The controversial Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme for Bristol has been attacked by most of the major candidates for the city’s elected mayor at a hustings last night.
The £200m plan ‘bendy bus’ plan for the city was described as a “terrible compromise” by independent candidate George Ferguson, during the event at the Broadmead Baptist Church.
When asked by campaigners from the Stop BRT2 group if they supported the plan, Mr Ferguson and Daniella Radice (Green Party) both came out against. Meanwhile, Geoff Gollop (Conservative) and Jon Rogers (Liberal Democrats) supported the plan but only with “significant reservations”.
Labour candidate Marvin Rees did not attend due to family commitments, but Cllr Mark Bradshaw – who appeared in his place for Labour – said he could not support the plan in its current form, as did independent candidate Tim Collins.
Only former Conservative Councillor for Avonmouth Spud Murphy came out in support of the plans.
Speaking at the event, Mr Ferguson said: “BRT2 is a terrible compromise – a system chasing funding, rather than a system worthy of funding. The wool has been pulled over the eyes of politicians in the city and the new mayor must use his mandate to renegotiate how we spend the hundreds of millions of pounds, so we can use the money for a system that is less intrusive and fits into the city’s history and geography.”
Mr Bradshaw added: “There is no evidence how it properly integrates with Temple Meads station, and it has the potential to cannibalise existing bus routes.”
All candidates for the November 15 election said transport would be the key issue of the campaign, and were questioned particularly on their plans for the long-mooted Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) – a body aimed to bring together different modes of transport and operators across the greater Bristol area.
Current deputy council leader, and former transport chief, Cllr Jon Rogers said he felt freed now to speak out about his attempts in vain to create an ITA. He said he had been blocked by cross-party opposition in neighbouring council areas, who feared increased fares and worse services while Bristol prospered, and attacked bus and rail operator First group.
“I was left a frustrated man after two years of being in charge of transport,” he said.
“I worked unsuccessfully with First to get cheaper fares and better routes. I was conned by them, but I know differently now. The frustration must now be changed into action.
“We need a Transport for Bristol authority, along similar lines to that in London, which can set fares, routes and services. We need to seize control of our transport system, and the elected mayor has the power to do that.
“I won’t wait for neighbouring authorities to work with us, by which time our transport network will have ground to a halt.”
Meanwhile, there was a split among the candidates over how the city should work with the existing West of England Partnership (WoEP) – the group of councils in the region which aim to work together on regional projects such as transport.
Mr Ferguson, Ms Radice and Mr Collins all agreed that the partnership had been a failure. But former Lord Mayor Cllr Geoff Gollop said the city had to work with its neighbours.
“I am committed to an ITA, but it needs to be integrated with the communities that come into Bristol for work and leisure, too,” he said.
“Our neighbours see Bristol as a threat. We must not only work with them, but prove that it is worth working with us.”
Mr Bradshaw added that anyone who couldn’t see that the WoEP had brought massive funding for infrastructure in Bristol was “not living in the real world”, but wanted greater transparency in its decision-making.
Among some of the other key pledges and statements made were:
Mark Bradshaw (on behalf of Marvin Rees)
- Smart card ticketing would be a ‘game changer’ in terms of integrating different modes and providers of transport
- Can’t allow the Local Enterprise Partnership to take over transport policy
- Promised an ITA within the first term of holding office
- An urban metro system (light rail or tram) has the best potential of all plans under consideration
- A bus hub needed at Temple Meads
- There was far too much dependency on the car, but not an anti-car candidate. He wanted to be a pro-pedestrian, pro-cycling, pro-public transport champion.
- City had been “cursed” by consultants. The ITA needed to be representative of the needs of different groups of people in the city
- Transfer BRT money to rail projects
- A major priority for him would be to get funding for new rail services to Portishead and the Henbury loop line
- A need to change bus routes, so buses took people to where they wanted to go, not where the bus operators wanted to take them
- A New-York-style ticketing system, allowing people to buy tickets in far more places
- Need for more stations and bus stops, to allow more people to access services
- A rail ‘ring-road’ around the city
- Continuation of Greens campaign for a transport hub at Plot 6, Temple Meads
- Cheaper fares and a website where complaints about services could be lodged
- Continental-style switch-off of traffic lights at night to allow free-flow of traffic
- Spread 20mph speed limits throughout the city
- Said he had an advantage of having Lib Dem colleagues in government, as a way of getting national support for changes to transport
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