Oxford’s controversial traffic filters could be good for business, delegates heard at OxPropSummit.
The key debate at the April 19 event at Worcester College, chaired by Veronica Reynolds, sustainability & community manager for Milton Park (pictured centre), brought together officials from county and city councils, Oxford Bus Company and Network Rail for discussion on transport in the city.
In response to a question about the cost to business and freedom of movement, Tom Bridgman, executive director for development for Oxford City Council (pictured left), told the meeting of 150 property professionals: “My view is where we have ended up with exemptions should mean that this is a hugely positive thing for business. Business should be able to flow round the city as fast as the buses so I see that as important.
“The other point is we can’t carry on. Doing nothing is not an option so if we were to carry on with the congestion businesses would start to see the economy grind to a halt and Oxford would slide.
“There are various studies that point to the fact that people who walk and cycle and get buses spend more money locally so I think there’s enough there to be confident that this is going to be a positive for business through the process.
“But I think there’s work to be done on the messaging of that. I feel confident this is a pro-business, pro-economic growth set of solutions.
“I think if we weren’t doing this I think it would be easier to challenge the fact that the public sector and its partners are letting the economy grind to a halt which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.”
Earlier, delegates heard that residents had been asked what residents’ main concerns are.
Bill Cotton, corporate director, environment and place for Oxfordshire County Council (pictured right), said: “When we talk to residents the top three things that come out that they are interested in is health, climate change and they are really interested in getting around.”
All three, he said, were being addressed by the county council including through its transport plan. The only way to relieve congestion, he said is to have a ‘decent public transport system’.
Mr Bridgman said modelling for traffic filters predicted a 50 per cent reduction in traffic through the city centre, allowing buses to move more freely and be more reliable, and a 40 per cent reduction in the number of cars in the inner ring road.
“This is going to be game changing,” he said. “It will be easier to deliver low carbon residential developments with people shopping more locally, staying in their areas.”
He said no other area is implementing measures such as the zero emissions zone, workplace parking levy and traffic filters is such a short space of time.
Luke Marion, managing director for the Oxford Bus Company (pictured second from left), explained how he believes traffic filters will improve services.
He said: “Buses in Oxford have been getting slower and slower for a number of years so we came up with a simple message that we need to speed the buses up by around 10 per cent.
“And that means going back to the sort of speeds that we saw 10 years ago so we are not talking cloud cuckoo land. That will unlock quite a bit of investment from us because we will be able to make a business case for the zero emissions vehicles and other stuff.
“The biggest cost for us, as an operator, is driver time, so the slower the vehicles are, the higher the cost to operate and the less attractive the services are – it becomes a vicious cycle. The filters are the measure the county sees fit to help us do that.
“The benefits will be you will get from A to B a lot quicker and it will make our services more attractive and cheaper as well because we won’t be charging as much for all that driver time.”
He said at present radial services and those to the city centre are good but those from the south of the city to the east are not so good.
Claire Mahoney, industry programme director for Network Rail (pictured second from right), outlined the rail improvements being made including to Oxford Station.
Part of that project is a new platform which will enable the reopening of the Cowley branch line.
There was consensus among the panel that messaging around the more radical changes could have been better and that there was too much emphasis on ‘stick rather than carrot’.
Mr Bridgman said: “You could always say we could have done things better in terms of the conversation and I’m sure that’s the case but I think this is something that’s going to take real leadership and political backbone to push through because its divisive and there are going to be people who are for it and people that are against it.
“I’m sure people can be persuaded with rational argument and facts and figures but there are some people that are deliberately using misinformation to muddy the waters and I think that’s going to require political backbone.
“I think in the period we’ve got between where we stand now and the implementation of the traffic filters, which are the next key intervention, there is an opportunity for us to think through how we can get ahead of the curve in terms of the carrots that we are talking about.
“The benefits should happen overnight in some ways because you will get a reduction in car traffic and the buses will be able to flow more freely – but that can’t be the end.
“We really need to push on from that and we have now got a period where we need to be talking to the development community because it don’t think the public sector can do all of this.
“And to central Government – just thinking about what we can do that’s going to change behaviour, change culture – and really start talking about the improved bus serves that can come from this, the Eastern arc bus route etc.
“And we will get momentum on the Cowley branch line so we’ve got an opportunity, when we come to talking about this again in the not too distant future, to be really ahead of the curve on the carrots rather than the stick.”
Here’s the full list of stories from OxPropSummit 2023:
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