The strange case of the slow bus company which foiled reduced speed limits for its competitors
To say nothing of road safety…
When the 20mph Limit Pilot in South Central Edinburgh was up for consultation, at one point it looked like the streets people actually need to use and cross to get anywhere in this city (such as Marchmont Road or Grange Road) would be included as well as quiet residential backwaters.
Lothian Buses 177 Y177 CFS by Ingy The Wingy, on Flickr
Lothian and Borders Police appear to bear much of the responsibility for undermining political leadership here by refusing to uphold the law [Kim Harding has some good backstory from nearer the time], but the other influential objector who managed to derail this important aspect of the pilot was our very own (publicly-owned) Lothian Buses.
Their argument didn’t really hinge around safety or liveability concerns, but simply the impact that a 20mph limit would allegedly have on their timetable and business. (The obvious point that a bus service becomes even more attractive when car traffic is slowed down seemed to escape notice).
However, as a semi-regular bus user, this attack confused me. The public’s experience of being on 90% of Lothian Buses is one of moving very slowly. Do their vehicles really travel so far above 20mph that there would be a serious impact on timetabling if the limit was brought down?
When I read that in some other parts of the UK, bus services are taking a leading role in road safety by voluntarily driving at less than the maximum legal limit, my suspicions grew stronger. Surely such a scheme would be stillborn if it put them heavily out of pocket?
Lothian Buses said:
“[Service 38] can only be operated with financial support from the council, therefore any increase in operating cost would have to be passed to the council for an increased subsidy.”
I decided to measure exactly what the impact of a 20mph zone would be on this bus service using GPS technology and computer analysis.