I am often teased by friends for being an environmentalist who never uses public transport. I would like to think that I’m a sensible environmentalist, someone who doesn’t necessarily assume that hoping on a bus makes one greener than driving a car.
In London, buses have become truly horrible things. In some countries a bus journey can be a rather civilised experience, where one can read a book or look out of the window, but in London you can’t do that without smelling something foul, only to notice someone eating a burger on your collar.
Also, people can hardly get on buses without some martial arts skills, since the custom of queuing died out circa the turn of the millennium.
As a car driver, one of the most irritating things about buses is that they take their right of way rather seriously. I keep on bumping into bendy buses intent on pushing my feeble electric car to one side and seriously risking an accident. They don’t understand the difference between the right of way and the right to crush someone.
Frankly I don’t know why buses have the right of way at all. The principle that buses have a God-given right to get from A to B in the shortest possible time, or before anybody else, is completely flawed.
Am I missing something, and are buses are full of VIPs who need to get to some very important meetings quickly?
I think that if there is traffic congestion we should all democratically accept that we are stuck in traffic, whether one is in a car or on the bus. There should be no social engineering to give anyone priority.
Bus lanes are based on the premise (that we can easily demonstrate to be false) that buses are greener and ought to be encouraged. The encouragement comes in the form of quicker journeys and cheap tickets.
The Achilles heel of the argument is that it ignores occupancy numbers. Buses that are full to the brim are obviously very green, because the carbon footprint of the bus is subdivided by many passengers, resulting in low emissions per person.
The average London bus must have an occupancy level of 12 passengers or more for each passenger to have a lower carbon footprint than if they were each driving a car. However, Transport for London’s figures show that the average occupancy is actually 10 passengers.
Some buses, in fact many, during off-peak times, have very few passengers indeed.
On top of this, we must take into account that the existence of bus lanes causes indirect emissions.
Having fewer available lanes for private vehicles means that the traffic flow is reduced and this can add very substantially to the journey times. In some key routes having one bus lane out of two possible lanes means a reduction of the low of traffic by 50%. The impact of this in the congestion of some Central London areas is enormous.
This indirect carbon footprint that is passed on to all other vehicles by making our journeys longer is very difficult to calculate, and still more difficult to justify.