Monday, 11 July 2016

Could Brexit get Bristol a proper metro?

I don't like Brexit - not because of any particular technical details or economic fears (they come and go) but because I like the idea of European solidarity and exchange. However, assuming some form of Brexit happens, then it, and the accompanying political cluster-fudge, provides opportunities.*

One of those opportunities could be in infrastructure, specifically public transport.

First, there may be a need to stave off recession. The Bank of England has already indicated that more Quantitative Easing (injecting money into the economy) is on the cards. Rather than use this to simply inflate share prices, as happened before, it should be channeled into meaningful infrastructure. Many people have suggested this and it goes by the name of Peoples QE, Green QE etc...

Second there is an urgent need to boost regional economies outside London, something else the referendum made clear. Part of this may involve devolution, but much must involve investment.

Bristol is one of the UK's more successful cities but in some areas it is badly lacking, notably public transport. The weird Metrobus, dysfunctional normal bus and highly limited suburban trains are not a proper system. And that is what it needs. A - dare I say it - European or Asian style metro. Light trams, or underground trains. No fiddling around. Sure we can update the Severn Beach line etc, and we need to do more on cycling, but none of that takes away the need for a proper public transport system. And let's face it, nobody likes buses.

It would cost a lot of money. But then congestion is estimated to cost the city £350 million a year. It would also make it a much cleaner and better place to live, which would attract business. Cities compete with each other for people, so the 'story of life' is vitally important.

Finally if done properly, it will last for a hundred years, and become part of the fabric of the town.

I can hear the objections - Bristol is too small, it is too diffuse. Well, there are plenty of cities around the 500,000 mark with metros - underground or overground. Kagoshima, Rennes, Utrecht, Boston.

As for diffuse. Well Bristol's density is two-thirds that of London and the same as Rennes. Furthermore, density is a bit of a  chicken and egg situation. We know the city needs to grow, and we need to do that without trashing the countryside around it and ruining our quality of life. But a more dense city requires a public transport network to handle it. Put simply, if we build it, then it will change the pattern of city development, away from sprawling car-fueled suburbs, and towards a more modern Japanese or European style city.


*Note that this did not require Brexit in order to happen, there were no EU restriction, it is just that the ensuing political storm may provide economic space for big ideas.

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