Motorists on buses

76900ABB-ADDE-4B8D-B067-09F963ED73FA.jpegThere’s been a bit of a spat on Twitter over the last 48 hours about whether motorists can be persuaded to use buses in the same way they’re enticed to use trains and trams. Train and tram fanatics claim metal wheels on tracks are masters of the mass transit mode with buses just bit players.

Examples cited where buses are making a difference (Eclipse in Fareham/Gosport; Leigh Busway in Greater Manchester; Stagecoach’s Little & Often frequency boost in Ashford) are met with disdain as being too small fry for serious consideration. It’s true in the national scene they’re just isolated examples, but buses are all about local markets – including mass movement in local markets.

There seemed agreement in the online discussion that its ‘modal horses for courses’ which was encouraging  – I’m a great believer in looking at the overall public transport offering and making it attractive to use as a whole. But the tweet exchanges once again highlighted that buses simply don’t get the high profile attention and coverage they deserve. Sadly there is a tendency for some working in the rail sector to look at buses as the poor relation. A bit like the Fat Controller’s scorn for Bertie The Bus. It’s a great shame, as in terms of relativity of numbers who travel, many more people travel by bus than any other public transport mode.

In most mid size urban areas they’re the main public transport show in town. Increasingly they’re also upping their game in inter-urban markets albeit from a small market share.

Where sensible parking control measures are introduced in towns and cities (its management, pricing and enforcement) coupled with sensible priority measures for buses through congestion hotspots – often with formalised Park & Ride operations – then buses really can shine as a mode of motorists’ choice. Such policies coupled with bus company investment in high frequency bus routes offering great value tickets, well marketed with attractive branding, operated by comfortable buses with all the trimmings (free WiFi, usb, next stop audio/visual etc) and driven by helpful drivers are what the famed ‘Partnerships’ are all about. These very much have modal shift motorists in their sights.

Travelling around the country I see much evidence where this partnership approach really works effectively and motorists do see they have a realistic alternative to driving on congested roads and struggle to park in high priced town centre car parks. Sadly there are far too many places including those with no chance of new train or tram tracks, where these components are not fully or even partly in place and that’s the challenge bus companies and local councils must continue to tackle.

A final thought – there’s also huge scope to get trains, trams and buses working much more closely together as modes to attract motorists. Many journeys  don’t start or end at a rail station.

It’s hard to believe buses and trains are in common ownership even in the same operating areas with little or no ‘joined upness’ to attract passengers. There’s probably no more than about two dozen train stations which display bus timetables, as one small example. Quite extraordinary.

Roger French.   29th June 2018

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