integration of the 2 teams to make sure it is a better and more responsive railway. It’s also why I asked Network Rail to spend an extra £20 million on making the route more resilient. That work is happening now.

But we all know that this isn’t the biggest part of the problem. I don’t want to make a great speech about rail unions tonight. And we have great and dedicated staff operating our railways all round the country.

But we are living in an age of technological revolution. New opportunities are opening up all the time. The ways of working of a decade ago, let alone a generation ago, no longer apply. Jobs will change. You can’t in today’s world hang on the way things used to be.

Albeit, some of our union leaders would have stopped modernisation in the steam era!

I believe in a growing railway. I expect the railways to employ at least as many people in the future as they do now in good well paid jobs.

But to disrupt the lives of passengers to protect the old ways of working is simply not acceptable in today’s world. Those who want to hang on to the past have no place in the railway of the future.

My second priority is ticketing.

In a digital age we should not be so reliant on outdated ticket machines and paper tickets.

We should not need to queue to get a ticket before getting onto the train.

We should be able to travel everywhere with the flick of a card or more probably a touch of the mobile phone.

Yet in too many parts of our rail network that simply isn’t the case.

As I said earlier, I buy my lunch with my mobile phone. But I still have to queue for a ticket in the morning.

So I am setting my department and the industry a clear goal.

It has taken far too long to replicate the flexibility of the Oyster Card in London across the whole rail network.

I want commuters around the country to have access to smart season tickets – without the risk of an expensive season ticket getting torn, wet, lost or damaged.

I want a season ticket that is intelligent, and opens up better and targeted information to regular travellers – for example, letting them know if their preferred train is running late.

I want a simple system to buy a ticket on your mobile phone, that removes the need to queue up and that can be bought in the comfort of a passenger’s home, on the bus, or while they are having a coffee at the station

There’s some good development work happening around the industry.

A lot of it by innovators here tonight.

But it’s taking far too long.

I am keen to see more progress and results for passenger in the next 2 years.

By the end of 2018, my aim is for every passenger to have the choice of travelling without a paper ticket.

So I am establishing a special project team in the department, under senior leadership, to work with the industry and sort this out. I see no reason why much of this cannot be introduced within the next 2 years. That should be our goal.

I also recognise that the fares system is complicated and illogical, and the impact this has on people’s trust in the railway.

So I have asked the Rail Minister to work with the industry to consider what could be done quickly to help passengers find and choose the best ticket for their journey.

I also want him to establish what can be done to simplify the system.

To help passengers plan their journey.

And to get useful information like how busy their train’s likely to be.

As a first step, he is working with the industry and with Which? to develop an action plan to drive improvements in the near term.

There’s a third part of what we need to do to improve the passenger and traveller experience.

There is a digital revolution taking place in our society. It is already providing much more for the travelling public. Whether it’s real-time information at bus stops. Or the information signs on our motorways. Or the National Rail app that tells me exactly where my morning train has got to.

But the potential is much much greater.

And the need is greater too.

I recently had an email from a motorist complaining that he had been delayed for hours on a blocked motorway, when there had been no warning when he joined it.

And yet I get texts from o2 on my mobile about the best deals available in the area I am walking through.

The technology exists to give drivers vital information on their journeys – quickly, efficiently and safely.

So we should be using it more.

We need to be much smarter about how we get information to motorists. Digital technology will let us do much more than those two-dimensional motorway signs, however much of an improvement they may be from the past.

And that same technology will let us be smarter about how we use the data we gather to improve the flow of traffic on the roads.

With Uber planning a world of flexible public transport – with driverless multi-passenger vehicles assembling routes and collecting passengers as they go – we should be doing the same - looking at how technology can improve rural transport, gathering real time information about demand and shaping services accordingly.

Above all, we should look to provide the best possible deal and service to the traveller.

In all of this I don’t want to forget our freight and haulage sector.

It’s not just about the travelling public. The freight industry are customers too.

The digital revolution ahead will make it easier to manage logistics. The increased capacity that comes with investment in the rail network, and the biggest modernisation programme of our trunk road system for a generation will make it easier to transport goods around the country.

But a capital programme that also deals with smaller challenges can make a big difference. Whether it’s an extra railway track into a port, or a new junction for a major manufacturing centre, we will be talking to, listening to and acting on the needs of our freight sector.

Whether it’s spending money on our roads and railways, handing over powers to local authorities, supporting new technologies and harnessing the digital revolution, I have one single test.

Does it make life easier, quicker, better for the user of our transport system.

If it does, we should try to do it.

If it does not, we should not.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I’ve talked a lot tonight about the challenges we face.

But tonight is really about celebration.

The reason you are here is because you are shining examples of what can be achieved.

Local authorities and operators working together to make bus travel better.

Cities transforming cycling infrastructure and saving lives on our roads.

Airports and ports connecting Britain with markets all around the world.

We’ve got suppliers here spearheading new technologies to make transport cleaner, more efficient, and more integrated.

We’ve got major construction firms who are helping deliver the biggest infrastructure plan for generations.

And I’m delighted to see several shortlisted teams here tonight who are working to speed up smart ticketing.

So I congratulate you all.

For putting the customer at the heart of your work.

And for demonstrating that we can make transport better.

Much better.

You are an inspiration to the whole industry.

And I wish you all the very best for the rest of the evening.

Thank you.

Published 14 October 2016