WHEN Mrs. Barbara Castle, in her role of Minister of
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
Transport, introduced the White Paper -Public Transport and Traffic" (CM December 8, 1967), prior to the publication of the controversial Transport Bill, she emphasized that one of the aims of the Government was to achieve better co-ordination between public transport operators and town arid city planners and engineers. The proposed Passenger Transport Authorities, for example, were to be the panacea for many problems facing p.s.v. operators inside conurbations, while the industry was promised that provisions in the Bill would make life easier on a wider scale when the Transport Act became law.
Leading people in the p.s.v. field were very sceptical about the supposed advantages contained in the Bill and, as is so well known, there was much opposition to many of its provisions, particularly with regard to the PTAs. Mrs. Castle, her successor, Mr. Richard Marsh, and the late Mr. Stephen Swingler, MP, who piloted the Bill through the Commons, all firmly believed that as provisions in the Transport Bill would compel local authorities to co-ordinate their town planning, engineering and public transport activities, this would gradually solve the serious problem of traffic congestion and give the bus a better deal.
Now—for better or worse--the Transport Act 1968 is in force and already the first four PTAs are in the process of being formed, while outside these conurbations, the majority of bus operations, apart from those provided by municipal authorities, are performed by the State-owned National Bus Company (England and Wales) and the Scottish Transport Group. Both these groups have the power to co-ordinate their activities with local authorities.
Action wanted Despite all the criticism of the Transport Act, the Government and the Ministry of Transport do believe in the Act so sincerely that they are anxious that their plans should work. I think it is true to say that never before has the Ministry been more closely concerned about public transport operation than it is today.
So anxious, in fact, is Mr. Marsh to see action, particularly with regard to traffic measures, that, as soon as the Act received Royal Assent. he reviewed the situation and enquired whether everything possible was being done to get things moving. A working party was set up. under the chairmanship of Mr. T. L. Beagley, under-secretary, passenger transport and urban planning. Ministry of Transport, and at the Public Transport Association's annual conference at Brighton in June, Mr. Beagley revealed that this group was examining the subject of bus priority measures, and had looked at a number of schemes already in existence.
More can be done
However, he told the conference that he felt operators could do a lot more. There was more scope for experiment, he said, and added that his group would have more to say later in the year, when a report would be published. Mr. Beagley stressed the need for the requirements of public transport to be brought into the subject of overall planning —and particularly long-term planning.
In addition to Ministry of Transport officials, including Mr. A. F. Neal, adviser on bus operation, Mr. Beagley's group includes a university professor, a city engineer, and officials from the Greater London Council, the National Bus Company and London Transport, who act as individuals rather than spokesmen for the bodies to which they belong.
The group is gathering together as much information as possible about schemes to help buses in the United Kingdom and abroad. It has visited major towns to find good schemes in Britain to use as demonstrations in the report of what can be done. I understand that the group was "gratified" about what was being done already, after it had looked at about 20 major schemes. The aim of the report will be to inform local councillors of what is being done in other towns.
One scheme almost on the Ministry's doorstep is the Brixton Road scheme, where the inside lane is reserved for north-bound buses between 7.0 a.m. and 9.30 a.m., Mondays to Fridays, when 100 buses per hour are travelling in that direction. The group is glad that the GLC has "had a go", although it admits that contra-flow (i.e. against the traffic flow) schemes are easier to enforce—one still tends to find the odd parked car blocking the inside lane even on clearways. Successful contra-flow schemes are operating in Reading and in Exeter, while the much-talked-about scheme for Tottenham High Road will be put into effect this autumn.
One of the most successful bus-lane schemes is the one in Paris, described at the 1)1TP Congress in May. A team from the Road Research Laboratory has studied the Parisian experiment and, I understand, was very impressed by it. There are, altogether, 33 lanes, representing 4 per cent of the city's bus mileage. Surprisingly the discipline of the private motorist is very good, and although the lanes are also used by taxis there is a very good flow.
Another successful Continental scheme is one in Hamburg, where buses are tracked on a display which is in the form of a time /distance chart. This enables controllers to locate . the exact position of a bus at any given time and one of the main gains is that the Hamburg public transport authority has been able to reduce its inspector force.
I understand that the Ministry of Transport is very interested in the Hamburg experiment and it is hoped that a British firm will develop similar equipment so that eventually this systern might be tried out in a British town. Meanwhile, another interesting technical development is a simpler Dutch one, which is a device whereby traffic lights will be able to "recognize" an approaching bus.
This development is closely linked with a large-scale experiment in West London (Area Traffic Control West London Experiment) where computer-controlled equipment supervizes more than 100 sets of traffic signals over an area of 6i square miles. In addition to the usual rubber pads in the road a detector coil is mounted beneath the surface of the road which not only registers the amount of moving traffic but can also assess the length and density of traffic at a standstill. A more efficient way of phasing traffic signals, it can give a longer green phase for the direction of the heaviest flow of traffic.
A device fitted beneath a special vehicle —ambulances and fire engines were the first vehicles considered—would be able to extend the green phase by a few seconds. Thus, if such detectors were fitted beneath buses and the coil beneath the road "recognized" a bus approaching at the end of the green phase, the phase could be extended by about five seconds to let the bus through. The Ministry hopes to have experiments carried out soon, while the GLC proposes to extend the computer-controlled traffic signals throughout Central London at a cost of £1 1m.
Closed-circuit television is being added at strategic points so that observers in the control roam can keep a watch on the most vulnerable traffic junctions. The working group has already studied the Leeds and Leicester TV systems which help the flow of buses in those cities; the Leicester system was described in CM on April 4 1969.
New types of bus operation, or rather new applications of old ideas, are also being examined by the Ministry group. The main idea is an extension of express services to make them rather more personal services. Already tried in America, they might be termed "tailored services" operated by "Executive coaches". The idea is that the passenger has a Season ticket on the coach and the driver calls at his door, or the passenger walks to a nearby spot and has a guaranteed ride every morning.
This is basically the principle behind the proposed Blue Arrow services of London Transport in Stevenage, which are to be superimposed over the normal service. I understand that London Transport also has other plans such as building up the frequency of certain services to make them more attractive.
Another rather important development which is taking a while to get off the ground is the Leeds experiment of (a) running the bus through a "pedestrianized" street and lb) running small buses round the city centre. It is accepted that small buses are desirable for the first type of scheme, while the latter service should also link with the railway and bus stations.
Pedestrianization (the new jargon for the exclusion of traffic from an area) is one answer for the centre of historic 'towns like Norwich, York and Chichester and Mr. Beagley, as he mentioned at the Brighton conference, sees no objection to the running of small buses down pedestrian areas. In such German cities as Bremen and Dusseldorf trams, as well as buses, actually operate into pedestrian precincts. The trams were already there, they had to stay—and they were iaccepted.
Of course it is much easier to build new traffic systems in new or re-developed areas as part of the construction of such places'. This is why the Ministry places such emphasis on the need for consultation between the public transport providers and the town planners and engineers.
One small scheme which can be the model for many similar ones is a pedestrian precinct on a newly developed site in Salford. Buses there run in a loop round the outside of the shopping precinct, the road being reserved for buses only, but linking a direct main road into Manchester. Although perhaps not exciting in itself, it is the type of traffic scheme that Mr.
Beagley is anxious to advertise, and such systems should be built in to every new development. After all, local authorities receive grants of 75 per cent of the cost of new major road schemes, whether or not bus priority measures are provided.
Delays in implementing traffic measures such as that which has happened in Totten ham High Road. due to friction between the local council and the GLC, are delays the Ministry is anxious to stop. If the Tottenham lane, which will see the southbound buses separated from the northbound one-way general traffic stream by a series of kerbs or bollards, had been in existence one year ago, the idea, I understand, could have been "sold" to Manchester. Instead, they would not "buy", as no pilot schemes were in existence.
Sampling priority routes
Some of the priority measures examined by the Ministry group are working very well. Others are not so good, but the more successes which are achieved, the more other people will tend to copy. One problem faced by the Ministry is that no systematic effort has been made to measure the results and this is where the MoT and the RRL will be able to advise local authorities from the experience gained by their studies.
Two bus lanes I have examined are the Brixton lane and the Reading lane, Anyone who has driven through Reading, particularly in the holiday season, will be familiar with the congestion on A4. A one-way traffic system was proposed, with westbound traffic using London Road and eastbound traffic King's Road. There was just one snag—trolleybuses.
The one-way system was introduced on June 16 1968, while the trolleybus system, with busy services along King's Road, was due to terminate on November 3 1968. As a temporary measure, trolleybuses were allowed to travel westwards along King's Road against the flow of traffic. This measure worked so well that it was agreed to extend the experiment for six months after buses replaced the trolleybuses. At the end of this period, the contra-flow bus lane became a permanent feature, and Thames Valley and Aldershot and District buses were also allowed to use it.
The lane is 0.63 miles in length, and is entered from the roundabout where London Road and King's Road part. It is 10ft wide and is marked by double white lines, and the average width of the main road is 30 to 40ft, with a minimum of 31ft. Abuse of the lane is minimal and the two busy town services using the contra-flow lane have shown an increase of 3 per cent in the number of passengers carried since the scheme began. With an average of 10m passengers a year carried by Reading Corporation Transport, this represents an increase of m a year. On the remaining routes, however, there has been a passenger decline of 2 per cent over the same period. Obviously, providing a reliable service pays dividends!
The Brixton Road scheme, South London, is much less ambitious. The bus lane extends from Vassall Road towards the junction of Brixton Road.) and Camberwell New Road. Its main advantage is, that as traffic in the outside lane of the two northbound lanes queues as it approaches the Oval, the buses are able to keep moving up to the end of the inside lane, where they then share equal rights with other traffic at the traffic signals.
Two odd things struck me about Brixton Road. First, there is no bus stop in the lane—the stop is actually north of the end of the lane just before the traffic lights. Secondly, traffic wishing to turn left into several side streets is allowed to cross the lane.
Abuse of the lane does occur, though not to a great extent. Traffic varies from one day to another and some days traffic moves at the same speed in both lanes. However, it is a step in the right direction.
Finally, two traffic measures in Hertford which give buses priority, work quite well, and are illustrated as yet more ways in which public transport can be assisted to do its work more successfully.