Doubts cast on bendy bus plan by mayoral hopefuls
SEVEN of the candidates to become Bristol's elected mayor have raised doubts over the controversial bendy bus scheme.
Three of the candidates at a hustings meeting in Broadmead last night even said they did not support the £50 million route into the city centre from the Long Ashton park and ride site at all.
One of these was architect George Ferguson, an independent candidate who said the alternatives had not been properly examined.
"I just think that the wool has been pulled over the eyes of the politicians by some of the experts," he said.
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"I am clearly against BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and I want the mandate from the voters to be able to renegotiate how we spend those hundreds of millions of pounds on a system which fits Bristol's growth and history."
But Jon Rogers, the Liberal Democrat candidate who supported BRT with reservations, warned: "If we decide that we don't want a rapid bus system, then let us be quite clear that the Government would be more than happy to take the money back and spend it elsewhere."
The three-mile route, which would use segregated bus lanes with low concrete walls to guide the buses on some sections, is due to open in 2015. It would be the first of a network of bendy bus routes aimed at easing chronic congestion in the city.
Daniella Radice (Green Party) and former Tory councillor Spud Murphy (Independent) both said they were against the bendy bus route.
The candidates were asked from the floor whether they supported the route, known as BRT2.
Mr Murphy had responded by saying: "Yes, without reservations."
But afterwards he said that he was against the bendy bus system and therefore should have said "No".
Geoff Gollop (Con) said "Yes, with significant reservations".
He told the Post afterwards: "In principle, I agree, because if we go back on these proposals, the funding might be ring-fenced, but it will take another three years to work out what to do with the money."
Labour transport spokesman Mark Bradshaw, who was standing in for his party's candidate, Marvin Rees, said he did not support the bendy bus route "in its present form".
He said afterwards that the original scheme was a much more segregated system, whereas the latest version was much more "watered down", because so much more of the route was using existing bus lanes.
"It's more of a conventional type of bus using existing bus lanes, whereas what we want to see is an alternative form of transport using much more segregated lanes," said Mr Bradshaw.
Tim Collins (Independent) replied by saying, "No, not in its present form".
He said later that he was not against the scheme in principle but he would prefer to see an electric trolley bus rather than a bendy bus, and more segregated track.
All the candidates were clearly in favour of creating an independent transport authority to unlock the powers needed to sort out the city's awful transport problems.
Dr Rogers, who used to be the city's transport leader, said he wanted to work with neighbouring councils to find transport solutions but he said Bristol would have to go it alone if necessary, because it had been held back too often in the past.
He explained the reason why an ITA had been resisted by neighbouring councils was because they feared the quality of their bus services would go down and fares would go up.
Dr Rogers said: "The bottom line is that if we had a transport authority, our fares would go down and the services would improve."
Mr Ferguson said the West of England Partnership, which brought together the four councils in the former Avon area to deal with transport issues, had been a disaster. "There's no question that it is not going to deliver in its present form," he said.
Mr Gollop said he was fully committed to an ITA but neighbouring authorities saw Bristol as a threat and it was therefore important to work with them.
Mr Bradshaw said the key to a new "transport board" was working with neighbouring authorities.
Mr Collins said he was elected to the former Avon County Council in 1989 and yet 23 years later, there is still no integrated transport system.
Ms Radice said transport was the biggest issue to tackle in Bristol. She said it did not make sense that our roads were so crowded with vehicles yet our buses were often empty.