SNP alternatives II

This was contributed by a reader in response to the SNP’s alternative to trams:

“It isn’t the number of buses, routes nor their frequency that is the main problem in improving bus services in Edinburgh (and therefore attracting more passengers). None of these tackles the major remaining barriers to increasing passenger numbers, namely the ever-lengthening journey times. In fact, more services and increased frequencies actively conspire against making journey times faster – witness the oft-quoted number 22: its very success now means that travelling on the 22 takes longer, and is more crowded than ever. That route has reached maximum capacity. Putting even more buses on (of whatever service) will only make it worse.

To make bus travel better, much more attention must be paid to expanding and viciously enforcing parking restrictions, bus lanes and giving absolute priority to buses at junctions and traffic lights. On every route, each of the weak points must be addressed, for example in the case of the number 22 route, we need absolute bus priority at Elm Row and Picardy Place roundabouts, the Waterloo Place junction with Princes St as well as at the West End of Princes Street.

Across the city, instead of having bus lanes ending before a junction, there need to be separate bus traffic lights, for example. The SNP, in proposing merely more and somehow “better” buses, seriously fail to understand the problems faced by a bus network in an ever-more congested city centre and associated transport planning solutions. Around the world, cities face similar, often worse, problems than Edinburgh. We need to look there to learn from success and failure, rather than devising populist and ill-informed policies that any transport planner will tell you will deliver nothing like the results of a tram system.

If the SNP are serious in their commitment to expanding public transport use, and reduce car use, in Edinburgh based solely on buses, they must devise serious and drastic planning measures across the city and re-shape the balance between car and bus, together with the design of the street infrastructure. None of this is cheap, straightforward or even popular. And even then, the best they can hope for is a few percentage point increase in numbers and little in the way of serious non-bus traffic reduction, which has to be the aim of transport policy in a city with a fragile economy.

And one of the key lessons is that on heavily-used existing public transport corridors (such as Leith Walk/Princes St) there comes a point where the route reaches absolute saturation and no more can be done by buses alone. The very success of that corridor poses its greatest threat as over crowding gets worse and journey times get longer. This is precisely why cities across the world are putting tram routes in these corridors. What is being proposed in Edinburgh, that of putting a tram on a successful bus route, is exactly what has proven most successful (both in terms of attracting new passengers and raising revenue) elsewhere.”

This seems to correlate with the facts and statistics in the posts “French tram lessons” and “trams won’t cut car use“.

SNP alternatives?

Given that it is only the SNP who want to scrap the trams, it is worth scrutinising their alternatives.

So, what do they have planned? You can read their plans on Davie Hutchison’s cool site North to Leith, but in essence this is it:

Davie’s post says: “When we form the Scottish Executive after the 2007 election we will create a £4m per annum Capital Bus Route Development fund. The fund would allow bus operators in the Edinburgh City-Region to bid for funds to secure the future of the bus service, enhance the frequency of current services and to develop new routes”.

Kenny MacAskill said that the trams would potentially threaten the future of Edinburgh’s award winning bus service” despite the fact that all the evidence from other tram systems shows that bus use goes up as well when trams are introduced (see French tram lessons). Funny how in 2003 Kenny thought the opposite and wanted trams protected from competition from buses!

Kenny also said that “it (the £4m per annum) delivers much more for far less. In terms of bangs for bucks its must be buses not trams” despite the fact that according to PTEG, “significant” investment in buses alone only produces a 5% increase in public transport journeys, compared to 20% increases with trams.

Steve Cardownie, SNP council leader, said: £4m per annum for the development of buses routes in Edinburgh would allow for two existing routes, every year, to be increased in frequency to 5 minute intervals. That’s two routes a year becoming as frequent as the 22″

So, he wants to add two more routes every year with the same frequency as the 22. Will he be building more roads through the city for them to go on? Some bus journeys already take three times as long as making the same trip by car. If you add to that a vast increase in the number of buses on the streets, coupled with the predicted 25% increase in car traffic within ten years, that is a recipe for even more gridlock.

More buses on key arterial routes leads to more congestion.

More congestion leads to longer journey times.

Longer journey times mean less people catching the bus instead of driving.

“Bangs for bucks?” – no, the opposite. A shot in the foot.

Of course, there is a lot that can be done to continually-improve the bus service, and new routes are planned after trams, when there will be the chance to re-deploy Lothian Buses’ existing vehicles to different parts of the city/the Lothians linking in to the tram network. But why do the SNP think that Edinburgh will somehow succeed ion massively increasing bus use beyond capacity when every other city has failed and is frantically looking at alternatives?

This was some of the reaction to this announcement on the Evening News:

“What a half baked idea. Substituting capital expenditure, which leaves the city with a lasting legacy, for current expenditure, which could be withdrawn, and gets whittled away in any case, is hardly sensible accounting. If you want to ditch the trams and use the money for something else, at the very least make it something that leaves a legacy”.

“I can often walk up Dundas Street, reaching the top before the bus can. I’ve had to get off a bus and finsh my journey on foot as it was quicker. There are far too many buses in my opinion”.

“Roads in the town centre couldn’t cope with that amount of busses. Princes street is normally chocked full of nothing but busses”.

“Did you lot know that London gets tens of billions of pounds spent on it’s transport every year and yet Edinburgh can’t even get a fraction of this. Good old SNP, looking after Edinburghs interests”.

“Here we go, more capital transport bashing from the Strathclyde National Party. FWIW more buses will increase congestion. Any fool knows that”.

“Well as an Edinburgh resident (who doesnt own a car) who spends more time on stationary buses in packed streets than moving ones, the notion that more buses will help solve our congestion problems and entice people out of their cars is one I would have thought most people wouldnt give a lot of time to (but apparently not!)”.

French tram lessons. Bus use goes up too

France has been investing in new tram systems for some time now, and the statistics from there make dismal reading for tram opponents.

On public transport passenger numbers, they shoot up after trams come along. This is directly pertinent to Edinburgh as French trams are usually built on routes that are already extremely well used by buses, as is proposed here. Look at this table from a Faber Mansell report looking at French trams:

Public transport use (bus and tram) after introduction of new tramway

Nantes 1985 – 1986 +26.7%
Grenoble 1986 – 1988 +21.3%
Rouen 1993 – 1995 +27.7%
Montpellier 1999 – 2001 +36.3%
Orléans 2000 – 2001 +17.8%
Average +26.0%

These figures INCLUDE bus journeys. In other words, once trams come in, bus journeys go up as well. The report gives some key lessons from French trams:

Lessons Learned from Tramways in France

  • Implement in corridors with strong existing bus ridership. LIKE WHAT IS PLANNED IN EDINBURGH
  • Restructure buses to support, not compete with, tramways. LIKE WHAT IS PLANNED IN EDINBURGH
  • Construct in-street to regenerate streetscape, advertise tramway, and displace cars. LIKE WHAT IS PLANNED IN EDINBURGH