Roy Wilkes of Respect opened the meeting by declaring that this is a campaign whose time has come. Climate change is a serious threat to the future of humanity and our response to it must include moving beyond the domination of the private automobile. In a recent survey, 72% of the population said they would only abandon their cars if public transport was free. The campaign was also needed in order to assert the principle that public transport should become a genuine public service rather than a source of private profit. Hasselt, a small town in Belgium, shows that zero fare transport is both possible and transformative.
Cllr Jack Fagan (Wigan Community Action Party) spoke forcefully against the TIF (and the congestion charge that goes with it), arguing that free public transport would be a fairer and more effective way of reducing congestion. Ali of Friends of the Earth (attending in a personal capacity) defended the TIF and argued that there could be drawbacks to free public transport, for example that it might discourage walking and cycling.
There followed a wide ranging and high quality discussion covering many aspects of public transport policy. It was agreed that we would leave aside the question of the congestion charge since there are supporters of free public transport on both sides of the congestion charge debate.
Following a vigorous debate, the meeting adopted the following statement as the aims of the campaign:
“The aim of the Greater Manchester Campaign for Free Public Transport is to secure an expanded public transport system that is fully integrated, publicly owned and free at the point of use.”
Amendments seeking to replace “secure” with “work towards” and to replace “free at the point of use” with “affordable” were both heavily defeated.
The meeting recognised that a national campaign is needed on this issue. (There is a very good campaign for free public transport in Scotland but nothing in England and Wales.) The matter will be raised at the recall conference of the Convention of the Left, and it is to be hoped that campaigns similar to ours will be launched in other parts of the country, and that these will come together into a national campaign.
The next meeting will be at 7.15pm on Tuesday 7th October, in the Friends Meeting House, Manchester, where we will start to thrash out the practicalities of organising and building a mass campaign. In the meantime, ideas and suggestions can be shared via the e-list.
For more information about the campaign, contact Roy Wilkes on 07801 263 265 or email: roywilkes59[at]talktalk.net