Regular readers – local regular readers, if there are any – might have noticed that it’s a while now since I’ve mentioned “Bus Rapid Transit”, the West Of England Partnership’s unloved and highly expensive scheme for a South Bristol guided busway to replace the current park-and-ride route. Because, you know, the way to improve bus services in Bristol is to replace the bus routes that are, erm, already the best bus routes in the city, with slightly different buses* on their own private roads. If you’ve not heard about this: you might want to read this, this, and this, in which – with a few misconceptions which got sorted out along the way – I demonstrate that it will be rather tricky to build the thing.**
I’ve been quiet, because, well, there’s only so many times you can ridicule these plans, and I hardly have enough space here to point out all their shortcomings. Their consultation phase is over; and presumably the Partnership is now collating the results. Catching up on the blogs I read, though, I’ve noticed that the other day Chris Hutt of the Green Bristol Blog has spotted that the project is probably doomed. Not because of anything going on here in Bristol, but because of events up in the North, where Mancunians have overwhelmingly rejected the proposed Manchester Congestion Charge scheme.
The Manchester proposals were horridly complex, with two rings of toll lines, motorists paying to cross each line in either direction, and the outer ring following the M60 motorway.*** But the scale of the no-vote is bound to put off any other councils from putting forward further congestion-charge proposals in the near future. Even though, as London’s shown, they definitely work in terms of reducing traffic, no city population as a whole is going to vote for them. Even in an apparently-green city like this one.
The reason this is important is: the Bristol guided bus scheme was, essentially, nothing more than a pill to sweeten a congestion charging scheme which would be coming along with it. None of this was mentioned in the consultation documents, of course; but then, you had to study the consultation documents pretty damn carefully to even spot that it was about a bus route. The key is that the guided bus route will be funded from a bid to the Transport Innovation Fund – a body which only accepts bids for “demand management” schemes. You can’t just have the carrot of a new bus route; you have to be proposing a stick to go with it. The exact nature of Bristol’s stick is, as yet, unknown; but it would almost certainly involve some sort of road pricing.
You never know; the council – sorry, the Partnership – still might push forward with the scheme. Presumably they’re planning to produce positive results from the consultation,**** and then say: well, you wanted this scheme, and we can only have that if we have the congestion charging too. But I doubt anyone in Bristol really wants a guided bus – itself a grand waste of public money which would be much better spent improving the ordinary bus routes – enough to agree to congestion charging in return.
* using vague and unspecified “sustainable fuel”, of course. Not that the planners have said what said fuel is going to be, or even shown any sign that they have any idea what it would be.
** and – for train geeks – that it will effectively destroy the Bristol Harbour Railway in its current form, as the route requires almost the entire railway trackbed right up to Prince St Bridge.
*** The only circular motorway in Britain, road trivia fans.
**** Would I be cynical to suggest that they had planned the overall tone of the consultation result beforehand? Would I?