Greener journeys may soon become a reality - here's a new initiative promoting bus travel
There are many ways we could make our journeys greener, from walking or cycling to using the bus or train more.
Buses and coaches are consistently found to be the most sustainable and low carbon travel methods after cycling and walking.
It is becoming increasingly efficient, too as governments fund the purchase of lower-emissions vehicles. In the UK a “bus fund” of around £30 million has already been spent in upgrading old stock. However, time and again bus infrastructure is the poor relation as roads and air traffic attract far more subsidies.
EU initiatives are promoting bus travel. It is thought that around 50 million tonnes of CO2 could be saved annually if the number of buses and coaches were doubled. It would also save lives as there would be fewer road casualties.
This article is about one initiative which is making some waves.
I often think of the sheer wear and tear that people suffer when they commute by car through busy streets. Many people that I know – myself included in past years – spend untold hours sitting in jams and inching slowly down crowded roads simply because there is no viable alternative. What a waste of human potential!
Research in 2013 corroborates this; people who spent up to an hour commuting to work were less happy overall than people who worked close to home or at home.*
If the bus network were extended (both for numbers and places covered) many more people would be able to access bus travel that was both practical and affordable.
Fewer cars on the roads would also lead to faster travel for most people - so less time spent in the daily commute.
*An Erasmus University study confirms an earlier study by Frey and Stutzer in 2004. Longer commuting time negatively affects happiness on average.
Another reason to support bus travel wherever possible is that it is actually a healthier option. One US study showed that people who use the bus are on average 40% less likely to be overweight.
The lower emissions levels in cities where the bus is the favoured means of transport mean that the air quality can be far higher and a walk between destinations becomes a pleasure.
Bus travel is also usually relatively stress-free. The main cause of any stress involved in bus travel is just the simple fact that there are often not enough of them! Waiting too long for a bus to arrive - or finding that it is already full - are two disadvantages of bus travel that are entirely caused by a lack of buses. If there were more of them on the road servicing the needs of passengers, then most of those frustrations and stresses would simply melt away. Fewer buses would end up stuck in traffic, too, as there would be less traffic to be stuck in.
Similarly, if there were more buses and fewer private cars, then bus journeys would become faster as congestion in town and city centres would be less. This would also reduce stress. As everyone knows stress levels soar when you are running late for important appointments!
As investment in buses and coach services has been squeezed fare prices have tended to rise. This can easily lead to a vicious circle where passenger numbers decline and more bus routes are dropped from the schedule.
There are also financial benefits for the local economy from bus travel. Studies have shown that bus and coach travellers are actually more likely to spend money at their destination than are car drivers.
Where bus fares are inexpensive and the service levels are good, people choose to take the bus and leave the car at home. In big towns and cities with efficient public transport systems many people even forgo having a car at all. Car clubs are springing up to supply the need for occasional car use by people who opt not to own a car.
The EU now provides some support for well-thought out schemes for urban travel.
Some UK towns are already developing more futuristic bus services. For example in 2014 work started on a rapid bus transit scheme in South Yorkshire. It is partly funded by EU money from the European Regional Development Fund. It is hoped that it will help bring economic development in the Don Valley and local towns.
However, many services in Britain are now being cut because of the government austerity drive, often affecting vulnerable and isolated people in the process. How far that will undermine work already done remains to be seen...
With climate change an ever-present threat to our economy it makes sense for us to support such initiatives wherever possible.
Hopefully, signs of this initiative for more bus travel options will be coming to a town near you very soon!
The EU continues to press for more sustainable and integrated travel throughout Europe.