An underground rail system with trains every 60 seconds, congestion charges and even driverless cars could be the future for transport in Bristol.
Further details of the ambitious mass transit network for the city have been revealed in a new document, with claims it could cut peak journey times from Aztec West, Emersons Green and the airport to the city centre to under 25 minutes.
The draft Bristol Transport Strategy also states that such a system would offer increased capacity and reliability, but digging under the city doesn’t come cheap and it is expected to cost in the region around £3-4bn – a figure critics argue is far too optimistic.
Setting out how these proposals – and wider transport plans – can help deliver on aspirations to close the gap between rich and poor in Bristol, mayor Marvin Rees said the council is investing in opportunities for the city that everyone should be able to be able to access in an efficient and affordable way.
The document, put before the council’s growth and regeneration scrutiny committee on Thursday, sets out the city’s transport vision for the next 20 years and how to solve some of the problems in a city that has “some of the worst congestion in the country”.
The mission statement reads: “Our vision for Bristol is to be a well-connected city that enables people to move around efficiently, with increased transport options that are accessible and inclusive to all.
“We will deliver an improved sustainable and resilient transport network that supports Bristol’s vibrant independent local centres and neighbourhoods and connects to an attractive and thriving city centre.”
It sets out 15 key objectives including improving traffic congestion, looking at parking provision and reducing pollution.
Ideas for projects in the West of England worth up to £10n have already been announced as Bristol City Council looks to build a transport system that meets specific challenges:
- Creating infrastructure for the 100,000 new homes set to be built by 2036
- Making a city with some of the most deprived areas in the country more equal
- Fixing a pollution problem that causes around 300 deaths a year
Walking and cycling are key elements of this and plans to improve safety and accessibility are on the agenda.
Proposals for the bus and rail links include “enhanced MetroBus” routes that include connecting the Portway Park & Ride site into Severnside, new routes to Thornbury, Yate, and Clevedon and an orbital route on the ring road connecting the East Fringe to key destinations.
Reopening of the Bristol to Portishead rail line is also mentioned, along with plans to improve the wider rail network.
Bristol City Council is already looking at creating a kind of congestion zone. Under these plans, certain heavy-polluting types of car would be charged for entering part of the city.
How this clean air zone will work in practise is still, uh, up in the air and there are currently five options on the table, four of which include charging areas.
The report also suggests the idea of the workplace parking levy, where employers are charged a fee for every parking space on their site. Employers may choose to pass this charge on to their staff, which could encourage people to consider alternative ways to get to work
Although not explicitly saying it will follow the model, the strategy does mention Copenhagen, which has made huge leaps in reducing congestion in the past 20 years. One of the ways it’s done this is by reducing car parking spaces by up to three per cent each year.
On driverless cars, or Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs), the report doesn’t go into much detail, saying: “CAVs could have the potential to transform how we travel. It is too early to tell how this transformation will unfold, but as with all new technologies, there are likely to be both positive and negative impacts.”
With big ambitions on the table, the council will need to seek outside funding sources to see many of them through and the report outlines the potential for government grants, private investment, Local Enterprise Partnership funds, and also boosting the public coffers with schemes such as a parking levy.
Discussing plans for a Bristol underground at the growth and regeneration panel meeting on Thursday, it’s clear many councillors are yet to be convinced and feel the estimated £4billion price tag is optimistic.
“It will be 50 per cent the length of Crossrail and that cost £15billion,” Tory councillor for Brislington East Tony Carey said. “I think £7.5billion would be a more realistic figure – especially as it would be built in 20 years’ time.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Mark Wright argued the project was completely untenable, with even the cost of servicing the loan needed to build it being way out of the council’s budget, or the possible profit the system could turn.
But the ruling Labour administration is keen to look into the idea of a mass transport system.
The council’s head of strategic city transport Adam Crowther said: “It would be remiss of us not to look at the idea and do a feasibility study.”
Even with funding, the council believes it would take around 20 years before subterranean trains could be running.
The Bristol Transport Plan and the Joint Local Transport Plan (covering the West of England) will go out to public consultation in October, so people will have the chance to suggest improvements or lobby for changes.
It will be officially adopted at a later date.
Main photo credit: Visit Bristol
Jack Pitts is a local democracy reporter for Bristol.