I felt it important to answer some of the points that have been made about our proposals for Bus Rapid Transit and to make it clear why we believe that Bristol needs this scheme.
Many people have commented about the need for more investment in rail and a better service on our urban rail network.
We agree. We need more investment, at least a 30-minute service to all our stations and an expansion to new stations.
But we cannot ignore the other transport problems nor think rail can solve all our transport needs.
The Bus Rapid Transit proposals will link Whitchurch, Hengrove Hartcliffe, Knowle West, Withywood and Bishopsworth with the city centre and beyond up into South Gloucestershire and the Science Park and Cribs Causeway. It will offer a new metro system in our city centre with a rapid access corridor running into the heart of our city.
The proposals will reduce travel times on these routes by as much as 40 per cent. Having travelled from Hartcliffe to Eastville by bus recently I know just how long it takes to get from the south to the north of the city. The Rapid Transit route will carry 7.5 million passengers a year – this will cut congestion.
I do understand people’s desire for trams. I share that desire. But trams could never deliver the 32 miles of route which includes ten miles of 24-hour bus lanes and four miles of guided busway. There simply is not the level of funding.
Our schemes have very strong business cases and this is the main element the Government uses to assess which schemes to fund. Bristol and the West of England have proven through the Greater Bristol Bus Network and Cycling City that we can take on major transport infrastructure projects and deliver them on time on budget.
Over the next 15 years we are projecting a growth in jobs for the region by 74,000. Jobs we need and jobs people will need to get to. To achieve this economic growth we need to take a step change in our public transport system and deliver this change fast. We can do this. Bus Rapid Transit is the first phase of this step change. Secondly we are going to lobby hard for significant changes in the rail franchise which could deliver a far better local rail service for us from as early as 2013.
Thirdly North Somerset Council has already submitted a bid to reopen the Portishead line.
Too many times Bristol has fallen at the final hurdle when it comes to transport funding. But now we have a real chance. Our schemes are good and more than meet the criteria set by Government to unlock more than £100 million of investment.
Together, Bus Rapid Transit and local rail will form the metro transport system Bristol has been crying out for and needs.
We are now in the final months where Government will be asking tough questions about where the limited funding goes. The idea that Bristol could lose out to another city, again, is simply unacceptable to me.
Everyone wants a better transport system and this is the first in several steps to achieving this. Now is the time to get behind Bristol and back Bristol’s Rapid Transit bid.