I have just completed my third year as your MP. As I have said before, to represent the community I have been a resident of for the last twelve years is a great privilege for me. There can be few constituencies as rich in coastal, rural, community and cultural tapestry as this one. So many of you are involved in standing up for your community and caring for its residents. I have been supported in most which I have tried to do, and not just by those who were good enough to vote for me. As for many in the workplace, this job is challenging at times but my desire to work with others to deliver better services and opportunities for us all remains undiminished.
Over the last three years, transport issues have taken up a large amount of my time. Recognising how badly we fare with our infrastructure, I sought election to the Transport Select Committee. Last week I spent about 20 hours on committee business because so much is going on. Rail, Buses and Airports are the current themes.
On Monday, we opened our inquiry on rail timetable changes. The new timetable should have been a positive event, with over 400 extra services and the introduction of more carriages. Instead, for passengers in north and south, it was a disaster. With the rail system fragmented, but tending to cover itself with industry collective responsibility, it is incredibly difficult to work out what went wrong and who was at fault. This is where our committee scrapes away until we can get the answers. This is essential because we have another big timetable change this December. Having met the day before with the outgoing Chief Executive of Network Rail, I was determined to find out from those we grilled who did what and why it was not joined up.
On airports, all MPs will be voting this Monday to decide if Heathrow should be given the green light for a third runway. Airport expansion is needed because we will run out of capacity by 2030. I am a big supporter of Gatwick, whose Chief Executive I met this week, but the current option before us is whether Heathrow expands as Gatwick has already been ruled out. Following our Select Committee inquiry, I will be voting to allow Heathrow to expand. I am really proud that our report, with its recommendations, has been largely accepted in principle by Heathrow and the Government. This will help residents and passengers with better transport access as well as reducing noise and pollution. This vote could go either way hence our report, which backs expansion provided these aspects are fixed, is seen as a neutral pointer for other MPs. Even if Heathrow expands, I hope that Gatwick will continue to grow. Passenger numbers have increased by 50% in one year and it now employs 85,000 people. For many constituents, Gatwick is not only a gateway abroad but their source of income and I am keen to support it as well as voting for Heathrow expansion.
On buses, we have just set the terms of our inquiry. I am keen to look at how we can persuade the Government to ensure that bus services cannot be terminated without a six month protection on the route allowing others to step in (similar to the protection afforded to pubs). I am also keen to find out why my constituents have to wait until they are 65 years old for a free bus pass whereas in London it is given at 60. For the young, who also lose out compared to Londoners, why do they have to pay adult fares for bus and rail travel after 16 years old when they are now required to stay on in education until they reach 18 years of age? Many question the profits made by train companies but their margin is just over 2%. For bus companies, it is about 12%. Much to get our teeth into.
I take my place on the Transport Select Committee because these issues impact us all locally. On the train in this week, I spent 30 minutes with the conductor who had some great ideas. I spoke of these in a debate the same day. I hope constituents will continue to provide me with the challenges, ideas and support to get some action over the years to come.