A Better Deal for Bus Users, Or Is It?

Transport Minister Grant Shapps has announced “A better deal for bus users”. He claims “fill a double-decker with motorists and it’s possible to remove 75 cars from the road”. That is clearly not true on most roads because it does not take into account the density of such traffic. Very few roads see nose to tail bus traffic that would maximise the volume of people carried. Most bus lanes actually carry less people than they would if they were left to carry all traffic because the frequency of buses is low.

Bus traffic has been falling across the UK for some years – for example passenger numbers were down by over 6% in 2018/19. See Reference 1 below. The only part of the country where bus journeys have been rising (until the recent decline caused by the Covid epidemic) is London which accounts for over 50% of all bus journeys. London buses are massively subsidised and congestion on other public transport services such as the underground and on the roads has encouraged usage. The use of concessionary fares such as the Freedom Pass in London has also promoted use at the expense of rising local taxes to pay for them.

Why do people in the rest of the country choose to own and drive cars when a bus would be cheaper? Because buses are not door-to-door services and you have to fit in with their schedules rather than pick your own travel times. Also anyone who uses buses will have experienced the problem of standing in the cold and rain for the next bus only to find it never turns up because it’s been cancelled.

How does Grant Shapps aim to make buses more attractive? By developing a National Bus Strategy and giving hand-outs to bus operators (or “grant funding” as it is euphemistically called).

He also intends to ensure that buses are given priority in new road schemes (i.e. more bus lanes). The Government will be providing taxpayers money to fund such schemes.  

The Government will also provide more funding to assist the purchase of all-electric or hybrid buses so as to improve air quality. This is a positive move as diesel buses are still a major contributor to air pollution, particularly in London and other major cities. While cars have got much cleaner in recent years, buses have not with too many old diesels still in use.

A summary of what is proposed is as follows:

  • National Bus Strategy focussed on passenger priorities.
  • review of £250 million bus service operators grant to ensure it supports the environment and improved passenger journeys.
  • over £20 million investment in bus priority measures in the West Midlands.
  • all new road investments receiving government funding to explicitly address bus priority measures to improve bus journey times and reliability.
  • refreshing the government’s guidance to local authorities to provide up to date advice on prioritising those vehicles which can carry the most people.
  • investing up to £50 million to deliver Britain’s first all-electric bus town or city.
  • improving information for bus passengers through new digital services and at bus stops.
  • challenging industry to deliver a campaign to attract people to buses
  • incentivising multi-operator ticketing with lower fares.
  • trialling new ‘superbus’ network approach to deliver low fare, high frequency services and funding 4-year pilot of a lower fare network in Cornwall.
  • ambition for all buses to accept contactless payment for passenger convenience.
  • £30 million extra bus funding to be paid direct to local authorities to enable them to improve current bus services or restore lost services.
  • £20 million to support demand responsive services in rural and suburban areas.

But it’s worth pointing out that the level of investment and subsidies is still quite trivial in comparison with that spent on rail services (for example £106 billion on building HS2 alone).

Grant Shapps announcement looks like a canard to win political support in some areas rather than something that will have a real impact. Bus users will continue to be the poor relations of other public transport users, and this writer does not see it encouraging people to get out of their cars and onto buses.

Spending money on bus priority measures rather than improving the road network for all vehicle users is simply a mistake. In summary this looks like another misconceived policy from Grant Shapps’ Department rather like the recent encouragement of LTNs.

Roger Lawson

Reference 1. Bus journey statistics: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/bus-statistics

Reference 1. Shapps’ Announcement: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-better-deal-for-bus-users

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Grant Shapps Changes Stance

I have been spending a lot of time on the ABD’s campaign against road closures in Lewisham and other London boroughs over the last few months. It has just achieved some success as Lewisham Council announced a reopening of some roads on Friday. But not enough to appease the complainants, and not enough I think to stop the traffic congestion on many roads.

Part of the problem has been the encouragement by Central Government for road closures and cycle lanes, and funding to assist, as promulgated by Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary.

A Parliamentary e-petition on the subject has already collected near 20,000 signatures in a few days, with some help from the ABD. See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552306 . Please sign it and get your friends and relations to do so. And write to your member of Parliament on the Subject.

But it seems the worm is turning as the Daily Telegraph reported the following: “A letter, sent on Friday to local authority transport bosses and local highways authorities and seen by The Telegraph, warns how a ‘notable number of councils used their funding poorly and were simply out of step with the needs of the local communities’. Mr Shapps also said: ‘I saw or heard from the public and parliamentary colleagues about far too many instances where temporary cycles lanes were unused due to their location and design, while their creation left motor traffic backed up alongside them; of wide pavements causing unnecessary congestion in town centres; and other issues that many have, rightly, reacted angrily to.’

He explains how he had ordered his staff to “engage” with those councils where he had ‘concerns’, because badly thought out road closures and cycle lanes had been introduced.

‘Since then, numerous schemes have been scaled back and revised,’ he wrote. ‘I am pleased with this, but the work will continue where local residents continue to have concerns.’

He warns the second round of funding in the scheme could see some town halls receiving ‘considerably less’ money if they fail to ‘embrace good design’ or ‘consult their local communities’.”

Let us hope there is real change but I suspect Lewisham and some other dogma driven London Councils will continue to pursue irrational policies so the fight for sensible measures with democratic input will have to continue.

Photo above is of the demonstration on Saturday against the road closures in Lewisham – no doubt more would have attended if it had not been an illegal event. Video present here: https://youtu.be/cqW2hBfK7k0

Roger Lawson

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Chiswick Road Closures and Grant Shapps Recanting

Opposition to road closures in London using the spurious excuse of the Covid-19 epidemic continues to grow. The latest example is in Chiswick where a petition against the closure of Turnham Green Terrace and Fishers Lane has been created. The result of the closures is to push north-south travelling locals on to Acton Lane and Goldhawk Road.  Both roads are gridlocked for far longer than was typical pre-Covid. Please sign the petition which is here: http://chng.it/CKDhT8JvdL

Grant Shapps Backtracking

The Government, and Transport Minister Grant Shapps, have caused many of the problems with statutory guidance that supported road closures and other measures that have created traffic congestion all over the country. But he has written an article published in the Daily Telegraph where he seems to be recanting.

The Telegraph article states: “The Secretary of State for Transport says he will personally intervene to scrap the worst examples where local authorities have ruined high streets and residential roads in an attempt to build cycle lanes and promote social distancing for pedestrians.

His comments come after a series of petitions attracted thousands of signatures from people across the country who fear councils are pandering to the cycle lobby.

Campaign groups representing the disabled, small business owners, pollution activists and motorists have criticised the schemes for being rushed through with little or no consultation”.

See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/09/05/grant-shapps-tells-councils-stop-abusing-250m-fund-meant-green/ for the full article.

Readers should write to their Member of Parliament to complain about the past actions of Grant Shapps and request the Statutory Guidance supporting these measures be withdrawn.

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More on Shapps Announcements

I covered the announcement of the Governments Covid-19 Transport Strategy in a previous blog post. Here are some further comments:

On the 9th May Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said that only 10% of former public transport capacity will be available in some locations if social distancing is to be maintained. It seems likely that will be so for many months even if people are permitted to go back to work. This will clearly cause major problems in London where almost all commuters use public transport such as trains, the underground and buses.

After the Prime Minister spoke on the 10th May, Mr Shapps issued this tweet: “Speaking this evening the PM was clear – if you’re going back to work in a job that cannot be done from home, please avoid public transport if possible. Go by car, or even better, cycle or walk. To help, we’ve announced more than £2bn in the biggest ever boost to cycling and walking”.

An example of how problematic London transport has become is a report in the Times that says Transport for London (TfL) has asked the Government for £2 billion. To quote: “TfL is down to its last £1bn, which is being burnt at a rate of £21m a day — leaving it less than two months from emptying its coffers and illustrating the intense pressure on local authority finances”. The article suggests the Government will attach some strings to any funding.

Mr Shapps was clearly right to point out the public transport capacity problem, but his apparent remedy to get everyone walking and cycling makes little sense. It is a typical view of politicians who can afford to live in central London. But for the vast majority of London commuters who travel many miles to get to work, it’s simply impractical even if they are keen cyclists.

Mr Shapps also justified his proposals by saying the epidemic is a great health opportunity to encourage active travel with the objective to double cycling by 2025. He also proposes to implement at least one “zero emission” city, and argues that one of the few positives will be improved air quality. He actually said there are “more than 20,000 extra deaths a year attributed to NO2 emissions”.

This figure is nonsense. It repeats the past allegation of 40,000 deaths from air pollution in the UK which has been shown to be simply wrong and a corruption of statistical evidence. In reality, there may be a few months shortening of life expectancy from all air pollution sources, a lot of which cannot be removed such as natural sources. But the figure is essentially uncertain and it is clear there are no deaths directly attributable to pollution. To specifically indicate NO2, which mainly comes from transport, as being the problem is also wrong when the Government advisory body COMEAP could not even agree that NO2 contributed to the negative impact on health of air pollution from particulates.

Mr Shapps clearly knows little about air pollution and its impact on health but is using his ignorance to put a positive spin on his actions in response to the transport crisis.

Just to show how there is no direct correlation between traffic levels and air pollution, this is what the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) recently reported: “Levels of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has reduced significantly during lockdown, research from King’s College London has found. Concentrations of NO2 have lowered as much as 55% due to less road traffic. However, levels of PM10 and PM2.5 were higher after lockdown than at any other time in 2020, due to easterly winds and pollutants from northern Europe”. The reduction in NO2 is perhaps not surprising when measurements by the LAQN are often taken at the roadside so will be heavily influenced by adjacent traffic. But as particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) are of much greater health concern you can see that Mr Shapps’ spin on the air pollution issue is somewhat misleading. Other UK cities have also shown no direct correlation between traffic reduction from the epidemic and air pollution – at least to date.

The air pollution problem is much more complex than can be solved by encouraging walking and cycling alone.

To conclude the ABD issued the following national press release:

Shapps Announces £2 Billion War On Drivers.

Every city in the UK to be made a traffic hell like London.

Grant Shapps today announced £2 billion to supposedly enhance walking and cycling (See Reference 1 below), but when he expounded the detail it was clear that this amounted to yet more gridlock and bullying for motorists of the type we have unfortunately got used to in London (Reference 2).

Pavements will be widened, cycle lanes introduced, roads will be closed – yet Shapps had the effrontery to suggest that a 5% increase in cycling would benefit motorists by reducing congestion. Not if there are 50% less roads, it won’t, Grant. Do the maths.

And while drivers are bullied with ridiculous speed limits, an expansion of electric scooters is simultaneously mooted – devices capable of breaking urban speed limits but which have no effective braking, crash protection or licensing requirements. This shows that road safety is a sham – just an excuse to make driving unpleasant and stressful and so discourage it.

The result is that getting about in any motor vehicle – car, delivery van, tradesman, taxi – in our cities is going to become a total 24/7 nightmare in every city in the UK.

The excuse for this was Coronavirus, but it’s clear that these disgraceful measures will be permanent. Talk about taking advantage of a crisis to reduce people’s freedom. The day after VE Day and we’ve already forgotten why we fought World War 2.

<Ends>

Notes for Editors

(1) £2 billion package to create new era for walking and cycling: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2-billion-package-to-create-new-era-for-cycling-and-walking

(2) How London got rid of private cars – and grew more congested than ever:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/feb/11/how-london-got-rid-of-private-cars-and-grew-more-congested-than-ever

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Shapps Transport Announcements – More Removal of Road Space

I mentioned in a previous blog post how the Covid-19 epidemic is being used as an excuse to close roads and implement other measures that prejudice vehicle drivers – for example by removing road space for cycle lanes. Yesterday Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, announced a whole raft of national measures that will fund such plans and give local authorities powers to implement them.

You can read the details here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2-billion-package-to-create-new-era-for-cycling-and-walking . Up to £2 billion of funding will be provided by the Government to support local schemes.

I and many other ABD members consider these proposals totally unreasonable and unacceptable and I have written to my local Member of Parliament, Bob Neill, accordingly – see below. Readers are invited to copy the text, add your own personal comments, and send it to your own MP (you can find their contact details by going here: https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP  – don’t forget to add your postal address so they know you are one of their constituents).

Letter text:

Dear Bob,

I have seen and read the announcement made by Grant Shapps on 9/5/2020 entitled “£2 billion package to create new era for cycling and walking”. I acknowledge that there are particular problems created by the Covid-19 epidemic that will impact transport, particularly in London where public transport use is very high. But the epidemic is likely to be a short-term problem whereas it is clear that these measures are intended to herald a long-term change in how we travel.

But the measures proposed are simply irrational and will worsen many of the existing traffic problems that we have. Removing road space to add more cycle lanes, close roads to traffic and widen pavements will actually create more traffic congestion when people should be encouraged to use vehicles where they run no risk of personal contact and virus infection.

By the time such measures can be implemented, the epidemic may well be over but the cycling enthusiasts will not support any reversion to the status quo. The total capacity of roads to transport people and goods is not improved by such measures, just the exact opposite.

Promoting cycling does not in reality enable better “social distancing”, as we have seen in the last few weeks where groups of cyclists often ride close together. I also note that the Government is to support the use of e-scooters and it suggests they may be used on our roads in June when the public consultation on their use has not even concluded. This is jumping the gun on what might be a very negative change in road safety terms.

I am also very concerned about the new Statutory Guidance under the Traffic Management Act which will enable local councils to introduce measures with minimal public consultation and at great speed. We have already seen how Lewisham Council is trying to introduce road closures (a.k.a. “Modal Filters”) with no public consultation whatsoever using Temporary Traffic Orders, despite very strong local opposition. Although Traffic Orders still have to be published, the lack of local newspapers nowadays and local councils’ inability in many cases to provide clear ways for the public to find out what is proposed and comment on it, is undermining democracy. For example, Lewisham Council consistently does not respond to questions on proposed schemes.

The regulations really need to be strengthened to stop councils rushing in measures without proper consideration and with minimal public consultation.

I would suggest that you need to ask Mr Shapps to reconsider his proposals so that unreasonable measures are not pushed through with minimal consideration and public consultation. Encouraging cycling and walking may be meritorious in some ways but there are many people, such as the elderly or disabled, who will never take up cycling and cannot walk very far. The announced proposals effectively try to dictate how people should travel which should not happen in a democracy.

There are many other ways that the Government could have considered to tackle the problem of public transport use in the current epidemic – such as supporting home working (“tele-commuting”), relocation of businesses from congested areas to others, improving the road network, the provision of more parking, and many others. The existing proposals are a very one-sided approach to meeting the known transport problems and will incur great costs with very limited impact.

Please discourage the Government from going down their chosen path.

Roger Lawson

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