Conference 2004: Motion 5: Public Transportation

Motion 5: Public Transportation

  • Conference is concerned at the low rate of investment in public transport.
  • Conference calls for the percentages of the budget spent on public transport to be increased from 35% to at least 50%.
  • Conference calls for the railway system in Northern Ireland to be secured and expanded.

Proposer, John Mathews, Alliance Party Transport Spokesperson, said:

The real problem we face is in convincing a generation of ‘petrolheads’ and their families that commuting in areas of congestion is not in anyone’s best interests, least of all their own. The country’s economy cannot justify or afford the continued increase in fossil fuel consumption. The private car owner should not be able to take his motor – with three empty car seats – into a town or city centre to leave it there all day, then return home during rush hour in the same-empty car.

If we do not commit ourselves to tackling the threat of increased congestion now, its real costs will be at least double in 10 years time. Why wait? Because it is unpopular to tell people, ‘Don’t take your care to work; we’re going to make it very expensive for you to do so.’ The reality is that parking charges in Belfast are very cheap. In fact, civil servants at certain levels are provided with free car parking!

We do not want to deprive people of their cars, but car ownership should better reflect true costs to the infrastructure and environment. If your car is going to contribute to congestion, then it should cost you more. The money then must be spent on building a first-class public transport system.

The Government is seriously considering closing more than one-third of our railway system. Railway, which is the most environmentally-friendly way of moving people in significant numbers, could be non-existent this time next year. Catch yourself on, Minister John Spellar!

“We need a public transport system in Northern Ireland capable of attracting all sections of society, whether they are businessmen or on the ‘bru’, people going to bingo or the ballet. We need a public transport system, especially in rural areas, that is sufficiently flexible to enable people the freedom of travel and the real choice of being able to live without the need for a car.

Fifty years ago, we had an integrated public transport system. By and large, the system worked. Realising an attractive, integrated public transport system that people choose to use is not beyond the realms of our practical imagination.

Seconder, John Stuart, said:

There are strong political, environmental, economical, financial, social, and indeed, recreational factors that provide compelling reasons not only for securing the entire railway network, but also for providing an increased frequency of service with new trains that the Northern Ireland Assembly voted for.

If the ‘non-core’ railway lines were closed, then the city of Derry, with a population of over 100,000, would be denied a rail service, making it the only city of its size in Western Europe suffering this fate. The closure would be nothing less than utter vandalism of a valuable asset.

It is significant to note that loss-making lines in Scotland (i.e. to Oban, Kyle, Mallaig, Wick/Thurso) and in Wales (i.e. the Aberystwyth and Pwllheli lines) – all of which carry far less traffic than our threatened lines, are not in any danger of closing. Why? Perhaps because an active Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly would simply not countenance it. I have absolutely no doubt that if we had our own Assembly up and running, we would not be facing this problem today.

Conference, I urge you to support this motion unanimously, to send a strong signal to civil servants and Westminster Ministers – who have shown their contempt for our local communities through their direct rule policies.

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