Seven years ago, our Local Transport Plan set out a vision - and minimum targets - for the kind of bus services the city should expect by this year. 98% of Bristol's residents should live within 400 metres of a bus stop that offers at least four buses an hour (daytime) to the city centre, which they would reach within 25 minutes.
Then came the Utopian vision of Bus Rapid Transit. Modern vehicles, limited stops, quick boarding, dedicated lanes.
The very latest BRT scheme, the nominally 'green' part of the South Bristol Link, was up for scrutiny by West of England councillors on Thursday.
The map (click to enlarge) shows where it goes, Hengrove to Long Ashton Park and Ride. It's intended that the BRT units would continue their circuitous route from there, swinging sharp right toward the city centre. Whether they'd complete the whole route via Temple Meads to the Centre in 25 minutes is anybody's guess, I can't find any predictions - but the route is about three times longer than a direct line would take it.
I've added red circles to the map to show how much of South Bristol comes within about 400 metres of one of the stops. And how much doesn't. That, along with the meandering route and the expected service frequency of a bus every 18 minutes, might explain why consultants who looked at the scheme earlier in 2009 considered it just wasn't justified.
Most of the scrutinising councillors agreed that the plans were seriously lacking, forcing Bristol's Steve Comer into a desperate and embarrassing bid to praise both road and BRT elements of the SBL, in contrast to his LibDem colleagues from S. Glos and BaNES.
Steve told us what a blessing the road would be for people like him driving from the east of the city out toward the airport - inadvertently confirming that the road isn't really there to serve the regeneration of south Bristol, but to bypass it. Then he went on to suggest that the proposed 18 minute bus frequency would be fine, because timekeeping would be so good during the day you'd need wait by the roadside for no more than that for your super-duper modern transit vehicle to whisk you into the centre. He didn't announce his own intention to use it, though. And who would, given its narrow catchment strip and the instant availability of a spanking new road alongside?
The Scrutiny Committee did not give the scheme the unequivocal welcome that the promoters must have wished. Instead, they recommended that the decision makers (Jon Rogers and the other three Transport Executive Members) should seek - and share - further information about its pros and cons before any bid goes in for government funds. (Remember, it's not free - the local authorities must bear 10% of the cost plus any cost overruns).
Right now, the evidence to justify the South Bristol Link simply hasn't been produced, and there's a whole lot of evidence to weigh against it.