Tom Bateman went along to a local hustings on Friday, to get to grips with the big Cambridge transport debate.
OK, perhaps there wasn't a lot of discussion about planes, but trains, cars, buses and bikes all featured heavily at a panel debate on transport in Cambridge last week.
The debate, hosted by the Cambridge University Railway Club (which claims, incidentally, to be the second-oldest railway club in the world, although they’re not sure which is the oldest) was ostensibly focused on the issue of rail fares, which have developed a tradition of being a political hot potato every January, with their tendency toward above-inflation rises.
There was a range of views on offer, from the Conservatives’ Chamali Fernando and her taxpayer-oriented aim to secure ‘value for money’ for railways, but not at the cost of more road building, to the Green Party’s Rupert Read, who argued for taking rail back into public hands, so that it might be run as a service, not a business (a point of view that sometimes appeared controversial, with one audience member loudly demanding to know, ‘what’s wrong with profit?’). Somewhere between the two sat Labour’s Daniel Zeichner — in favour state competition with private sector franchise bids, but against going the distance and renationalising rail completely — and Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert, who is very pleased to see plans underway for his pet project of another station in Chesterton, and the rebuilding of the railway line to Oxford (haters of the X5 rejoice!).
What became clear from the discussion was that while there is a debate to be had about who should fund the rail network, and the relative ideological and ethical pitfalls of applying the profit motive to a public service, that discussion pales into academic insignificance for many of the people that actually use trains.
Linda McCord of rail interest group Passenger Focus summed it up with the argument that all passengers really want is a comfortable seat, at a fair price. From the audience’s comments, I’d say that a lot of people are inclined to agree with her.