By Bristol city councillor Tim Kent on the bendy bus schemes
THE choice for Bristol couldn’t be more stark. Condemn another generation of commuters to the misery of rush-hour congestion – and employers to millions of pounds in costs and lost income as the traffic jams lengthen – or join with the city council in seeking a solution.
Government funding is critical. Without it, we can do nothing.
Right now, we’re in with a good chance – our only chance – of securing ministers’ backing for a number of Rapid Transit schemes to get our city moving again, giving Bristol’s economic revival the kick-start it desperately needs.
Believe me, Rapid Transit is the only show in town. You may have other ideas, but – as far as the Government is concerned – they are not on the cards.
But even if the Government approves funding, it has changed the rules for how much of a contribution Bristol and its neighbouring authorities will have to make. Bristol alone will have to find £42 million. And the council – as everyone knows – has no funds of its own.
We have looked at every option and believe raising a levy on employer-provided parking spaces in the city centre or a supplementary business rate on larger firms to be the only solutions to our funding gap.
The Evening Post, though, reports the views of a number of people opposed to Rapid Transit – and to the idea of asking business to help pay for it.
What I want to know is: what would they have us do? Drop our bid for Government funds? Ditch Bristol’s only hope of substantially reducing the waste that is the rush-hour gridlock?
I am happy to hear other ideas. So far, though, the opposition parties and the Post have been silent on where to find the money.
We are set to be offered a magnificent opportunity here.
In any other city – Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, for example – business people would jump at this chance and rally to their councils’ cause.
Make no mistake: if we are offered major investment from the Government to cure one of our city’s greatest ills and we turn it down, the money will simply go elsewhere.
Some question our need to invest in public transport, even suggesting this is part of an anti-car agenda. Here are the facts:
l Half of all congestion on our roads is caused by too much traffic.
l We already have 530,000 registered private vehicles in the West of England region and studies predict that average speeds will decrease by a third over the next 20 years if we do nothing about congestion.
l The amount of roads operating at maximum capacity, with significant congestion, will triple by 2031 unless we take action.
The Lib Dem administration at the Council House is only too well aware that this city’s prosperity depends on business recovery from the recession.
We have no intention of threatening Bristol’s economic revival.
Let me emphasise that businesses will not be asked to contribute anything until 2015, by which time we can expect Bristol’s economy to be much stronger.
The Post says Rapid Transit will not reduce congestion. This is not the case.
Rapid Transit is a major plank in our plans to cut congestion, along with improvements in rail, smart ticketing and safer streets initiatives. The proposal offers 31 miles of new routes, interconnecting with rail and – critically – connecting south Bristol with employment centres in the north of the city.
I realise that business will be concerned about being asked to contribute more.
That is why we are forming a joint working group with them.
But we have found that firms across Bristol and the West are heavily backing the Rapid Transit proposals.
Why? Because they know we need a better public transport system to deliver future economic growth.