If you want good buses, you need fewer cars

I see that Newcastle’s promising start to setting an agenda for a Clean Air Zone has collapsed into weak-kneed populism.

The initial idea was to stifle car use with a congestion charge and/or bridge tolls but after the consultation encouraged 19,000 angry responses from car drivers, the spineless local authority has caved in, thereby ensuring the 164 million bus journeys will shrink further.

Yet in December last year, Marshall Poulton, Assistant Director for Transport at Newcastle City Council, said that “congestion in and around the city centre” is slowing down bus journeys into Newcastle city centre, and services running between the East and West in the region. We now find out these were just words.

These are the facts. Facts may be unpopular at the moment, but politicians – of all people – should be using them to create transport policy which works

One of the purposes of government is to save people from their own excesses. We are veering on to a course of government by poll; the ‘we’re listening’ mantra used to disguise that elected officials putting their own position before the common good. The saddest aspect of this is that many bus users have no voice in this debate.

The poor and the elderly have no computer to respond to consultations, migrant workers and children have no vote, and the disabled are a minority. They will suffer the worsening and unreliable bus services Poulton identifies, while a vocal majority will continue to pollute the city.

There’s more flim flam about this decision than I have seen in a while. Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said the new plans would “improve our air quality as quickly” as the previous options, the BBC reports. He even compounds this by deriding public transport as unreliable and expensive, without even a nod to the fact that his own failure to tackle congestion has created this situation.

The proposal shrinks the CAZ to a tiny chunk of Newcastle city centre; the ‘visible’ bit; the bit that might convince visiting politicians that the local authority is on top of the situation. Other areas which record high NOx don’t get a look in.

This really isn’t difficult to understand. Each car commuter is contributing six to eight times more NOx and particulates (never mind CO2) than any bus; the ratio is even higher if Euro VI buses are made the standard. Cars occupy six times as much roadspace, and roadspace is fixed. By filling the space we have, cars create unreliable, unattractive buses, and by doing so, decrease passenger loadings, which forces the ticket price and fuel consumption up, or increases the need for public subsidy.

These are the facts. Facts may be unpopular at the moment, but politicians – of all people – should be using them to create transport policy which works.

I could not be angrier.

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