To truly attract people to public transport, local authorities must think big in improving public spaces.
The humble bus stop hasn’t evolved much over the decades. Generally speaking, it’s a pole, a shelter and a seat. You wait, the bus arrives, you get on.
But with buses earmarked by the Government as a political priority, and with the nation’s net zero carbon target looming, perhaps it’s time to get creative about improving that “waiting” experience as we strive to get more people to ditch their cars.
The Go-Ahead Group, one of the UK’s biggest public transport operators, has teamed up with Arup, the engineering and consulting firm, to re-think transport interchanges and to consider what local authorities could do with a little bit of investment, imagination and design.
Called a mobility hub, the interchange of the future will bring together sustainable forms of transport – to make it more convenient and easier than ever to ditch the private car.
A first principle to consider is that we can’t have bus stops everywhere. There will often be a first, or last mile or two of a journey that puts people off public transport. So our vision is for zero-emission buses to call at stops which offer easy interchange with bicycles, electric bikes, electric cars and so-called “micromobility” such as scooters to cover that last bit of distance.
At a simple level, future bus stops can be fitted with wifi and solar panels to power improved lighting and passenger information. Go North East, in the Newcastle area, is already powering some of its service displays, which tell you when the next bus will arrive, with solar energy.
Thinking bigger, to allow people to switch between modes of transport, mobility hubs will need secure bike storage, charging points for electric cars and bikes and lockers for runners and cyclists. Some might have ports for rent-by-the-hour low-carbon vehicles.
To truly attract people to public transport, though, we need to improve public spaces. That means, at interchanges, creating community gardens, playgrounds and, where possible, food and drink. The last 18 months have also told us that people want to work remotely – so there’s scope to have co-working spaces allowing people to rent a desk for 30 minutes, or an hour or two, at bus interchanges.
This might all sound very pleasant – but is it realistic? Well, yes it is, actually, and there’s never been a better opportunity. Because next month, every local authority in England (outside London) will submit a Bus Service Improvement Plan to the Government, under which they’ll bid for a portion of a £3 billion funding pot made available under the national bus strategy – unveiled with a flourish by Boris Johnson at a Birmingham bus garage in March.
If, as a nation, we’re to have any chance of achieving our net zero carbon goal by 2050, we need to prioritise public transport
While much attention has been devoted to building bus lanes, subsidising tickets or buying low-carbon buses, many of those local authorities recognise the need, too, to improve the environment of transport interchanges. Plymouth City Council has announced it wants to create 50 mobility hubs and in Oxfordshire, the transport industry has earmarked sites for 30 of them – including some at existing Park & Ride facilities on key corridors through the county.
If, as a nation, we’re to have any chance of achieving our net zero carbon goal by 2050, we need to prioritise public transport. Lord Deben’s Climate Change Committee has calculated that there’s a need to shift 9-12% of car mileage to walking, cycling or public transport by 2035, rising to 17% by 2050. A single double-decker bus can take as many as 75 cars off the road – so increasing bus patronage is vital in achieving that. And by improving access to public transport in rural areas, mobility hubs could aid both social and economic inclusion.
Our industry has made good progress in improving the on-board experience on buses – with improved accessibility, lower emissions, air conditioning and wifi. But not a lot of love has been given to the bus stop. It’s time for that to change.
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