I feel that in my last column I didn’t cover enough ground with my criticism of buses, after all one needs at least two columns to properly go to town with a subject.
Some readers emailed me to say that I was advocating the abolition of public transport; of course I’m not, but I am saying that in London
our buses are not the environmental holy cow that they are made to be.
In the past, when most people did not own a car, buses didn’t suffer an occupancy problem. Nowadays they do. The average occupancy is about 10 passengers on an average London bus. In other parts of the country it is even lower.
We have the odd situation that at peak times buses are overcrowded to an unbearable level, and at all other times they have a less than ideal occupancy level. The contrast is staggering. In the evenings and at night-time it is not unusual to see buses carrying just one or two passengers.
In all fairness to Transport for London (TfL) the huge imbalance between peak and off-peak times creates a complicated logistical problem (and the same applies in the tube).
TfL deals with this by increasing the frequency of buses on the busiest routes, and this reduces overcrowding. However it is not overcrowding that concerns me: after all the more crowded the bus the lower the carbon footprint of its passengers, so one can say that packed buses are very good for the environment!
The problem is with the off-peak transport. Decreasing the frequency of buses on a route during the off-peak period doesn’t seem to increase occupancy, it just creates frustrated passengers.
Passengers travelling in nearly-empty buses are causing a monumental carbon footprint and unnecessary congestion. I frequently see bendy buses with barely anyone on them going down Regent Street in the evenings, not only abrasively claiming the right of way and increasing congestion by occupying a bus lane that no one else can use, but in addition the impact on the environment is far greater than if these passengers drove one big polluting Hummer each.
There is a big question mark as to whether these low-occupancy buses should have any rights over other vehicles (such as the right of way) or be on the road at all.
One could even go as far as to say that for a bus to be environmentally acceptable, it should carry at least 12 passengers, which is the threshold above which the passengers have a lower carbon footprint than if they were driving a car. A bus shouldn’t leave the bus stop with fewer passengers than that. A replacement should be found, whenever possible, such as a taxi or a small bus.