The cable car is an innovative long-term solution to Bath’s biggest problem

The cable car is an innovative long-term solution to Bath’s biggest problem

Wednesday 14th June 2017

Beautiful Bath is unquestionably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – famous for its architecture, its shopping, its Roman spa, and proud bearer of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

But as we all know, Bath is also infamous, notorious even, for its traffic; UNESCO lists the need for improved transport as one of Bath’s main pressures, alongside large-scale development. I think in Bath we are getting to a point where people need to have a conversation with each other about congestion.

As a Bathonian, managing director of the principal bus operator in Bath as well as the wider West of England region, as well as a regular bus passenger of Bath buses I feel the pain of Bath’s traffic problems every day on many levels.

I have been running buses across the country my entire adult life. When I started, congestion wasn’t the problem that dominated business meetings. Nowadays congestion is one of the topics highest on the management agenda. Congestion slows buses down, which deters bus passengers. Academics established a direct link between rising congestion and declining bus patronage. And what happens when people stop using the buses? They get (back) into their cars, simply adding to the congestion problem.

The city wasn’t designed for motor traffic, let alone at today’s levels. It is expanding and expansion brings more traffic and congestion, driven by rising car ownership and commercial delivery vans, which are delivering your purchases from Amazon, ASOS and Ebay as well as the major department stores and supermarkets. The Internet has transformed the way we lead our lives and make and spend money, but the impact on the road network is that there are countless delivery vans extra on Bath roads – on top of the ‘normal’ increases casued by population increases and affordability of car ownership.

Getting in and out of the city is already a rather painful experience. And if it’s painful now, in 20 years’ time it will be unbearable. Road space is running out, and as a result the average speed on the roads is falling and the hours we’ll be stuck in traffic will be rising. And so will emissions, affecting local air quality.

The only way to avoid this happening is to accept that there are no cheap or easy fixes, and to look for innovative and unconventional solutions that take the congestion bull by the horns. That’s why Curo Housing has taken the brave step to ask a reputable firm to look at future solutions. And considering my life-long experience in road-based public transport, transporting people on an increasingly congested road network, I very much like the proposed cable car. It is visionary and elegant as well as practical.

The cable car proposal reminds me of Doc’s quote in Back to the Future: “Where we are going, we don’t need roads”; but while flying cars are a long way off, a cable car is achievable and will take ‘cars off the road’. The idea is not new of course – far from it. Los Angeles has had a cable car since 1873. Other cities across the world have cable cars, and it’s unconventional solutions like these we must consider to help stop Bath’s traffic grinding to a halt.

I envisage the cable car and the pylons will be carefully designed by world-class architects, making a positive contribution to Bath’s reputation globally, championing one of the world’s most sustainable means of non-road based public transport.

Curo Housing is a member of the World Heritage Steering Group and I know that they are acutely aware of Bath’s World Heritage status, and I myself have been a member of the Bath Preservation Trust for over 30 years and I am very interested in preserving everything that makes Bath the beautiful city it is, including its setting in the surrounding countryside. I think a well-designed cable car operation can be made to integrate well with Bath’s heritage and beautiful countryside.

So as a Bathonian who is passionate about Bath’s heritage, I strongly feel we need to act to save Bath from further gridlock and look for solutions that tackle congestion in the long term, I recommend people to look at the proposal and make their views known, by completing the online survey here. Alternatively, if you are travelling by bus, you’ll find information leaflets and feedback forms on board most of our buses in and around Bath or at our Travel Shop at Bath Bus station. Curo want to hear from everyone. So have your say, but be quick, the consultation ends Friday 16th June.

James Freeman

Written by James Freeman, Managing Director, First West of England