Outside of the road transport industry, the Traffic Commissioners are not well known.
They are responsible for the licensing and regulation of those who operate heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches, and the registration of local bus services. And there are eight of them, with responsibility for six English regions, Scotland and Wales.
Scotland’s Traffic Commissioner, Joan Aitken, is stepping down next month after 15 years in her post. She left with a plea to policy-makers – to give bus passengers greater priority over other vehicles in traffic-clogged cities.
The Traffic Commissioners are responsible for making sure that bus companies fulfil the promise of their timetable.
Quite rightly, bus companies cannot make excuses for things that are within their control, such as having enough drivers, sufficient available vehicles and a workable timetable.
Aitken, who received an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, said that bus operators had raised their game since she became their regulator in 2003.
However, she acknowledges that they are powerless to mitigate against issues that are not within their control, like traffic congestion and poorly planned roadworks.
And, despite their job title, Britain’s Traffic Commissioners have no powers over the amount of traffic on the roads and how well it flows.
“The lack of bus priority measures means running times are much slower than 10 years ago,” she said.
“The quality of buses is astonishing – their engineering, comfort and facilities are first rate.
“But all that is thwarted by the fact they cannot get along the road, even in Edinburgh, which boasts one of the best bus services in Britain. “Every single day, buses are not able to get through the traffic.
“Local councillors want to own or run bus services, but unless they prioritise bus movement then ownership won’t matter. They need to throw their weight behind bus priority measures.”
Aitken said delayed buses had a wider impact on the economy because of the disruption to passengers, who use the services to access employment, education and healthcare.
She said: “Councillors should not think about it as a bus, but as 30-40 or more people whose lives could be made better.
“Councillors have it in their power to prioritise the bus and say to their officials they have to make the connection about the importance of bus travel.
“People on the bus are really important to the economy and our wellbeing. If people cannot get to their work or college, it is not a marginal matter.”
About the Author
This post was written by Robert Jack. Robert is Managing Editor and Publisher of Passenger Transport. He has worked as a journalist, editor and publisher in the passenger transport sector for 18 years. He has played a key role in many transport-related conferences and events.