Transport for Wales should prove itself before taking on extra responsibilities

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Economy & Infrastructure Committee
The Future Development of Transport for Wales (pdf)
Published: 1st May 2019

“The overriding view is that there is no clarity about where Transport for Wales (TfW) ends and Welsh Government begins, and where the various responsibilities lie.

 

“Although we accept that TfW is a new and developing organisation, which until now has been focused on successfully delivering the new rail franchise, this lack of clarity cannot continue much longer.”
– Committee Chair, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery)

Transport for Wales was established as an arms-length body responsible for delivering the new Wales & Borders rail franchise and South Wales Metro.

1. TfW needs to improve engagement & transparency

The Committee concluded that when it comes to engaging with various transport organisations (i.e. Sustrans) on a one-to-one basis, TfW has done a good job. When it comes to the public, however, the picture is less good. It’s difficult for members of the public to find the same information that’s been made available to organisations and there’s a sense that TfW is geared more to work with transport professionals than people who regularly use their services.

As it’s a relatively new organisation a certain lack of transparency is to be expected, but there’s a lack of clarity over its governance arrangements – in particular just how arms-length it is from the Welsh Government, as well as what its future role and remit will be. Some witnesses suggested TfW should produce quarterly reports on its work.

There were mixed views from trade unions too. Train driver union ASLEF said relations with TfW Rail are so far better than Arriva, but PCS and Prospect criticised an over-reliance on consultants, some of whom were accused of presenting civil servants’ work as their own.

2. It’s unclear how TfW would fit into Joint Transport Authorities

Last year, the Welsh Government launched a white paper on public transport and has proposed establishing Joint Transport Authorities at a regional and (possibly) national level. Some witnesses were confused over what TfW’s role would be: Would it become the National Transport Authority for Wales?

Chief Executive of TfW, James Price, told the Committee there were several different ways TfW could operate, but the Committee believes an organisation along the same lines as Greater Manchester Transport for the whole of Wales would be difficult due to Wales’ geography and different population densities.

There were also queries as to why TfW has been set up as a limited company and not as a government agency (like Transport for London)? Normally this would be done so the organisation can offer private sector-style salaries, but there’s no evidence of this at TfW.

The Welsh Government said it was entirely down to flexibility as TfW’s role doesn’t need to be set out in legislation meaning it’ll be far easier for additional responsibilities to be designated to TfW in the future.

3. TfW needs to prove itself before being given additional responsibilities

Many witnesses said TfW shouldn’t “run before it can walk” and TfW was in broad agreement with this view, though James Price hinted that they could be ready for additional responsibilities sooner than expected.

Some additional responsibilities suggested by witnesses to the Committee include highways, integrated ticketing, general transport planning, bus services and taking on a greater role to promote and enhance active travel (given the perceived failure of local authorities with regard the Active Travel Act).

The Welsh Government’s vision if that most, if not all, public transport services would be taken over by TfW, though witnesses were more cautious; for example, commissioning local bus services is perhaps better undertaken at local authority level.

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