EBUG’s deputation to CEC: 22 September 2022

Here’s the text of EBUG’s deputation to the City of Edinburgh Council on 22 September 2022, in response to a motion by Cllr Thornley on ‘Hopper fares’, which was passed. Item 8.2 here is https://democracy.edinburgh.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=150&MId=6468

A webcast of the meeting is available at https://edinburgh.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/701504

N.B. the text differs slightly from ‘as delivered’, especially paragraphs 10-11 which were reduced for brevity)

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today about Cllr Thornley’s motion. Edinburgh Bus Users Group is a campaign which aims to provide a voice for bus users; it is committed to protecting and improving Edinburgh’s bus network for the benefit of bus users and potential users. Edinburgh’s bus network is popular and is widely considered a model service by people within and outside Edinburgh. However it faces a number of issues, changes and challenges, which form the base of our activities.

Our comments come in two parts: firstly, regarding points 1-3 of the motion, secondly about points 4-6. (Note; at the meeting, we highlighted the example of Leith, as at the foot of this text)

Points 1-3 should be uncontentious, but warrant further comment. Edinburgh’s bus network is successful but has tended rather to be taken for granted. After deregulation in 1985, it was characterised by a successful partnership between the Council and operators, especially the main operator Lothian Buses, owned by Lothian Region and its successor Councils.

The perhaps unspoken understanding was that Lothian Buses was essentially given a free commercial hand. In return it would continue to operate a successful service and return a useful financial dividend to the Councils which own it. Particularly from the late 1990s, the City of Edinburgh Council used its extensive powers as highway authority to assist bus operation, in order to enhance its transport objectives. This had another, though not motivating, benefit of safeguarding the Council’s dividend.

However, we believe that over the past 15 years or so the Council somewhat lost sight of this; the ‘why’ is not for today. We now have a situation where Edinburgh’s buses face their biggest challenge for decades. The operators cite two major immediate threats: a shortage of drivers (and some other specialisms), and the withdrawal of Covid-related financial support. A casual glance at operator websites reveals continuing cancellations due to the first of these.

Local consequences include:

  • Firstbus’ proposal to discontinue the 20, 63 and 68 services in west Edinburgh (now postponed)
  • Cuts to Lothian’s 22 and 42
  • Lower frequencies elsewhere
  • We recently heard the state of services in Leith described as ‘all a mess’.

So, on to points 4-6 in the motion. The medium/long term solutions are structural, and can’t be detailed today, but include the Council committing to pro-bus infrastructure, notably bus priority measures and good bus stops. Fundamentally the partnership of 1995-2010 needs to be re-established.

The motion proposes three short-term actions, which appear eminently sensible to us. We note:

  • Older and some disabled people already get free bus travel, so already can use buses in the way described in point 4
  • Under-22s qualify for free bus travel, and could do likewise. However, take-up of the under-22s bus pass is currently around 73% in Edinburgh, and considerably lower in the Lothians. So perhaps Edinburgh could follow other Councils which promote it through schools
  • But for the remaining 22-60 year olds, a timed ticket would, indeed, mean passengers who need to get two buses are not penalised. At a time when the cost of living is on everyone’s minds, it may also benefit those on lower incomes.

However, it should not be used as a ‘wedge’ to lever in some of the concepts set out in the City Mobility Plan and Transformation initiatives; whilst we broadly support those initiatives, we have reservations about elements of both, set out on our website. Passengers want direct services. They do not want to have to change to another service. Any new ticketing initiative should not be seen as an excuse to make them do so.

The standard transport planning assumption is that interchange costs 5 generalised minutes journey time, to which must be added waiting time and walking time between stops. So, for example, requiring a change to get to Princes St reduces its accessibility by increasing journey time by around a third on a current journey of 30 minutes.

A 10% reduction in frequency means 5% fewer passengers (frequency elasticity 0·5), while there’s also a direct correlation between operating speeds and patronage: a 10% decrease in speeds reduces patronage by at least 10%. Passengers place a value 2 to 3 times as high waiting at a bus stop as they do for in-vehicle time.

There is a place for interchange; buses, and trams cannot cater for all the direct trips that people need to do. Interchange has to be a means of extending the reach of public transport, not a means of disorganising existing networks. It’s sometimes said that Lothian still operates routes established decades ago; well maybe there’s a good reason for that.

Points 4-6 of the motion, we believe, offer a means of facilitating interchange in an appropriate way, so we welcome the motion. But we must not lose sight of the need to re-establish Edinburgh’s bus network to the standards and convenience seen in the past.

Around Leith, local groups sought, specifically, buses for Salamander St, which currently has no bus service, and Leith Links.

It appeared this would have to await tram Phase 2. But a service was announced from 11 September through the Links via Constitution St, swapping buses on Lochend Rd and those on Restalrig Rd; whilst the 34 now runs on Baltic St and Salamander Place instead of Constitution St, which the Tram team confirmed will remain closed for some weeks. But Salamander Place is has a poor road surface and a dangerous turn.

Direct transport to the Western General Hospital, was previously campaigned for and refused; there are 3 buses to the Royal Infirmary, and only 21 as far as Crewe Toll roundabout.

Reinstatement of the 22 from Ocean Terminal is needed; the diverted route by 16 via Leith St and Waverley Steps does not meet need for a direct route for people travelling to and from east/west of the city, as goes via Lothian Rd. It is also very busy and overcrowded from Commercial St and full by time it reaches the Foot of Leith Walk.

There are also less frequent buses and slower journeys for some residents. Congestion is horrendous and many passengers are leaving buses as it’s quicker to walk, if they are able! The changes are extremely unpopular, having removed some direct access to and from Ocean Terminal, Commercial St, The Shore, Great Junction St, Waverley and Haymarket.