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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
What are the challenges facing the new transport secretary?
Alistair Darling has been named as the new transport secretary, replacing Stephen Byers who resigned on Tuesday.

Mr Darling takes over a post that is seen by many as the most difficult job in government.

Public confidence in the railways is at an all time low, with disgruntled commuters and Railtrack shareholders laying the blame firmly at the door of the Department of Transport.

While Mr Darling will only take over the transport side of Mr Byers' portfolio, with the regional aspects of the job to be handled by John Prescott, he is expected to have a busy schedule ahead, as he attempts to improve Britain's road and railway infrastructure.

What challenges lie ahead for the new transport secretary? What should his priorities be? Have you got any advice to offer him?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

I am sick to death of politicians fobbing us off with "it will take time" to sort our transport out. This lets them off the hook, and gives them the excuse to ask for another mandate from voters, without actually having delivered anything. If transport is so important to this Government, why doesn't Tony Blair take personal responsibility for it? We could be well on the way to sorting out public transport by 2005 if the political will was there, but it isn't. They want us to keep driving our cars, because every mile we drive pumps money into government coffers. Give us cheap, reliable public transport and the tax receipts would dry up, exposing the sham of how we are taxed in Britain.
Andy, UK


I cannot understand how one of the richest countries in the world has such bad public services

Tom, France
I'm English and have been living in France for 20 years. Each time I come to England, I am shocked by the poor public transport conditions (no safety, no punctuality, high prices); each time a train crashes, I am ashamed. I cannot understand how one of the richest countries in the world has such bad public services (the health services are very bad! In France you don't wait more than 2 weeks for treatment). I suggest new transport secretary to nationalise the railways! They're run by the government in France: the trains are cleaner, on time, the prices are cheaper, and most of all they're SAFE!
Tom, France

I doubt he'll do any worse than Byers, but I now have an image of lots of people sitting on trains shouting "Come on Darling, we're going to be late". Maybe Tony Blair has a sense of humour after all.
Danvers Baillieu, USA

My advice is not to tell us it "will take time". Labour has had five years, brushing us off with that old line will not work anymore.
JM, England

The new transport secretary should be prepared to kiss his political career good bye if he is not prepared to be honest; set "realistic" goals and objectives, communicate to the public on all aspects related to the transport policy from feasibility to implementation, take greater ownership of the transport infrastructure but not necessary by renationalisation but reducing the number of people with their fingers in the transport pie! He should seek the advice of those with related experience in transport planning, construction and managing and seriously evaluate whether proposed solutions will actually work. Lastly, he should set about looking at other countries, both European and overseas and learn from their transport policies, integrated transport solutions and encourage change to take place in this country. Good luck.
Keith, England

I think the question is not what Mr Darling will do, but what he is allowed to do.
Darren, UK

Yes, I agree that we use too many cars, yes, I agree (as an ex BR manager) that public transport is a disgrace compared to other civilised countries but the way we live in the UK now is the product of many years of Government policy that has changed the way we organise our cities and towns. I used to live on a huge housing estate where the developers were given a free hand to maximise their profits. They built houses, not schools, shops and transport because houses make MONEY.

More city centres are becoming dead as huge shopping parks are built on their outskirts, village schools are closed on cost saving grounds, rural public transport has ceased to exist in many places and that in towns is uncomfortable, expensive and infrequent. Result: people HAVE TO USE CARS TO LIVE, and many families simply need two cars to get the kids to school, dad to work and mum to the shops. This debate on transport needs to look at the way we organise our whole lives and our communities. I simply do not see how we can improve public transport sufficiently to make any noticeable impact on car usage and road congestion.
Paul, Taipei, Taiwan

Forget this half privatisation. We need to fully privatise the Transport System. This is the only way we'll properly invest in the service from now on.
Mr Harry Wentworth, Torquay, Devonshire, England

The new Transport secretary should immediately renationalise the railways. This will get the railways out of costly administration and save the taxpayer money by reducing the borrowing costs of the railway network. He should then give fair value for the shares in Railtrack that were confiscated. Only then can he start to plan for future investment in the railway infrastructure. Putting Railtrack into administration has been a disaster, for taxpayers, safety, and investment.
Jeff Ellis, England


I suggest he invests money into researching how to make the hydrogen powered car a possibility

Chris L, UK
Around one and a half years ago, it was discovered how to power motor vehicles on hydrogen so the only waste that came out of the exhaust was water. It is highly unlikely that the large majority of people are going to give up using cars as their primary mode of transport, so I suggest he invests money into researching how to make the hydrogen powered car a possibility for the majority of the vehicles. This way, we are less dependent on OPEC and also have a more environmentally friendly mode of transport.
Chris L, UK

How about asking motorists whether they would use public transport instead of their cars if they had a choice. Most drivers would choose their cars even if the buses and trains were free, frequent, clean and punctual. He is not going to be able to change the national psyche or turn the clock back to when only the rich could afford to own a vehicle. Part of the solution could be the encouragement of the responsible use of two wheeled transport. Create a safe network of cycle lanes, reward companies who provide changing and locker facilities for their cycling and motorcycling employees.
Mike Parker, England

Mr Darling has that rare opportunity at the moment - to be bold. He will have a short honeymoon period where he will be completely teflon coated. He might take the opportunity to take some of those really unpopular decisions that everyone knows make logical sense. For instance, re-testing drivers every year (maybe every 5 years for those who have passed their advanced test). Let us reduce the number of drivers by getting rid of the worst ones.
James Tandy, UK


He should improve the one aspect of rail travel that people dislike the most - cost.

Mike, UK
If Mr Darling realistically wants to increase the number of rail passengers by 50% by 2010, he should improve the one aspect of rail travel that people dislike the most - cost. If Darling raised fuel duty by even just 1p/2p, and put that money towards subsidising the cost of rail journeys, then far more people would be prepared to use trains, as they would be cheaper than car journeys. Unless the money raised from fuel duties are directed towards public transport, then the government will just continue to displease motorists, hauliers and rail passengers.
Mike, UK

First thing is not to come in and start changing things, especially on the railways - the right measures have been put in place by Stephen Byers and they need to be seen through. In particular Alastair Darling needs to reassure the new Chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority and head of Railtrack that he wants them to carry on delivering their plans as before. The fact that Stephen Byers was doing the right thing on the railways has been largely ignored by the media (even the BBC) who seem just jubilant they have got their scalp at last. It's truly pathetic.
Richard , England

I would advise the new transport secretary to get to really understand the industry, with particular regard to the railways. Byers made good attempts to do this and, as such, won much support. I would also suggest that he prepares himself for a difficult time - people don't seem to realise that neglected transport systems cannot be rectified overnight.
Ben, Loughborough, UK

Mr. Darling should do nothing for the next 3 months but should invite former New York and current London Transport Commissioner Bob Kiley, German Transport Minister Kurt Bodewig and French Transport Minister Gilles de Robien to his office and have them talk through the problems Britain's transport system faces and how to overcome these problems. New York's underground was turned round Mr. Kiley, whilst Germany and France have superb public transport systems. We continue to help the World, so why don't our greatest allies and our European partners help us when we need it?
Steve, England, UK


Is it not time for all types of public transport to be fitted with seat belts?

Juliet, England
Is it not time for all types of public transport to be fitted with seat belts? Whilst no one can be forced to wear them, having the choice is essential. How many of the recent train crash victims may have survived if they had not been tossed about the carriages like rag dolls and ended up on the tracks beneath the train? How many lives have been saved since the introduction of car seat belts, both front and rear ones? Accidents on public transport are unfortunately unavoidable, regardless of how much is spent on systems, but passenger safety will be enhanced if additional safety features are added internally.
Juliet, England

May I suggest that Mr Darling spends the first couple of months in his new job solely travelling by public transport (no taxis, mini-cabs or chauffeured limos allowed) just to get a feel of what the public has to put up with, although perhaps a trip to France should be permitted (via the grubby Eurostar) to travel on the fantastic metro system and TGV, in order to see how well public transport can be run.
Sue Hudson, London, UK

The only solution to road traffic problems is to reduce the number of cars. The government should introduce severe tax penalties for households with more than one car. Employers should be given tax concessions for employees living within 5 miles of work, but be taxed severely for employees living more than 10 miles from work. This would be phased over several years for big cities like London. The net result would be less time spent commuting, more cash in the pocket, and a dispersal of jobs and workers away from the south east and London.
Tom, UK


We have to encourage people not only out of cars but also onto bicycles and their own two feet.

Philip, England
Nearly all the discussion (here and elsewhere) is about private vs. public transport. We have a population where obesity, and its concomitant health effects, are increasing. We have to encourage people not only out of cars but also onto bicycles and their own two feet. The new Transport Secretary together with the Health Secretary must make policies, and provide money, to encourage these: that means safe, unpolluted walking and cycling routes as well as re-education. It means planning policies that place a high priority on these and it also means local education authorities ensuring that children do not have to go miles to school. Employers need to provide bike-racks and showers. (My employer, a Norwegian company, has a 'cycle to work' week every year.)
Philip, England

His first move should be to resign. I totally agree with Will on this page! Here's a crazy, crazy idea...wait for it...why not put someone in the job who...oh, sorry it's a such ridiculous notion but I'll carry on...who has actually had a job INVOLVING transport infrastructure of some kind? No, silly meżit makes far more sense to shove a lawyer into the position - a lawyer whose only government jobs have involved shuffling money around and who probably hasn't been on a bus in years. Pathetic, Alice in Wonderland stuff.
Clive, Australia (ex UK)

I was busy writing a long comment and then a thought struck me. How can anyone transferred from the Department of Work and Pensions slide effortlessly into running transport and make INFORMED decisions about fundamental policy??
Will, UK

My advice to the new transport secretary, is to first of all end this ridiculous system of all these different private companies providing services on our trains and buses, by re-nationalising the buses and trains, re-constituting British Rail, and giving control of our bus services, back to the Local Authorities and Passenger Transport Executives. Subsidy of the network will also need to increase, to make public transport more affordable, and to bring fares in line with equivalent US and European transit systems. He also needs to authorise the rapid expansion, and investment in new and existing City Light rail and tram systems, which I believe are quick and clean, and will give people a real alternative to driving. It is time to stop relying on private sector involvement in public transport, as I believe this has been very damaging to the industry, and is primarily the policy that has worsened the quality of transport in the UK.
David Mitchell, United Kingdom

So far all the public transport argument has been about passenger services. Concentrate on getting long distance freight off the road and onto rail and a temporary improvement will be achieved. It will, at least, provide a breathing space to enable some serious improvement to be made to the network.
At the same time provide a decent local transport system. A bus is simply a poor quality motor vehicle which suffers from all the problems of congestion with none of the comfort of a car. Trams and light rail are seen in a different light and are much more efficient.
Peter Phillips, UK


Mandelson was the guy who may have been able to sort this mess out

James Allred, England
Oh dear another 'yes' man. Someone with a vision, ambition and an attitude of getting things done and motivating others was needed. Unfortunately Blair will treat this as his part-time job by overseeing everything Darling does. I don't mind saying it, but Peter Mandelson was the guy who may have been able to sort this mess out. This decision could signal the end of the very underachieving Labour Party.
James Allred, England

Mr Darling, please have a think about this. In the old days most workers lived near to work. Not now, they have to travel long distances to get to work. Solution - fine firms for staff that live a long distance away, say over 10 miles, from the workplace. In the future employers will insist that their employees live locally or they will pay the price. Get the fine right and the whole thing is resolved.
Tony, Worcs, UK

Darling, you'll be wonderful.
John, Scotland

If I were him I would wonder what I had done to annoy Tony so much to be given transport.
Anon, UK

Mr Darling needs, above all, to revise the chaotic structure of the rail industry. Indeed, restructuring the railways might mean things need to get worse before they get better. He should scrap the PPP and hand over responsibility for the Tube to the London government. On the roads, he needs to look at innovative solutions that blur the distinctions between public and private transport; options like shared car ownership (car clubs, car pooling etc), public taxis and minibuses operating non-fixed routes. He needs to ensure that all planning decisions, land use changes are taken with their transport implications in mind. The out of control growth in air travel also needs to be addressed.
Neil Wallis, UK

The biggest problem any transport secretary is going to face it to re-educate people to use public transport. We have a situation in this country in which a generation is growing up not used to using public transport, or sustainable non-motorised transport (90% of primary school children are driven to school). Even with the pouring of billions of pounds into public transport there needs to be a concerted policy of education to encourage people to use the improved services. The other thing we need to look at desperately in this country is reducing the need to travel. 30 years of lax and incoherent spatial planning has in part fuelled the massive rise in car trips.
Andrew, Leeds, UK


Honesty and integrity are the qualities that will stand out first and foremost

Mark Dowe, Scotland, UK
The most serious challenge that lies ahead is repairing the damage that has been done through government spin. Honesty and integrity are the qualities that will stand out first and foremost. One of the most critical factors facing Mr Darling has to be the paramount importance of safety, particularly so on the railways. The government has provided a window of opportunity in at least trying to get this area under control by splitting certain aspects of the department. That has to be a sound move and allows more direct, positive energies to be channelled into those parts that require real attention.
Mark Dowe, Scotland, UK

The way things are now, it looks like it never change. No wonder everyone flocks to their cars for transport. Take a look elsewhere in Europe and the story is different. All UK governments have dribbled along without tackling the fundamental problems of making public transport a more attractive option to the average person in the street.
Rich Walters, Switzerland

His main challenge is obviously sorting out the worst transport system in Europe - I pity him!
Barnaby Smith, London, UK

Although Mr Byers has departed with his reputation in tatters, he has left a good foundation for Mr Darling to build upon. With Mr Darling having a relatively clean image he should be able to make something of it. As a rail user I hope he does, quickly.
Adam, Kent, England

The first thing he needs to do is ensure that transport policy recognises that private car transport will be the choice of the vast majority of people for the foreseeable future, and stop immediately the destructive policies that unfairly demonise motorists and tax them at ridiculous levels. Then he should ring-fence the huge amount of tax money already being collected from road users and set about using it to sort out public transport so that we commuters do have a genuine choice about how we travel. The public transport system is already creaking at the seams, unsafe, overcrowded and extremely unpleasant and inconvenient to use and the government has a duty to sort it out before it tries any tactic to force us out of our cars.
Caroline, UK

Caroline peddles the usual spurious claim that "private car transport will be the choice of the vast majority of people for the foreseeable future". Perhaps she should find out the percentage of the adult population that don't own a car, either through choice or lack of money, and she'll find it's a fairly sizeable minority. Due to their numbers and less polluting choice of transport or lack of options (through low incomes) it could be argued that they deserve more consideration than car owners.
Greg Brown, UK

Telling the truth!
Chris, UK

Scrap the PPP plans for London's Underground and hand over the Tube to Livingstone. A radical idea to give Londoners control over their transport system, but at least any mistakes Ken makes will be his own.
Tony, UK

I have already written to the government urging them to offer carrots to the public to leave their cars at home: tax breaks for car pooling, using public transport at least once a week for work, cycling to work - rather than always hitting them over the head with increased costs for car usage. We need to look at speeding up the whole public transport system. We need a radical rethink on road and rail policy. Can this be delivered by a government that worries about its politicians' facial hair more than their ability to think laterally? I don't think so!
Elizabeth Purdam, UK


Admit there is no way that you can ever stop rail crashes, or make the railways completely safe

Anthony, Reading, UK
Please be honest. Admit there is no way that you can ever stop rail crashes, or make the railways completely safe. State clearly that the country and government has only limited resources and that spending money on Cancer Care will save more lives than spending it on the railways or roads. Tell us that there is no way to ever make trains always run on time or get rid of traffic jams. Don't ever visit crash accidents and tell us that money is no object. Be honest and we'll believe you. Spin us a yarn and you're finished.
Anthony, Reading, UK

Well Alistair could make a radical departure from his predecessor by deciding to take an honest approach with Parliament and the public. He then might want to think about producing a half decent transport system.
Alex Keenleyside, England

Getting the trains to run on time and safely!
Jane, UK

The first thing Darling should do is make it clear that he is not going to follow the trend of previous transport secretaries, and give in to the car lobby. The transport select committee and many professionals and experts in the field have recommended increasing the use of road pricing in order to make people pay for the true cost of motoring. Only through cross-subsidising from private transport to public transport can Alistair Darling ensure an efficient UK transport network.
Daniel Rees, UK

Increase fuel duty by 30%, increase car excise duty for gas guzzlers by 100% and channel all proceeds into public transport.
Simon Wheeler, UK

I think the main challenge is that he will be expected to sort out our transport problems within a couple of months. When this doesn't happen (because it will take 20 years) he will have to face up to a barrage of bad media reports, like his predecessor.
Peter, UK


Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better

Martin, England
The general public's cynicism at the amount of spin produced by government departments will make it hard to get any messages through to people. The common belief that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better will ensure he gets a lot of flak when they do get worse. However he can fall back on all politicians' favourite excuse and blame his predecessor.
Martin, England

I'd advise him to use only public transport and then maybe he'll realise how bad the situation is and do something to take Britain's transport from the Victorian age into the 21st Century.
TJ, UK

My advice to the new transport secretary? Find a new way of informing the British public of your intentions. Completely ignore the media, because they will hound you out of office just as they have done with Stephen Byers and other politicians.
Brian Langfield, Doncaster, UK


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