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Be honest - it's a bus


The phrase 'bus rapid transit system' should be outlawed once and for all by transport professionals. It is simply too insulting to everyone.

Faced with an image of 'bus rapid transit system' vehicles, anyone, professional or lay, knows instantly what they are looking at - a bus.

It is not a tram. It is not a light rail system. So if you are talking about a bus, then for all our sakes, just call it a bus.

No one in Leeds, for instance, believes they are going to get anything more than new buses in place of the scrapped Supertram scheme. Leeds City Council would not be asking Alistair Darling to re-regulate the bus service if they thought otherwise. But for some reason transport professionals persist with this strange practice.

But, of course, I don't just want the phrase 'bus rapid transit system' to be outlawed.

No, I want the whole concept of buses-that-think-that-they-aretrams-but-aren't to be eradicated.

Instead I want straight-forward, well planned and well funded public transport systems.

With respect to the well meaning-promoters of 'bus rapid transit systems', such things will just never be anything other than a short-term, low cost sticking plaster solution designed to move people from point to point. They will never be a public transport system.

Living in London it is easy to become accustomed to the availability and sheer convenience of a half-decent public transport system. While it is of course far from perfect all the time, there is a pretty good chance that, certainly within the central zone, it will get you where you want to go when you want to get there.

We are very lucky. There are over-ground suburban railways, there is the vast and well connected Underground system, the ever expanding Docklands Light Railway, plus an armada of red double-decker, single-decker and bendy-buses (note the deliberate use of the word bus) marauding around the streets alongside a huge fleet of black cabs to help meet demand.

And it costs a massive amount of money to keep it going.

Millions of public pounds are poured into London's public transport every year. The DLR alone has a £500M investment plan for the next few years.

It is never enough of course, but it is big investment by anyone's measure. Yet one only has to look at the cranes and redevelopment activity all across the capital to understand that this money, in macro terms, is not wasted, but quickly and easily earned back through economic activity and growth.

And that is the difference between proper public transport systems and 'bus rapid transit systems' - it is the ability to attract development and kickstart - or maintain - regeneration.

Put simply, trains, light rail and trams are substantial and permanent enough to give investors and developers con'dence. Buses are not.

So it is encouraging to see that Scottish MPs this week gave the go ahead for line two of Edinburgh's new tram system. Hopefully they will have the good sense also to back line one and allow the city to bene' from a proper public transport system.

It is a small victory. While Nottingham, Manchester and Birmingham plough on, they do so without the regional investment power needed to reap real regenerative rewards.

And sadly, as long as we offer these 'bus rapid transit system' alternatives against which to benchmark the cost-bene't, central government will understandably be unwilling to stump up.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

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