Response to critics of “Guided buses – on the wrong track?”


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 8 August 2008


Aside from my prophecy, my article on Guided Buses (July 2008) presents facts from named sources, and indisputable problems, not my views. In contrast, critics express their views, refer to freight and pray in aid schemes, within which they lump guided systems, as if they were without problems in that environment. A document downloaded from the Internet and kindly supplied by the German Embassy states that the ‘British government has made it a criminal offence for an untrained driver to drive guide-wheel-equipped buses’. If ‘criminal’ is disputed, it is, unarguably, an offence for an untrained driver to drive such a vehicle. Dr. Tebb’s reference to Construction & Use Regulations – with which I became acquainted 50 years ago – is a red herring. The legality of the vehicle is not disputed, only that of an untrained driver. I advanced no personal views comparing rail with guided buses. My book on Closures clearly shows that I carried no torch for branch lines.


If I dropped a cluster bomb, they have created a smokescreen around the facts:

·   Essen closed part of its system, and Adelaide did not extend as planned.

·   the rest of the world is disinterested.

·   Mannheim and Birmingham scrapped their systems – at a cost.

·   14 UK towns abandoned plans for guided systems.

·   Ipswich had to reconstruct its system when buses of the original width were unavailable.

·   Edinburgh’s system closed twice in the first year due to bumpy rides.

·   broken guide wheels are a problem.

·   guided systems include free park-and-ride, which should first serve conventional buses, before calculating incremental financial benefits (if any) from installing guided systems.

·   some operators will not convert to guided systems.

·   Bradford speed limits on competing roads were reduced below that of guided buses.

·   the inventor of guided buses criticised the Cambridgeshire scheme.

·   the most congested areas cannot be equipped with guide systems

·   being part of a ‘package’ does not eliminate disadvantages


It is significant that critics do not dispute:

·   there are few advantages, as no more are identified.

·   cost escalation.

·   construction delays.

·   disused railways have to be widened.

·   railway bridges had to be rebuilt.

·   some passengers may stand.

·   some operators, who promised support, have withdrawn.


Snow is airily dismissed ‘because railways are affected by snow’. Unlike guided busways, which rely on men with spades or costly under surface heating, trains attach snow ploughs; hence it is a problem for guided-bus systems. The point that I was making about accidents in Bradford was that fences do not prevent trespass as some so fondly imagine.  


Dr. Tebb’s railway strike jibe is not backed by comparative road transport statistics – because they aren’t any. Railway strikes have no bearing on the undeniable prospect of strike-bound guided-busways paralleled by car-congested roads. Railway managers replaced key staff during disputes to keep services running, as media reports revealed. No other industry dare do likewise; they would face a walk-out. I did not ‘witness’ strikes – implying passivity – but to maintain services, personally directed pre-emptive measures – which did not concede a penny - the basis of which non-railway people would not comprehend. If UK industry had made, without dispute, labour saving economies analogous to those for BR track and signalling staff from the earliest years of nationalisation, there would still be a UK industry worthy of the name. I refer him to Britain’s Railways – the Reality, which demolishes myths about strikes, fares, complaints, etc., and compares them with other industry, including buses. Comparisons are limited only by their unwillingness to reveal data analogous to that in BR Accounts and Hansard. He is mistaken in assuming that my entire experience was on rail operations. For four years, I had road freight responsibilities. Unlike competitors, we obeyed the law on working hours and loads. If hands-on experience is mandatory in writing about transport, then virtually all criticism on railways would be expunged. His semantics about Mode or Technique are irrelevant to the disadvantages of guided buses in comparison with conventional buses, especially if using bus lanes. It is remarkable how ‘abject chaos’ so easily springs to the lips when referring to railways, but not chaos caused by thousands of vehicles diverted from the M6 onto local roads, the A530 blocked for two months when a bridge was smashed by a lorry, nor a triple collision on Edinburgh’s guided system. The ‘responsible training of drivers’ has not prevented collisions nor guide wheels being smashed. Hence, it is beyond dispute that accidents will happen, and they will cause delays.

Messrs Carr & Richardson have misread my article. I neither said it is a complete system, nor ignored off-system operations, which are clearly mentioned. Johnnie Carr attributes Adelaide’s problems to ‘supplier failures’. It is not their duty to meet any minor demand. If a supplier does not see a healthy profit, it is not going to tool up for a handful of specialised vehicles at 15-20 year intervals for some remote corner of the world. In trying to date railways from 1758, he ignores the earlier origins of Kerb-Guided road transport. In ‘Railways’, (published 1929), J.F. Gairns states: ‘before the first railway, edge-rails were used on which horse drawn wagons could travel, and also travel on ordinary roads’! The first passenger railway opened in 1830. Incidentally, conversionists pre-date Beeching by eight years. If Johnnie had kept to the point and addressed documented facts, he would not have needed a page and a half, much less a full issue.     


I do not dispute that ‘rare events’ affect other road transport. Those events will not merely affect guided systems, but will block them. No evidence is advanced by Nick Richardson that they can be easily ‘mitigated against’. When debris falls into guided systems, buses will stop until it is removed – by whom remains to be seen, but it is unlikely to be a driver who would not be ‘covered by insurance’, and may contravene ‘H&SE rules’. Conventional buses bypass debris or turn and use another route – options not available on guided systems. He claims that the article presented only negatives. Advantages claimed by advocates are listed, although some apply to alternative systems (e.g. access for mobility impaired). He claims that the listed disadvantages are not exclusive to one mode – but they are exclusive to guided systems, since they present no problems on bus lanes or elsewhere. It cannot be claimed that disadvantages are superficial - why else is there disinterest from so many UK local authorities and bus operators, and the rest of the world?     


There is no need for an editorial apology for a factually based, source-identified article. If submissions had to be considered by a ‘committee’, a lack of consensus, together with the delay making everything out-of-date, would reduce Focus to an annual stapled A4 Newsletter. It would certainly slash irrelevant content from critics’ letters! Methinks the lady lobby doth protest too much.


(NB – This letter answered every single point made by the three critical letters published in Focus in August 2008. The only changes in ‘Focus’ from my original are to replace ‘Johnnie’ with ‘John’, and to leave out the word ‘lady’.)


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