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UK's Most Congested City to Get Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Network

Artist impression of part of Bristol's BRT schemeWork should finally be getting underway soon for Bristol's £200 million 'Metrobus' bus rapid transit (BRT) network, following completion of all the relevant planning applications and an announcement of funding from central government.

Bristol was revealed as the "most congested city in England" in the 2012 Congestion Index published by TomTom. Only Belfast beat Bristol in the whole of the UK. Bristol was even more congested than London.

This report analysed five billion pieces of anonymous information and found average journey times in the city increase by 31% during rush hours. The following figures show how much longer the average journey time was in these UK cities compared to free flowing traffic in the UK's top 11 most congested cities:

  1. Belfast 32.1%
  2. Bristol 31.0%
  3. London 27.5%
  4. Leeds/Bradford 26.2%
  5. Nottingham 24.4%
  6. Manchester 24.2%
  7. Sheffield 23.0%
  8. Birmingham 21.6%
  9. Liverpool 21.4%
  10. Newcastle 20.9%
  11. Glasgow 18.3%.

"We can see that in Bristol an average trip would take an extra 20 minutes just because of congestion", commented TomTom's Nick Cohn at the time.

This level of congestion has not noticeably changed since 2012 and exists despite the fact that 57% of residents in Bristol use walking, cycling and public transport to get to work, according to a poll undertaken earlier this year.

John Laite, signals manager for Bristol City Council, said at the time of the TomTom survey: "Bristol has limited road space and, when that capacity is reached, queuing occurs. It's managing the delays that is the primary function of the Traffic Control Centre. It is [about] giving our space to bus lanes to attract more users onto alternative transport."

The planned BRT network represents an attempt to tackle this problem. There are three routes mapped out as part of the network:

  1. from Long Ashton park-and-ride to Bristol Temple Meads and the city centre;
  2. from Cribbs Causeway, Aztec West and Emersons Green with Bristol city centre to Hengrove in the south of Bristol;
  3. from Long Ashton park-and-ride to a new hospital and leisure centre in Hengrove.

Map of Bristol's bus rapid transport routes


£34.5 million of public funding towards the £45 million total cost of the first phase has just been announced by the Department for Transport. It will run from Long Ashton Park and Ride to Bristol Temple Meads railway station.

It will relieve much congestion within the city by encouraging car drivers to shift onto public transport. Existing bus services to the west of the city will also be able to use the new infrastructure, yielding faster travel times.

This phase will travel along a new 2.5 mile segregated busway from the park-and-ride site, following former railway routes and including a new bridge over the Bristol to Portishead railway line. The city centre section will run on existing roads but with added bus priority measures including bus lanes and upgraded junctions. Work will be completed in April 2016.

The North Fringe to Hengrove route from the north of the city (inc Bristol Parkway railway station) via the city centre to Hengrove in the South was awarded £51.1 million by the Department for Transport towards a total cost of £92.9 million in 2011.

This is the third and final part of the Metrobus scheme – formerly known as Bus Rapid Transit – to have been decided on. The Ashton Vale to Temple Meads section and the South Bristol Link Road were both approved by Bristol City Council last year.

It is intended to include a bridge to be built over the M32 that, controversially, will destroy some smallholdings and prime agricultural land. Councillors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire recently approved the final stage of the route, to the consternation of campaigners calling themselves the Alliance to Rethink Metrobus. They had been campaigning for an alternative route, but the councillors dismissed their argument, saying that their proposed route would add too much time to the journey.

The councillors said: "By 2017, the 73 service is predicted to take 48 minutes to travel from Bristol city centre to Bradley Stoke. MetroBus will make the same journey, using the bus only junction, in 26 minutes, a saving of 22 minutes."

The news was welcomed by Councillor Brian Allinson, Chair of the West of England Joint Transport Board, who said: "With the entire Metrobus network now approved, we can rapidly move forward in delivering these vital public transport improvements." He called the BRT system: "faster more reliable, and more comfortable than existing bus services".

Elsewhere in Britain a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service is in construction in the north of England to connect the centres of Rotherham and Sheffield with each other and with existing and proposed development sites in the Lower Don Valley.

The Leigh-Salford-Manchester Bus Rapid Transit, from Leigh (one of the largest towns in Great Britain without a railway station) to Manchester via Salford is also under construction. The 14-stop scheme makes partial use of a former railway line.

Glasgow, Leeds, Belfast, London and Coventry also have plans for BRT systems.