MetroBus is a major infrastructure project that has brought permanent change to some areas of the Bristol Urban Area. Its objectives as an infrastructure project went beyond the directly-related transport issues of capacity, congestion, and emissions to embrace multi-sectoral problems that coincide very closely with the themes of Urban ID. MetroBus was intended to reduce carbon emissions, by attracting trips that would otherwise be made by car, thereby contributing to a lower carbon city. It was to enhance both accessibility and social inclusion, by improving access to job opportunities, education, leisure, health and retail facilities, and by providing a fully accessible system of vehicles, stops, interchanges, and information. Taking these objectives together, it was intended improve quality of life, or wellbeing.
It should be noted that the scope of the case-study was not to undertake a traditional economic appraisal, but to consider a wider sense of potential costs and benefits, with any commentary on economic effectiveness being in terms of qualitative judgements about specific aspects, pre-opening rather than an overall quantitative econometric assessment. The scope was constrained by the availability of resources to targeted data collection, although resources were augmented by partnering with another contemporaneous research grant considering sustainable suburban mobility (Mobility on Demand Laboratory Environment) in respect of undertaking an on-bus survey.
The case study was selected for three reasons:
• Although a major planning and consultation exercise was undertaken with a view to minimising negative impacts and maximising benefits, the scheme has attracted high profile criticism, particularly in respect of the loss of green space. We wanted to understand if a more co-produced MetroBus could have enhanced the sustainability of Bristol in a more inclusive way, and thereby learn lessons for major infrastructures in the future. In other words, the case study represents an opportunity for ‘challenge identification’ for a major piece of infrastructure being threaded into the legacy landscape of a city.
• We were interested to know how far Bristolians had conceptualised the practical opportunities that MetroBus offers, at a point prior to the network opening. This was to help us appreciate current pre-opening attitudes towards MetroBus and also to provide a ‘benchmark’ for potential follow up after opening.
• By examining the detail of MetroBus design, in particular relating to its integration with other transport options, we sought to provide evidence about opportunities to maximise the investment, both in economic and less tangible senses, made in MetroBus.
The case-study team has examined the sustainability contribution of MetroBus through the following approaches:
i. A survey of users of bus routes which were running close to the future MetroBus routes. This provided information about current perceptions of MetroBus, and the ways in which the delivery of existing bus services affected accessibility and inclusion.
ii. Community workshops undertaken with three groups of potential users: residents of an existing suburban-fringe housing estate that were at risk of social exclusion; employees at a peripheral employment site, focusing on commuting choices; and residents of a then recently-completed new-development housing estate, as the travel choices of new residents were to be critical for the sustainable expansion of Greater Bristol.
iii. Citizen audits of the emerging stop infrastructure and environs, to understand whether the planning and design process had effectively included the needs of all future potential users arriving on foot, by cycle, or by public or private motor vehicle. Potential users’ future needs were captured via discussion during visits to new MetroBus stops; at that point in time either complete or in the final stages of construction and commissioning.
The MetroBus case-study has identified a number of important findings in relation to maximising the benefits of the new MetroBus infrastructure to the communities it serves. These are discussed in detail in the latter sections of this report, and a summary of the main findings is presented below:
• Difficulty in visualising large changes over wide areas was an important part of the barrier to ‘connecting’ with the MetroBus scheme. People in the community workshops did not have a good understanding of what the new MetroBus system might look like. At the same time, however, the more information that participants were provided with about MetroBus, the more engaged they became. This suggests that getting the message across to people with enough information to actually visualise the changes is important.
• Accessibility to the current MetroBus network can be maximised by providing for interchange. There is a potential to significantly increase MetroBus accessibility through access for cycling. The spatial analysis suggests that approximately half of the Bristol Urban Area could be within reasonable cycling distance of the MetroBus network. Although some cycle access and parking provision has been integrated with MetroBus, this is not sufficient for the role that cycling could potentially have as a ‘feeder’ mode, and arguably will need to have, if MetroBus is to realise its patronage forecasts. Cycling to MetroBus would also address multiple urban challenges, in encouraging more physical activity, greater wellbeing, and more local social interaction across the communities served by MetroBus. Efficient interchange with the MetroBus network could help further develop a comprehensive and inclusive cycle network across the Greater Bristol area, making a large proportion of the city accessible to cyclists.
• General perceptions of MetroBus varied amongst different groups of potential future users. The survey of existing bus users showed that overall perceptions were positive to neutral ahead of the service launch. Amongst people in the local communities that attended the workshops, there were some positive perceptions, but also scepticism and concerns voiced. A decent proportion of the participants in the community workshops were also bus users, but the critical factor here perhaps is that the workshops focussed in detail on the impacts of the scheme in people’s local area, and therefore people were thinking about the specific impacts and focussing on the local issues these might create or exacerbate.
• There is a need for an ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the MetroBus network as it operates, to inform subsequent development. This case study reports on people’s perceptions of a system which was not yet operational. People’s experiences of MetroBus once it is running will inevitably inform and potentially alter their original opinions. It is important in so far as possible to capture people’s experiences to understand how MetroBus is meeting people’ needs, and how accessibility and ridership might be further developed.