Politicians really ought to have a special Specsavers session just for them. Because it appears that, whilst they can clearly see a bus – maybe a Euro 6-enginned or hybrid clean one – spotting huge numbers of unrestricted private cars and vans idling away in never-ending congestion seems to be proving problematic.
Take Sir Richard Leese. He’s Manchester’s Council Leader. Maybe he’s a bit ruffled by the arrival of Andy Burnham as the City-Region Mayor, with ideas for buses of his own, but the local paper has uncovered potential plans for kicking buses out of Piccadilly Gardens. And it’s all based around the environment.
The state of our air in large urban areas is a concern. It becomes an even bigger concern once you start looking at how many people actually die early due to the effects of poor air quality. You’d think the politicians would be on to it.
But politicians are in the game for the short-term. They may be forgotten heroes the next time the polling station opens for business. And one of the quickest ways to aleinate the electorate, supposedly, is to stop them going places in their cars.
That’s why I sit in conferences year after year listening to grandiose schemes for City Centres that have artists impressions of green spaces and cyclists and pedestrians and happy children and motherhood and apple pie. Who can see the cars?
And yet, having attended one of my first conferences as a wide-eyed teenager, I now find myself in my late forties still turning up, still looking at the glossy brochures, still listening to a brighter tomorrow. And still, when I leave the conference, and watch many of the attendees get into their cars and I trudge off to the bus stop, I find myself in my natural environment as a bus passenger, stuck in stop-start congestion. Cars as far as the eye can see.
In Manchester, Sir Richard seems to think it’s the bus’s fault that air quality is crap around Piccadilly Gardens.
Now granted, if you’ve ever stood here and watched the magic roundabout of Mancunian bus services, there’s a lot of double-decker action going on. But here’s the rub:
The bus industry is largely cleaning up it’s act. Vehicle emissions are cleaner than ever. And moving up to seventy-odd folk on one vehicle is surely better than seventy-odd individuals in seventry-odd cars all idling away in never-ending congestion? I’m no expert, and I never even made the sixth-form at school, but even I can see that.
If I can see the cars, how come Sir Richard can’t?
Manchester’s Metrolink trams are excellent. And you have to say hats off to the City for what it’s achieved in creating the tram network – it far eclipses anything my home City of Birmingham has managed to achieve thus far. But politicians have to learn that trams can’t go everywhere. They may be shiny and swish, and people love them, but they come at a premium. They’re great, but they’re only a (relatively small) part of the public transport offer. Sorry guys and girls, but the good old bus will have to be retained for quite a while yet.
The painful thing for those in power is cars. Maybe that’s why they choose not to see them. If a few very environmentally-friendly buses are choking the good folk of Piccadilly Gardens, what might cars, vans and rest of an episode of Wacky Races be doing across the wider City?
There’s no doubt there’s a job to be done when it comes to the image of the bus, and I don’t mean employing Ray Stenning and thinking job done (although it’s a pretty good start). But that image needs to be the full offer. And that’s why it’s so disappointing to hear a politician like Sir Richard – who ought to be at the forefront of helping buses to provide the best service that they can – coming out with comments like he has.
He has the power to give buses priority, to promote public transport in all of it’s various forms and to tackle damaging congestion, not by hanging the blame for Manchester’s air quality on a busy bus terminus in the City, but by asking fundamental questions about how to tackle stationary lines of traffic to improve that pesky air quality.
First, he needs to see the cars.