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Those evil buses

June 26th, 2008 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 2 Comments · Politics

It looks like I was falling short of 100% accuracy in an earlier post, when I was gobsmacked about the apparent wackiness of a local councillor in blaming the state of the roads on buses.  Now I have seen the e-mails involved it is clear that I was taking two different people’s remarks and ascribing all the idiocy to one of them. For the sake of completeness, here is the text of the e-mails, possibly with a little light fisking.

To set the scene then, there was an e-mail asking for items to raise at the Metrobus meeting on May 9th.  The first reply was from Alan Quirk and it said:

Can you raise with the bus Company the fact that their buses appear to be
breaking up the road surface on their routes in Broadfield please?. It is
effecting the normal road users and cyclists.

Have they spoken to the County Council, and what plans are in place to
reinstate the surface?

Plenty to complain about in a short e-mail, but it was only mildly mad; the follow-up was the real blinder. I’ll get to that in a moment.  First of all, what does ‘normal road users’ imply?  To me it is saying that bus passengers or cyclists don’t belong on the roads, that cars (and motorbikes) are ‘normal’ and everyone else is therefore a bit weird or only there under sufferance.  Bus passenger travel in a vehicle that has its road tax paid, and via their fares they are contributing to that tax, so they are every bit as much a valid road user as anyone else.

I’m sure buses do contribute to wear and tear on the roads, as do cars, bikes, dustcarts, delivery vans, fire engine, trucks and any other vehicles but to say the buses break the road up as if nothing else does just gives the wrong impression.  And its not just an opinion.. its a FACT.  Besides which, as I said before, that is what roads are for!  They are designed and maintained to handle the expected traffic, and buses were expected at the time the roads were built.

Not sure about the last bit though.  It reads like it is suggesting the bus company should pay to re-surface the road although it doesn’t actually say that. If I was a bus company faced with such a question I would answer “yes I have spoken to the county council to complain about the state of the roads”.

What happened next was that this e-mail inspired Lucy Brockwell to reply with the following:

We should add this to the list of reasons for using smaller, lighter buses
of say 16-21 seats on more routes, more frequently.

I hope WSCC imposes a limitation on neighbourhood roads or a charge for
large vehicles causing damage.

This is the one that I really enjoyed…   Just what is this list of reasons for using smaller buses to which road dmage should be added?   There must be a list because Lucy says there is.  I would love for her to let us know what all the other reasons are, because I can’t really think of any.  At best I can think of reasons why you might augment the current services with some extra routes that go into smaller roads to pick up those who can’t easily get to the bus stops – but that is covered by things like Dial-a -Ride isn’t it?

I can think of a few reasons why you wouldn’t want to use smaller buses, and most of them are economic reasons.  First of all, running more buses means having more drivers.  That is a major cost to the bus company for no extra return – assuming the number of passengers is more or less the same.  Unless some kind local authority is going to inject massive subsidies that will mean a bankrupt bus company, or even higher fares.  Another problem with having more drivers is that there is a permanent shortage of drivers already.

Another consequence of having more buses is that the bus company has to actually have more buses and they cost money as well, directly and indirectly.  They might be cheaper per unit, but would it work out cheaper overall?  Not to mention that when you park them all up, four 16-seaters would take more space than a single 64-seater – so they need a bigger depot with more parking (and much bigger facilities for canteen/mess, lockers, etc. to handle all the extra drivers).  Those buses that take up more space to park overnight are also going to be taking up more space on the roads during the day.

Another cost is fuel.  No argument that it is more efficient to run a vehicle with a smaller engine, but is it cheaper to run two smaller-engined vehicles than one larger one?  I haven’t done the sums, but it seems unlikely.

Agreed that it is wasteful when off-peak buses are running with most seats empty, and there might be an argument for having smaller ones at those times.  Mind you, I’m still not convinced that the savings in fuel would outweight the cost of buying and keeping the extra vehicles.  Thinking about it, if it did work out cheaper to do that the bus companies would already be doing it – they have a vested interest in keeping their costs down as much as they can.

A non-economic reason for not having minibuses is that they really are not designed for easy wheelchair access, or for pushchairs/prams, and could not take advantage of the raised kerbs installed at bus stops.

As for the road damage itself, I’m not qualified to know for sure, but I am guessing that a bus for x passengers actually weighs more than half the weight of one for 2x passengers so that a move to smaller buses would put more total weight on the roads, albeit in smaller units.  Is that going to do more damage or less?  Is there a civil engineer in the house?

So the list of reasons for not having lots of small buses keeps growing, but I haven’t yet thought of one compelling reason for having them, so I really would like to see a copy of this supposed list.

The last bit, about charges or restrictions, is truly appalling.   We are talking about the public highway: you pay your road tax and you can use it.  How can you restrict the use?  Even if WSCC wanted to do it, you would surely need to have national legislation to enable that.

Having only owned cars I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that trucks, buses and other larger vehicles already pay more for their road tax than I do, in which case they are already, in a way, being charged more for using the roads.

On reflection, the first e-mail is not too bad – it only asks some fairly open questions, possibly rhetorical ones – but it was the catalyst for the unreasonable, ill-though-out, and plain barking specific suggestions of the second one.

Not that I can be bothered to go out any do anything like proper research or anything, obviously, but maybe there is a way to settle the question about how much damage buses do: go out and look at the dedicated bus lanes.  If buses do all the damage, then surely the bus lanes would be in as bad a state as the other roads…   Another possibility is to look at all the roads that are not on a bus route and so would never have had a bus on them: they should all be in pristine condition.  A few examples of residential streets with massive potholes should settle the argument.

I’m sure I will be in a better position to know after I get my bike – you tend to notice things more on a bike.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Danivon

    Non-bus route roads with pot holes and damage:

    Darleydale, Dovedale, Malthouse Road, Barrington Road, Loriners, Mason Road, Beeches Crescent, Forester Road and Holmcroft?

    All from a quick rant I heard about the state of the roads in Southgate (along with Brighton Road, which does get buses, but also has a problem with sunken metalwork (or is it just a slap-dash resurface job that raises the road surface).

  • Skuds

    I had thought about Lady Margaret Road, which was possibly the worst road in the whole town and is not a bus route but is used a lot by minibuses from Manor Green College – but thinking about it there was a lot of construction traffic beforehand which probably did the damage first.