As many of you may have heard, Wessex Buses are withdrawing the number 19 bus service, which connects the city centre with the University of the West of England via Cotham, Redland and Gloucester Road. Losing this vital link through our ward will be a great loss and may result in many ditching buses altogether and getting back into their cars.
Wessex’s reasoning for withdrawing the service is simple; the traffic is so bad that the service never runs on time. I have to agree that this therefore makes business sense for them to withdraw the service, but it is nonetheless a worrying loss.
Indeed, this is representative of a recurring theme in the bus industry; that congestion and traffic are wrecking the reliability of services. This has the knock-on effect of decreasing bus users’ confidence in the service, meaning that they stop using it. Therefore the bus company loses money, but more importantly people find alternative means of transport, and this often means using their cars.
There are two mitigations that bus companies locally have used to deal with the reliability issue. Some, such as Wessex in this instance, withdraw the service altogether. Others, such as First have done with many of their services that run on Gloucester Road, increase the frequency of the buses so that, even if they’re not running on time, there’s always another bus a few minutes away.
Increasing the frequency is indeed a short term fix, but adding more buses only increases traffic. More importantly, every 10% decrease in operating speeds (due to congestion) increases the bus company’s costs by 8% (they need more vehicles, more fuel, more drivers, etc.). This is passed on to passengers through higher fares and inevitably results in a drop in usage.
Slow buses are bad for the environment through pollution, and for our economies due to the sheer number of commuters that use them. Bristol, the worst city in the country for traffic speeds (thanks to congestion) , should be leading on finding a solution that will help to increase the speed of its buses, and that’s what we hope to achieve during this Labour city administration.
Professor David Begg, one of the experts on the issue, has published a report on why congestion is so bad for buses and bus passengers. I hope that we in Bristol will be able to implement the recommendations that he makes. These include: Introducing bus priority on roads and junctions meaning that journeys will be quicker, buses will be more reliable, and ultimately there will be more passengers; introducing the fastest possible smart, contactless ticketing options to reduce the time spent at bus stops; managing demand through the Low Emission Zone and other measures; and encouraging people to change their travel habits through working flexible hours, avoiding peak commuting times, and making use of real-time traffic information to plan their routes accordingly, reducing demand.
At this stage in time, with us only being a month into the new Labour city administration, it’s all a case of “wait and see”, but what I can be sure of is that we will be doing our utmost to improve the bus service in Bristol over the coming four years and beyond.