In 2022’s Stuck in Traffic, Transform Scotland reported on the Scottish Government’s commitment to ‘invest over £500 million in improved bus priority infrastructure’. Our Policy Advisor, Chris Day, comments on why this investment is needed and what has been achieved so far.
Why is bus priority infrastructure needed?
Transport Scotland identifies bus priority as measures to improve bus services and increase patronage, by allowing buses to avoid being caught in congestion. It cites as examples of best practice priority signals, guided busways, bus lanes, bus gates, and bus corridors.
Studies consistently show that long and unreliable journey times are two of the main reasons potential passengers give for not using buses. Shorter journey times also maximise operating efficiencies, which have a direct impact on fare and service levels.
The Bus Partnership Fund
In 2019, the Scottish Government committed to investing over £500m in bus priority measures on local and trunk roads. It is intended to reduce the impacts of congestion on bus services and address the decline in bus patronage, and is called the Bus Partnership Fund.
The first two rounds of Bus Partnership Fund (BPF) funding were allocated in 2021 for appraisals, business cases and ‘quick win’ interventions, and in 2022. The total allocated was £25.8 million, just over 5% of the available funding.
This was nearly two years after the Fund was announced. Except for ‘quick wins’ (small-scale, cheap measures which can be implemented quickly), no money had been allocated for substantive infrastructure. Transform concluded there was a risk of missing the target.
Transport Scotland temporarily paused work on the Bus Partnership Fund in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, but announced the Bus Priority Rapid Deployment Fund, which, Transport Minister Michael Matheson said, ‘supported local authorities in recent months to respond to congestion, with interventions such as temporary bus lanes and gates.’ It included awards to 18 local authorities for over 60 temporary projects. It appears this £10 million was drawn from the BPF.
What’s happened since then?
Let’s assume that £35.8 million altogether has been spent or allocated from the BPF.
Transport Scotland’s website currently reads: ‘Status: The fund is currently closed for applications’.
Details of the awards already made are available via the successful local authorities, including:
|Partners||Details of planned spending|
|Glasgow Bus Partnership (8 Glasgow City region councils, SPTE, operators, passenger representative groups)|
|– Evidence-building around Glasgow: 16 traffic/road changes on Dumbarton Rd, Maryhill Rd, Great Western Rd, Pollokshaws Rd, Paisley Rd West (bus-only streets, various types of bus lanes, traffic lights)|
– £3.655 million to develop the evidence-base to allow the first funding bid in 2023
|Nestrans, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, bus operators|
|– Project appraisals around Aberdeen: completion of STAG (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance) appraisal and identification of preferred options, A90 Ellon-Garthdee and A96 Inverurie-Aberdeen corridors|
– STAG appraisal A944/A9119 Westhill-Aberdeen and A92 Stonehaven-Aberdeen corridors in progress
Main works contract awarded, South College St Improvement Project
– Options appraisal underway, Aberdeen Rapid Transit.
|Edinburgh Bus Alliance (7 SE Scotland councils, Sestran, bus operators, bus users representatives)|
|– Quick wins and project appraisal around Edinburgh: £3.03m initial funding from BPF, targeted at delivering ‘Quick Wins’ and appraisal work to develop business cases|
– Anticipates further funding once Strategic Appraisal and Outline Business Case delivered, after progression through gateway reviews
|Various||Smaller allocations included:|
– Ayrshire Bus Partnership: £305,000
– Fife Bus Partnership (west area only): £749,000
– Forth Valley Bus Alliance: £500,000
– Highland Bus Service Improvement Partnership: £2.1m (Inverness), £707,000 (Fort William)
– Tayside Bus Alliance: £497,000
In summary, the money so far is being used to:
• Develop evidence for bus only streets, various types of bus lanes and traffic lights around Glasgow
• Perform STAG appraisals and preferred options around Aberdeen
• Implement ‘Quick Win’ measures and appraisal work around Edinburgh
A number of smaller interventions have also taken place in other Council areas. For more details, see the Scottish Parliament’s website.
But clearly the funding allocated so far is being spent on a combination of ‘quick win’ projects and preparatory appraisals and development work. Representing 5-10% of the total available, this might be considered to be a fairly typical spend profile for such projects. Since the fund is ‘currently closed for applications’, this may hint that the bulk of the funding will be spent on the major projects which have already received preliminary funding, such as those listed above. Note especially that an undefined amount from the £500 million has been pre-allocated reallocation of road space on the M8, M77 and M80 (see below).
However, three to four years have elapsed since the Bus Partnership Fund was launched. Clearly none of the major projects are approaching even a consultation phase, whether outline or on detailed Traffic Regulation Orders; these are the stages which are often the most time-consuming.
As Transform concluded last year, there is a risk of missing the target. Indeed, it seems the risk has grown rather than shrunk.
Bus priority on Glasgow motorways
In ‘Stuck in Traffic’, we also observed that a linked commitment in the Programme for Government 2019-20, ‘beginning plans to reallocate road space on parts of the motorway network around Glasgow to high-occupancy vehicles such as buses’ showed no signs of progress.
STPR2 Phase 1 recommended that reallocation of road space on the M8, M77 and M80 be pursued and referenced a report on this that was being produced by Transport Scotland. However, there has been little to indicate publication in the short term, and no other signs of progress on the commitment. A recent parliamentary question was answered with a suggestion it was ‘moving towards completion’ but without timescales.
To sum up
It looks increasingly unlikely that the goal of investing over £500 million in improved bus priority infrastructure is going to be met in the short or medium term, although it may be achievable within the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament.
However, it was an ambitious target, particularly given the lengthy development and consultation phases that major programmes of this kind entail. The challenge for scheme promoters and their allies is dealing with the opposition that inevitably arises when specific plans are published.
The Bus Partnership Fund is getting spent currently at less than £9m annually, whereas the original plan implied that it would be spent in 5 years.
The lack of progress in planning to reallocate road space on parts of the motorway network around Glasgow is more difficult to understand. Without a heavyweight ‘champion’, or ‘champions’, we can see how that project may slide off the radar.