Health warning: this blog is one only anoraks are likely to love.
Ten years ago, Lothian Buses made great play of receiving the ‘Bus Company of the Year’ award for 2002 and emblazoned the fact on their buses. In the intervening time, having lost much goodwill from punctuality torpedoed by tram works, insult has been added to their injury by having the whole tram operation hung round their necks.
In fairness, they do run a tight ship with a fleet of clean, new, buses that run a relatively punctual schedule around Edinburgh and its near environs and therefore receive few complaints from the locals who use it regularly. But anyone with enough buses, drivers, mechanics and an IQ in double-digits could make buses pay in Edinburgh, a major city with horrendous traffic problems and no other public transport to speak of: it is the biggest city in Europe with the transport strategy of a village—check the comparisons.
Most important, the other transport nets cited are integrated: one ticket gets you from A to B, no matter what means you use. Check out Lothian’s website. It has a tab for “Integrated Transport” but all it consists of is a 3-minute cartoon aimed at 5-year-olds that skips the fact that trams take longer than the Airport link and cost lots more (although the website’s ‘fares’ page tells you none of this).
All through the site, the assumption is that you are a resident. Want multiple tickets? Well the CityTicket for 20 journeys costs £30—exactly the same as you’d pay for 30 single journeys and you have to find a Travelshop to achieve this stunning 0% bargain discount. Or the Day Ticket: “Perfect if you are making 3 or more journeys in a day.” chirps the website. But how many times is that likely?
But what of the 3.7 million visitors Edinburgh, the No.2 tourist destination in the UK, receives each year? Well, they’re stuffed, whether they arrive by train or get turfed out of the Airport link at Waverley Bridge. Good luck finding the TIC dragging their cases or working out which of the 18 Waverley bus stops they need and then finding it or even the two nearby-but-well-hidden Travelshops. Try asking about trains in a Travelshop or buses at the train counter if you want an earful of pithy anglo-saxon in a broad Scots accent.
In short, Lothian is on another planet. The reason is: it’s run by bus anoraks largely for bus anoraks—the present CEO Ian Craig replaced Neil Renilson—both with bus CVs the length of your arm. No-one would mind his total pay package of £269,388 last year (up from £264,196 in 2012) if he was delivering a 21st century integrated system.
They do get 96% customer satisfaction and services they provide are clean and modern. Recent PR oozed over 10 new Volvo 7900H diesel-electric hybrids, gushing over their green credentials and soon to be running on Route 30 Clovenstone/Musselburgh. But nobody polls the millions (including almost all of the 3.7m visitors) who don’t use Lothian as to why.
Leaving aside the total lack of integration with ScotRail (or tourist buses or FirstBus or anyone else), the most glaring flaw is their network structure that is pure 19th century. Compare Lothian’s route map with the 1950’s Edinburgh Corporation Transport trams map and see how little progress has been made. Then compare it with, say, Munich’s transport map. Note how the radial routes on which Lothian fixates are all provided there by fast S-Bahn or U-Bahn lines in Munich; any gaps are provided with higher-capacity trams. Buses are only used to feed this fast, high capacity backbone. And—this is why Edinburgh is now saddled with a white elephant—no tram line duplicates heavy rail.
Consider this when you are stuck in a chain of No 26’s crawling their way through Roseburn or a shoal of No.3’s stuck in South Clerk St behind a delivery van.
It’s just as well that efficient buses are to be used on the No.30 route. It might qualify as the least efficient route of all, especially at its eastern end where it takes 1/2hour to cover 1.4 miles crossing Musselburgh between Newhailes House and Musselburgh Grammar. That’s 2.8 mph in old money.
Despite serving QMU, this bus takes 1 1/2 hours end-to-end, a voyage no sane passenger undertakes. After Fort Kinnard, it duplicates other routes, so you might think demand would exist for a faster service that didn’t duplicate the train to Waverley (10 mins vs Route 30’s 40 minutes). It could profitably be rerouted through the swathe of South Edinburgh that has no QMU/Musselburgh service, even if it does need to wind up at Clovenstone. (Wild guess that’s for another anorak reason: the depot’s nearby)
But that would be a non-radial service, which Lothian abhors. Every good anorak knows that is no way to parade your spiffy buses before an adoring public—even if it does cause self-induced traffic jams blighting Musselburgh High Street, Shandwick Place, St John’s Road, Great Junction Street, Elm Row, Tollcross…and two dozen more bottlenecks.
Therefore, this blog’s clear winner for Anorak of the Year, in acknowledgement for setting goals furthest from public need (through endemic bus fetishism, executive-over-passenger priorities and showboating for their 91%-share ECC political masters) is Lothian Buses.
In modern cities with real transport systems, buses don’t cause traffic jams; they fix ’em.