UK

Bus lanes bedlam: After cycling chaos, now Boris Johnson finds £3bn to keep motorists off the roads 

Hundreds of miles of bus lanes will be built to discourage driving, Boris Johnson will announce today in one of his first acts of ‘levelling up’ Britain.

In a major transport shake-up, the Prime Minister will also unveil simpler fares with daily price caps for multiple journeys across different types of public transport.

Councils and operators will be told to work to increase the frequency of services so passengers can ‘turn up and go’, with main route service so frequent that timetables could be ditched.

More buses will be put on in the evenings and at weekends and all will accept contactless payments.

Britain’s buses have been viewed as something of a ‘Cinderella service’ in recent years, while the bulk of transport investment has gone towards train projects such as HS2, Crossrail and electrification. 

In a major transport shake-up, the Prime Minister will also unveil simpler fares with daily price caps for multiple journeys across different types of public transport

The number of bus passengers has fallen by 12 per cent over the past decade, whereas fares have risen by almost 80 per cent over the last 16.

A £3billion investment will help fund 4,000 UK-built electric or hydrogen vehicles to provide clean, quiet and zero-emission travel. There will also be a consultation on an end-date to the sale of new diesel buses.

The Department for Transport hope the strategy will see passengers in England benefiting from more frequent, more reliable, easier to use, better coordinated and cheaper bus services. 

The strategy, which reverses much of Margaret Thatcher’s 1986 deregulation, risks angering motorists, who could face longer journeys.

And it comes hard on the heels of the High Court ruling that hundreds of road schemes brought in during the pandemic could be scrapped.

A judge said London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s guidance on the measures – such as pop-up cycle lanes – was ‘unlawful’ and ‘irrational’. 

Critics say the measures blocked emergency vehicles and brought gridlock. 

In a major transport shake-up, he will also unveil simpler fares with daily price caps for multiple journeys

In a major transport shake-up, he will also unveil simpler fares with daily price caps for multiple journeys

But Mr Johnson said last night: ‘Buses are lifelines and liberators, connecting people to jobs they couldn’t otherwise take, driving pensioners and young people to see their friends, sustaining town centres and protecting the environment.

‘As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling-up.

‘Just as they did in London, our reforms will make buses the transport of choice, reducing the number of car journeys and improving quality of life for millions.’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps added: ‘Buses are this country’s favourite way of getting around.

‘They help us get to school, to the GP, or to the shops – but services across England are patchy, and it’s frankly not good enough. The quality of bus service you receive shouldn’t be dependent on where you live.’

But critics have said the move only puts a sticking plaster over the cracks of years in underinvestment in bus services.

Labour’s shadow bus minister Sam Tarry said: ‘This so-called strategy offers nothing for those who were looking for a bold vision to reverse the millions of miles of bus routes lost across the country.

‘People will be wondering when they return to work whether there will be enough affordable and regular buses for their daily commute.

‘The Tories said deregulation would improve our buses but they’re running bus services into the ground. Passengers now face a toxic mix of rising fares, cuts to services and reduced access.’

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said the strategy appears to ‘lack ambition’ for addressing the challenges of getting people back onto sustainable public transport following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England warned that half of rural towns in the South West and North East were ‘transport deserts’.

Policy director Tom Fyans said: ‘A one-off investment of £3billion is really just an expensive sticking plaster after a decade of cuts to rural bus services.’

Meanwhile, David Brown, Chief Executive of major transport operator, Go-Ahead Group: ‘It’s the right time to have a national strategy for buses. 

‘Bus usage has been falling for seven years and if Britain is serious about becoming a carbon neutral nation, we urgently need to halt that decline and persuade people to leave their cars at home.

“In order to do that, buses need to be quick, reliable and convenient. That means giving more bus priority including precedence for buses at traffic lights and tackling rush hour gridlock.’ 

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