A new report from Professor David Begg on behalf of Greener Journeys has highlighted that congestion on Britain’s roads is detrimental to the future of bus passenger transport.
The report is focussed on the major cities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Greater Manchester, Hull and London and has shown how traffic congestion has brought average traffic speeds to below 10mph in our busiest cities and reduced some bus routes to walking pace.
Much of the growth in traffic numbers has been accredited to an increase in delivery vans on the road as a direct result of changes in shopping habits to online services and to the huge popularity of the private hire app, Uber.
Studies have shown that bus journey times have increased by an average of 10% over a decade, this has had a direct impact on passenger numbers and the report suggests that if these continue to decline at their current rate, bus passenger numbers will drop between 10% and 14% every ten years, putting the future of the bus sector under real threat and costing an estimated 5,000 jobs.
Typical rush hour periods are getting longer, as drivers to Manchester, London and Bristol can verify and road traffic is expected to grow by up to 55% by 2040.
The report states that buses carry more commuters than all other forms of public transport combined, being the route of choice in to city centres, helping to generate £64bn per year for local economies. It is said that around 400,000 people are in better jobs as a direct result of the bus service and they provide a lifeline to vulnerable passengers.
Excessive idling due to congestion is a contributory factor to the increase in carbon dioxide emissions which have risen by 25% in urban conditions, giving a knock on effect on fuel efficiency which has declined by 35% since 2000.
It is known that in parts of London, it is sometimes actually quicker to walk than take a bus. An example of this is the Route 11 which runs between Fulham Town Hall and Liverpool Street station, which in parts, averages just 4mph. Over the past year, speeds on a third of London’s bus routes have fallen by more than 5%
Planned roadworks in the capital have increased by 362% in three years. Prior to this, demand for bus services in the city was expected to keep rising. Congestion now means road journey times have increased in central London by 12% a year since 2012 and the city is now experiencing one of the fastest declines in bus use in the country.
Peter Shipp, Chairman and CEO of EYMS, provided David Begg with a report of his experiences in Hull. One of their big problems is the A63 which runs through the south of the city along the Humber and to and from the port to the east of the city. This is a heavily congested road and often as a result of disruptions through accidents and breakdowns, bus services can be delayed by up to an hour.
Peter is a supporter of bus lanes but frequently meets with objections from other road users. He welcomed the report saying that it was ‘very well timed. Someone needs to do something about the situation, not just in London, but nationally.’ He agreed that encouraging the next generation of bus users to embrace this mode of transport could be highly beneficial.
What this means?
Slower speeds lead to higher costs and higher fares, an increased journey time and a decline in reliability and punctuality. These in turn all lead to a deterioration in the service provided and as a direct result, a fall in passenger numbers.
The report recommends a five point plan: Bus speed targets, Demand management, Bus priority, Speeding up dwell time and Mobilising bus passengers
To set bus speed targets and reduce bus dwell times during boarding and alighting, the report suggests that the introduction of off-bus, smart card and contactless ticketing would assist in both of these cases. Regarding demand management, congestion, ULEZs and worker car park levies have proven to increase bus passenger numbers by discouraging car use. Charging van drivers for making deliveries during peak hours, coupled with real time passenger information for bus users could help to improve congestion. Bus priority schemes and dedicated bus lanes have proven to decrease journey times and relieve congestion. The final recommendation is that bus users need to have more of a voice against the powerful motoring lobby, as the social economic profile of the average bus passenger carries little weight amongst the country’s decision makers. The report states ‘We need more bus champions in the UK in local, devolved and central government.’
Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, Claire Haigh, commented, ’This report highlights the shocking growth in congestion blighting major cities across Britain, and particularly the heavy toll it is taking on the bus sector which is vital to our economy and our society. A fully loaded double decker bus can take 75 cars off the road. Giving buses more priority on the roads and introducing contactless payments would make journeys faster and more reliable, encouraging more people to leave their cars at home and easing traffic to benefit all road users.’