Bus boss critical of roadworks planning

Photo of an M1 MetroBus vehicle stuck in a queue of traffic on the approach to Great Stoke Roundabout.

The managing director of the bus company responsible for running the M1 MetroBus service has singled out the recently commenced roadworks at Great Stoke (Rabbit) Roundabout as an example of long-term infrastructure works that have been planned with insufficient consideration being given to maintaining public transport flows.

Photo of James Freeman speaking into a microphone.

James Freeman (pictured), MD of First West of England, made the reference in an open letter on the effect that traffic congestion is having on bus services across Greater Bristol, but particularly in the so-called North Fringe.

What seems to have made Mr Freeman particularly annoyed is that his company had just introduced additional peak-hours capacity on the M1 service to cope with increasing demand from passengers in the Bradley Stoke and Stoke Gifford areas – increasing the number of seats per hour from 450 to 600.

However, the day after the extra journeys were added to the timetable, South Gloucestershire Council closed the bus lane on the approach to Great Stoke Roundabout and introduced flow-throttling narrow lanes for general traffic.

Not only has this introduced delays of up to 40min on each journey through Bradley Stoke in the morning peak as the M1 buses sit in traffic between the Willow Brook Centre and Rabbit Roundabout, it has also “totally disrupted the rest of the service straight through the morning, all the way to the very south of the city”.

Expanding on his statements in an interview with the Journal, Mr Freeman conceded that First was made aware of the upcoming roadworks, although he claims SGC failed to properly communicate the scale of the works and their likely effect on bus services.

Elsewhere in the North Fringe, traffic congestion on the A4174 Ring Road is having a severe impact on the reliability of the M3 MetroBus service. Here, Mr Freeman says there is a need to have dedicated bus lanes in both directions “all the way round to Keynsham”, doing away with the current 2+ lanes which he describes a being a “complete cop out” and “unenforceable”.

Mr Freeman expressed regret that SGC doesn’t seem to be thinking along the same lines as Bristol City Council which has proposed a ‘Better Bus Deal’ concept – whereby bus operators agree to increase operating frequencies subject to the council introducing bus prioritisation measures and providing infrastructure improvements.

Returning to his open letter, Mr Freeman concludes it with a stark warning:

“£230 million of public money was spent on creating MetroBus, on top of which the operators have invested £10.5m on top-of-the-range buses. It’s largely wasted if we can’t run the service properly or at all. Not only that, if our much-vaunted MetroBus system, by which so much store has been set, is not to be entirely discredited as an alternative to driving cars, then somehow the way has to be found to make these MetroBuses able to run through these areas of increasingly chronic congestion.”

“This approach has started to be recognised in Bristol but MetroBus can’t work if we don’t realise that we must take urgent action…”

The Journal invited SGC to provide a statement on the impact of the Rabbit Roundabout roadworks on the M1 MetroBus service and a response to the concerns expressed by Mr Freeman. A council spokesperson replied:

“We recognise there have been higher levels of congestion on the road network during the first few weeks of January. This may be due to a number of reasons including the return to school and work after the Christmas break, bad weather as well as a number of incidents including breakdowns, accidents and an emergency road closure due to urgent electricity mains supply repairs. We are sorry people are experiencing delays and we are working hard to keep disruption to a minimum while we carry out a number of major highway improvement schemes.”

“We are investing £160m over the next four years on the network and unfortunately implementing these projects will lead to some disruption. We will continue to monitor journey times and do everything we can to minimise delays.”

Photo: An M1 MetroBus vehicle stuck in a queue of traffic on the southbound approach to Great Stoke Roundabout.

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on pages 6 & 7). The magazine is delivered FREE, nine times a year, to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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