Yes, it’s back in the news again. The Ashton Vale guided busway route, which I devoted several posts to at the end of last year, has reared its ugly head again. A quick update: the local councils want to convert a chunk of South Bristol railway line – most of which operates as a council-run heritage railway – into a private buses-only road, to replace the current park-and-ride bus route through Hotwells. They had a consultation about it. Now, 7 weeks later, the consultation results are about to be revealed.*
What do they say? From what’s been released so far, not very much at all. Only that the previous rather low price estimate is already on the way up – no surprise there then. It’s confirmed that a new bridge is going to be built alongside Prince St Bridge – that will take a big chunk out of the budget, for starters. But one of the big empty questions from before the consultation – the route the buses will take from there – still isn’t addressed. The planners are also positive that these will be fast, rapid, high-speed buses, because there will be Special Measures to make sure that they don’t get delayed in the city centre – but they have no idea what said Special Measures actually will be. The buses are still due to run along Cumberland Road – a decision which, as I discussed previously, means taking both the Bristol Harbour Railway and most of the width of Cumberland Road and giving it over to the bus route.
Furthermore, there’s still a great silence over where the money’s going to come from, exactly. Because that’s where the problem is, as it happens. Secretly, this isn’t going to be a bus scheme at all, because of how the council want to raise the money. Regular readers can skip ahead, because I’ve talked about this before, too. The money is coming from the Transport Innovation Fund, a body which provides grants for “demand management” schemes – in other words, congestion charging or similar. This new bus route might be being promoted, so far, as a new fast bus route: but at some point, unless the funding radically changes, the truth will pop out from underneath it. This is a congestion charging scheme with buses on top; the congestion charging part has, so far, been kept quiet.
None of this has been mentioned widely as yet. The Evening Post’s reporting has mostly been limited to repeating the relevant press releases, which of course have been rather quiet about this. It’s not surprising that councillor Mark Bradshaw says, according to the paper, that he wants to get the scheme finished as soon as possible. He’s presumably hoping that the funding bid will be written and in the post before anyone asks him what the demand management part of the bid is going to consist of.
* I like the way the Evening Post went with the headline “New Bristol bus route revealed” when barely anything has changed since before the consultation.