Richard Hall: Lane changes will put Capital on the fast track to cut traffic congestion

Lothian Buses' new Enviro400XLB bus with 100 cars in George Street
Lothian Buses' new Enviro400XLB bus with 100 cars in George Street
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With the festive ­period fast approaching, it’s possibly the only time of the year when drivers will sing merrily about being top to toe in tailbacks.

Whether you’re looking forward to the onset of festive music is a debate for another day, but it is fair to say that the congestion that Chris Rea sings so memorably about is not just a matter for Christmas.

Richard Hall, Managing Director of Lothian

Richard Hall, Managing Director of Lothian

According to a variety of reports issued over the last year, Edinburgh enjoys the unenviable reputation of being the most congested city in Britain.

Journeys in our capital city take on average 40 per cent longer than they would if roads were quieter, and in rush hour traffic, drivers can expect their trip to take as much as 80 per cent longer, adding 24 minutes to a half-hour journey. Overall, analysis suggests that congestion costs the UK more than £8billion, with traffic in Edinburgh costing every driver an average of £1,219 in lost productivity and increased accident levels.

That might seem like a gloomy picture to be painting but sadly it is the reality of moving around large parts of Edinburgh all year round – and even more so in summer and at Christmas.

In recent weeks, City of Edinburgh Council has launched a public ­consultation which would see bus lanes operating to extended hours from 7am until 7pm, seven days a week.

As managing director of Lothian, the city’s bus provider, it will come as little shock that it is a proposal which I am supportive of.

Monitoring undertaken in Edinburgh has shown that it is taking people 12 per cent longer to travel by bus during peak times than in 2006 – and 14 per cent longer off-peak.

Many areas, particularly routes leading to retail parks, are busier at the weekends than during the week.

In order to deliver the same service as congestion gets worse, year after year, we require to put more buses on the road to compensate for the time stuck in traffic.

This, of course, contributes to the congestion with more vehicles on the road and also requires additional driver and maintenance hours.

Some may view the proposals as another attack on motorists and, as someone who enjoys driving in ­addition to travel on public ­transport, I can sympathise with that perspective.

However, if we can speed up bus journey times, we believe it will encourage people to choose ­public transport over single use car ­journeys, and reduce congestion and improve air quality with resultant health and environmental benefits for a historic city that was not modelled to cope with traffic as we currently experience it.

This year saw the launch of ­Lothian’s Enviro400XLB buses, an ultra-modern low-emissions bus which meets clean, green, Euro6 emissions standards, thereby ­helping reduce the impact on the environment.

With the large seating and standing capacity of this bus, at an event earlier this year we demonstrated how 100 vehicles could be removed from Edinburgh’s streets if people chose to swap the car for the bus.

We have already seen a positive response from the 350,000 passengers who use our services every day.

But we must do more. We must make bus journeys even quicker and smoother and ensure it becomes an attractive option for more and more people. The City of Edinburgh Council wants to know what people think of bus lane operating hours at the moment, and how changing the hours would affect them. Lothian supports the change as the right move for Edinburgh but ultimately it is up to residents, including our customers, to make their views known.

The consultation can be completed on the council’s consultation hub and runs until Friday 22 November, by which time we expect the Christmas tunes to be in full swing – whether congestion related or not!

Richard Hall, managing director of Lothian.