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Letter: Let’s Use Our Wealth of Brainpower to Fix Our Transport Problem

Published on: 27 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 27 Dec, 2021

From: Julian Lyon

In response to: Guildford Will Never Achieve ‘Modal Shift’

As a reluctant disciple, I understand a lot of what David Roberts has said. His last sentence is important and particularly appropriate – why would I use the bus from the bus top outside my house when I can park in town for three hours with associated convenience for the price of taking the bus?

As it happens I often walk (including a rather unattractive route across the railway and around the concrete jungle beneath the gyratory system) because I am perhaps a cheapskate.

The other factor in this strategy is that we have to tackle the somewhat thorny issue of housing. It is no good spreading outwards (particularly into garden villages and garden extensions) if this simply makes public transport inaccessible or unviable.

We need to be much more engaged in an “up versus out” discussion, and I don’t mean Woking on the Wey, but rather ensuring we have critical masses of population where viable, low-cost bus services can realistically replace car journeys.

Some of the most attractive (non-high-rise) parts of suburban London have densities far higher than even York Road, Guildford (one of our most densely housed residential areas), whereas we have some challenging areas with our poorest scores in Indices of Relative Deprivation where there is poor public transport access but residential densities of 15 dwellings per hectare.

The advantages of suitable densities clusters of households are that local amenities are more available to greater numbers of people and that bus routes can be engineered to serve communities where the average person lives nearer than 1/4 mile from the nearest bust top as in many of our suburbs.

The question should not really be how we can reduce traffic volumes on the one-way system to 35% of current levels, but to debate how we can survive the reduction to 35% economically, functionally, etc. The prize of reclaiming our Riverside in the town centre and free (or at least greater freedom of) access between the heritage centre around the High Street, the river and the railway station.

We have become so used to fighting against almost all development and almost all progress that we are too focussed on what we think is impossible and undesirable rather than really working together to deliver the art of the possible.

Our Park & Ride model is fundamentally flawed. It should be based around a pay-to-park but free-to-ride model; it should pass through the town centre – say from Onslow to Merrow and back – allowing buses to serve more of the town centre. Take a look at Winchester (at least in non-Covid times) to see how this can work brilliantly.

The pricing for parking would allow use of Park & Ride no matter how many passengers there are and the passengers could jump on and off as their tasks in town require. A pricing policy where the cost of parking in the town centre were, say, four or five times the cost of parking at a Park & Ride, should start to move the needle. We also need to allow the P&R system to facilitate the evening economy by staying open much later.

Buses and other public transport should be there for convenience and we should recognise the cost of provision is a price worth paying – although I hazard that if the pricing were substantially cheaper than any parking options, and if the buses were more frequent, reliable and predictable – and run later in many areas – they would attract far more fares instead of travelling with so many empty seats.

Modal shift may be a tarnished label and it may be somewhat misunderstood. It does not mean everyone has to get on her or his bike. It doesn’t mean “shanks’s pony” has to be the solution. As David Roberts says, we need to get our public transport system right.

Had we started the Local Plan process trying to solve these types of problems, I suspect we would have had a different set of arguments, but the Sustainability Appraisals could have appropriately modelled the respective harms of using green belt sites or developing existing urban areas more densely.

The one-dimensional Local Plan, still aggressively defended by the local plan team, needs to be revisited in the relatively near term. Meanwhile, we need to use the wealth of brainpower in our borough to come together to fix this transportation conundrum once and for all.

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test 5 Responses to Letter: Let’s Use Our Wealth of Brainpower to Fix Our Transport Problem

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    December 27, 2021 at 1:35 pm

    First, we need to survey the whole populace to find out when they want to travel and where to. No point a bus going to The Spike when people want to travel to Spectrum.

    • Julian Lyon Reply

      December 28, 2021 at 10:06 am

      I thank Jim Allen for his response.

      I rather prefer buses that “call at…” rather than buses that “go to…”. The ideal from my perspective is for buses to go through the town centre – so from a stop in Burpham through the town (with various calling points) and going on to the station, the hospital, and maybe onward to Farnham or wherever.

      There still needs to be a safe, clean interchange and reliable and predictable services (with real-time tracking enabled by an app).
      This, together with sensible frequency and start and finish times, and sensible pricing, would get me onto the buses.

  2. H Trevor Jones Reply

    December 28, 2021 at 9:12 am

    I agree with Julian Lyon that we need to build upwards rather than outwards, in order to make public transport more viable (as well as to reduce the taking of green space).

    Surveys, as suggested by Jim Allen, can also be useful if targeted carefully and indeed have been done for years by Transport Focus and its predecessor Passenger Focus asking for origin and destination of actual travel, but beware of the sort of survey that asks would you like to have a bus to go somewhere: of course we would, but only for actual use when the car is broken down.

  3. Alistair Smith Reply

    December 28, 2021 at 11:22 am

    As Jim Allen rightly points out we do need an understanding of the likely travel patterns required by Guildford borough residents, across all travel modes.

    A critical issue is that Guildford, due to history and geography, has major travel corridors running through the centre. Understanding the volume of travel on these corridors is critical as there could be serious impacts in surrounding towns and villages if cross Guildford capacity is reduced without a proper strategic approach.

    It is to be hoped the February 22, 2022 webinar on transport run by “Shaping Guildford’s Future” will provide some answers.

    Alistair Smith is chair of the Guildford Society

  4. Adam Aaronson Reply

    December 28, 2021 at 9:38 pm

    Perhaps the wealth of brainpower could come up with a better description of the required aims of the transport fix than “modal shift”.

    I suspect that most of the people who need convincing haven’t a clue what it means. If you want to use jargon, use jargon that people can understand.

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