Difficulties and problems encountered with Bus Rapid Transit in the UK

(Note Bath Trams fully supports buses for lower density routes, but believes for high density routes, both within Bath and connection Bath to Bristol and other centers steel wheeled trams are far superior)

Dear Bath Chronicle,

I attended the recent full day Bath Tram conference and the prominence to which you gave Sir Peter Hendy’s essentially pro bus and anti-tram views  was drawn to my attention.

Here is a summary of what I am hearing about bus services and busways:-

  1. Relatively few busways are being built anywhere in the world; and Britain is possibly the only country in the developed world that still believes that building new busways is a good idea.
  2. Some cities have both good quality busways and good quality tramways. In cities which have had both for many decades the public know what they want based on actual experience of use. Adelaide in South Australia is probably the best case study because their busway is unusually high spec and actually makes an operational surplus on revenue. However in the adopted city transportation plan some new tram lines are proposed but no new busways ; This is because the well informed public voted 80% to 20 % in favour of  new tram lines and there is no campaign for new busways unlike the campaign to reintroduce that trams in Bath.
  3. As Professor Lewis Lesley told Bath Trams conference Runcorn busway was considered to be a good value system when it opened in 1965 but its useful life is now expected to be less than 70 years compared to the  120 years and still going strong for some European tram lines. The entire new town was built around busways, and it was expected to carry 60% of all journeys, but this has now dropped of to around 10%, almost the same as Bath, as people prefer their cars to buses
  4. The only busway in UK that is currently working to full line capacity is Millennium Transit in The Royal Borough of Greenwich. 50 busses an hour go along the fully segregated section and at peak times busses are crammed full of standing passengers. Is that because it is a very  comfortable, cheap and enjoyable way to travel, or is it because commuters to and from North Greenwich Jubilee line station have Hobson’s choice when it comes to getting between home and work? I am sure it is the latter. As a busway the line capacity can’t be increased and so the problem remains unsolved. So why not upgrade to a tram line which would have three times the existing line capacity? The owners, Transport for London say that solution is un-affordable and will not be done. Meanwhile the segregated road, which is TfL (busses) property, not public highway, has seriously broken up after only 15 years and it is in urgent need of a major repairs. Unlike a tram system working at capacity there is no surplus revenue from Millennium Transit fares sufficient to pay for major carriageway repairs every 20 years. Does the City of Bath really want to own transport infrastructure assets with that sort of performance and funding liabilities of that kind?
  5. Greenwich Waterfront Transit (busway option) was downgraded when the Millennium Transit pilot project was seen to be under performing against optimistic promises. It has since been quietly abandoned after costing large and undisclosed sums of public money.
  6. East London Transit busway: same as Greenwich Waterfront Transit.
  7. Cambridge Busway – the local MP called it a White Elephant.
  8. Luton and Dunstable Busway. Is not very popular with local residents. Luton airport has decided that they do not want the planned busway extension to serve the airport but instead they will procure their own alternative which is to be a tram link from Luton NRN parkway station. Year on year passengers numbers growth is not impressive compared to new tram lines. This busway also has a poor accident record of drivers crashing into other busses and the central barrier. Residents are asking why when the Promoters considered four alternative vehicle technologies trams were not one of the four options put out to public consultation.

I do hope that you will give equal prominence to views of experts who attended the Bath Trams conference.

with kind regards,

Bob Chard.  M.Phil. (architecture) B.A. (technology) Dip.TP. Expert in consents and approvals procedures for major transport infrastructure projects; urban transit systems.  Over 40 yrs. consultancy, local government and academic experience. Formerly MRTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute).