While we are still awaiting the promised National Bus Strategy from Westminster, the Welsh Government has published Llwybr Newedd – a new Wales transport strategy. Commendably, it looks at all modes of transport in one go, rather than a set of silo strategies.
There are some good and some questionable ambitions in this strategy. The most encouraging statement is that there will be priority “to ensure that new developments… are located where there is, or can be, good access to public transport, including bus”.
This will hopefully put an end to ‘middle of nowhere’ developments, which have included several major new hospitals. The strategy should, however, go beyond this and ensure that any new development is designed around public transport and active travel.
Partnership work features heavily in Wales transport strategy
It is also encouraging that there is a strong emphasis on partnership working with bus operators and local authorities (LAs), which if done correctly will help to achieve “quality, affordable regular, reliable and punctual bus services.” There is even a passing mention in the roads, streets and parking section of changes to parking and road space allocation to benefit public transport and active travel.
However, there is the worrying, unclarified statement of “new bus legislation that gives the public sector more control over local bus services”.
Where does TrawsCymru come into play in strategy document?
The choice of the word ‘control’ rather than ‘influence’ is unfortunate. We have seen in London how long it takes to improve bus services when they must go through a political and public consultation process.
The coronavirus COVID-19 period, conversely, has shown that things can adapt quickly where operators and LAs work in partnership. There also appears to be a lack of integration with the recent TrawsCymru strategy, with no mention of developing that network.
The strategy repeats the commitment to all buses in Wales having zero tailpipe emissions by 2028. That is very ambitious, considering that Newport is still the only place in Wales to have a significant number of electric buses in service. It is unclear if any of the 4,000 zero-emission buses recently announced by Westminster will be going to Wales.
The emphasis so far, as shown by the recent TrawsCymru announcement, is on battery-electric buses. That creates an additional problem in that current lithium battery technology relies on the extraction of raw minerals from remote parts of the world, while the batteries themselves cannot be easily disposed of at the end of their lives.
In addition, there are serious concerns about the ability of the grid to supply all of the power to satisfy the general rush to electrification, or the suitability of the supply in rural areas.
While this strategy is a welcome development, more work is needed. That includes avoiding putting all of Wales’ zero-emission eggs in an electric basket. There also still appears to be a desire for control over buses, despite dropping proposals for franchising.