Why the woeful Warwick bus service is also a sustainability problem
The bus service here at Warwick University was a key talking point in the recent Student Union Elections. Overcrowding, lateness, the cost, and even buses that catch on fire (and not because of the speed at which they reach campus) have been common complaints and rightly prompted a reaction. Improving bus services to Leamington, Coventry and other student-heavy areas featured as a key manifesto pledge for two Warwick Students’ Union Presidential candidates, including the eventual winner, Ben Newsham, and for the two Democracy and Development Officer candidates who made their manifestos publicly available. The popular policy was a clear reflection of the disgruntled attitude of the student population towards the service provided by Stagecoach and National Express. But, what about the sustainability aspect of the poor service; are bad buses causing more problems at Warwick than missed 9am seminars and 5pm mobs at the interchange?
Transport is the UK’s most polluting sector and in 2017, greenhouse gas emissions from cars and other forms of transport saw no decrease and are now responsible for more than 27% of the UK’s emissions. In a new Aldersgate Group report, published March 2019, the importance of public transport was made clear: it is reported that ‘the decline in funding to supported bus services…must be urgently reversed,’ and that a holistic approach, taking into consideration all forms of transport, needs to be implemented in order to control the negative impact transport has on the environment in the UK. In short, we can’t just focus on the new technology of electric cars as the solution: public transport is here to stay, and it needs improvement. This is obviously the case at Warwick; as wonderful as replacing every student and staff member’s car with an electric alternative would be, it is not a feasible solution, as driving is a key method of transport to the University. Trying to find a parking space on central campus in working hours is a notoriously challenging, even though ten general car parking locations (some multi-storey) are located on campus. This is despite the steep £5 cost of parking on campus per day. While Warwick has tried to incentivise a more sustainable method of car usage with staff and student car share schemes, more needs to be done to cut down the amount of people travelling to campus in an unsustainable way. The Staff Cycle to Work scheme is a good start, but considering the majority of people travelling to campus daily are not staff, any significant change needs to apply to students too, and not be focused solely on the minority willing and able to commute by bicycle.
Therefore, at Warwick, transport sustainability all comes back to buses. The majority of students choose to live off campus, so the most straightforward and sustainable way for them to travel to their seminars and lectures is by bus; the poor service, however, is a reason many may be choosing a more carbon intensive method of travelling to campus. Matters are complicated by the buses being run privately, however there is more Warwick as an institution could be doing. A survey of students and staff to produce data on the number of people travelling by bus, car or train to campus would be a starting point and could be used to pinpoint what measures could be taken to encourage a more sustainable method amongst those who choose to arrive by car. Incentives for bus use, such as subsidies, are a viable option; providing practical support for the manifestos of the President- and Democracy and Development Officer-Elect that aim to tackle the bus problem would be a welcome addition.
If Warwick wishes to become more sustainable, the bus service needs to be evaluated by the University; not only is it a student inconvenience, but an environmental danger.