One of the joys of last weeks excellent event in Glasgow was the chance to travel on a 1961 Glasgow Leyland Titan double decker bus, this fine old Charrabang was both elegant and majestic as it ferried us across the City to a rather nice real ale pub before attending a fine Glaswegian restaurant for some traditional Scottish fayre. Some of the lads carried this worthy tradition on until the early hours where I understand after late night imbibing a trip to the infamous Blue Lagoon chip shop was in order for the Glaswegian delight of battered Mars Bar.
What was of interest to me was the average speed of the old bus as we meandered around Glasgow’s congested streets. Ironically Glasgow is well known as being the city where car ownership is actually rather low, however it compensates by being the City where its car owners make the highest number of journeys of any City in the UK. In fact recently published figures indicate that for the last 15 consecutive years journey times across Glasgow have declined by 1 minute per year. In blunt terms a bus journey or indeed any journey now takes 15 minutes longer than it did in 2003.
Glasgow has always been a bus City, Glaswegians traditionally use the bus, and the fleet of Glasgow’s 847 buses reflect the relationship between First, the incumbent City operator and its population. Inevitably however reduced journey times results in less passengers, and even worse an increase in car journeys, this results in the double whammy of slower journeys and worse air quality. So, what is the solution to this dilemma, in a City that offers free parking across most of its City Centre streets, and indeed car parking where you pay is actually cheaper than the bus fares. Which are in my view comparitvely cheap, indeed I thought that the £12.00 that I paid for the return journey on the 500 Glasgow Express bus service was a real bargain.
Smart new buses, a polite helpful driver with contactless payment, and excellent audio announcements and working wifi and charge points, the journey time on the Sunday evening was 20 minutes, no surprise that when I returned on the Tuesday afternoon at 1700 it took me one hour and eleven minutes. The bus was heaving and the bus stops were packed with people queueing for buses, which from my point of view is always a joy to watch. But the faces of the people waiting for the buses were not happy faces, and interestingly these looked like middle class, white collar workers, or in other words potential car users.
The good news is that both the SNP at government level and the Labour party at Local Council level, both agree that the solution lies in better public transport. The combination of implementing Clean Air Zones with buses as the first to lead the charge, followed by restrictions on parking on the street, coupled with bus priority measures to encourage bus use, is the dream ticket. And to be fair First UK Bus have stated that they will invest in new, clean, vehicles where the partnerships are instigated. This frankly gives me great hope that maybe the future of the UK Bus industry might just be secure, as people and politicians realise the cost benefits of investing in tackling congestion, managing car parking sensibly, and giving the bus priority but with investment by the bus Companies.
Let us hope that other Local Authority areas recognise the solution lies in sensible partnership where responsibilities are clear and carried out from all. The alternative is more cars, slower journeys and more poisoned people all of which is not acceptable. What is also important is that the bus Companies play their part in terms of investment, technology, and pricing, not to mention customer service, although to be fair my experience of First in Glasgow was excellent, clearly Giles has turned the tanker.