Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and other modes of transport)

In the House with Huw Merriman SUS-151007-132058001
In the House with Huw Merriman SUS-151007-132058001

This week, my Transport anorak has been well worn, in Parliament and outside. On Monday, our Transport Select Committee continued its inquiry into urban congestion. We heard evidence from the car, cycling and tram lobby. All, naturally, want more of a share of the urban streets for themselves. This inquiry is helpful for me as I am currently working to see how we can relieve congestion in Little Common. Traffic has increased by 20% since the Link Road was opened. A by-pass is the obvious answer but there may be other techniques we can adopt.

On Tuesday, our Committee was assisting the Petitions Committee who had received a large petition from young people calling for Parliament to cap their car insurance premiums. Before us were the RAC and various leading figures from the insurance industry. This came on the day insurers were warning that premiums could double due to a Government decree that large lump-sum insurance payments would have to increase due to low interest rates. I had a lively exchange with insurance bosses on this point. They could not tell me how premiums would double when the overall amounts insurers would pay would not multiply by two. My suspicion was fuelled by the alarming warnings being issued only one day after the Government’s decision, and an admission to me that there was no evidence available yet to back up the headlines. It must have been a lively exchange as I am told it ended up on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today in Parliament’.

On Wednesday, members of the Committee visited the team at Southern Rail and rode in a train cab in order to view the camera technology which is allowing drivers, rather than conductors, to close the doors. I had asked for this trip last November but the strikes led to cancellations (as constituents will know only too well). Each carriage has a camera fixed to it and the driver has a monitor showing a picture per carriage. We viewed the older type of monitor which is being upgraded. Having viewed the monitors with the driver, it was perfectly clear to me when passengers were using the doors and when it was clear for the driver to close them. We also saw the technology which signals to the driver should anything be trapped in a door. We asked plenty of questions, about the staff and passengers who have problems with mobility. I left satisfied that the opinion of the rail regulator, that the practice is safe, seemed logical to me. We are meeting the train drivers union next so they can persuade me I am wrong.

Later that day, I spent four hours in the chamber debating the new Buses Bill. Our committee had written a report with recommendations to amend the bill so I enjoyed getting to the detail. The bill was generally well supported, across all parties, as a means to shake up the industry. Brighton & Hove Bus Company have increased passengers by 5% each year since 2003. It is this type of innovation we need to see across the country. The reward for showing a technical interest in a bill is to be invited to join its Bill Committee and spend many days scrutinising it line-by-line. I have been granted this pleasure.

Having dealt with just about every other mode of Transport, it was logical for me to have an official visit around Gatwick on Thursday. Being on our doorstep, the airport is an important asset for our leisure and local economy. Many constituents work there and it was a pleasure to visit the team and view the skies from the control tower.

With better transport links, we could be a more prosperous county. Whilst this week may have looked like every ten year old’s dream, there is a direction of travel which seeks to benefit us all.