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Meandering Along: Buses In Edinburgh At Walking Pace?

Professor David Begg is a highly respected transport expert. He was not only at one time the former city transport convener for Edinburgh, but also a very senior executive of FirstGroup plc for many years. He is one of those respected people whom others listen to when he speaks; he has enormous real-world experience in the bus industry, both nationally and internationally. Therefore, when he predicts that significant increases in delivery vans on the streets of Edinburgh will result, if current trends continue, in reducing bus travelling speeds in Edinburgh to no faster than walking speeds, his insights are taken seriously.

If this nightmare scenario were to become reality, it would effectively render bus services virtually useless, with only the very frail using the services. The facts are that bus journey times have increased by over 20% on some routes during the last ten years, despite significant improvements in passenger boarding times due to contact payment schemes. As a result, Professor Begg has requested that buses be given priority and that all bus lane operating periods be extended from 7 AM until 7 PM, seven days a week. The reality is that there has been an explosion of delivery vans, which have significantly slowed down buses.

The twin issues of increased traffic congestion and the rapid rise in home deliveries have resulted in bus lanes being abused by delivery van drivers stopping to drop off or pick up collections. Unless these lanes are properly enforced, the reliability of bus networks will continue to decline, undermining efforts to combat climate change and achieve zero emissions, contrary to both local and national green energy ambitions. Professor Begg noted that with bus journey times increasing by 1% every year, there would be 30% fewer bus passengers in 30 years. He suggested that buses would travel at walking speed, meaning that passengers would mostly be those with limited mobility. In London, bus speeds have been noticeably decreasing over the last few years, and patronage has not returned to pre-COVID levels. This is partly due to the London mayor’s speed limitation policies, but also due to the expansion of delivery drivers meeting the huge increase in online home shopping.

The Scottish government has recently committed to supporting the environmental agenda, although they paused bus priority measures and prevented the enforcement of bus lanes using bus-mounted cameras. These tactics, used in other areas of the UK, have not only reduced abuse of bus lanes but also generated significant revenues for local authorities, with fines exceeding £1 million in some cities. However, the extended bus lane times that Begg advocates could become a reality if a planned trial proves successful. Indeed, the current transport convener for Scotland, Professor Scott Arthur, has stated that the city needs the powers, funding, and measures in place to keep the city moving, a sentiment likely echoed by Professor Begg, who will no doubt be watching with great interest to see how the double impact of new trams for the city and the introduction of the congestion charge will affect the public transport infrastructure of Edinburgh.

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