The Institute of Directors (IoD) this week welcomed the announcement that funding and decision-making on local major transport schemes is being devolved to new Local Transport Bodies from 2015, giving businesses more of a say on key projects in their region and speeding up approval of vital work to ease road and rail bottlenecks.
According to the mayoral campaign Bristol Manifesto, transport congestion is set to cost the Bristol economy £600m per year by 2016. As recent runner up in the European Green Capital contest and the UK’s first cycling city, moving towards a more sustainable and effective multi-modal transport system is a big issue for the city council.
Last night, exasperated by First Bus, Bristol City Council voted to opt for a Quality Contract which allows local authorities to set minimum requirements for private operators. Typically, however, there seems to be some confusion over how much better off this will make us as Transport Minister Norman Baker has stated that by opting for a Quality Contract, ‘better bus areas’ such as Bristol will not be entitled to tax breaks currently handed to private operators.
Executive member for transport Cllr Tim Kent thinks this is a ‘mistake’ (shades of The Thick Of It?). If not, what the Government is offering with one hand it is taking away with the other.
Meanwhile, mayoral hopeful Jon Rogers is pledging that he will introduce a flat (single) fare of £1.50 for bus travel across Bristol. Sounds great, and oh so simple, but of course he will have to work within the confines of the aforementioned Quality Contract and the Joint Local Transport Plan, as well as the permutations of working with neighbouring authorities, existing concessionary fares, peak and off peak travel and so on and on.
While the current bus provision certainly needs to be shaken up and some decent competition allowed to enter the marketplace, I think we’re getting distracted. What all the mayoral candidates need to be talking about is an effective integrated system, taking into account that most people use more than one mode of transport – including walking. Just because you ride a bike doesn’t mean you never drive a car or take a train.
Business travel needs can be totally different to how you choose or need to get about when you’re not at work. We need a system that takes into account a muti-modal population that needs a choice of ways to get around the city and its neighbouring areas easily, cost-effectively and safely, taking into account other issues such as decent suburban rail links, parking, congestion and reliability – not just how well the buses run.
Karen White is Vice Chair of the Bristol IoD and Director, JBP PR and Parliamentary Affairs