‘Seizing the moment’

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 11th February 2020 by David Brown.

The top priority for Government’s Bus Strategy must be to recognise the role of buses in tackling congestion.

Congestion is what slows journeys down and makes bus travel less attractive. Will we ever convince people to transfer from a car stuck in traffic to a bus stuck in traffic? It’s quite stark – a 10% reduction in speed reduces customer numbers by 10%.

On top of that, more resources are required to run buses at the same frequency. Five routes at Go North East each cost £100,000 extra to operate in comparison to five years ago. In East Anglia we’ve had to reduce frequency or curtail routes. We’ve also had to remove the X90 service between Oxford and London after a 50% increase in journey time.

Meanwhile, the recent consultation on bus franchising in Manchester made no acknowledgement of the need to combat the city’s horrendous congestion. Buses will not be able to support local communities if passengers abandon them because they take too long. There won’t be a commercial bus market left – never mind a debate about how we regulate it.

If we can’t tackle congestion, we won’t effectively reduce emissions either. Noxious emissions from Euro VI buses double below 5mph.

Conventional wisdom says restraining private car use would prove unpopular. But it’s now 2020 and that assumption could be changing. Last year saw public concern on climate change reach new heights. The national debate on how the country achieves net zero by 2050 is affecting all strands of policy, from agriculture to taxation.

Local governments are also taking bold steps. York plans to ban non-essential car journeys within the city walls by 2023. Cities such as Birmingham and Oxford are also taking steps to restrict private car access in city centres while prioritising bus journeys.

Air pollution and climate change are forcing a shift from outdated thinking. But we should be concerned if this new thinking is about electric cars. According to the International Energy Agency, an electric car with a 250-mile range has a huge carbon deficit when it hits the road. It only starts saving emissions when it nears 40,000 miles. No wonder the Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded that ‘widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation’.

We need to make fresh, positive arguments about how we can tackle air pollution and climate change. Not with ‘clean congestion’ – but by creating cities with high-quality mass transit enabling people to live and breathe well.

I don’t see the Bus Strategy being about more legislation, and much of it won’t even be about more money either. What it needs to do is ‘seize the moment’ and put in place a national framework that will drive the right behaviours at local level.

Let’s take this opportunity and have a Bus Strategy focused on tackling congestion. This will lead to better outcomes for customers and communities in cleaner, more liveable towns.

About the Author

This post was written by David Brown.