Clean Air Day today (Thursday 16 June 2022) gives us all a chance to focus on what each of us can do to help improve the quality of the air we breathe in our towns and cities. It strikes me that as part of this campaign, we need to appreciate the role that bus is already playing to reduce the environmental impact of travel. However, we also need to recognise the current and future challenges to getting more people out of their cars and onto bus.
By leaving the car at home and taking the bus – even for just one journey – the impact would be amazing. If everyone in the UK switched 1 in every 25 car journeys to bus it could deliver a saving of 2 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year.
Many operators are already running a fleet of new electric buses on both urban and rural routes which offer customers a journey with a low carbon impact. Even a diesel operated bus can improve the air quality impact as people use bus instead of their cars – one bus with 74 passengers produces significantly less CO2 than 74 diesel cars.
For me, the main barriers that need to be addressed are road congestion, road space allocation for buses and most importantly industry collaboration.
There are bus lanes already in place on many busy routes and these work efficiently in our cities where they are monitored. However, where they are not checked, these lanes are ineffective in many towns. We must address the road space allocation for buses to ensure that there are traffic light priorities for buses to help keep services on time and maintain customer confidence.
Congestion causes delays to bus services and is the single biggest barrier that needs to be addressed to help people make the choice of leaving their cars at home. Operators are doing what we can through innovation and investment to ensure that the on-bus experience is what customers need. But the quality of roadside infrastructure also needs to be looked at – and quickly – to ensure that bus users feel they have a safe, well-lit and easy place to wait for a bus.
Collaboration between operators, local authorities and other stakeholders is critical and in Glasgow for example, we have already started work on this through the GlasGo Bus Alliance where competing operators have come together with a shared vision for bus travel in the city. It is important that we all play our part and focus on the areas where we each have responsibility.
We want to achieve a bus service that improves the environment and air quality; makes public transport available to everyone where it is economically viable; and supports our economic recovery. So how do we make our vision a reality? We all need to play our part and work together now. The operators are already committed, so let’s just get on with it.
Managing Director, Stagecoach West Scotland and Chair of GlasGo Bus Alliance (Published in full at The Herald)