’THIS IS A tremendous opportunity for us all to learn’, suggested Mayor of London Ken Livingstone as he welcomed delegates to the 54th UITP World Congress which opened at Earl’s Court on May 21. Readers will be aware of recent developments in London which led him to continue ’and you can learn from all our mistakes.’

The growing recognition of the importance of public transport was reflected in the keynote address by John Flora, Director of Transport & Urban Development at the World Bank Group. Pointing out that ’accessibility increases opportunity, social and economic development’, he suggested that a lack of access to transport should be seen as a fundamental contributor to poverty. Flora emphasised that ’we need a combination of land use and transport planning to ensure a high quality of urban life; too often the transport policy only comes after the urban environment has deteriorated.’

His words may be a timely warning. A draft directive on ’Public Service Requirements in Passenger Transport’ is due be finalised by the European Commission this month, ready for debate in the European Parliament in September. Industry professionals are worried that the new regulations will force the break-up of large integrated public transport networks in a misguided attempt to drive down costs through increased competition.

A joint statement issued by RATP Chairman & Managing Director and former UITP President Jean-Paul Bailly and Commissioner of Transport for London Bob Kiley on May 24 flagged up ’an inbuilt contradiction between the need for integration and competition.’ They warn that ’the integration of metro systems with other modes is likely to be prejudiced by the competitive tendering of contracts.’ The technical and operational complexity of large metro networks means, they feel, that there is a potential shortage of qualified private-sector operators, who could effectively hold cities to ransom as private monopolies.

Kiley’s concerns over the London Underground Public-Private Partnership are reflected in the comment that ’the slightest failure may compromise not only the quality of the services but also passenger safety, and there is no room for error or misjudgement ... minute-by-minute co-ordination can only be achieved by having unified day-to-day control across the entire network.’

The draft regulations have not enthused public transport operators in Germany either. Addressing the annual general meeting of the Association of German Transport Undertakings on June 12, VDV President Dieter Ludwig noted that European legislation requiring competition in public transport had reached a decisive stage. The VDV had already sent a list of comments to the European Commission, which included a warning that the five-year term proposed for operating contracts is too short, and that the suggested three-year transition period is unacceptable.

As Livingstone suggested to over 1500 transport operators, suppliers, academics and politicians at UITP, mistakes in public transport policy are not easy to hide. ’After decades of under-investment, Londoners can feel the deterioration of quality ... now the infrastructure is at breaking point, and we need huge investment, fast!’