LIKE many urban transit authorities around the world, the threat of budget cuts looms large over Transport for London (TfL), and considerable uncertainty surrounds the prospects for further improvements to the Underground network beyond the end of the current investment programme in March 2015.

Naturally the future of urban transport investment was a key theme at the International Public Transport Association (UITP) 60th World Congress in Geneva on May 26-30, where TfL commissioner Sir Peter Hendy was elected UITP president.Peter-Hendy

One of Hendy's first tasks in the role was to attend a working session of the Major Metropolises Group (MMG), an informal network which brings together public transport bodies from 12 European cities. Together the MMG members employ 150,000 people and their trains, trams and buses carry 40 million passengers per day.

The MMG is calling for urban transport investment to be considered a core element of national and European transport policies, with a level of financial support which reflects the true environmental, social, and economic role that public transport plays in cities.

"As president of UITP and a member of MMG, we're very clear that key to economic recovery in Europe is a focus on creating economic wealth in cities," Hendy told IRJ after the meeting. "A lot of European cities, including London, are net tax exporters to the rest of the country. If any economies are going to take us out of recession it's urban economies, so there's a real argument for cities to be regarded as special cases."

With negotiations beginning on the European budget for 2014-2020, the MMG is urging the European Council and the European Parliament to consider the role urban public transport investment can play in kick-starting growth, creating employment, and rebuilding economies.

"There's certainly a change in attitude in the EU - where previously involvement in city affairs was avoided, now the EU recognises that promoting urban economies is important," explains Hendy. "Equally it's essential for us to make the case for investment with national governments because public spending everywhere is under enormous pressure."

The MMG stresses this is a "key moment" for cities to highlight the need for continued investment in public transport, and for operators and other public organisations to highlight their concerns and ideas.

"All of the cities in the MMG need investment for two reasons," says Hendy. "One is that public transport networks are old and need renewal, the other is because in many cases the city's population is growing. The fact that we have infrastructure that needs replacing and expanding, the fact that there are more people coming to cities makes the case for investment very strong.

"Historically some of that investment has taken place at the expense of maintenance - if you look at London in the 1990s, the Jubilee Line extension was built at the cost of maintenance expenditure, which created a great backlog. So we not only believe the investment is justified, we also believe it should not be done at the cost of maintenance on the existing systems. This is the basis of the case we are making to national governments and the EU."

Suppliers under pressure

Hendy warns that stop-start investment patterns could have grave consequences for capacity and innovation in the supply industries upon which urban transport depends. "As far as suppliers are concerned, it is crucial for there to be consistent levels of investment over a period of years, they cannot live with a prolonged starvation of orders," he says. "The case we make for investment is also a case for the sustainability of the supply industry.

"42,000 jobs in Britain depend on the current level of investment in the London Underground. We are strongly making the case to government that without another medium-term investment programme, the efficiency and the consistency of supply will be lost. The danger for manufacturers is that if we can't continue to place long-term orders for the renewal and upgrade of the network we will see rising prices and the decline of the supply. That will be a reversal of the position we've been in for the last 10 years, when we saw consistent investment."

Hendy also warns that the loss of domestic markets could have a profound impact on rail industry suppliers looking to strengthen their exports, a trend which could put jobs at risk and lead to the permanent loss of manufacturing capacity.

"Without orders, the industry will simply be lost," he says. "Public transport can play a major role in fuelling innovation and R&D, and keeping European suppliers at the forefront of technical development. In London, the rolling stock industry has been able to invest in technological innovation because the market has been there to support it. In periods where investment in public transport has declined, suppliers have often needed more support from their customers in this area."