Written evidence submitted by Mr Jeremy Varns (BUS0001)
Bus provision outside of London is generally in a terrible state. I live in Guildford and have witnessed a massive reduction in the quality and reliability of services, despite the town hosting a large university and district hospital. Pollution levels in and around the town centre exceed legal limits due to high traffic volumes and congestion. Worryingly too, is a total lack of separation between pedestrians and road vehicles. I hired equipment to test particulates and NO2 and discovered dangerously high levels of both pollutants. The council dismissed my findings, but Highways England conducted research last year with remarkably similar results.
Buses get caught up in traffic resulting in delays and many routes becoming unviable for operators and reducing one potential benefit of using public transport. Waiting at bus stops alongside busy roads with poor air quality makes for an unpleasant and potentially unsafe experience. When traffic isn't queuing, vehicles pass by at lethal speed, often above legal limits. Cars and vans constantly mount the pavement, despite this being an offence. The police and council have consistently failed to tackle these issues, further compounding the problem.
Arriva recently pulled out of Guildford, citing financial losses. Extraordinary given the natural advantages the town should have towards the demand for bus travel and the urgent need for sustainable alternatives. Stagecoach took over last year and almost immediately slashed timetables. On my route, services have reduced from 7 buses an hour to 2, yet fares have increased. Cancellations are commonplace, meaning an hourly service from a suburb of a medium-sized town. How will this help with the green recovery? What happened to 'bus back better'? Guildford Borough Council and Surrey County Council have no plan to tackle the issues underpinning these challenges. If it's not safe to walk and it's not convenient or cost-effective to take public transport, the cycle of car dependency continues. One positive to take away is that where limited competition exists, services are better, and fares are lower. Independent provider, Safeguard in Guildford offers a small number of routes and some overlap with Stagecoach. Their buses are cleaner and more affordable, drivers are friendly, and service updates are consistent and timely.
The government and local authorities must act urgently to address the current situation. Inertia can no longer be considered acceptable. Yes, there will be short-term political consequences of challenging the status quo. But how did we ever reach this point where the personal rights of individuals to drive everywhere overrode the health, safety and wellbeing of others? Now is the time for action, not continued indifference. Clean air, safe streets, and access to sustainable transport are fundamental to our continued prosperity. And no longer should this come at the cost of poor health and the degradation of our local environment.