Is national policy idea so laughable?

An Edinburgh tram in Princes Street.
An Edinburgh tram in Princes Street.

Firstly, I have some good news.

The extension of the Edinburgh tram network, down Leith Walk and along to Newhaven, is now approved, and the process of making it actually happen is beginning.

Secondly, there is potentially more good news for readers.

There is a movement – not only in this country – to make buses free to use, at least in cities and towns where it is becoming vital to reduce the number of motor vehicles.

There is a statistic often bandied about that the number of passenger journeys made by bus is very much greater than those made by train.

This may be true. However, it fails to take into account the length of the journeys.

So if the statistic for the number of passenger miles is compared for the two modes of transport a very different story emerges.

Another statistic worth comparing would be the average speed of the two modes.

The difficulty here is that there are so many different sorts of train to be compared with a much smaller number of different sorts of bus.

An average of all trains compared with an average of all buses would be meaningless.

Focussing on buses, first, there are buses within towns and cities. Some of these are suitable for upgrading to trams.

Then there are ‘inter-urban’ services, many of which are coaches, rather than buses. They link towns and cities, and many coaches have little impact on the communities along their routes.

Where they do have an impact, they act very much like the minor railways, many of which disappeared some 50 years ago.

Some ‘inter-urban’ services do act as local carriers along their routes, and these tend to be buses, rather than coaches. These are the ones which have a good chance of surviving, and they should be nurtured and developed.

Lastly, and nowadays regrettably also least, there are the rapidly diminishing number of local buses in rural areas, which simply reach out from towns into the surrounding hinterland.

In my view, these are diminishing simply because they are so often badly planned and managed.

There have been attempts to stimulate bus travel now for more than 20 years.

The principal users of buses are the young and the elderly. Those in between are mainly car users, who are very resistant to the idea of using buses, even when it would be possible and economic for them to do so.

The bus pass for the elderly and infirm took a number of years to become established, but is now a firm fixture.

Local authorities have been supporting local bus services that they judge to be socially necessary, but, unfortunately, they are now under so much pressure financially that they are having to reduce or eliminate many of the local bus services they have been supporting.

Thus some people who qualify for a bus pass may now find that there are no buses for them to use.

For years people have been demanding a national transport policy.

I believe that its absence is due to the cost of implementing it if it is accepted that it is necessary, but also because the politicians who would have to agree it simply do not use buses and so have no idea of its importance.

An attempt by the Leader of the Opposition recently to raise the subject was met with laughter from the Government benches.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? This book is priced at £14.95, post paid and signed by the author. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, at £11.95. Order through the author’s website at www.john-wylde.co.uk or from Grieves on the corner of Church Street in Berwick.