On 14 September, and with my RBfH hat on, I attended a seminar at the House of Commons entitled ‘The Impact of Congestion on Bus Passengers’. It was chaired by Louise Ellman MP and Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, gave a short address.

Sponsored by Transport Times and Greener Journeys, leading academic and public transport campaigner Professor David Begg has produced a five-point plan assessing the impact of congestion on bus users. The object of the seminar was to discuss his findings and build a consensus for action.

The thrust of the report is that urban congestion is significantly increasing journey times for buses and this is reducing ridership. The report argues that only by improving the quality of the urban bus journey, and in particular increasing buses’ average speed, can modal shift be sustained.

The principal tools available to Local Government to combat congestion are Demand Management and Bus Priority measures. Essentially the first seeks to reduce congestion by penalising private car use, while the second seeks to reallocate road space for use by public transport vehicles only. Implementation of either requires huge conviction and political nerves of steel. Andrew Jones made it very clear that, while he supported such measures, responsibility for introducing them lay entirely with the local authorities.

The weakness of both measures is that they can become victims of their own success. As people are forced from their cars onto public transport congestion is reduced, resulting in some people being tempted back into their cars.

Throughout the session I tried to relate the discussion to Hereford, which I visit both by bus and by car. Congestion on the ring road is not limited to the morning and evening peaks, but seems to erupt unpredictably throughout the day. A congestion zone could not be imposed until a ring road to the west is complete, and there is generally insufficient road space to allow the creation of bus lanes. A third possibility is, of course, the development of currently disused corridors for use by buses or trams and this, though relatively expensive, may prove more feasible.

I found the experience of ‘business’ in the House of Commons compelling 8
(although the room was unbearably hot) and the sometimes conflicting views of a number of prominent managers and academics in the bus industry fascinating.

Report by committee member Will Frecknall. The full report is available through the ‘Greener Journeys’ website.