It’s not a joke. The answer is obviously in a car.
Last week we had a Transport and Environment Committee meeting at Notts CC. The meeting spent some time discussing the use of the Transforming Cities Fund – in particular the installation of some bus lanes on some of Nottingham’s arterial roads. The views expressed on public transport were the worst I have heard in any council meeting at Rushcliffe Borough Council or Nottinghamshire County Council. All the greenwash I’ve heard was washed away by the spring rain. The truth was out. The mask had slipped. I am not going to name names but all the following comments came from Tory councillors and you can listen for yourself on youtube (starting about 1 hour 5 minutes in).
First the Vice Chair suggested that new bus lanes would be a good thing as he’d be able to drive his EV car in them. I didn’t realise this. As a cyclist this makes me a bit nervous, and it seems a bit unfair on those who cannot afford an electric vehicle.
Another young councillor seemed old before his time to me, when he said ‘Bus lanes sitting empty winds drivers up.’ One might hope that councillors would realise that the important thing is the number of passengers transported per hour by each lane on the road, not the number of vehicles present in a lane in it at a given moment. One bus carrying 50 passengers takes up a lot less space than 50 cars, and so we would expect the bus lane to be must more empty even if it is carrying the same number of people. You aren’t stuck in a traffic jam, you are the traffic jam!
This same councillor also suggested that rather than putting bus lanes on the A60 we should ‘build more roads’. He clearly hasn’t realised that generally more roads just lead to more cars. I wonder whose houses he plans to knock down to build a dual carriage way into the city? I would have thought anyone who knew Maid Marion Way might be wary of this approach.
However his main point was we couldn’t make people actually use a bus lane. There is some truth in this, particularly as the A60 bus lane was originally designed to be accompanied by a Park and Ride at Leapool Park, which has now been shelved, making the scheme rather half baked.
However, one solution to his concern about usage was inadvertently presented by another Tory councillor who said he ‘does use the buses from time to time because he has a bus pass’, thus proving that a simple way to get people on the buses is to make them cheaper.. or even free!
This councillor then proceeded to completely slag off buses, drivers and passengers. What he said left me with the impression he really doesn’t seem to like people all that much. As someone who uses the buses quite a lot, I am happy to report that they are clean, comfortable, have wifi and often charging points and I can read and work on them. They are fast (especially when whizzing along a bus lane!) and they are frequent and reliable where I live, so that I can say that when I don’t cycle ‘I am chauffeured to work by NCT’. The trouble is that is almost costs as much to get the bus as it does to be chauffeured to work and I am fortunate I can afford it.
One senior and generally sensible member of the Tory group said that he uses public transport when he visits his relative in Valencia since they have a public transport system that is ‘fit for purpose’. We have had a Tory government for 12 years, and a Tory administration here for 5 years: maybe they should think about why our public transport system isn’t fit for purpose?
Something they could consider doing was highlighted in our next discussion on the National Bus strategy. This scheme tries to untangle problems caused by deregulation of England’s buses 30 years ago (see the figure which was taken from the government’s Bus-Back-Better national bus strategy for England!). Maybe local transport should be taken back into local authority control. If it’s good enough for London it’s good enough for Nottinghamshire.
You might be interested to know that this report approved a pilot of Demand Responsive buses which could be a game changer in rural areas. The problem is that so many of our bus services currently rely on grant schemes and third party providers, and these end up being vulnerable to anything that changes usage or costs.
The good news is that at the end of this discussion the Chair of the committee told us he had been in contact with the Transport Secretary in Westminster to point out that it would be useful to have additional money for bus services not just bus infrastructure. I would agree with him- so often government wants to spend money on big ‘things . It is rather worrying that the Tory Government’s Transport Secretary needs to be told something as fundamental as this by a Tory councillor.
The problem is that most councillors seem to think buses are for other people. I think all councillors should be given a bus pass for a year when they are first elected and expected to use it for at least 30 days so they are able to understand how the system works. In fact, everyone should be given a bus pass.
This was the last meeting of the committee as we are now moving over to the cabinet system from the current committee system. I have enjoyed being on this committee which I think is generally very good at engendering collaboration and discussion, and I am happy to commend the fair and consultative approach taken by both committee chairs (Cllr Sue Saddington and Cllr Neil Clarke) that I have worked with at Nottscc Council over the last year. In the new system decisions will be made by the cabinet member responsible in an area with scrutiny of those decisions carried out after the event by scrutiny committees. I can understand that having one person responsible for a decision may allow faster decision making, but if any sensible person in that position would want to listen to a range of views before reaching a decision. It seems odd that under the new scheme any broader discussion will occur after the decision has been made (presumably when people think things have gone wrong). The government has requested that we move to a cabinet system if we are to get levelling up funding through the devolution bill. This does feel like a way to have ‘government by clique’.