With the election in full swing, Martin Lamb takes a look at the seven main parties’ manifesto commitments on transport. Spoiler alert, sometimes the commitments proposed don’t always get delivered by the winning party.


The Tories plan to invest £36 billion in local roads, rail and buses to drive regional growth, including £8.3 billion to fill potholes and resurface roads, funded by cancelling the second phase of HS2.  As many of the HS2 ‘replacement’ schemes have already been announced, we can probably take many of the announcements about using HS2 saved money with a grain or two of salt. The merits of cancelling HS2 is another issue. Given that the most expensive part is being built such as the tunnelling through the Chilterns, it might make sense to spend the extra to deliver to Manchester to realise the benefits of the scheme and the capacity it would open for freight and regional services on the West Coast Mainline. 

They also plan to back drivers by stopping road pricing, which doesn’t exist beyond some toll roads, bridges, tunnels and a few clean air zones. Incidentally, road charging could be quite a good policy and less unpopular than many think.

There is also a commitment to increase rail and buses in the North and Midlands, which makes sense and backs city regions to deliver local priorities, including scrapping rules that stop Mayors from investing in strategic roads. Whether Mayors have money to invest in strategic roads is another matter.  

Other promises are upgrades to the railways in the South West and the reversal of some Beeching cuts and providing £1 billion funding to electrify the North Wales Mainline. On the latter, as has been written elsewhere, there has been no recent work to cost the electrification of the mainline and there are other more pressing interventions around frequency and speed of service that would provide more benefits. Ultimately, passengers prioritise fast and frequent services over how the train is powered.

Automated vehicles will be on British roads in the next Parliament, but they don’t specify what level of autonomy or in what situations. They’re also rolling out more electric charging infrastructure, which is probably an easy win, given how much infrastructure is being installed by private companies. 

One of the challenges for the incumbent government, especially one that has been in Government for 14 years is scrutiny on their record of delivery, rather than their manifestos. Unsurprisingly, the opposition parties criticise the current government’s record on transport. It would be odd if they didn’t really.


Labour takes a middle-of-the-road approach to transport, noting that cars remain the most popular form of transport and proposing to maintain and renew the road network, whilst acknowledging this is to serve cyclists and other road users as well as drivers. Labour also plans to accelerate the rollout of electric charge points, (although they don’t commit to numbers) and will restore the phase-out date of 2030 for new cars with internal combustion engines which was deferred to 2035 by the Conservatives. One policy not mentioned in other manifestos is to support buyers of second-hand electric cars by standardising information supplied on the condition of batteries.

On rail, Labour plans to bring railways into public ownership as existing contracts expire or are broken through a failure to deliver. Great British Railways (an initiative established by the current government) will go ahead under Labour to deliver a unified and improved system, working with publicly owned operators in Wales and Scotland. Unifying systems and having simpler, affordable fares would be good steps to take in reinvigorating the rail network. 

On buses, Labour proposes to give new powers to local leaders to franchise bus services and lift the ban on municipal ownership. Labour will also give Mayors the power to create an integrated transport system, including active travel networks. The bus network is in desperate need of reform outside London to integrate services between bus operators, but also rail and metro.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto has significant details on transport. They also propose a faster rollout of EV charging points, cutting VAT on public charging to 5% (to bring it into line with home charging) and requiring that all charging points are accessible with a bank card which seems like a good idea. One issue with cutting VAT is that with more EVs, the revenue from VAT and fuel duty on petrol and diesel will be reduced and will need to be replaced somehow. Maybe the time is finally right for road charging. 

They plan to support bus services generally and rural ones specifically, including on-demand ones where rural timetables services are not viable, and simplifying schemes and extending the scope for bus operators to switch to zero-emission vehicles. They propose extending half-fares on buses, trams and trains to 18-year-olds and introducing a Young Person’s buscard for 19-25-year-olds. One of the bolder plans is to work to integrate bus, rail and light rail ticketing systems so a daily cap can be introduced. This works well in London, but this would be difficult, though not impossible, to achieve regionally or nationally.  

The Lib Dems propose a wholesale reform of the fare system, though they don’t say how this will be achieved. They propose to explore the introduction of an annual pass for all railways, which should be an easy win – developing and implementing it will be more challenging. Another exploratory policy is to review the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2, to see if it can be delivered in a way that offers value for money. 

One standout policy is to establish a ten-year plan for rail electrification, which would offer efficiencies to prevent the stop-start nature of previous electrification schemes where skills are lost and have to be reacquired. They also propose a national freight strategy to move as much freight from road to rail as possible.  

The Lib Dems plan to reform taxation on flights, introduce a super tax on private jet flights and remove exemptions for private, first and business class flights. This would be quite a popular policy for those amongst us who don’t travel by private jet. They also propose banning domestic flights where a direct rail option taking less than 2.5 hours is available for the same journey.   

The Lib Dems also promote walking and cycling with an active travel strategy and give more of the road budgets to local councils to maintain roads, pavements and cycleways.

Green Party

The Green Party has a fairly concise travel policy focussing on increasing bus, rail and public transport, including increasing public transport subsidies, offering free bus travel for under 18s, bringing railways back to public ownership and supporting more rail electrification They promote active travel by investing £2.5 billion per year in new cycle paths and footpaths.

On air, they propose a frequent flyer levy, a ban on domestic flights where it would take under 3 hours by train and a halt to new airport capacity. There are no surprises in what seem fairly sensible plans to promote public and active transport. Perhaps the only surprise is that they are not (actively at least) looking to discourage car use by fiscal or other means.


Reform takes a slightly different tack in linking transport and utilities infrastructure. Ignoring the accusations that the sums for their policies don’t add up, they propose scrapping HS2, and stopping the ‘war on motorists’, by banning ULEZ and low-traffic neighbourhoods, scrapping bans on selling petrol and diesel cars and scrapping legal requirements to sell electric cars. In so doing, they propose to start a war on anyone who likes clean air, including any motorists who are temporarily not in their cars, i.e. most of the time.  Continuing the theme, they propose to scrap all net zero objectives.

They also plan to advance infrastructure projects for the North, and launch a national database for councils, contractors, government and utilities to ensure coordination of projects, resulting in fewer roadworks, which seems like a good idea, but may be difficult in practice and merging the National Infrastructure Commission and Infrastructure Bank to streamline processes. 

Scotland and Wales

Transport is an interesting issue for the devolved administrations of Great Britain, in that many transport matters are devolved, but as the SNP and Plaid Cymru only field candidates in Scotland and Wales respectively, they don’t even have a theoretical prospect of forming a government and implementing the policies in their manifestos. Nonetheless, these are the priorities of the two parties

Scottish National Party

The SNP focus extensively on concessionary bus passes for the over 60s and disabled people, whilst looking to consider free bus travel for Modern Apprentices and all people under 22. They also propose spending over £500 million to improve bus infrastructure and tackle congestion, whilst investing £120 million in zero-emission buses. Both measures are in part to make bus travel more attractive and reliable as part of the SNP’s reduction in car use, measured as ‘car kilometres’ by 20% by 2030 – the only party that makes such a specific commitment. 

In rail, the SNP propose to identify a suitable public body to make a bid for the next ScotRail franchise, whilst improving rail accessibility. There is also a plan to decarbonise Scotland’s rail services by 2035 and look to restore or develop new branch lines in rural areas and commuter lines in urban centres.

In active transport, by the end of the next parliament, 10% of the transport capital budget will be spent on walking, cycling and wheeling, and they propose a Scotland-wide segregated walking and cycling network and schemes to provide free or low-cost access to bicycles.  

Plaid Cymru

Unlike the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru is not the party in power in Wales. Plaid Cymru proposes to have rail infrastructure devolved to Wales as it is in Scotland and Northern Ireland and to rectify the current and historical underspend on rail compared to other areas of the UK. With additional funding, Plaid Cymru proposes properly connecting north and south Wales for the first time within Wales and restoring some Beeching cuts. 

They also support the renationalisation of rail at a Wales and UK level to allow greater alignment of services. They also support the renationalisation of major bus services and support for rural services including on-demand services. Similar to Scotland, Plaid Cymru supports the older people’s bus pass and investigate a similar scheme for young people. 

One area not mentioned by the other parties, but which has been championed by this author is a proposal for new housing developments around Wales demonstrating they are future-proofed for growth in public transport, both generating demand and responding to demand. 

Plaid Cymru supports more active travel options and routes, clean air zones in major centres of population and traffic calming measures to increase road safety. For Active Travel, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the (Labour) Welsh Government’s record with the Active Travel (Wales) Act of 2013 requiring local authorities to continuously improve facilities and routes for pedestrians and cyclists. 

Unless something truly remarkable happens, the Labour Party will be forming a government on July 5th, so next month we’ll have a look at what’s good and not so good about their priorities and what policies from others they might like to incorporate. Incidentally, some ITEN colleagues and I wrote a similar blog in September 2022 giving 5 key recommendations for the ‘new’ Prime Minister. When writing it, it’s fair to say we didn’t predict that a lettuce would last longer than the PM’s tenure. 

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