Alastair Dalton: The opinions of transport journalists might surprise you

Once a year, a woman comes into our offices and turns the tables on me.

Rail nationalisation is backed by 60 per cent of the public - but by just 29 per cent of transport journalists. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Rail nationalisation is backed by 60 per cent of the public - but by just 29 per cent of transport journalists. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

In my job, I’m usually the one asking the questions, but for more than an hour, she quizzes me on what I think about transport.

My interrogator is from business advisers Ipsos Loyalty, sent to gauge the opinion of some 65 British transport journalists on behalf of a range of transport bodies.

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They want to know what we think about major issues, as well as how well we think they are performing. What they get are our frank but unattributed views.

The results of the latest survey, conducted last summer, which I have just received, are also likely to make fascinating reading for anyone who uses our roads, railways and airports - in other words, virtually all of us.

Dare I say they are significant because this is not a poll of politicians with vested interests and axes to grind, or the public, who are well-informed to a greater or lesser extent, and may also be understandably partisan.

Instead, the results reflect the considered views of those of us whose job is to understand, assess and impartially report on transport.

Some results are unsurprising, and chime with wider opinion, such as the environment and emissions getting more mentions as major issues, along with the cost of rail and bus fares.

However, while Brexit was high on the list in the previous poll, this has receded to just 12 per cent - one in eight - of us mentioning it.

Airport capacity is also less of a concern in the wake of the decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow, but it was still troubles 18 per cent.

Interestingly, almost half of those who took part in the survey backed the decision - 48 per cent - with a third - 34 per cent - opposing it.

This is broadly in line with past polls of local residents.

Backing for UK Government transport policies - the survey did not address Scotland separately, where much transport is devolved - has fallen, with 54 per cent not satisfied.

Asked about the party with the most impressive transport agenda, Labour is now neck-and-neck with the ruling Conservatives, at 20 per cent. The Tories had a 37 point lead the previous year. However, 26 per cent of us said no party impressed us.

But a key Labour policy, of renationalising the railways, is supported by just 29 per cent of transport journalists, although it was not an entirely decisive result as fewer than half - 46 per cent - were opposed.

In stark contrast, the move was supported by 60 per cent in a YouGov poll when it was included in Labour’s general election manifesto last May.

But there’s one transport policy that transport journalists support even more than the public - cycling improvements.

An overwhelming 85 per cent backed increasing spending on cycling infrastructure, with just 8 per cent against.

By comparison, a poll last November by cycling developers Sustrans in seven cities including Edinburgh - where cycling is at its highest - showed 75 per cent support.

One of the last questions was who we thought was the most impressive spokesperson on transport issues. Can you guess? Most mentioned (by 15 per cent of us) was former Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis, who has just resigned as the UK Government “infrastructure tsar”, followed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan (11 per cent) and rail commentator Christian Wolmar (9 per cent). Last surprising fact: 5 per cent chose Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary.