Priority for buses over other vehicles in Scotland’s cities, urges traffic commissioner

Traffic commissioner Joan Aitken: 'Don't think of it as a bus ' but as 30-40 people whose lives could be made better.' Photograph: Lisa Ferguson
Traffic commissioner Joan Aitken: 'Don't think of it as a bus ' but as 30-40 people whose lives could be made better.' Photograph: Lisa Ferguson
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Bus passengers must be given greater priority over other vehicles in Scotland’s traffic-clogged cities, the country’s traffic commissioner has urged.

Joan Aitken, who is stepping down next month after regulating buses and lorries for 15 years, said roadworks should also be better planned to minimise disruption.

She said despite firms operating far more safely since she was appointed in 2003, passengers being held up in tailbacks had become a significant problem.

The call comes a year after bus operator Lothian said Edinburgh was being strangled by a “huge circle of congestion”.

Aitken, who received an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, is the latest senior figure to raise alarm at the problem, which has been blamed for a major fall in the number of bus passengers.

Edinburgh City Council is considering extending bus lanes to all-day operation seven days a week, but this has still to be put out for consultation.

Aitken said: “The lack of bus priority measures means running times are much slower than ten years ago.

“The quality of buses is astonishing – their engineering, comfort and facilities are first rate.

“But all that is thwarted by the fact they cannot get along the road, even in Edinburgh, which boasts one of the best bus services in Britain.

“Every single day, buses are not able to get through the traffic.

“Local councillors want to own or run bus services, but unless they prioritise bus movement then ownership won’t matter. They need to throw their weight behind bus priority measures.”

Aitken said delayed buses had a significant knock-on effect on the economy because of the disruption to passengers, who could include shopkeepers and key health service staff.

She said: “Councillors should not think about it as a bus, but as 30-40 or more people whose lives could be made better.

“Councillors have it in their power to prioritise the bus and say to their officials they have to make the connection about the importance of bus travel.

“People on the bus are really important to the economy and our wellbeing. If people cannot get to their work or college, it is not a marginal matter.”

By contrast, Aitken said many bad practices by bus operators had been curbed or eradicated since she took on her role.

They include buses running early, services cancelled for routine vehicle checks and drivers not stopping for passengers at bus stops.

Aitken also said fewer wheels came off buses and fewer of them failed annual tests.

Edinburgh council said extending bus lane hours was among measures being considered as part of its public transport priority action plan.

The number of bus stops could also be cut to further speed up journeys.

Transport vice-convener Karen Doran said: “Enhancing and developing public transport provision is a priority for us.

“With a rapidly expanding population, it’s essential we continue to provide reliable, sustainable modes.”

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “We absolutely accept the principle that bus priority measures are the best way to improve bus reliability.

“Improving the reliability of bus services is also of critical importance if we are to encourage car users to make a switch to using buses as a regular mode of transport.”

The spokesman said recent improvements included measures on Renfield St and Union Street – among the city centre’s busiest for buses – that had sped up journeys.