On (and off) the buses: fixing Winchester’s travel

Transport is one of Winchester’s most vexed challenges. Roads can get very busy; particularly when the M3 motorway is blocked by traffic or accidents, and cars and lorries spill into town.

The session proposer, Mark Baulch, said: “When I proposed this session, I was thinking of some innovative ways of getting into the city.” But he acknowledged that the issue goes wider that Winchester itself.

“From the district point of view, it’s about how we get around. A block at Junction 3 brings us to a standstill. It is due to be sorted out, but nothing is happening quickly. I have businesses saying that they can’t get staff in – so they go elsewhere. It is stopping us keeping talent in the district.”

Walking, cycling, wheezing?

Within Winchester, there was a lot of enthusiasm for encouraging people to walk and cycle. However, one participant said:

“One issue is that Winchester is very walkable. But it is very polluted. If you are walking, then you are wheezing.”

Simon Finch, the facilitator from Winchester City Council, said it was about to publish a “walkable Winchester” map, that would highlight routes that did not run along main roads. A participant suggested this could flag things like local businesses.

“If tourists are in the city, then they will know where the cathedral is, but not about some of the things along the way.”

There was a lot of discussion of the some of the infrastructure that would be needed to encourage people to cycle. Safe routes are essential. But what about storage places, for bike gear and luggage? Or showers?

There was also some debate about whether Winchester should have a ‘Boris Bike’ or electric bike scheme, on the London model, to encourage car drivers and others who might not be cycling enthusiasts, to get out of their cars.

Other ideas for incentivising people to use alternative means of transport included free tea, coffee or other goods for people who walked or cycled. Or schemes to encourage local businesses to encourage their employees to get fit: or “Park and Stride.”

But, of course, some people can’t walk. A participant had an innovative idea for them. “In Brighton, they have this scheme like a rickshaw, that takes one or two elderly people into town,” she said. “They enjoy the chat. Something like that would be great.”

The wheels on the bus – need to turn better

Asked to discuss transport across the district, the issue of buses came up immediately. “I know you will say the buses are not full, but at the moment, if there is one, you might be waiting a long time to get back,” a participant pointed out. “It doesn’t really work.”

Also, the room agreed, transport didn’t link up. Buses might run to the station just after a train had left; forcing another long wait. Or buses might stop before commuters needed to leave their offices for the day. Or they might take long routes and make many stops; creating excessively long-journeys.

Mark Baulch asked whether the solution was to try and re-create old routes, or come up with more modern answers: “Something that works for people, without running 50 or 60 seater buses.” Ideas included express buses, car sharing schemes, or even stopping cars from coming into the city at peak-times, to give priority to bus users.

“This idea might not be popular,” its proposer admitted. But in the room, there was considerable enthusiasm for it. European cities have done similar things, it was noted: Athens bans vehicles at polluted times. And some companies have built whole business models on such ideas: Uber operates surge pricing.

Applied to Winchester, that might mean: “The more cars there are in the city, the more you have to pay to park.” Or: bus and park and ride tickets might be cheaper off-peak, to encourage a spread of journeys. There was also enthusiasm for a shift to electric buses; so any increase in bus traffic didn’t add to Winchester’s pollution problems…