MetroBus – the big picture

MetroBus is a city wide transport scheme involving regular buses mostly running on regular roads, with small sections of “guideway”. The scheme has 3 routes:

North Fringe to Hengrove package ( NFHP/BRT3)

Ashton Vale – Temple Meads (AVTM/BRT2)

South Bristol Link Road

The MetroBus scheme is managed by West Of England Local Enterprise Partnership – a partnership of Bristol City, South Glos & North Somerset councils and headed by a board of business people.

The MetroBus is sold to us as being a sustainable transport solution but this has been refuted strongly by transport experts and local residents alike:

The key concerns with the entire MetroBus (also known as Bus Rapid Transit – BRT) scheme come in four areas. They are

  • Short and term liability for funding schemes
  • Poor value as a public transport network
  • Severe environmental impacts
  • Lack of democratic accountability and unwillingness of our political representatives to engage in honest, detailed meaningful discussion

Here is more detail on each concern.

Short and term liability for funding schemes,

  • There is a huge liability for Bristol City Council and Council tax payers becausethe government grant for MetroBus schemes was fixed in 2011 whereas MetroBus preparation and construction costs are continuing to rise. We estimate that the cost is currently the equivalent of £100 per man, woman and child. See 2012, the Council’s finance officer said £12m in evidence at a Public Inquiry would be a reasonable contribution by Bristol to all three MetroBus schemes. The current cost has just risen to £54.5m.
  • The first MetroBus scheme that went to tender(AVTM/BRT2) was £9m over its budget, cuts in planned works were made and money taken from other budgets (revealed in a leaked Secret report to the Mayor and Cabinet). Officers asked for a further £3.4m for contingency costs. The costs for the NFHP route are also likely to have increased when the tender is revealed. The public cannot find out what the tender costs are as the promoters and the Government say that this information is commercially confidential.
  • It is not clear what Bristol’s long term liability for financial subsidy for running the MetroBus bus services is and for the maintenance of new MetroBus structures (bridges, concrete guideways, embankments). We have been told by the Promoters that the bus services will operate without subsidy. In view of the low predicted number of new bus passengers and that one Metrobus (AVTM) is a replacement for a current Park and Ride service that costs Bristol £689,000 a year to run, we believe the statement that the proposed MetroBus services will run without subsidy is a political fantasy.

Poor value public Transport

  • Bristol desperately needs transport solutions that will address congestion, improve access to jobs and services and improve air quality. MetroBus schemes will fail fundamentally to achieve to any of these objectives.
  • The Council ‘s own consultants who designed the scheme predict that the three MetroBus routes (5 bus services) together will attract only 277 new bus passengers in the 8-9 morning peak hour when it opens. The other passengers will be existing bus passengers transferring from existing bus services, some of which could be threatened thereby reducing access to jobs and services. The city’s day to day bus service is under severe strain with routes regularly cut.
  • The overall effect on traffic will be so small – we will not notice the difference. The extra 200 passengers in the 8-9am peak hour predicted for the Northern Fringe to Hengrove MetroBus (which includes the M32 bus only junction)represents a 1.5% increase on the 15,450 daily bus trips made in the area.
  • MetroBus routes unlike the Greater Bristol Bus Network were not designed in conjunction with local bus operators or local bus passengers but by transport consultants who we understand have never run bus services. The routes were primarily designed to use green space to create segregated on limited sections avoiding main roads and win and retain Government funding, which was progressively cut over time. Residents have run four successful local campaigns in Bristol to stop BRT/MetroBus using green or other local space that they value including Bristol’s historic harbour and the Bristol to Bath Railway path and one campaign in Bath.
  • The Promoters have not been prepared to discuss any changes in the long, rambling and sometimes pointless MetroBus routes with local residents or transport groups. The routes are designed to fail and are likely to lead to bus bunching, passenger frustration and high operating costs. As yet there is no evidence to show that any bus operator is prepared to run the bus services on the routes and at the frequencies designed by the consultants.
  • There is no money in current MetroBus funding for new bus vehicles. Most of the MetroBus budget is taken up by the increasing preparation costs (due to delays in the project) and the construction of new structures. The MetroBus promoters are reliant on a bus operator obtaining and funding the MetroBus bus fleet. We are told by the Mayor that these vehicles will be high quality and low emission while simultaneously officers and Department for Transport when asked could give no assurances that this would be the case nor could officers in the committee meeting when quizzed by Councillor Mead.
  • The West of England Partnership (the unaccountable body behind the scheme) claim that there is no alternative to the proposed new bus only junction to be built on Stapleton Allotments/Feed Bristol land. There is no evidence that a reasonable , less environmentally damaging alternative route -the use of Junction 1 with improved lane layout for all buses this has ever been seriously addressed. In fact, the signs appear to be that South Gloucestershire considered it politically unacceptable and did not draw up serious proposals to do this . Another possibility, a much reduced junction at Stoke Lane and more direct bus routes – a scheme repeatedly been put forward to politicians by the Transport for Greater Bristol Alliance (with designs from UWE transport specialists) has been ignored.

Severe environmental impacts

  • The three MetroBus scheme damage at least 28 green/public sites and many of these will be damaged during 2015 Green Capital, including Blue Finger Alliance land. They appear on a MetroBus Green Grab map drawn up by local residents available elsewhere on this website.
  • What is the Green Capital of Europe 2015 doing driving two new major Metrobus roads through its Greenbelt countryside, destroying ancient woodland, a local footpath network, common land, endangered wildlife habitat, allotments, high quality growing land and Public Park?.

Lack of democratic accountability
and unwillingness of our political representatives to engage in honest, detailed meaningful discussion

  • The public have never been asked whether they want MetroBus. There is strong evidence that many people don’t (over 8000 people signed a petition opposing BRT2/AVTM and 30 groups and individual residents opposed it at a Public Inquiry). Right from the beginning in 2007, the Bristol travelling public were offered one choice only -MetroBus. All consultation since that time has been based on the political premise that it is MetroBus or nothing.
  • The link between local political accountability and local spending decisions has been broken.
  • The schemes have been developed largely behind the scenes. Knowledge of the much important detail and local impacts of MetroBus scheme has been limited to those who have taken time and their own money to follow these complex projects to find out and then interpret vital information that should have been in the public domain in the first place. The West of England have a ‘rebut and respond’ policy which appears to put the public at the bottom of the hierarchy of stakeholders
  • The politicians behind the scheme are mainly invisible to the public see
  • Throughout the whole process, liaising with the West of England Partnership/Metrobus Project Team has been a time consuming and frustrating experience. Despite two complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman on this issue, we were told that he was unable to investigate the West of England’s public handling of MetroBus. As MetroBus is a scheme affecting a significant number of the residents of Bristol, he ruled that it was outside of his terms of reference.

The author of this overview s a member of Alliance to Rethink MetroBus and long term transport expert and campaigner. For further information contact

RisingUp Bristol Website and Blog