Assembly to debate congestion report by the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee: Taming the Traffic

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Congestion concerns

The Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee launched its inquiry into the impacts of congestion on the bus industry in Wales in April 2017. The Committee heard how congestion effects bus service reliability, increases operational costs and reduces journey speeds which have a detrimental impact on passenger experiences. The Assembly will debate the inquiry report in Plenary on 11 October.

Concerns about the impact of congestion on bus services in Wales were discussed during Wales’ first bus summit in January this year. The summit took place in the context of significant declines in both passenger journeys and services in Wales in recent years. The number of bus passenger journeys in Wales has declined by about 20% between 2005-06 and 2015-16. This compares to an increase of around 1% in English journeys for the same period. Furthermore, registered bus services in Wales declined by approximately 32%, from 1,889 in March 2006 to 1,283 by March 2016.

According to Professor David Begg in his 2016 report on the impact of congestion on UK bus passengers for Greener Journeys in, the bus industry is experiencing a “vortex” of declining reliability, reduced customer demand and higher fares which threaten to destroy the industry.

Contributory factors driving congestion

The Committee heard from bus operators, local government transport practitioners, transport consultants, passenger representatives and the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure. Witnesses highlighted that, in addition to the impacts on bus service provision, there are negative economic, environmental and health consequences as a result of congested roads.

In its evidence, Stagecoach (South Wales) suggested that a post-war modal shift from bus to car has been driven by increasing personal wealth, the mass production of cars and the availability of new financial products. Similarly, the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers Cymru highlighted that the primary cause of increased bus journey times is worsening traffic congestion along key routes due to:

  • Increased car ownership;
  • The proliferation of online shopping and the associated increase in delivery vans;
  • Uncoordinated roadworks; and
  • The growth in private hire vehicles promoted by smartphone apps such as Uber.

Recommendations to tame the traffic

In his foreword to the Committee’s Taming the traffic report (PDF 546KB), Chair Russell George stated:

Our conclusion is simple – at heart this is an issue that requires stronger political will. Broadly speaking, the powers, levers, and legislation are in place. What we need now is a Welsh Government action plan which pulls together what works, and encourages local authorities to adopt and adapt good practice.

The Committee made a single recommendation that, as a matter of urgency, the Welsh Government should develop and publish an action plan setting out how it will tackle the impacts of congestion on the bus industry in Wales.

The Committee stressed the need for the Welsh Government to recognise the scale and extent of the impacts of congestion on the bus industry in Wales, and commit to tackling the issue through an action plan that:

Sets clear strategic direction for highway authorities and bus operators on the action needed to address the impacts of congestion on bus services;

  • Outlines how the Welsh Government will support local authorities to work in partnership with bus operators to develop and implement bus priority measures, including changes to funding to ensure long term, sustainable solutions;
  • Includes guidance for local authorities on how to establish and maximise the effectiveness of bus quality partnership schemes; and
  • Contains an assessment of the efficacy of the full range of tools available to address congestion including: park and ride schemes, congestion charging, enhanced parking charges, workplace parking levies, and bus priority measures.

The Welsh Government’s direction of travel

The Welsh Government accepted all of the Committee’s recommendations. In doing so, it acknowledged the “detrimental effects that traffic congestion has on the reliability and punctuality of bus services” and that the negative effects of congestion will worsen if left unchecked. The Welsh Government stated that “tackling congestion is a priority” which it will considered in the development of the next Wales Transport Strategy:

The development of a new Wales Transport Strategy provides an opportunity to strengthen the importance of congestion mitigation in the Welsh bus network.

The current Wales Transport Strategy (PDF 3.12MB) was last updated in 2008. The Welsh Government indicated that it anticipates the completion of a refreshed strategy by 2019.

In its response, the Welsh Government stated that is has committed to a £48m multi-year pinch-point removal-funding package and, as part of its five-point plan to support the Bus industry in Wales, funding bus coordinators in North and South Wales to promote the development of bus quality partnerships.

The Welsh Government also indicated that it will:

  • Hold a series of workshops in autumn 2017 to inform future policies and actions to address congestion;
  • Write to all local authorities to highlight the discretionary parking, bus lane and moving traffic contraventions powers available to them to help tackle traffic congestion; and
  • Circulate advice on funded interventions that can have a positive impact on the delivery of local bus services to local authorities.

The Welsh Government recently announced £2.8 million local transport network funding focussed on “improving bus reliability and reducing journey times by improving accessibility, congestion and integration between modes of transport”.

Read our previous blog on the economic and environmental impact of congestion.

Article by Sean Evans, National Assembly for Wales Research Service