I was delighted to note that the excellent UK Bus summit will yet again be taking place in the heart of Westminster where the key figures and decision makers will meet to discuss the role of the bus at arguably one of the most decisive times as the bus reaches a crucial cross roads. This years theme is “ The Futire of Mobility”. The conference will examine the need for a long term bus strategy in the UK ( ironically we have never had one, although we do for rail and roads!). In addition air quality will also be under close scrutiny, as will the ever important question of how do we get more people onto the bus.
The speaker gallery is very impressive and there is one session in particular that resonated with me and that is the one chaired by Anthony Smith the chair of Transport Focus. I was lucky enough to be invited early last year to the results of an extensive survey about young people’s experience of using buses.
The conclusion drawn was very interesting, and perhaps the biggest message that emerged was a simple one. There are some excellent initiatives around the country that are really very good. However, it all sadly falls apart because for no apparent reason the bus industry is incapable of celebrating and sharing these strong and powerful benefits. There is a collective failure as an industry to agree a decisive strategy to get the positive messages across, and this at a time of ever increasing congestion, making bus journey times slower ( as well as car drivers ).
So, what can we do to agree a strategy and galvanise not only the industry but even more importantly educate the public, and even more important the non Bus users to think about using the bus. Indeed, it was only last week that a mother managed to get the courts to agree that her nine year old daughter who died from asthma was actually a victim of air pollution. She had spent her short life living alongside one of London’s busiest, most congested, and polluted roads.
This tragic acceptance is actually a milestone, and one can only hope that this young girls life was not lost in vain. The simple truth is that like it or not we have repeatedly failed as a nation to achieve the air pollution targets set by the EU, and agreed by the UK government. All the major UK Cities as well as a fair few smaller ones have failed to achieve the required reduction in toxins and pollutants designed to save lives, it has for the most part been widely ignored.
The reason being the same as always, a desire long rooted not to upset the car owner, I’ve seen it throughout my career. Local councillors will never disadvantage the powerful lobby of voters who drive cars, that has been seen as political suicide, the result inertia, resulting in increased congestion and greater levels of pollution. Ironic really because across Europe they have adopted a very different philosophy, many cities and towns have instigated pro public transport policies where cycling, walking, and public transport have been designed in harmony. We could and should have learned from this already, but, clearly we have not.
That is exactly why the transport summit is so important, and on February 6 th, the best minds will assemble and debate these crucial issues. And hopefully by then who knows maybe the Brexit distraction might for once subside allowing some serious debate about the future of passenger transport mobility. Although when you look at the recent decisions taken by the Transport Secretary it simply beggars belief with a non existent ferry Company with no ships who used a take away restaurant website to create their terms and conditions. Made me wonder that for every car that you booked onto the virtual ferry, you get free prawn crackers. Bonus.
Anywhere, happy days ahead but I confess to taking heart from the benefits of the Transport Summit, and while I am at it I need to pay homage to the couple who quite rightly won the UK Bus Awards outstanding achievement award. I speak of Professor David Begg, and the Claire Haigh who have been not only behind the summits but who have also created real and strong economic cases for the benefit of the good old humble Bus. Fair play to both, nice people to boot, I doff my cap.