Bus franchising; a response

The editor responds to an article ‘Bus franchising is the biggest power new mayors have – they should use it‘ and suggests franchising may not be the panacea the author believes it to be

Dear Luke

I’d just like to briefly take issue with some points made by your interesting article about mayoral powers. The general point that co-ordinated services can help meet needs more efficiently is one I’d agree with, but this doesn’t have to be as part of a franchised system; I think some LAs have forgotten how to negotiate with bus businesses, and this – plus huge funding cuts, lack of roadspace and congestion – are the main reasons for loss of passengers.

There is no reason why contactless systems cannot be used by multiple operators, and this is already happening. I suspect you’d struggle to support the statement that ‘our buses are filling the air we breathe with poisonous emissions’ when plenty of data suggests the main polluters are diesel cars and vans, each carrying one or two people. These vehicles also create congestion which worsens bus emissions. Even in hotspots where buses are the main polluters, we must begin to understand that they are carrying hundreds of people per hour, at 200 miles per passenger gallon, and the car alternative at 30 m/pg would make the situation very much worse.

‘This system isn’t perfect, but it is very good: this is how transport networks are supposed to work, and TfL does a fantastic job of managing it. It is no surprise that there are now more bus passenger journeys in London alone than in the rest of England put together.’ Well, the success of London’s buses is actually due to Congestion Charging, bus laning, the high cost of parking, and a deep public purse which your own organisation estimates allocates at least six times more support for public transport to every Londoner than anyone in the regions. And leaves a £1 billion deficit for TfL to deal with.

If any lessons are to be learned from London, the bus lanes and control of private cars and vans have to come first

If any lessons are to be learned from London, the bus lanes and control of private cars and vans have to come first; if you create roadspace for buses, they run on time, become more popular (partly due to congestion caused by cars being forced into less space) and the additional loadings massively reduce fares, or surpluses which can be used to support less profitable routes. Only to make this happen, LAs need the guts to create bus priority, and the nous to talk to bus companies, and to wring the right result from them.

The social isolation caused by poor public transport is a very serious issue, yet here in my home city – and in every city in the UK – urban planning is so poor that new estates are built which cannot physically accommodate bus routes. Workplaces are deliberately isolated in industrial parks, without any public transport provision possible, let alone provided, creating an absolute need for car journeys. Let’s start there before pointing an accusatory finger at bus companies.

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