Boss: Ring road delays ruining metrobus
THE boss of Bristol's biggest bus operator has made a scathing attack on traffic problems which are causing services to run up to an hour late.
First West of England managing director James Freeman says "appalling" delays on the Avon Ring Road have left metrobus services and other buses using the road "utterly gummed up" since the start of the year.
And he admits passengers can be forgiven "for thinking we're useless" as heavily delayed buses become overcrowded, leaving them unable to pick up passengers at many stops.
The delays come amid two major traffic projects – the ongoing experimental changes to the Hambrook traffic lights and roadworks at the Great Stoke roundabout near the western end of the A4174 in Stoke Gifford.
First has been running the m3 service from Emersons Green to Bristol city centre since 2018 and at its launch said it would provide a faster, more reliable service, thanks to a route using a combination of main roads, bus lanes and bus-only routes, and pre-paid tickets.
Mr Freeman, pictured, said a new £2.4m fleet of biomethane gas-powered buses had been introduced on the m3 route on the first Monday in January.
But he added: "By Tuesday, these splendid new vehicles were utterly gummed up in appalling delays on the A4174 Ring Road. A journey that normally takes about 35 minutes was taking an hour and 35 minutes!
"Not only is that frustrating for those on board, arriving at work late, in all probability, but it also means that the buses weren’t getting back to Emersons Green to operate their next trips."
He said buses were returning to Emersons Green more than 45 minutes after they were scheduled to start their next run.
"Then the buses were actually proceeding so slowly that they were picking up more passengers at each stop, so that there was no space left for people wanting to board at places like Hambrook – those people finding themselves left behind," said Mr Freeman.
He said more than £10 million had been spent on new buses, on top of the £230 million cost of metrobus routes.
But he warned: "It’s largely wasted if we can’t run the service properly or at all."
Mr Freeman said a way had to be found to allow metrobus services to run through chronically-congested areas, adding: "Metrobus can’t work if we don’t realise that we must take urgent action."
He offered passengers caught up in the congestion "a most sincere and heartfelt apology" but said he feared the problems would continue until the next school holiday in February.
Voice readers have reported being made late for work and school after delays of more than an hour in their regular commutes since the turn of the year.
Writing on the Voice Facebook page, Louise Taylor said: "When they first announced the grand plan of a metrobus, I assumed, as in other cities, that the buses would have their own dedicated bus lanes. Travelling along the ring road with all the other traffic was always going to go wrong. Did the people in charge not do their homework?"
Lindsay Cox said: "For once, I don’t blame First for this, the problem lies with the ridiculous Hambrook light changes. South Gloucestershire Council needs to acknowledge that this doesn’t work during rush hour, as any problems further into Filton make the traffic 100 times worse and it backs up to Emersons some mornings. This is NOT working and is in fact making traffic worse and spreading it out even further. They’re failing those of us who’ve made the choice to use public transport rather than put another car on our already-congested roads."
A South Gloucestershire Council spokesperson said: “With major new housing and business development planned in the area we are investing £160 million over four years on a number of highway improvement schemes to reduce congestion and emissions, improve cycling and pedestrian routes and make sustainable transport a more attractive option.
"We are working to minimise any disruption by keeping traffic moving where possible and carrying out work by narrowing lanes and only closing lanes at off-peak times. We are continuing to monitor and evaluate the impact of this work and have postponed, combined or brought forward some schemes, but unfortunately some disruption will be caused and we sincerely apologise to anyone affected.”