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By Mark Smulian...
By Mark Smulian

Transport secretary Douglas Alexander has proposed directly elected transport authorities for England's main conurbations. The six metropolitan passenger transport authorities (PTAs) could gain powers to regulate bus services and manage roads if their governance is reformed.

In a letter that discussed a proposed transport bill, Mr Alexander said: 'Weak governance is one reason why we have not encouraged PTAs to move to bus franchising. It is also slowing the development of local road pricing schemes.'

There are PTAs in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne & Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. They draw members from each council in their area.

Mr Alexander complained: 'The PTAs depend on their constituent councils [which] frequently duck hard area-wide choices, making it difficult for the PTAs to function effectively.'

He proposed restructuring them with 'stronger political leadership (possibly involving direct elections) and powers to control traffic on the most important roads'.

This would be compulsory only where road pricing or bus franchising was planned.

Changes would be co-ordinated with reforms promoted by the Department for Communities & Local Government.

Tony Travers, director of the London School of Economics Greater London group, wrote a paper for the Local Government Association that called for transport powers for the conurbations as a first step to city regions (LGC, 1 June).

'Transport is relatively self-contained and easily understood,' he said. 'In the context of disagreements in Whitehall between supporters of city regions and of regional government, this kind of solution could have the advantage of not upsetting anybody.'

But Dick Sorabji, head of policy and research at the New Local Government Network said: 'The government seems to be saying that joining things up locally is the way to go, but only it knows how to do it.

'If you have different visible leaders for every service it does not join up.'

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