Delivering Real Benefits with Quality Bus Corridors

Delivering Real Benefits with Quality Bus Corridors


J Oakes, FaberMaunsell, UK




Quality Bus Corridors (QBCs) have been common parlance for traffic engineers, transport planners, bus operators and politicians for a number of years. We all of course know what a quality bus corridor is don?t we? Well maybe not exactly when it comes down to the detail. In physical terms quality bus corridors will vary considerably in scope and content depending on whether they are in purely urban areas or whether they run through a semi rural environment.

Quality bus corridors are being proposed, designed and implemented to achieve a broad range of objectives and under diverse political regimes pursuing varied ?agendas?. In order to ensure that we as professionals do not give out mixed messages it is important that we fully understand what objectives a QBC could or should deliver and what the likely real costs and benefits of these schemes will be.

Provision of quality bus corridors must ultimately deliver a real alternative mode to the private car and therefore encourage significant modal shift. Significant modal shift is only likely to occur if QBCs, and associated complementary initiatives, provide real benefits to the public that are clearly visible and demonstrable. There is a Risk that technical solutions are put forward as part of QBCs for their technical sake only, ?because we can? rather than to provide clearly visible benefits.

Quality Objectives

Quality Bus Corridors are generally put forward as proposals in multi modal studies and within local transport plans without a clear definition/statement of what is expected from the proposals in terms of costs and benefits. Indeed the desirable benefits to bus operators and passengers may well be stated but rarely will the true costs both financial and in terms of potential ?disbenefit? to other road users be considered despite the overriding policy objective of encouraging modal shift being generally understood. The normal result of this lack of clarity is an unrealistic expectation on the part of operators and local representatives, who are all happy to sign up to proposals for improvements in public transport operations but not generally at the expense of car borne voters.

As QBCs often cross local authority boundaries it is important that the route wide objectives are well understood and that agreement is reached on a mechanism for delivery inorder that NIMBY attitudes are avoided in the design process with each authority wanting all the gain and non of the pain.

In order that the design and development work for the SEMMMS QBCs could be undertaken in a consistent and efficient manner across four Greater Manchester Districts the drafting of a framework document was proposed by Faber Maunsell which would seek to set down clear and measurable objectives for the overall project and the individual corridors as necessary. A guidelines document has now been drafted, in consultation with all Greater Manchester District councils, which sets out the network wide goals to be aimed for to meet the often conflicting demands of all modes using the corridors.

The concept behind the Quality Bus Corridor (QBC) involves the creation of a network of routes on which the features that have made light rail schemes attractive to passengers are replicated for buses. This involves bringing together those features that both make buses more competitive with the private car and make buses easier to use. The main objectives of the QBCs are generally identified as:

* Reduce bus journey times to make them more competitive with the car;
* Reduce the variability of bus journey times and consequent reliability of services;
* Increase the comfort and convenience of bus travel for all users;
* Ensure that bus services provide a real alternative to car use; and
* Improve pedestrian and cycle facilities along the corridors.

The development of QBCs in greater Manchester under a broader headline of Quality Transport Corridors (QTCs) is considered to be an appropriate approach to ensure that designers? focus is put on development of corridor schemes which strike the correct balance of use of highway space and available capacity for all transport modes throughout the corridors where their nature changes markedly through different land uses.

Schemes designed for a QTC will involve the whole corridor being considered for comprehensive treatment including more priority for buses, pedestrians and cyclists, improved waiting environments and information, all within the context of supporting the viability of communities and local centres along the corridor. The guidelines document has been produced to develop the strategy of the QTCs and define goals for QTC design teams to aim for. This will provide a basis upon which the proposals can be audited for consistency and provide a clear/defined platform for consultation with stakeholders on the proposals subsequently enabling adaption of proposals against the background of defined goals. It will ultimately enable performance of the design teams to be reviewed against Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

A total number of 36 goals were identified which designers of the SEMMMS quality transport corridors should be seeking to achieve on the corridors The goals were grouped to highlight where they specifically apply to different road users or sections of the corridors as follows:

* Pedestrians (4)
* Cycles (4)
* District Centre issues (7)
* Bus operations (8)
* Bus stops (10)
* Environment (2)
* Other (1)

It was considered that goals should be set on a route specific basis to reflect the highly variable nature of the routes and the extent to which the specific goals are already being met.

The business case: data collection analysis and presentation

If a quality bus corridor is successful the bus patronage on the route should ultimately rise as a direct result of modal shift and rises in the overall number of trips on the route. This rise in patronage will normally result in an increase in the dwell times at bus stops and could therefore result in longer overall journey. If reduction in overall journey time is a key performance indicator, for a successful quality bus corridor, then rises in patronage will work against delivery of that goal.

When proposals for amendments to the highway network are put forward for inclusion within a quality transport or bus corridor they must be backed by a robust business case in order to both gain local approval through the extensive local consultation processes required and to achieve the required level of funding from the various sources available.

Where such a substantial investment in improvements is being suggested justification and supporting data is essential. This is especially so given the existing trends in public transport usage and public scepticism on the effectiveness of substantial investment in bus services.

A robust business case can only be prepared if the correct data is collected analysed and presented at all stages of a project. It is helpful if this data can be standardized such that key performance indicators can be calculated on common data making for readily comparable schemes. Invariably both time and budget constraints result in compromises being made in data collection. It is important that these do not compromise the overall business case and lead to a wasting of resource. Collection of useless data is not an advantage to any party in a design process. There is a need for greater understanding of the bus and highway network and what measures provide the greatest benefits. More detailed data collection before and after improvements allows more flexibility in terms of data analysis, and can assist understanding of effects if targets are not met.

Data should be collected on a corridor wide basis to support a more robust review of the effectiveness of improvements and provide supplementary data in case of what may appear disappointing results. It may also be necessary to collect some control data, from non-QBC routes, for overall network comparison purposes. For example, on the QBC routes bus journey times may fall by only 1%, however, network wide times may increase by 5%. Thus journey times on the QBCs would, in effect, have resisted the overall decline throughout the area and still given some additional improvement.

Reference Material

Faber Maunsell are currently working and have worked recently on a large number of Quality bus corridors in both the UK and Ireland including Route 43 in London, flagship routes as part of the London Bus Initiative, The SEMMMS QBCs in Manchester, 8 corridors in Glasgow and in Birmingham.

The paper will use results obtained from these and other QBC studies undertaken recently to illustrate the difficulties in demonstrating real benefits from quality bus corridors and put forward recommendations for the development and use of a robust method to assist both designers and policy/decision makers.


Association for European Transport