In a few months the answer will be in the headlines of the local media:
“Falling prices on local services on public transport is costing the state tens of millions more” –
“It has become known as a ‘car park to the stars’ after a new £150 million bus rapid transit line connecting the city with the centre of Manchester, as well as the centre of Glasgow” –
These are just some of the headlines that may arise if the announcement next week to build more bus rapid transit (BRT) service does go ahead, despite the fact that this new bus service isn’t part of any new state subsidy.
This is because there is no difference between public and private transport, other than it costs money. Public transport is not subsidized (except in certain cases where the state subsidises local bus systems). There are more people riding bikes in Birmingham than ever before, and many will never have a car, but all public transport is still subsidised through transport tax and fares – so the extra fares should be considered in the same way.
The big difference is that buses are not private cars, and that means that their cost is determined by how much fuel the vehicle consumes. It is true that public transport and private transport are also subsidised based on the fuel that they consume, but buses are a much more important mode of transport than they previously were. As buses have become the main public transport service in central Birmingham we don’t believe adding more transport buses to the network will make the city any more attractive to residents or visitors.
So why are bus patronage dropping?
The first step is to look at the reasons why people are choosing to travel by bus.
In 2005, the figures were:
Total bus passenger numbers were 3,717,903
Buses ran on the streets of Birmingham at 15 per cent capacity
Buses ran at just over 16 per cent capacity in the city centre
Buses ran at under 20 per cent capacity in Birmingham South.
From 2005-2011 there is no change. In that time, the number of journeys taken has dropped to 3,098,869 (from 4,074,411) but the total capacity on the transport network is back to 15 per cent.
In 2013, the figures were:
Total bus passenger numbers were 5,843,979
Buses ran on the streets of Birmingham at 16.4 per cent capacity