The West of England Combined Authority is currently consulting on a Bus Strategy which is intended to form a grand solution to all of Bristol… sorry, Avon… sorry, the West of England‘s passenger travel issues over the next two decades.
I have major concerns over this document and the accompanying questionnaire. WECA staff have already admitted to operators that the questionnaire is the only response to the consultation that they’re really interested in. Apparently they don’t have staff to read responses written by operators who may be put out of business by the implementation of their proposals.
The questionnaire is ridiculously vague. Respondents are asked Yes or No answers to questions to which anybody with more than a passing interest in passenger transport would want to give a fuller answer. For example – “How far do you agree with the concept of an interchange-based network?”. Surely anybody involved in providing bus services would say that an interchange based network should only be introduced once core services can be demonstrated to be bulletproof reliable. It doesn’t really matter how Strongly/Quite Strongly you agree or disagree with the statement – the implementation would be absolutely critical.
Similarly – “Do you think that we should explore other transport solutions to serve rural communities rather than conventional bus services?” is offered with a Yes or No answer. As somebody who could easily lose my livelihood through this question, this needs to be given proper consideration. Even a single sentence, such as “Yes, but not to the detriment of existing conventional bus services where these are successful” would communicate so much more than YES or NO. This is before we start considering that demand responsive services are targeted at a completely different demographic to the services which are currently in place and could quite easily co-exist successfully. But that wouldn’t deliver a percentage, so WECA can’t handle it.
This consultation bodes very badly for the future of bus services in WECA. It is slapdash, makes incorrect assumptions and asks questions which assume the person answering is incapable of understanding anything other than the widest of generalisations. In stark contrast to their published desire of “doubling bus passenger numbers” in fifteen years, ham-fisted one-size-fits-all policies such as those consulted upon here will more likely halve them. Worst of all, future decisions are likely to be made solely based upon this policy, with the reason given being “because policy”.
I will share my full response to the consultation next week.