Roads ‘a finite and misunderstood resource’

CPT President Ralph Roberts ponders the logic behind road space allocation – and what operators could do to win their deserved share of the nation’s asphalt


Those ubiquitous things that were designed and provided for the conveyance of people and goods have been misunderstood for years. The majority of our local roads were designed and laid out before most of us were born.

They are essentially a finite resource, yet we still manage to misunderstand them, and allocate space according to status, rather than by need. Common sense should dictate the less road space you require, the more rewarded you are.

The opposite should also be true. Yet, it is commonplace in town halls to embrace this concept, but completely miss the point by thinking it is the size or type of vehicle that is important, rather than the number of occupants in it. Indeed, most early emission control zones punished buses rather than cars, such was the level of distorted thinking that was endemic.

Buses are a very green form of transport and a very efficient use of road space. We all know the arguments about why bus priority should be in place and the benefits it would bring.

Indeed, all over the UK, Bus Service Improvement Plans and bus partnership arrangements are planning bus priority schemes to make buses more attractive and drive modal shift.

Is there a norm, though? On the rail network, there are UK-wide norms in terms of junction speeds, line speeds and design. Why do we not have a similar outline for bus priority?

I do feel that some central guidance to local authorities would take away a lot of the hand-wringing that goes on at town hall level. This guidance could be high level, and be dependent upon such factors as frequency of service and average bus speeds.

Can you imagine the change in conversations at town hall level if there was a national standard that outlined the requirement for bus priority and minimum line speeds? I think that, had this been the norm two decades ago, we would be presiding over a much more well-used mode of transport.

The communities that we serve would be benefiting from much cleaner air as a result, and much better health outcomes to boot.

The eagerly anticipated first research report, commissioned by the Confederation of Passenger Transport, into decarbonisation of the coach and bus industry has now been published and it has a strong focus on technology. That technology is welcome and is already being embraced within the industry. We do need behavioural change in the general population though, without which we know a fully carbon neutral bus fleet will not significantly move the dial on transport emissions.

We must lead by example now. As well as making the case for high-level policy change and the leadership that is needed, we must also show that we, as an industry, are willing to do our bit. This is now where we are at. If all we do is point the finger, and rely on ‘whataboutery’, we will be further side-lined.

I would urge you to be brave and be bold. We must reduce our reliance on burning diesel, and we can then stand tall in our calls for our customers to be given the same road space allocation as a car user in a UK wide standard.