Congestion remains a pervasive threat

The third UK Bus Summit earlier this month wavered between optimism and pessimism. There was confidence that features such as free Wi-Fi, USB chargers, real-time information and better-appointed interiors, together with bus priority measures, have the potential to attract new passengers, and there are numerous well-rehearsed examples of areas where patronage is increasing, usually based on effective partnerships between operators and local authorities. There was enthusiasm for the opportunities the Bus Services Bill will offer through its provisions for enhanced partnerships and opening up data – though the question of franchising remains divisive. But for all the bright spots, the underlying trend in passenger numbers is still downwards.

And hovering in the background throughout was the spectre of congestion. Like last year it topped a survey of delegates' concerns. Yet there was a feeling that a solution was no nearer now than 12 months ago. The problem remains intractable. As TT's David Begg said, "The public thinks that it's other people's problem." Since Ken Livingstone was London's mayor, no politician has been brave enough to risk the ire of voters by introducing a road charging regime. And even in London the effectiveness of the congestion charge has been eroded.

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