Labour on transport – “Getting Britain Moving”

In a manifesto focused on change and economic growth, Labour says it has a plan to “Get Britian Moving” as part of its transport reform agenda. But what made it into the manifesto and what are the implications for the transport sector?

While all the policies had been pre-announced, these are some of most eye-catching to have made it into the manifesto:

  • Bringing railways under public ownership as contracts expire or are broken through a failure to deliver
  • Proposals to give new powers to local leaders to franchise bus services in their area
  • Better integration of public transport

A clear theme both in transport and throughout the manifesto is the importance Labour would give to mayors across the country. Currently, nine of the ten metro mayors in England are Labour mayors, and the party’s devolution drive to empower its own local structures makes clear a sense of direction in decentralising power away from Westminster.

Rail

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Louise Haigh has been focusing on the message that Labour will nationalise rail, telling  Sky News, “No ifs, no buts, October 2026 will be the last date Avanti will have notice of that contract coming to expire”. Ms Haigh has said that she will seek advice on ending the contract early, due to the current service, though it is currently unclear how this will be done.

Public opinion on nationalising the railways seems to be in Labour’s favour, with a May 2024 Ipsos poll showing that 54% of people support nationalisation, as opposed to 13% who disagree. While this is one of the more traditionally left-wing policies in the manifesto, it still allows party bosses to keep the confidence of the electorate.

Buses

Labour’s plans for the bus sector align with the central theme in the manifesto of kickstarting economic growth across the country. The aim is to give local leaders the power to shape bus networks around community needs, through new powers to franchise local bus services and lift the ban on municipal ownership.

As already mentioned, Labour plans to devolve significant powers over buses to local leaders and metro mayors. This includes:

  • Giving powers to franchise local bus services, requiring operators to bid for contracts on routes rather than set them independently
  • Lifting the ban on municipal bus ownership, allowing councils to set up their own bus operations competing with private firms

The aim is to give communities more control over bus routes, schedules and integration with the stated goal of better connecting people to drive local economic growth.

Public transport integration

A core focus is better integrating different transport modes like buses, rail, roads and cycling under unified local transport systems guided by metro mayors. This aims to enable more seamless multi-modal journeys. 

Labour also plans a long-term national transport strategy to improve coordination of major infrastructure delivery across sectors. Better integration is positioned as essential for maximising economic potential. 

For transport operators, Labour’s plans point to a more centrally coordinated ecosystem with less independence, especially for buses. But the party argues this integrated approach unlocks wider economic benefits by reducing mobility barriers.

Roads and vehicles

The last time Labour failed to win a by-election (that they were trying to win) was in Uxbridge and South Ruislip in 2023. As anyone who was on the campaign trail will tell you, the main issue raised by voters on the doorstep was ULEZ expansion. This was a decision always owned by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan but was notably never endorsed by Sir Keir Starmer.

At this election, Labour is aiming to soften any perceptions the party is anti-motorist with a retail offer of fixing a million potholes, while still firmly committing to expanding the availability of electric vehicle charging points. This seems to be working in some circles, as AA President Edmund King, welcomed the manifesto pledges, particularly the reintroduction of the 2030 new car zero emission deadlines. However, voters’ held perceptions may be harder to shift.