The decade of the bus starts by tackling congestion

Congestion is eclipsing the benefits of buses – and the National Bus Strategy needs to tackle it

Last week I was delighted to make my first appearance at the UK Bus Summit.

Those of you who were there will have heard me speak about the importance of cracking congestion and I make no apologies for doing so again. It is the biggest issue our industry faces but one that to date has received little political attention.

This is something CPT is looking to change, starting with the National Bus Strategy, which is a chance for the government to show it is serious about meeting its manifesto commitment to speed up bus journeys.

Slower bus speeds don’t just impact on operators, although of course the costs are significant with £8m a year being spent by Stagecoach in Greater Manchester alone just to keep pace with congestion. They also impact on passengers and the wider population too.

Over two million people travel by bus to work each day but congestion limits their job opportunities.

I talked about Dudley at the Bus Summit: 10 miles from central Birmingham but more than 80 minutes by bus in the morning peak – 30 minutes more than an off-peak journey.

How many people in communities like Dudley are effectively cut off from jobs in regional centres because congestion makes the journey too long? Quicker bus journeys would open up new opportunities for people and expand local labour markets.

It’s not just our economic wellbeing where congestion has an impact. Various studies have shown a clear link between taking the bus and greater physical activity, leading to a lower likelihood of being overweight and all the associated health benefits.

One study found a significant reduction in body mass index among people who switched their commute from car to bus, a switch that reducing congestion would stimulate. The study focused on commuters in later middle age, so I’ve been taking a particular interest in its findings.

Increased congestion also means poorer air quality, but small changes can make a big difference.

If we raise the speed of a bus by just 1.2mph, we halve the amount of nitrogen oxide entering the atmosphere and as journeys speed up and people choose the bus, we will see further reductions through less cars being on the road.

For once I was pleased that a speaker before me stole all my best lines. Buses Minister, Baroness Vere, opened the summit by placing congestion firmly at the heart of the forthcoming National Bus Strategy.

Fantastic news and, my prediction: If the Strategy delivers on reducing congestion, we won’t be talking about 2020 as the Year of the Bus, but about the 2020s being the Decade of the Bus.