Edinburgh takes pride in its buses. From its start as Edinburgh Corporation Transport, Lothian Buses has grown to transport over 100 million passengers each year, won accolades as the best bus company in Britain and seen off competition from FirstBus to provide 90% on journeys on public transport within the capital.
Last year, they invested £14.1m in 55 new Euro 6 (less polluting) vehicles while making £12 million profit on £146 million revenue. They have managed to make a decent fist of Edinburgh Trams, as well as growing the airport Express and sightseeing tour buses.
They have even shown First how to run rural services with their East Coast subsidiary that showed long– suffering East Lothian passengers that their buses could be clean, quiet, reliable, punctual AND profitable
All of which is highly laudable and speaks of an operation in the public sector from which others might draw lessons. Seen from the prospective of a bus anorak, Lothian would be hard to beat. Unfortunately, anoraks are not known for their strategic vision, nor for their close connection with the real world. If we were talking about Dundee for Aberdeen, this would not matter. But we are talking about Scotland’s capital—and a pretty sclerotic Capital when it comes to traffic. As they are the only option, all bus routes cross the city centre, where they become as much the traffic problem as the solution.
With its hills, it’s close-packed history and it’s Victorian street layout, Edinburgh was never an ideal design for 21st century traffic. A quarter century ago, David Begg convinced the City Council to invest in paint to prioritise buses over cars, leading to the latter being banned from Princes Street and forced into convoluted patterns as a result.
However appropriate that may have been as a solution in 1990, despite all their priority, buses mil about in Princes Street, taking 15 minutes to cover the mile between Waverly and Tollcross. Because of bus mayhem, there are commonly three separate shelters for our single stop which confuses locals and completely baffles the many tourists—who has to struggle with unfamiliar coins and holds the bus up even longer. This means that their fleet of 721 spend much time idling. (good job they bought those Euro 6 buses, eh?)
To a non-bus-anorak, the problem seems simple: too many buses. Because there is no alternative, passengers may not get upset taking an hour to rach the city centre from Penicuik (or Queensferry…Mayfield…Tranent…). No other European city of comparable size and standing would dream of trying to serve Half a million people with transport that averages under 10 m.p.h in urban areas—and half that in the city centre.
Edinburgh makes much of its expensive tram line. But it duplicates the Fife rail linei and ts 30- minute Journey time is slower then the Airport Express—and glacial when compared to the 10 minutes ScotReal takes to reach Edinburgh Gateway. It has not made inroads on city centre congestion. In fact, it might have exacerbated the problem on crowded Princes Street
But, Lothian Buses ignores Edinburgh Gateway—and pretty much any other (faster) public transport. The idea of having buses from Ratho, Queensferry, etc feeding into there for our fast trip to town has not occurred to them. Even more reprehensible is there opposition to reopening the South Suburban rail line to passengers. Interchanges at Craigmillar, Cameron Toll, Newington, Morningside, Merchiston and Gorgie would remove the need for most buses to come any closer to the city centre. It would remove congestion(and the need for one third of their boss fleet) at a stroke.
So, why don’t they?
Well… remember that £12 million profit we discussed? Most of that goes to Edinburgh City Council (their owners), who are eternally strapped for cash. L heyack of vision over the last few decades (not to mention incompetence over trams, property, Princes Street retail, etc) is endemic. There has been no coherent transport plan for Lothian—let alone Edinburgh. It doesn’t want its political fingers burned on more trams, so it’s certainly not going too argue for what far-sighted cities from Munich to Manchester have done—build a fast, hi capacity Rail/Tram network backbone which buses feed locally and keep historic City centres both accessible and foot-friendly.
They would rather keep their £12 million bung and hope nobody notices that their city is choking on too many buses.