by Dr Abid Mehmood, Sustainable Places Research Fellow
The Sustainable Places Research Institute recently co-hosted a research seminar in collaboration with the School of Planning and Geography and the Welsh Government. Our guest speaker was Dr Imran Muhammad from Massey University, New Zealand who shared initial findings of three years research project on public transport challenges and opportunities in New Zealand cities. The presentation and subsequent discussion raised a number of interesting issues related to the role of public transport in environmental, social and economic sustainability, and the challenges of developing efficient and effective public transport in low density cities of New Zealand and Wales.
Dr Muhammad used the example of Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, while also mentioning other cities such as Wellington and Christchurch. He also referred to several small towns in New Zealand that are comparable in size and density to Welsh towns and cities. By the mid-20th century, Auckland’s public transport network – rail, tram and buses – was well developed and comparable to many other World cities. However, political decision in the mid-1950s changed the city’s transport focus from public transport to car travel. This occurred largely through investment in an urban motorway system, which ultimately led it to become one of the most car dependent cities around the world. Since 2000, a new and sustainable policy path has emerged in transport planning with focus on institutions, transport legislations, and clear transport policy directions at central and local government level. This path has been supported through managing urban growth in public transport oriented development, new urban design protocols, investment in public transport (both rail and bus) infrastructure and redesigning public transport services on a network planning basis. However, the new policy path is weak and does not guarantee sustainable transport in the future especially in the presence of existing path dependent policies, and institutional apathy to fund public transport projects. Moreover, the population in small towns of New Zealand continue to suffer from the lack of good public transport links.
The political-institutional direction of transport policies and planning has a different context in Wales. Cardiff, as a capital city, is still highly reliant on the bus services with the Council owned Cardiff Bus being a major player. Although the city shows the highest public transport usage in Wales, buses remain a major source of public transport provision with the train network largely serving to connect the suburban towns to the city. With the ambition for Cardiff Capital Region taking shape, an ‘integrated transport system’ has become a priority objective for the Welsh Government. With the UK Government’s ambitions for a Northern Powerhouse connecting the city-regions in northern England through multimodal transport links and HS2, the Welsh Government looks more towards improving intra-regional transport networks, by electrifying the Valley Lines but also building a new Metro system. On the inter-regional connectivity, according to the Powering the Welsh Economy report, “There is a regular 2 hour travel journey to London Paddington, and with electrification, this journey time is expected to reduce to 1 hour 45 minutes, the same journey time as the mid 1980’s.”
The impact of these inter- and intra-regional focus is that the new-look Cardiff Central bus station will not serve the passengers travelling within the city. Instead, according to Arup’s report, “The bus station would provide a location for city bus services to turn around (but not to pick-up/drop-off). In respect of city bus services, these would stop (with short dwell times) at onstreet bus stops in the vicinity of the bus station.”
With the bus station located next to the train station, it seems that the revamped bus station would have a larger emphasis on shops, restaurants, apartments and offices than providing convenient bus connections to the passengers coming in or going out of Cardiff.