Bristol's metro is not as far off track as you might think
IT'S time Greater Bristol had a transport system fit for the 21st century.
Most experts believe the key to this is railways, and our map shows a bold vision for the future.
It illustrates how more than a dozen disused stations could be brought back into use, creating a suburban rail network that fully connects Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath.
The success of the Severn Beach line shows what can be done when investment is made in local rail – 20 per cent increases in passengers and more carriages.
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And if the local rail network was developed in the same way, there would be more stations with more frequent services, more passengers and potentially cheaper fares.
But the only way this could come about is through an Integrated Transport Authority and today the Evening Post is calling for one to be set up.
An ITA is a body with more control over local transport, the ability to set fares and to ensure passengers enjoy a service that is fit for purpose.
However, it would need the four local authorities in the former Avon area to work more closely than they have been able to, allowing them to co-ordinate rail, bus and even ferry services much more effectively.
Up until now, three of those four local authorities have said no to the formation of an ITA.
But we believe the time has come for the councils to put aside old rivalries.
We believe it is time for them to work together to develop the kind of local transport network that the Greater Bristol area deserves.
It would lead to the long-awaited re-opening of the Portishead line, which has been closed to passenger trains since 1964.
Railway stations across Greater Bristol that have been disused for more than half a century could be given new life, from Ashton Gate to Thornbury, St Anne's Park to Henbury.
Of the proposed stations on our map, only Portway Park and Ride would be entirely new.
The rest have all previously had stations although, in most cases, little remains of them.
Re-opened stations would not necessarily need the original buildings.
The track is already there and, in some cases, all that would be needed is a new platform.
In others, where the original platforms are in place, simple shelters would be enough.
An ITA would be able to provide new rolling stock, so Greater Bristol would no longer have to put up with "hand-me-down" carriages from other cities.
Ian Crawford, of the Transport for Greater Bristol Alliance, believes rail is the route to improvements that will benefit the whole region.
He said: "Bristol has a chance to set up a European-class public transport system fit for the 21st century, a chance that will never come again.
"A massive increase in usage followed Bristol council's modest investment in the Avonmouth line.
"Just imagine what could be achieved by a full exploitation of the local network by Bristol and its neighbours. Quicker journeys. Less pollution.
"The least ambitious scheme frees enough space for a diesel cross-city service stopping at Parson Street, Bedminster, Temple Meads, Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road every quarter of an hour: a jam-buster from Portishead or Weston to Parkway via Avonmouth or Ashley Hill.
"A really ambitious scheme provides a minimum half-hourly electrified service to every station in and around the city.
"The message to councillors and their advisers in and around Bristol is 'grab it or lose it – this is a great opportunity'."
All this will take money, of course, and that is where an ITA's real strength lies.
One body would give us a louder voice when it came to securing money from government – essentially a champion for Greater Bristol transport.
Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield have all benefited from ITAs, and it's about time Bristol sat at the same table.
It's not just rail that would benefit but buses too.
An ITA would own and run bus stations, stops and shelters. It could buy or lease new buses as it needed.
Campaigners say that if Bristol had an ITA, we would not have ended up with Bristol City Council's current bus crisis and £2.2 million of service cuts. Transport campaign groups have long called for an ITA to sort out many of the problems Greater Bristol faces, from service cuts and congestion to high fares and unreliable services.
Bristol transport campaigner Dave Redgewell said: "ITAs have lobby groups in Parliament but we don't play at that level.
"With the recent cuts, we've gone from running public transport that was beginning to approach what they've got in Leeds. Now we're at the level of Southampton or Plymouth. We're becoming a second-division player.
"Transport is about economics. We need to bid as a European city.
"If you have a third-world transport system, you won't get investment.
"We've got huge steps to make and it won't happen with four fragmented local authorities."
The long called-for transport interchange at Plot 6, the land next to Bristol Temple Meads, could also become a reality with an ITA.
There would also be better access for people planning their journeys, with a one-stop website explaining all of the transport options in the region.
And to tie all of this together would be a London Oyster-style travel card.
Efforts to introduce smartcards to Greater Bristol have so far been fragmented at best.
Having one body in charge would give us a better chance of creating a simple, straightforward card that could be used on every form of public transport in the region – saving not only time but money.
We won't pretend there isn't a cost to all this. ITAs involve a small increase in council tax, like the fire service or police.
But the money an ITA could bring in from central government would more than offset this.
And we would no longer need four sets of transport officers with four directors of transport.
Politicians of all colours recognise the benefits of an ITA.
MPs like Kerry McCarthy, Stephen Williams and Dawn Primarolo have long called for an ITA for the area, and Charlotte Leslie has now joined them.
Bristol city councillors from all parties also feel it is the best way of sorting out local transport.
Ultimately, it is about working together for a common goal, something the major transport operators in the region recognise. First Great Western and First Bus both support an ITA for the benefits it could bring passengers.
First South West and Wales regional manager Justin Davies said: "To be truly effective, the ITA should be seen as more than just a new political structure.
"Instead, it should help focus attention on delivering better facilities and capital schemes that make a real difference to local people, while also tackling the things that hinder progress, like congestion and car dependency.
"It should have cross party representation and take a holistic approach considering the needs of all those people who travel in and out of Bristol – for work and pleasure."
Campaigners want it. MPs want it. Councillors want it. Businesses want it. Transport operators want it. And, most importantly, residents want it.
So Let's Get Moving.