EBUG comments on the Edinburgh Tram extension and buses

As Trams to Newhaven nears completion, there’s been much discussion in print and social media about the design/implementation of streetscape features, particularly on Leith Walk. The City of Edinburgh Council’s present and previous transport convenors made it clear that there will be a thorough review and rectification process, consistent with the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance.

Most observations to date have focussed on the parallel cycle lanes, and to a lesser extent the pedestrian environment. EBUG has noted even fewer, if any, regarding bus infrastructure. So we carried out a limited ‘walkabout’ to highlight issues affecting bus users, in order to ensure these are not overlooked in the post-completion review.

In 2019, EBUG met Tram project team representatives to discuss designing for buses. It was clear that there was limited scope for changing the draft designs even then.

Scope
Two EBUG members walked the route from Picardy Place to the Balfour St tram stop on 22 November, covering both sides of Leith Walk. We photographed particular locations, and comment briefly in this dossier. We did not take extensive measurements, as we would for a Bus Stop Audit.

It was immediately clear that construction was insufficiently advanced for more than a cursory assessment. No bus stops comprised more than road markings. We therefore highlight some issues on this part of the route, for the ‘official’ review to consider. We noted some issues for pedestrians, bearing in mind that using buses involves walking. EBUG is not equipped to complete a street audit, so we forward this dossier to Living Streets Edinburgh Group for its interest.

The most relevant sections of the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance are sections PT1 Designing for Public Transport, PT2 Bus Stops, and PT3 Bus Priority. However, as noted above, no bus stops were sufficiently advanced to check compliance with PT1, PT2, and PT3.

This dossier will also be forwarded to Community Councils Together on Trams, for inclusion in either the Defects List or the Commitments Register as appropriate. As well as the Trams to Newhaven project team, it is also circulated to members of the Council’s Transport and Environment Committee and ward councillors on the route.

Interchange
A key issue is future interaction between buses and trams. For the public transport user the two modes must provide a seamless service. As an exercise in ‘integrated transport’, they should be planned as a whole from the outset.

However, it appears to EBUG the focus has been on getting Trams to Newhaven built. Given the trams project’s previous history this is understandable. But we are concerned this will lead to a situation where, a few months before completion, interchange with buses is rushed, and inadequate outcomes result.

Specifically, we see no indication of:

  • planning for future bus routes
  • where, if at all, bus/tram passengers will interchange; and how.

The Final Business Case for Trams to Newhaven indicates a reduction of nearly 50% of buses/hr at the north end of Leith Walk, whilst Balfour St to the north end of Leith Walk will be a single lane for all general traffic, buses and tram, 24 hours/day; signal-controlled, releasing trams and road traffic separately. There will be tram stops at Picardy Place, McDonald Rd, Balfour St and Foot of the Walk, with trams every 6-7 minutes, possibly higher in peak hours.

There were previously seven bus routes on Leith Walk: 7, 10, 14, 16, 22, 25 and 49, totalling around 50 buses/hr each way (7 routes through Leith Walk at an average interval of 8 minutes at peak).

Clearly the main/only node suitable for interchange is at the Foot the Walk tram stop. This is approx. 25m from the relevant junction. The nearest bus stops are a further 95m along Great Junction St, or 115m along Duke St. These are unsuitable distances for interchange, even before considering whether the walking routes themselves are acceptable. Therefore, one or both of the streets need bus stops considerably closer to the junction.

The map illustrates why. Buses and trams run alongside each other on Leith Walk, so there is no need or desire to change from one to the other except at the top or foot of Leith Walk. The only exception is the few buses which turn to/from Pilrig St (see below).

Picardy Place
This is unsuitable for bus-tram interchange. Buses going to/from York Pl stop outside St Marys Cathedral (westbound) or York Pl (eastbound). The eastbound bus stop is essentially unchanged from pre-tram, requiring at least 2 roads to be crossed to get to the tram stop. The westbound stop requires 1 road crossing. Picardy Pl is the subject of a public realm project, but we cannot see how these inherent problems can be overcome.

It might have been possible to design an interchange between the tram stop and buses going to or from Leith St, but the bus stops are now ‘hard-baked’ at locations that are a) too far from the tram b) require negotiating a decidedly unfriendly set of crossings around the Leith St-Picardy Pl junction.

Leith Walk
It appears that the bus stops at Elm Row are being reinstated, but it is too early to assess them. (The drain visible in the centre of the picture is already settling)

There are no bus stops between Elm Row and Shrubhill; the McDonald Rd tram stop is between them, illustrating the earlier point that neither is a practical interchange for buses using Pilrig St. The stops at Shrubhill and the next, north of Pilrig St, are too early to assess.

After ‘turning’ at Balfour St, the survey was completed in the city centre-bound direction. The pattern established above was repeated, as shown here.

Some general issues
EBUG has significant reservations about floating bus stops, which are common on Leith Walk. At these sites, it was clearly to our surveyors that the space available for pedestrians/bus users was particularly limited. In the two worst cases, the ‘platforms’ were just 1.6m and 1.8m wide; we found it difficult to envisage how even a shelter could be installed there.

The ‘feel’ is also important. Whilst subjective and unmeasurable, our surveyors considered the footway and bus stops uncongenial and mildly stressful; not an ‘attractive’ environment.

EBUG understands that bespoke bus shelters are to be installed on the new tram route. If/where these are based on the current JCDecaux designs, the opportunity must be taken to remedy their inherent design flaws, which have been widely criticised. https://twitter.com/EdinburghBUG/status/1469957798876307456

‘Pedestrian issues’
EBUG brings to the attention of Living Streets Edinburgh in particular the placement of signs maximising street clutter. We cannot understand why these are not placed in the ‘dead zone’ between the kerb and cycle path, behind our surveyor. (It was suggested that may be difficult for drivers to read; but the overall impression is a lack of thought. We discounted ‘swept path’ or ‘kinematic envelope’ explanations, given road geometry and vehicle speeds)

The two photos immediately below show a sign placed mid-footway; its sole purpose is to indicate no right turn by vehicles exiting a private garage. The photo below them shows a no left turn sign into a road which has a ‘no entry’ sign (with physical measures).

The ‘no stopping except buses’ sign below could and should be placed on the pole or shelter of the stops to which it relates; standard practice elsewhere in Edinburgh.

The plethora of poles and signs below indicate a lack of thought as to how signs could be grouped together to minimise clutter. In the right-hand photo in particular, it is difficult to understand why the pole, if it is necessary, was not placed in the ‘dead zone’ behind the red sign.

Summary

EBUG’s short ‘walkabout’ on the south end of Leith Walk showed that bus stops are insufficiently advanced to be robustly assessed, in particular for compatibility with Edinburgh Street Design Guidance sections PT1, PT2, and PT3.

We have seen no indication of planning for integration between bus and tram, even though tram operations are due to start within a year. We concluded, nevertheless, that the only viable interchange along the Leith Walk corridor is at the foot of the Walk, where four bus/tram corridors converge. In order to make that location work for users, significant work is needed on-street.

We note local concern regarding the adequacy of the bespoke bus shelters which are to be installed, and delays in supply of the relevant kit.

Although it was not an objective of this exercise, we noted numerous installations which appear ‘pedestrian-unfriendly’ had been installed by the tram project.

Written deputation by six local groups to the Council’s Transport and Environment Committee, 8 December

Joint statement

A Working Group formed in summer 2022, partly following the removal of a bus lane on the A8 which provoked wider concern over the future of Edinburgh bus lanes. Members include Edinburgh Bus Users Group, Spokes, Living Streets Edinburgh Group, BEST, SW20 and CRAG. The members continue to be independent organisations, but all recognise that bus lanes are important because they reduce bus journey times. They also reduce bus operator costs, and provide a degree of priority and protection for cyclists and emergency vehicles among others.

We welcome the Council’s unanimous decision to review bus lane operating hours with a view to establishing a consistent all-day pattern, and restore them at weekends. Specifically, we urge the Council to adopt the 7-7-7 approach, i.e. 7am-7pm, all 7 days of the week.

Global evidence

In 2017, research by KPMG for the Confederation of Passenger Transport (Scotland) identified the following drivers of change in bus patronage:

(Summary impact of different demand drivers on bus use 2011-16. Net; 27 million fewer journeys).

This shows two factors increased bus patronage (population growth and bus quality), whilst every other factor decreased it. Of these, journey times were the third most important, coming after only car ownership and online services.

KPMG also showed that, throughout Scotland, the percentage of car drivers and bus users experiencing delay matched each other closely between 2008 and 2014.

In ‘The Impact of Congestion on Bus Passengers (2016)’, Greener Journeys observed ‘a clear correlation between declining bus demand and deteriorating average bus speeds. Research shows that a 10% increase in journey times can, on its own, lead to a 6% fall in bus demand. Slower journeys are more than an operational cost; they are also an opportunity cost. Every vehicle added to the schedule to maintain reliability in congested areas is a vehicle that could otherwise have been used elsewhere.’

In 2015 the Scottish Household Survey found the main reason for not using public transport to work, where it was possible (e.g. a bus service is available) was that it takes too long (48%, sample 5,200), followed by no direct route (30%). When asked what discourages them from using buses more often, 16.3% (of 7,750) said ‘nothing’ followed by 15.6% who said it ‘takes too long’.

The graph below, from London’s Bus Action Plan, illustrates the correlation between bus speeds and patronage.

The London Bus Action Plan cites case studies including a multi-modal scheme in Waltham Forest, where the removal of a gyratory and installation of new bus lane produced a four-minute time saving on routes 357 and 97.

West Midlands Combined Authority reported bus services became more reliable and average journey times up to 22% quicker on two Birmingham routes after the introduction of ‘Sprint’ bus priority measures in 2022. https://www.wmca.org.uk/news/bus-journeys-up-to-22-quicker-following-introduction-of-sprint-priority-measures-on-key-birmingham-routes/

And in Putney, (A3 West Hill bus lane) where a 24/7 new bus lane of 200m northbound reduced journey times on routes 170 and 670, which were often delayed in the morning peak, by more than 2 minutes (morning) and 30 seconds (evening).

Local evidence

There were 61.8km of bus lane in Edinburgh in 2019, according to an FOI response by the City of Edinburgh Council (FOI ref 25602). This doesn’t reflect any changes made since, notably by Spaces for People schemes. It compares with 65.25km in 2013.

This is supported by evidence from KPMG’s research (see above) which found that the percentage of Edinburgh’s population using a bus every day grew from 25.6% in 2008 to 27.4% in 2015, the most recent data before publication.

Enforcement

It is clear from feedback we have received that bus lane enforcement is equally important. This needs to be reviewed by the Council, including bus lanes, bus stops and adjacent parking/loading bay stay times.

As population and travel around the city grows, one would expect that enforcement resources and vigour would increase. However, despite the welcome introduction of some bus lane cameras, we consider that enforcement has not improved commensurately.

Extract from EBUG’s submission to the Council’s 2019 on extending bus lanes

It is important to establish some first principles. Firstly, what is the purpose of bus lanes? This may seem obvious, but is sometimes lost sight of in discussion. A report to the Transport and Environment Committee on 2 June 2015 stated ‘The primary purpose of bus lanes is to provide journey time reliability and time savings for buses by allowing them to bypass congestion during busy traffic periods. This increases the attractiveness of travelling by bus…’

Secondly, do bus lanes currently fulfil this purpose in Edinburgh? EBUG’s answer to this is ‘they do, but could do much better’. Unfortunately, it appears there is little if any data to quantify their impact. Therefore we must rely on secondary data, for example:

  • Personal experience of our members; journey times are reduced and more reliable when and where bus lanes operate.
  • Observations by bus operators; it is clear that most if not all operators consider that they do.
  • Is there a correlation between bus use and bus lanes?…(see above).

The graph (as above, bus patronage v. bus lane length, Edinburgh) was produced by Transform Scotland from data originally supplied by the Council, which appears to have stopped updating it around 2015…The patronage data is from the Lothian Buses group only; it does not isolate additional patronage from the expansion of LB group routes beyond the Edinburgh urban area.

What it does show is declining patronage until bus lanes began to be expanded in the late 1990s; growing patronage as bus lanes are expanded, both reaching a peak in 2007; a drop in patronage associated with disruption during tram construction, followed by a return to growth until 2015. Since 2015, however, patronage has levelled off. BUT patronage then began to include the ‘Country’ routes. Clearly within the city it has declined, although it is not possible to deduce how much…

On 26 August 2014 it was reported to TEC that a review had been completed, and an Experimental Traffic Order (ETRO) should be promoted cutting peak hour bus lanes. It claimed ‘all-day bus lanes offer little additional operational benefit to buses compared to peak periods lanes, under normal traffic conditions.’.. It should be noted that the ‘review’ survey covered a wide range of bus lane issues, did not involve public consultation other than a few stakeholders, and gave no indication of an intention or need to drastically cut bus lane hours.

(A) 2 June 2015 report recommended that objections to the ETRO be set aside. It stated that bus lane camera experience showed widespread confusion over operating hours. This appears to be the reasoning for adopting uniform operating hours (although the ‘widespread confusion’ was not quantified). It missed the point that it is the responsibility of road users to familiarise themselves with regulations applying to the roads they use (as with parking restrictions).

Consultation had produced 151 objections to cutting off-peak hours, primarily because it affected cycles, air quality, modal shift, and was contrary to the Council’s Local Transport Strategy. No bus/tram operator objected, but there were apparently few or no expressions of support. Objections were received inter alia from Spokes, Living Streets, Transform Scotland, Scottish Association of Public Transport, Friends of the Earth, Greener Leith, Gorgie/Dalry and Leith Central Community Councils, Napier University and Sustrans. EBUG did not exist at that time.

As a number of objectors noted, if the Council wished to adopt uniform hours, it would be just as logical to adopt universal all day operation. Indeed, all day operation is arguably less confusing than two peak periods.

In paragraph 3.16, the report noted ‘interpeak surveys…of all day bus lanes, showed that general traffic in the adjacent lane was generally flowing freely…and therefore there is little advantage to be gained by general traffic from using the bus lane…It is therefore reasonable to expect a considerable proportion of general traffic to continue to use the general traffic lane’ as commonly seen outwith operating hours. This begs the question of what would be achieved by allowing general traffic to use bus lanes.

It highlights the flawed logic of a frequent argument i.e. ‘there’s no need for off-peak bus lanes, because buses are not delayed by congestion off-peak’; in which case, why does general traffic need to use them?

Uniform peak-hours only, Monday to Friday bus lanes were then implemented. A subsequent report to TEC, on 1 November 2016, noted Lothian Buses ‘did not show a conclusive effect on transit times but did show a consistent marginal increase…The bus lane network needs to be regularly reviewed to identify new locations as well as identifying redundant lanes. For bus lanes to be effective they need to be kept clear during their hours of operation; this requires enforcement of parking and loading restrictions which are frequently ignored’.

Significantly, we see no evidence of the bus lane network being regularly reviewed, rigorous enforcement of operating hours or of parking and loading restrictions.

On 21 March 2017, a report to TEC recommended that objections to making the ETRO permanent be set aside. It noted that Spokes and Living Streets had argued that 63% of survey respondents supported bus lanes operating on Saturdays and Sundays. Compared to before the experiment ‘20%-40% of respondents felt that conditions were now worse, compared to just 3%-10% who felt they were better’. Spokes and Living Streets cited Prof David Begg: ‘When (Greenways) were first introduced, Edinburgh was the only city in the UK to show a consistent improvement in bus journey times. However, since then bus journey times in Edinburgh have reverted to the UK norm and have been increasing by 10% every decade’. They noted the Council had no evidence that the experiment speeded up car trips or reduced congestion, and most cars had stayed out of the bus lanes ‘Therefore the benefit of allowing cars into bus lanes off-peak, when the main traffic lane usually has more than adequate capacity, is hard to fathom. Given therefore that bus lanes are vital for buses in the peak, and have no great value for cars in the offpeak, the obvious solution for simplicity and consistency would be the 7-7-7 policy’.

(All this indicates) that the decisions to reduce their operating hours were:

  • The product of flawed logic
  • The subject of faulty (if not partial) analysis
  • Supposed to be subject to mitigating actions which were not implemented

EBUG fully supports the proposal to introduce uniform bus lane operating hours from 7am to 7pm, 7 days per week, for the following reasons:

  1. Encouraging modal shift towards more sustainable modes, including buses, is at the heart of the Council’s general transport strategies and specific programmes…
  2. Given the Council’s reliance on income from Lothian Buses’ dividend there are major budgetary implications if the Council does not provide an environment in which bus services prosper.
  3. It is the ‘right thing to do’ for a host of social, economic and environmental reasons which should not need restating here.
  4. There are a range of ancillary benefits for other bus lane users (e.g. cyclists, taxis, emergency vehicles) which contribute to the council’s wider goals…

The Council’s consultation webpage (referring to consultation on extending bus lane hours in 2019) notes that it is taking 12% longer to travel by bus than in 2006 at peak times and 14% off-peak, while buses are travelling nearly 8% slower. This bears out Prof Begg’s comment, as quoted by Spokes and Living Streets (above). Clearly the reduction in operating hours from 2015 was a misstep, and there is now an excellent opportunity to rectify it, and align the hours with today’s needs….the proposed hours…fulfil the Council’s clear preference for the hours to be clear, simple, and easily understood (and) Saturdays and Sundays for the same reason, but primarily because modern travel patterns are such that congestion is a similar problem at weekends as on weekdays.

Some opponents argue that bus lanes are mostly empty off-peak (few, if any, oppose peak-hour lanes). We refer to paragraph 3.16 of the 2 June 2015 report (above). Our experience is that few/no buses are empty (and operators would quickly withdraw any unused services). It is the number of people, not vehicles, that is important. The distinction is even more marked if we include the time that cars are completely unoccupied (i.e. parked on the road).

 

Related issues

The following points are outwith the immediate scope, but related and important…

  • The commitment to regularly review bus lanes implies that, as the city grows, mileage would too, but it has not. The consultation webpage notes Edinburgh’s population has grown by 12.5% in the last decade. By 2023, it will be 23,000 higher.
  • There are issues with particular road layouts and traffic conditions. A full review of the location and length of bus lanes relative to traffic junctions should be conducted before introducing stricter enforcement.