Buses open doors

Cities are trying to develop public transport as the alternative to private cars, but so far people are not opting for buses and trams.

Large cities are struggling with the increase in private cars on their streets. One of the most popular policies currently is to restrict parking. This has previously been something done only by the world’s capital cities, but it is now more widespread. For example, the major project currently underway to redevelop Perm’s main Street, Komsomolsky Avenue, will reduce the number of parking spaces by a third, and at the same time the number of streets where you can leave your car free of charge is going down.

In Oxford, employers with more than 11 employees with offices located within the Workplace Parking Levy area, will have to pay a tax of up to £600 per parking space. At the same time their employees will be eligible for discounts on bus fares. This is not a new phenomenon in Britain: for example, Nottingham introduced a similar fee in 2012, and the local authority uses the income from this to finance transport reforms. Despite this, residents still prefer to drive.

Car travel in Oxford accounts for 60% of all journeys and the trend is only upwards. Statistics confirm that during the morning rush hour the average speed on major roads is less than 10 km per hour which is 38% slower than in 2006. The bus network is not coping, and many commuters need to change buses to get to the office. Journeys in the morning peak can take up to an hour and a half from one district to another, so it comes as no surprise that the Oxford Bus Company’s profits have dropped by two-thirds as passengers opt for faster commuter trains or their own cars.

Reform is well overdue, and public transport presents itself as the alternative for the car owner. Passengers expect a clear timetable, comfortable and safe journeys and sensible fares. Perm is currently introducing a new transport model: two new transport hubs are planned by 2022 and several large transport interchanges are to be reconstructed. Operators will be required to meet higher standards for their bus fleets. Next year all city buses are to be equipped with air-conditioning and heating, and all routes will offer cashless payments. 90 new buses have already been purchased at a cost of 1 billion roubles to the City’s budget, and the fare structure is being revamped with two principle features: a discount for cashless payments and day and monthly tickets.

In Oxford too there are discounts for multi-journey tickets, and you can change buses at no extra cost. But pensioners and people with disabilities are the greatest beneficiaries as travel for them is completely free. This is costly for Oxford’s budget as the bus companies are compensated for the free journeys.

In Duisburg, the public transport company is controlled by the City Council, which means that residents are able to use several modes of transport. For example, if you want to travel from Duisburg City Hall to Düsseldorf City Hall you have to get the tram in Duisburg, the Deutsche Bahn regional train and the tram or bus in Düsseldorf, but you can do all of this using the same ticket and there are a variety of discounts and benefits for the disabled and less well off. Additionally, Duisburg has something unique. The MyBus carries passengers on Fridays and Saturdays between six in the evening and three in the morning with journeys booked via a mobile app. The bus operates almost like a night taxi, but at the price of public transport.

Local authorities have recently gained an ally in their struggle to divert people away from private transport in the form of ecologists and green activists. So far, joint efforts have not managed to reverse the trend, but gradually car travel could become an unfashionable activity, especially for young people, and this means the idea of moving people onto buses and trams still has a future. Unless, of course, everyone has an electric car.