BUS chiefs have warned imposing a 20mph speed limit across the Capital could lead to higher fares and poorer services.
City leaders want Edinburgh to become the first 20mph city in Scotland, with all residential streets and shopping areas covered by the new lower speed limit.
However, Lothian Buses wants its routes exempted from the scheme except in “very localised” areas.
The company told council chiefs that slower bus journeys could undermine the viability of services and work against the objective of getting more people to use public transport.
However, road safety campaigners claimed many buses travelled at less than 20mph most of the time anyway and urged the council not to bow to Lothian Buses’ pressure.
Plans to cut speed limits from 30 to 20mph in the city centre, residential areas, shopping districts and streets heavily used by pedestrians and cyclists were made public last month. Arterial, trunk and main roads would be excluded.
However. in response to a council consultation, Lothian Buses said: “We are particularly concerned to emphasise that 20mph limits should not be introduced on bus routes, except in very localised applications (such as Moredun).
“This is because measures which tend to increase overall bus journey times tend also to undermine the economics of the provision of the affected bus services. Ultimately this leads to higher fares, lower levels of service or increased calls on public subsidy. Such outcomes do not act in support of encouraging the use of public transport.”
The proposed 20mph limits follow a successful pilot in the Marchmont, Grange and Prestonfield areas.
But John Palmer, chairman of Grange/Prestonfield community council, said Lothian Buses had lobbied successfully to keep some streets out of the experimental 20mph zone.
He said: “We had argued that West Mains Road, from Kings Buildings to Blackford, Kilgraston Road and Blackford Avenue – the route of the No 41 – should be 20mph, but the committee decided to accept the view of Lothian Buses that it should stay at 30mph.”
Cyclist Dave McCraw, 30, from Newington, carried out a test to see how fast buses go. Using a GPS system, he travelled on a No 38 bus at around 7pm, after the end of the evening rush hour, and calculated that a 20mph limit all the way from Cameron Toll to Slateford would create a delay of 24 seconds.
Then he did the same on the No 7 along Great Junction Street, Leith Walk and up onto North Bridge. He said the bus hardly went above 20mph at all, even though the road was largely empty, so a 20mph limit would have delayed it by nine seconds. “I suppose two extra people getting on at a stop would add up to just about the same amount.”
Mr McCraw said the bus company’s objection did not seem to add up. He said: “Unless it’s a long stretch between stops the buses don’t really get over 20mph. Lothian Buses seem to think they will be at a disadvantage, but the 20mph limit should benefit the buses because it makes it potentially slower to get around in your car, which means one less reason not to get the bus.”
Green councillor Nigel Bagshaw said the key issue was road safety. “Being hit by a bus at over 20mph is no better than being hit by a car at over 20mph,” he said.
City Tory group transport spokeswoman Joanna Mowat said Lothian Buses’ view could not be ignored. She said: “We all want safer streets and that requires more than just changing the speed limits.”
Transport convener Lesley Hinds said work was under way to identify which streets would be covered by the proposed 20mph limit. She said: “There will then be a consultation with communities and interest groups, including Lothian Buses, and we will have to take account of people’s views.”
IT WORKS …
CAMPAIGN group 20’s Plenty for Us claims 20mph speed limits save lives and prevent injuries.
One study of 20mph zones in London found a 42 per cent reduction in road casualties after allowing for other road hazards.
The first year of 20mph residential limits in Portsmouth saw the number of children killed or seriously injured fall by 63 per cent. The limits were also 50 times cheaper per mile than physical traffic calming.
More than 12 million people live in areas now committed to 20mph limits, including Oxford, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Birmingham, York and Liverpool.