Here’s our commentary on the local Party manifestos we’ve seen for the Council elections on May 5. It’s about the local Edinburgh Party manifestos, NOT any national documents which come down from Party HQs.
As well as reading the local Party manifestos, it’s useful to (re)read their answers to our ‘Election Event’ questionnaire (https://edinburghbususers.group/ebug-council-election-event). The SNP and Conservatives either
- didn’t get their act together or
- couldn’t be bothered answering the questionnaire
so that’s an immediate black mark. Or possibly they took one look at the questions and ran a mile. Anyway, this commentary focusses on the actual manifestos. We:
- read each manifesto as it stands
- compared them with each other
- considered whether they matched EBUG’s ‘manifesto’ https://edinburghbususers.group/council-elections-vote-for-good-quality-public-transport-for-everyone
- considered whether words matched deeds in the current Council 2017-2022
The manifesto is 9 pages of text. Most of Labour’s discussion of transport is on 2 pages headed ‘Greener, Safer and Accessible Travel’. There are also references under other headings e.g. women’s safety, street cleaning, planning.
‘Protect and improve Edinburgh’s bus network’. EBUG’s statement of purpose says we’re ‘committed to protecting and improving Edinburgh’s bus network for the benefit of bus users and potential users’ so maximum points to Labour for that!
‘Public transport is key’ bullet point 2. Good!
Bullet points 3 and 4; ‘Speed up the transition to electric buses…Ensure all new buses provide space for both wheelchairs and buggies’. How? The Council doesn’t provide buses for the operators.
Bullet point 5; ‘Work with partners, including Scottish Government, neighbour councils and ScotRail to implement through ticketing etc’. Always be wary of any statement beginning ‘We will work with’. It’s probably appeared in every party’s manifesto over the last 30 years. Likewise bullet points 6 and 7; ‘Create an Edinburgh Transport company, to develop and deliver an integrated transport network…Investigate the feasibility of creating a comprehensive and integrated transport system’
The manifesto ducks any commitment to improving bus priority measures. It does, however, make a clear commitment not to continue blanket bus stop closures.
The next section, ‘Air pollution and Congestion’ includes: ‘A commitment to work in partnership with business and our neighbouring local authorities to find a solution to commuter parking, including improved public transport, park and ride schemes’ etc.
The manifesto says nothing about reducing traffic levels except in LTNs; no doubt because that’s the line from Party HQ.
41 pages of text, but most of the transport is in 4 pages ‘Connecting our City’. Which has a lot of detail; a welcome commitment to specifics as opposed to non-commital generalisations. Generally good stuff, but we wonder about:
‘Improve and expand Park & Ride sites and introduce free, high-frequency bus services between them and the city centre’. This raises a lot of questions about their interaction with other, fare-paying services e.g. Would passengers pile onto the free buses, leaving existing services underused and less viable?
In general, it’s clear a lot of thought was put into this manifesto.
22 pages of text, of which just over 2 are devoted to transport. ‘We will be champions for improved public transport across the city. We will fight for a bigger and better bus network that…involves more electric and hydrogen fuelled vehicles. We will support more orbital routes, easy local bus access for passengers, and changes which make our bus services quicker and more attractive…we will keep Lothian Buses in public ownership’. All good stuff, but then ‘seek to improve the democratic oversight of the company’ (see below).
There’s the almost obligatory reference to Park and Ride (on which, see below). The manifesto ducks any commitment to improving bus priority measures.
20 pages of text, of which 4 are devoted to transport. ‘The SNP/Labour administration’s anti-car agenda…even threatens Lothian Buses’. No, what threatens Lothian Buses most is car-centred transport policies.
The Conservatives would scrap plans to block cross-city services, which we assume refers to the ‘to not through’ philosophy. We can agree with them on that, but there’s little or nothing else to say how they would protect the commercial success of Lothian Buses.
Unfortunately, the transport section of this manifesto reads rather like an angry old man ranting in the pub.
36 pages, though not all text. Like other manifestos, transport related stuff is scattered throughout e.g. planning, but we focus on the section ‘Getting Edinburgh moving in a greener and healthier way’ (3 pages)
The headline-grabbing items are 2 further tram lines and a congestion charge. We’ll just say:
OK, you’ve got legislative powers for a Granton route (we think), but getting powers for a route towards the ERI and/or any variation on the Granton route within the next Council term is ‘optimistic’. (And threading a tram line through the SE City Centre is ‘challenging’)
Assume it’s funded by the congestion charge (and remember ScotGov Strategic Transport Review is big on rapid transit in the cities). So they propose a congestion charge on ‘commuter traffic’ into the city. Is the Workplace Parking Levy the mechanism to ensure the resulting reduction in traffic isn’t just filled by Edinburgh residents driving more? (rule 39: traffic expands to fill the space available)
Onto the stuff with fewer if and buts. Unsurprisingly, it commits to delivering the City Mobility Plan, which was approved under the current SNP-led Administration. ‘A city where public transport is something we all use, with…Lothian Buses, and…tram.’
There’s the obligatory ‘keep Lothian Buses in public ownership’, fortunately with fewer hints than some others about meddling with bus operations. ‘Work with Lothian Buses re (decarbonising) its fleet…work towards a reduction in the average journey time’. See above for our scepticism about ‘work with’.
We really like the sound of ‘reduction in the average journey time on Lothian Buses services by 5 minutes’ (though what is the current ‘average journey time’? and presumably they mean all bus services) and ‘increased bus priority’ but it’s spoiled by ‘better placement of bus stops’, which we suspect means fewer stops, ‘and other measures plus reviewing routes to reduce the need for services to travel along Princes Street.’ and ‘We will implement the City Centre Transformation strategy…and retaining access for hopper buses and taxis.’
As has been asked before, how is expecting people to get off a bus and onto another bus improving accessibility? How is your average bus journey time reduced by 5 minutes if your existing journey is replaced by one with multiple changes?
‘many older and disabled people rely on their cars so we will set up a new Accessibility Commission to examine how our whole transport system can better meet the needs of and empower older and disabled residents.’ We’d rephrase that as ‘older and disabled people have various transport needs so we will set up a new Accessibility Commission to examine how our whole transport system can better meet them’.
And ‘new park and ride schemes’ (see below).
A commitment to park and ride is, as ever, almost de rigueur. Indeed, only marginally less so than ‘we’ll keep Lothian Buses in public ownership’. Regular readers of our website/twitter will know that EBUG doesn’t shy from disrupting received wisdom, so let’s deconstruct this.
For a start, P&R is one of those transport things that everyone wants till they’ve got it. Except Edinburgh does have a lot of P&R. Most? of it comprises car parking at rail stations in the Travel to Work Area. But also Ferry Toll, Ingliston, Hermiston, Straiton, Todhills, and Wallyford. Have they single-handedly reduced traffic into Edinburgh?
Well no. CEC’s figures show that c60,000 such car trips are made every day. Which is similar to the number of car trips made by Edinburgh residents within the city. So how to knock, say, 10,000 off that? You need 10,000 P&R spaces for starters. That’s the equivalent of ten Inglistons on the urban boundary.
How many of those spaces will be taken up by people who previously caught the bus or train all the way into Edinburgh? Not clever if your aim is to reduce carbon emissions, or protect and improve buses from outlying areas.
So forgive us if we mark ‘more P&R’ as smoke and mirrors. We suspect it reflects the urban myth that congestion is caused by people from out of town. Fine if you’ve REALLY thought it through, and are clear about how to address it. But focussing on P&R is one way of kicking the can down the road.
Some manifestos allude to greater oversight of Lothian Buses. One of those things that sound good, until you think ‘wouldn’t the Council be better to get things that are under its control right (the highway infrastructure) before getting involved in bus operation’? Who’s got a better track record of delivering day in day out?
Clearly any manifesto won’t touch all the bases. And, regardless of the election result (no party will win an overall majority), there’ll be some bartering to form an administration. The next Council must really sharpen up on delivery. In the next five years, can we spend less time on visions, strategies, etc, and more time just getting on with it?
The big omissions, compared to EBUG’s manifesto, are:
- Nothing about the budget and capacity of the Council bus team.
- Radically improving the funding for “commercially unviable” routes.
- More bus-friendly highway infrastructure (number/extent of bus lanes, operating hours bus lane enforcement) features in some manifestos, but not front and centre to the required degree.
Of the other ‘asks’ in our manifesto, in one way or another most or all of the manifestos cover them. But Edinburgh used to be the city that was cited as ‘getting buses right’; and the operators by and large still do so. Do these manifestos reinstate the Council side of the equation?