Examples of successful projects are Cambridge, Leigh-Salford-Manchester and the Luton-Dunstable guideway schemes. Of course there are numerous others, where the overall priority to buses may be lower, but their status as BRT-badged schemes is not in dispute. But it remains the case that it is these dedicated-busway schemes that stick in people’s minds when they seek out exemplar projects. I was most struck by this in October of this year when I took part in the BRTuk site visit to the Leigh-Salford-Manchester scheme that opened back in the Spring.
I have tracked the progress of this scheme for the last 10 years, and last visited Leigh a couple of years ago when I was driven down some particularly muddy terrain along the construction site that was to become the busway. At the time there were many local ‘battles’ going on relating to concerns about the noise of the buses heading past people’s houses, visual intrusion (that people on upper decks would be able to see into bedrooms), general construction impacts and an undercurrent of scepticism that it would be one of those legendary ‘white elephants’ that we hear about during the planning phases, but which never seem to materialise once the diggers have moved on.
I was very pleased therefore to experience the smooth ride along the guideway, which clearly vindicated the approach to using a ‘slip-form’ produced surface. I was also pleased that I was experiencing the journey on First’s fairly luxurious double deck buses, equipped with comfortable seats (including some with tables) plus onboard (free) wi-fi. Even better was when I alighted at various stops en route to experience what can only be described as the tram-like quality of the stops. Once you erased the mental image of tram tracks, it was nigh on impossible to discern any difference from what you would see elsewhere on the Metrolink system.
Since starting in April, the service has carried more than 1 million people in total, with 20% of passengers being former car users, even though more than half had access to a car for the journey. This already equates to around ½ million fewer car journeys being made. The proof therefore appeared to be in the pudding. With this high-level of take up, local MPs and Councillors now appear to be asking questions around when there will be more buses available so that frequencies can be improved. Local grumbles appear to have largely fallen away, and beyond the direct evidence, there is much by way of anecdotes around word-of-mouth referrals to encourage usage.
Progress is not only evident with this scheme. Great strides have taken place in Cambridge with development underway of a new busway serving Cambourne. In Birmingham, the ‘Sprint’ package of BRT projects is moving forward apace, with a clear focus around serving the new HS2 station at Curzon Street. There is the Oxford Road scheme in Manchester which is now nearing completion and is already starting to transform this heavily bussed corridor. Let us also not forget progress being made in Belfast, Bristol, Kent Thameside, plus work going on in London.
Turning to BRTuk matters, I recall the point 10 years ago when the organisation was established by Colin Eastman, and I am proud to have been involved in Board activities over this period including attending many of the 11 conferences that we have held since then. I am pleased to report that the initial enthusiasm that existed for promoting and delivering high quality BRT schemes in the UK is still there – and the proof of this lies in some of the examples of BRT delivery that I have set out above. What is clear though is that in order to survive and thrive, BRTuk requires a renewed boost to its membership, coupled with a greater level of input from its constituent members.
I have spent some time this year in revamping the Board (and roles on the Board), which is drawn from a healthy mix of operators, manufacturers, consultants and public sector. This shake up of the Board has come mainly out of necessity as a result of the standing down of the previous Chair (Bob Tebb), the retirement of our Treasurer (Alex Macaulay) and the moving on of some other members. Sometimes however, necessity can be the mother of invention, and in their place we have recruited a number of willing volunteers including; Tom Hacker (Secretary – WSP|PB), Zoe Vidion (TfL) and Gwyn Ephraim (Arup). As Board members we all offer different things to the party and I am pleased to see their willingness to contribute to the organisation.
My personal view on the issue of participation is that all members of BRTuk join up and pay their membership fees for a reason, which if my own perspective is anything to go by, relates to the desire to see BRT schemes be allocated a bigger slice of transport funding and for more high quality projects to be delivered. Within BRTuk, we have a number of large multi-disciplinary consultants and the leading UK bus operators, and within these organisations there no doubt exists a number of individuals who have an interest in BRT matters, but who we have not yet ‘captured’ into the BRTuk fold.
Looking forward towards the next 12 months, the challenges that I am putting out to all Board Members, and more widely to BRTuk members are to find a way to get these individuals to step forward and identify themselves, and to then capture their input within the group.
The further challenge is to expand our membership. Over the years we have tended to lose rather than gain members. This has primarily come about through key points of contact within member organisations moving on, with no clear succession management plan in place. So I am laying down the gauntlet to existing Board members to both ensure that we retain existing organisations, whilst also increasing our membership by at least 10 further organisations by Spring 2017. The membership fee is very modest, and the benefits of being a BRTuk Member would appear to me to clearly outweigh this. If we, as a collective, wish to see more high quality
Dave Haskins, BRTuk Chair
View the handbook here: http://issuu.com/landorlinks/docs/brtuk_handbook2016/1
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