Now before I start, and before you all start frothing at the mouth this is a work of fiction. It's fantasy, make belief - it could never happen. So instead of getting worked up, and quoting all sorts of reasons why this could never happen, just sit back and imagine if it did.......
Once upon a time there was a Kingdom, a magical Kingdom, where trolls didn't exist, and all Thameslink trains not only ran, but ran on time without skipping stations (told you it was fiction). In this Kingdom public transport ruled ok, and the car was seen as an unnecessary commodity for town and city dwellers. Only those living in the countryside were permitted cars, and even then they had to be left on the outskirts of towns or the nearest public transport hub.
You see previously in thie Kingdom the car was God. No one could reasonably manage without one except in the really major cities, public transport was spasmodic, fractured, and poorly financed and distributed. Instead of being for the people it was for rich businessmen who had few feelings for those who relied on public transport to get around. The government of the day were weak and feeble, and couldn't even roll out a new train timetable properly, or ensure that the local people had enough money to provide essential bus services. It was a sorry state of affairs, with much sadness and discontent throughout the land. The future of public transport did indeed look bleak.
Then one day a man of vision had an idea. Wouldn't it be great, he said, if people were less reliant on cars. What if public transport was so good, reliable, affordable, safe and convenient that it was the first choice for the people. But that man of vision was scorned by those who ran public transport at the time. You're living in the past, they said. You just want re-regulation and to deny our shareholders their dividends. Anyway, remember how bad it was when everything was nationalised? Well, said the man of vision, everything started earlier, finished later, most bus routes had a Sunday service, relief buses were often needed, and they were used in far greater numbers than now. If the people in power really wanted to change attitudes and how the Kingdom moved its people around it could, indeed, be done, but over a long period of time. Rome wasn't built in a day, let alone an integrated transport system so appealing to the people they ditch their cars and habits of a lifetime.
Finally the powers were so sick of the man of vision pontificating that in an effort to shut him up they did say "ok, smartass - if you think you're so bloody clever let's hear this plan of yours". And so the man of vision spoke thus:
The Kingdom is reaching total gridlock. People are spending hour after hour in traffic jams. That is because buses are stuck in the same traffic, and trains are wholly unreliable. To get people out of cars there needs to be a complete change of attitude in how the entire transport system is structured, managed, operated, and used. It requires huge investment in infrastructure for new tram lines, busways, bus lanes, cycle paths, well lit and secure walkways, new rail lines, including re-opening those closed in the dark times. "You pillock", the powers said, "how are we expected to find that sort of money, and how would we get it back?" "Let me ask you this", the man of vision replied, "how many man hours are lost to traffic congestion, or late trains?" "How many overseas investors hesitate to invest in our Kingdom who would be persuaded thus if our Kingdom moved around smoothly and efficiently"? "How many other Kingdoms would seek our advice and skills to help their own transport systems?" "You may not see an immediate return on your investment, but over time, with vastly improved efficiency, the benefits will reap rewards".
The powers paused, and invited the man of vision to continue. He explained that you couldn't just order people out of their cars without decent alternatives in place, so the period of transition would be tricky and expensive, but the long term implications for future generations would justify the expense. The first thing was to simplify the existing public transport system. The multitude of different fares, having to pay multiple operators on one journey, and time restrictions were putting off the people from using the system. So you have to make public transport attractive financially, and the car seem an expensive burden. The man of vision proposed a national system based on the already successful Oyster card system in the Kingdom's capital. A national transport card that would be valid on all buses and trains in the Kingdom. On buses once you had paid the initial fare you would not be charged for any further journeys taken within an hour. There would be a maximum charge per day, week, month and year. The same would apply to trains, with discounts made for off peak travel, and journeys made avoiding the busiest areas. There would be no advance fares, although journeys on long distance trains could be paid for in advance to reserve a seat. All stations would have a connecting bus service serving the local community, which operated from first train till last.
Buses would be reorganised according to the local demographics. In towns bus lanes would be rigorously enforced, with unauthorised parked vehicles confiscated and sold, and large fines for those driving cars in them. Local town services would remain largely as they are now, with frequent services from housing estates into town, connecting with longer interurban routes. These interurban routes would be faster, more direct, using high specification vehicles. They would be fed by local feeder buses serving rural communities, linking up with the trunk routes at dedicated hubs, which would have indoor facilities for passengers to wait in warmth and shelter. These hubs would also have substantial free carparks to encourage people to leave their cars outside of towns, thus helping to alleviate congestion. The buses would run from early morning to late evening, giving no reason for the people not to use them due to time constraints.
That sounds all well and good, said the powers, but say we do what you suggest, pour billions into this transport system and the people still won't use it? The man of vision smiled, and said they will use it, if it pays them to. Once the infrastructure is in place ban all cars from town and city centres. Place a tax on daytime deliveries to stores, making deliveries at quieter times more attractive. Allowing public transport to move is key. Once the people see it is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to get around they will use it. Make the annual cap on fares the same as annual car insurance and road tax combined. The powers gasped. Are you having a laugh mate, they said! We'll lose billions! Actually, the man of vision said, you won't. Encouraging and allowing people to move around the Kingdom cheaply will mean they go out more and spend their money in different ways, supporting local industry rather than online retail giants, so your coffers will just be filled by different means.
The powers, not to be outwitted by the man of vision, pulled the ace from their sleeve and said "hang on, pal, the transport system is overcrowded enough anyway in parts of the Kingdom. If we make it cheaper we just won't cope with demand. The man of vision conceded that to begin with that may well be an issue. But he assured the powers that once the people saw bus lanes were kept clear, and congestion was eased they would transfer from rail to bus for shorter journeys, therefore reducing overcrowding on the trains while the new infrastructure was being built. He continued to say that if all new road projects were cancelled, and the money put into new railways, both new routes and dualling existing lines to increase capacity in 10 to 15 years we could have a world class system. Then we could start banning second car use at weekends, for example, and doubling fuel duty for those living in areas where a car is deemed unnecessary - smart technology would be able to detect car registrations and adjust the pump price accordingly. In short, make car use as unattractive as possible without penalising those for whom it was essential.
So who would operate these services, asked the powers. You would, said the man of vision. A national public transport system should be just that, only you would have regional operating centres who would use their local knowledge to tailor services for their individual area's needs. If any other operator wanted to start a service up in addition to the existing one they would be welcome to, on the understanding that the existing service was not compromised or reduced in any way, and the new operator accepted the national transport card.
So what you're saying, the powers clarified, is if we build this integrated, revolutionary transport system it would considerably reduce car use, improve traffic and passenger flow in our towns and cities, which in turn would improve air quality and people's health, saving our health service money too, would get people out and about more, in comfort, to spend their money, would entice foreign investment in the country, provide increased employment to those in the transport industry, whose wages would be attractive enough to make it a serious career choice, and we'd be making a better Kingdom for our children and future generations? It seems to good to be true!
Then the man of vision woke up, realised it was all a dream, that no one would ever take such a scheme seriously, that he was still 6 miles from the nearest bus service, and that the traffic to get into his nearest big town would be as bad as ever. He sighed, rolled over and went back to sleep to dream another impossible dream.