“By the way, it is absolutely not true that if you take away the car choice, people will go by bus. It have been proven over and over again, that people just choose what is easier and go to other destinations” was so right. I spent 15 years in Academia and Local Government trying to get people out of cars onto buses. This included promotional campaigns, analysing the world’s first Busway (Runcorn New town) and looking at the work of others around the world. Once people get a car, it dominates their travel decisions.
When the Runcorn Busway opened in 1970, it was expected to carry 50% of the trips in the town, partly because of the fast service speed and that the towns motorways were circuitous. In 1982 I did a comprehensive study of the town, including household surveys, focus groups, modal surveys etc. By then the busway was carrying only 15% of internal trips, no different from similar sized towns without a busway. The figure today is about 5% and parts of the busway have been abandoned for want of use.
That is a supply side approach. Most of what we consume is influenced by a demand side attitude “what do people want, and how can it be supplied at a price they are prepared to pay ?” Bath is presently only served by buses for internal trips, which are the majority people make. Over half are under 3miles long and less that 3% are over 30miles. The consumer verdict on this is that only about 6% of trips in Bath are by bus and about 65% by car. In fact only in Central London is public transport use greater than car, and there is congestion charging, high parking costs and soon a pollution tax. In the rest of London car dominates, with over half of all trips in London by car, as is the case in every other town and city.
Cars and buses contribute to air pollution. Even with zero emitting engines, dust from tyres, tarmac and brakes mean that PM10s will exceed the 10micron EU level, even though there is no safe limit to exposure to these carcinogens. Bath has a particularly severe toxic pollution problem from being sited in a deep valley, killing an estimated 100 people a year.
Not all journeys can be made to other destinations. For example work and school trips, which are a major part of the peak traffic, congestion and pollution. These are destination specific and without an acceptable alternative mode people will continue to drive. There is considerable market research and behavioural studies, that show that people will switch from car to rail if there is a convenient service. ‘Rail’ includes tram. The average of patronage of UK tramways has at least 25% of people leavingt a car at home. In Croydon this switch to tram has educed traffic levels in the Borough by a fifth.
Bath might aspire to a metro but it is too small and could never justify the cost, especially when there are other demands on public spending. “Trams provide 90% of the benefit of Metro at 10% of the cost” Pierre Laconte, Secretary General of the International Public Transport Association (UITP). So while it might be considered heroic, the Bath Tram team are trying to find a way to have a tram network, that can be operated with needing subsidies and can be built with private funding, thereby easing the burden on the public purse. Such a network will target the high car flows, since there is insufficient bus travel to support a tramway. This will need co-operation from public bodies, especially for modifications to road layouts and traffic management systems, to keep traffic moving (‘green waves’) on tram routes. In practice a tramway with a 6minute interval service provides the same capacity as cars on a 6 lane road.
Of course there will be problems to overcome, as there were when the motor car first began to dominate our streets. In Bath’s favour there are now plenty of examples in Britain where trams, people and traffic harmoniously co-exist safely, so that those experiences can be adapted to fit Bath’s special and World Heritage Designation conditions.
With kind regards,
Prof. Lewis Lesley BSc, AKC, PhD, CEng, MICE, FRSA, FCIT, MTPS