Friday, 24 April 2009

We missed the bus

Transport Minister Paul Clark joined me and local councillors Terry Cook, Mark Bradshaw, Brenda Hugill, and the ubiquitous Paul Smith in Lawrence Hill today for the launch of Labour's 'Brunelcard' campaign. We think an Oyster card type system for local bus and rail services would cut delays (no endless waits while the person in front fiddles around for change), be more convenient (no last-minute rush into the newsagents by the bus stop to buy a pack of chewing gum just so you don't have to try to persuade the driver to give you change from a tenner), cut the cost of journeys and encourage more people to use the buses and trains.

But it seems we've missed the bus. Big time. While we've been banging on about fare rises, unreliable or cancelled services, dirty buses, rude drivers and First's failure to bring fares down in lines with the drop in fuel prices, not to mention the need for a quality bus contract and an Integrated Transport Authority, the real scandal about First Bus in Bristol has passed us by.

We've been left standing at the bus stop while Cllr Woodman sails past on his way to Original FM to reveal the dreadful truth about First Bus. They don't know how to spell Colston! They spelt it with an 'e'! As Cllr Woodman says, 'it shows just how awful First Bus is'. And it takes a Liberal Democrat to tell us. We hang our Labour heads in shame.


The Grim Reaper said...

I visit Bristol once every few months and that certainly sounds like my experience. I don't get that in most other cities, but I suspect I'll be taking the car with me next time.

How often do you use the buses yourself, Kerry?

Bevanite said...

Lib Dems are always jumping on the bandwagon. You were probably arguing for improved Bristol buses while Ifran Ahmed was still in nappies.

Pete Goodwin said...

Oh come on Kerry! This idea isn't a Labour monopoly - I've heard senior councillors of the three major parties banging on about it in the past three years, and it's certainly been part of our Green Party policy.

The reality of it is that no Bristol administration, including your own, has managed any progress on this. You seem far more hung up on 'flagship' schemes like the 'rapid' transit. Other councils, though, are making much more progress.

How about a bit of co-operation in pushing it forward instead of this incessant inter-party sniping?

Anonymous said...

"The ubiquitous Paul Smith"?

That's not what they call him in my local.

Peter's right. You've taken an old idea, given it a naff name - "Brunelcard" - and pretended you thought of it.

Even by election time standards this is desperate crap.

Kerry said...

Did I suggest it was a new idea? No. Has Labour advocated it before? Yes. Have other parties? Quite possibly but I've not noticed.

Incidentally, whenever I've raised this with First before, they've made noises of approval but said it would be too costly. It's on the wish-list.

As for cross-party co-operation, Labour has bent over backwards over the last couple of years to try to build a consensus across the West of England partnership area on transport, for example on the need for an Integrated Transport Authority. We're not the ones placing obstacles in its path. Try telling the Tories and Lib Dems about the need for joint working - and let us know if you get anywhere.

Paul said...

I called for an oyster card for bristol almost two years ago - first said too expensive.

As for Colsten - perhaps this was an attempt by first to disassociate themselves from the slave trade history

Lib dems jumping on band wagons - and probably not paying the fare either

Bristol Dave said...

I can't see an Oystercard system working, after all, the main problem with public transport in this city is the cost to users, and First will only put up the prices further to pay for the implementation of an Oystercard system.

I still can't work out why public transport is so appalling and expensive ONLY in Bristol, even though in other cities such as Manchester and Sheffield they are serviced by First Bus but it is much cheaper and more reliable. As it stands, it's cheaper for me to drive than take the bus, and my car is hardly cheap to run.

I've come to the conclusion that the fault lies almost entirely with Bristol City Council. Sure, FirstBus are guilty of shameless profiteering and diverting profits into shareholder's bank accounts rather than reinvestment or improvements in services, but Bristol City Council are guilty of severe underinvestment in public transport for decades creating a car culture that is not reasonable to expect people to ditch with no viable alternative, allowing First to rip off the city with pretty much no remonstration whatsoever, allowing routes to be canceled by First, again without remonstration and without arranging an alternative, subsidising bus routes to the tune of millions, most of which probably ends up with the shareholders, etc etc.

"Arrogance" Bradshaw, whom I despise with a passion, has nobody to blame but himself and previous councillors in charge of Transport for the woeful public transport in Bristol.

Kerry said...

I don't think it's just the fares that are the problem, judging from the correspondence I get and personal experience (and yes, I do use the buses in Bristol from time to time - was without a car the entire summer recess, but ended up walking a lot which I rather enjoyed). Unreliability is a big problem too - either buses turning up late or not at all, or journeys just taking a lot longer than they should. BCC is trying to address the latter on key routes through the Showcase Bus Routes. Getting people out on cars and onto buses is also crucial, in that it frees up the roads - high fares and unreliability are equal deterrents. Which is why I've been pushing First to trial a reduced rate fare on a key route to see what impact it has.

First is universally unpopular amongst MPs in whose constituencies they operate. Have a look at transcript of Local Transport Bill committee hearings with Clive Betts and Angela Smith from Sheffield leading the charge. But I think Bristol is worst, certainly in terms of high fares.

I think Arriva run the buses in Manchester. I accept that civic leadership has given Greater Manchester a great public transport system, although they still have problems as their recent quest for a congestion charge demonstrates. Which is why I want an ITA for the Bristol area, to remove transport policy from short-term politicking. And also why I want four year all-out elections in Bristol, for precisely the same reason.

Have to defend Cllr Bradshaw, and also Helen Holland, who have been battling against the odds to pull this together across the four local authorities, and have gained a lot of respect at the DfT for their efforts. But it takes four to tango!

Kerry said...

PS the point of an Oyster card system (and we can't use 'Oyster' because it's TM'd hence the choice of 'Brunelcard' and if BB has any better suggestions I'd like to hear them) is that it speeds up bus flows, thereby making journeys quicker and more likely to stick to timetable, and thus making using the bus more attractive to passengers. First Bus and their like wanted a deregulated bus market, where market forces prevail - which surely means endorsing the principle that you invest out of your own pocket to increase your customer base and turn-over in the long-term rather than always looking for handouts. Someone else can tell you what First Group's profits were last year, but they're not strapped for cash. Bristol is subsidising the rest of their empire, and we have to ask ourselves, why?

Bevanite said...

Bristol needs to look at what London have done over the past 8 years. The bus system has been radically reformed and works. well. The numerous bus companies which operate increases competition and therefore efficiency. I think a mayoral system probably helped get things moving and cut through political infighting but the oyster card certainly reduces time, hardly ever see a substantial queue boarding a bus like you do in Bristol.

Also people can rely on them to get them to work on time. Good buses were the only reason congestion charging could work in London. Certainly if the buses were better it would be a far better incentive to leave those nasty little cars at home.

Bristol Dave said...

Thanks for your replies.

I spent 4 years in Manchester at university and the public transport there is honestly leaps and bounds ahead of us. The tram system (which I loved) is fast, cheap, and reliable, as are the buses. First do operate buses in Manchester, at least on some routes.

I agree with a lot of what you've said about politicking of transport policies and 4-year all-out elections.

However I'd disagree about the reasons for introduction of a congestion charge. There's nothing wrong with public transport there and city isn't even particularly congested except for some parts of trafford park and the A57, which aren't even included in the proposed congestion charge area. This was reflected in the city's vote against the congestion charge, which was a resounding NO. If, as the supporters of the congestion charge tried to persuade us, congestion was really bad, they wouldn't have lost the vote THAT badly. You could say that people will vote against any charge, which in a sense is true, but don't forget the proposed improvements for Manchester (tram extensions etc) were actually very good, as opposed to Bristol, (half-baked BRT idea and a few "showcase" bus routes).

The reason the congestion charge was introduced was because they wanted the cash! The Transport Innovation Fund would provide the cash they needed to expand the tram system etc, but they had to include a form of "demand management" (congestion charging to you and I) in their bid. The West of England Partnership had to do the same, which is why Bristol's TIF bid included a proposal for a congestion charge.

I say they "had" to, it wasn't part of the process, but they were told in no uncertain terms by the DfT that their bid had far more chance of success if they included proposals for demand management. After all, congestion charging provides a large amount of revenue.

Pete Goodwin said...

Kerry... as launches go, this one seems to have sunk straight away. I can't find anything about 'Brunelcard' on the web (your link to Bristol Labour Party just raises a message saying could not be found). Could it have been one of these 'events' orchestrated at short notice when faced with the task of keeping a Minister occupied for an hour or two?

More positively, though, I'd like to hear the extent of this idea - and maybe to help try to develop it further into something that's practicable. If the interested parties (in both senses) could get together in some kind of informal forum to exchange ideas, without putting any corporate/party interests first, maybe we could find a common interest - and a common drive - to make it happen. Does that make sense?

Kerry said...

No, it's been a while in the planning. I thought the new website was going live this weekend, but maybe there have been teething problems. I think it's going to be - rather than the old url. Terry Cook is in charge. Will flag it up when it's properly operational.