Last week, Jeremy Corbyn announced his strategy to bring back the railways into public ownership. Considering the widespread public support for the policy, most in the party that are ideologically opposed have reserved their criticism. However, for Labour to win over rural communities, both in next year's regional elections and in 2020, the party must adopt a transport policy that stretches beyond the railways.
Labour's transport policy must have a focus on strengthening bus routes; 1,200 of which have been closed since 2010. In 2013, the Welsh government were forced to plough funding in to Ceredigion after Arriva chose to scrap six routes and four stations. Meanwhile in Shropshire, the county council have been forced to begin a scheme of loaning electric scooters and bikes to combat route closures.
Aside from the closure of routes, bus users have also faced the issue of rising fares. In Northamptonshire, Stagecoach recently excused a price-hike by claiming the funds had to be met after public sector investment dropped. In towns and villages without a train station, buses can have a monopoly on public transport, meaning that for low-income families, there is no other option than to pay the extortionate fares.
Much of the issues with buses could be tackled with devolving powers to councils. In Labour's 2015 manifesto, one of the few mentions of rural transport policy alluded to this. At present, only Transport for London has the ability to set prices. Since the deregulation of buses outside of London in 1986, fares have increased by 51%. If the power to set transport prices was given to local councils, rising costs could be an avoided issue.
The party's transport policy must also concentrate on improving roads. The party is quick to focus on public transport investment for issues of the environment, but for those living in rural communities, driving can often be the only option. In 2018, the two Severn crossing bridges will return to public ownership. The Labour Party should use the opportunity to call for a review of the toll charge on both the Severn, as well as other tolls such as on the M6 in the West Midlands. Road tax should be the fee paid for all of Britain's roads, not just a charge for the less frequented.
Corbyn's proposal for the nationalisation of the railways is clearly supported by rail-users and should receive the full backing of the party. However, the rail accounts for less than a third of public transport journeys, and far fewer for those living rural areas. For a transport policy that will be supported by those outside of cities, the Labour Party must look towards better support for buses and a fresh take on funding for roads.