But not everyone agrees that these so-called Bus Rapid Transport solutions are the right ones.
Here, transport campaigner PIP SHEARD argues that the bendy-bus routes will be neither rapid nor environmentally friendly.
I am a BS3 resident who has been talking (with others) to Bristol city councillors about alternatives to the council’s planned bendy-bus Bus Rapid Transit.
We are suggesting an ultra-light tram instead of BRT2 and the reopening of Portishead rail line with a new Ashton Gate station instead of the South Bristol Link (SBL) road.
These two alternatives would be more popular, more likely to attract more motorists out of their cars and have less adverse impacts on sensitive environments and other road users.
I disagree with the councillors who say that we ‘have to get the money’ and ‘to have nothing is not an option’. Both BRT2 and the link road are so bad for the environment and such poor value as public transport schemes that I hope they never happen.
To build BRT2, the existing Cumberland Cut rail line has to be removed. The bendy bus will run along ‘guided’ concrete tracks from Long Ashton park and ride, over Ashton Vale fields and the ex-Alderman Moore’s allotment site on embankment alongside Colliters Brook, over a new bridge over the Portishead rail line, alongside the rail line, the Cut and through the harbour. The proposed buses run on diesel so air quality will become an issue. This 3.7km section is segregated but, with the current proposal, is unlikely to be rapid.
BRT2 is costed by the local authority’s consultants at £50 million. Due to the long list of construction and structural works needed in a confined location, the cost could easily overrun – and any such overspend has to be met locall
Bristol City Council has agreed to pay £12 million, although the primary beneficiaries will be travellers from outside Bristol. This contrasts with £3m from North Somerset Council.
Four North Somerset bus services (currently operated by First using Hotwell Road) and airport buses will divert from their current routes to join the proposed 10 bendy buses each way per peak hour. All buses have to be fitted with guide wheels and drivers given four weeks training. Unless there is off-board ticketing for all buses, BRT buses running every six minutes will be held up behind other services while people pay in cash. Have First agreed to this arrangement with less frequent stops for them to pick up and drop passengers? If this shared arrangement does not work, the BRT2 route will have no ‘rapid ‘sections at all.
To accommodate this now increasingly crowded bus route, signals will be installed to hold up cyclists and walkers on Ashton Avenue bridge (near the Create Centre) for buses to pass, which raises huge issues. The height of the end of Vauxhall bridge will be increased and Cumberland Road bridge lowered and drainage works needed to accommodate double-decker buses running into the harbour. The length of the harbour railway will be shortened. The construction of a ramp up to Cumberland Road from the harbour and the reconfiguration of the road itself will create the return route for the buses.
After the cut and the harbour, buses will arrive at what I call the “double pig’s ear” at Wapping Road/ Prince St bridge/Prince St.
Pig’s ear one – all three BRT (BRT2, South Bristol Link and BRT3) routes will run over Prince Street bridge and along Wapping Road. At peak time, 60 buses (30 each way) are predicted to cross the bridge every hour. Up to 42 (21 each way) buses -bendy, First double deckers and airport buses from BRT2 and the SBL – will turn into and out of Wapping Road from behind the M Shed.
They will be joined by 18 bendy buses (nine each way) from BRT3 going up and down historic Wapping Road from a new bridge across the cut next to the Louisiana. The prospect of so many diesel buses on a route (along Wapping Road) with very heavy pedestrian and cycle flows every morning and evening and all day through the harbour, along the cut and Coronation Road is an appalling prospect for local residents, other road users and tourism in the city. The tram alternative (turned down by Bristol City Council six weeks ago) would run only every 10 mins (each way) over the bridge, would require far less construction work so would be less likely to overrun in cost, be quieter because of its small engine, run on bio-fuel made locally and co-exist more safely with cyclists and pedestrians.
Pig’s ear two – the location of a BRT2 bus stop in the middle of Prince Street outside the Arnolfini holding up buses and other road users in both directions.
The remaining BRT2 route in the city centre (after Prince St bridge) will use existing bus lanes or share the carriageway with general traffic where no bus lanes exist.
The South Bristol link road will not primarily be a Bus Rapid transit. It is a new road through the greenbelt to link the A38 and the A370. A road that will have a not very frequent, unprofitable bus, rapid only when there’s no traffic congestion in order to sell it as part of a BRT network. Unprofitable because running for half its route through the greenbelt it will have low passenger numbers and need subsidy.
The West of England Partnership’s own consultants say so in their financial report. Sometimes not rapid because on the section from the A38 to Cater Road business park, the ‘Rapid Transit’ bendy bus will share a single carriageway road with other traffic (except on the approach to junctions) and from Cater Road to Hengrove, it will use the existing road.
We were told that “the operator running BRT2 will pay for the SBL vehicles”. That’s a tall order – asking a company to take on a loss-making service and buying new bendy buses for it, too. BRT2’s profitability depends on a projected doubling in passengers from the park-and-ride site at peak times and a tripling in the off-peak by 2016. How likely is that? BRT2 replaces a perfectly satisfactory park-and-ride service and goes to the same destinations (Cabot Circus and Temple Meads – with a 400-metre walk). If the passenger increases do not occur, then frequency will probably be reduced back to the current six an hour, the frequency proposed for the tram (which goes direct to Temple Meads) and rejected.
The SBL BRT bus frequency has fallen to every 18 minutes at peak times and every 24 off peak, on a route that has only four bus stops in the built-up area before its terminus. No “turn up and go service frequency” here. The SBL BRT service looks destined to fail Rapid Transit tests – high passenger flows, rapid journey, frequent services and operation without subsidy.
Councillors, please reconsider. After September 9 it will be too late to get us out this double BRT trouble.
This article is the personal view of Pip Sheard and not necessarily that of any group with which she is involved.