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Wednesday is Exeter's most-congested day

Wednesday, 18 October 2023 09:23

By Bradley Gerrard, local democracy reporter

Traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels

Exeter's commuter congestion is at its worst on Wednesdays as more workers head to the office on that day as part of post-covid hybrid-working patterns, a transport forum heard.

Traffic in the city has returned to 98 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, bouncing back from its lockdown-induced plunge, according to Devon County Council data.

Jamie Hulland, deputy director in the environment, climate change and transport directorate at the county council, told business leaders at an Exeter Chamber of Commerce travel seminar that Exeter has the nation's second-largest travel-to-work population, which puts severe pressure on its constrained road network.

But post-covid working habits have created new challenges, notably fluctuations in motorists travelling on certain days of the week.

"It's more likely to be congested [in Exeter] on a Wednesday," he told delegates at Exeter College's Future Skills Centre.

"We need to think about how to reduce the reliance on cars, encourage the use of other modes of transport and improve health outcomes for people."

Mr Hulland was joined by other senior transport figures in the region, including Peter Knight, managing director at Stagecoach South West.

Mr Knight acknowledged that different days of the week now offer distinct challenges to ensure sure buses are on time and not impacted by congestion.

He explained that keeping buses to schedule all week would require a bespoke timetable for each day, but stated that this was "impossible" operationally and is not something that the firm is considering, because passengers expect a Monday-to-Friday schedule, with different timetables at weekends.

"One positive thing we are seeing, though, in terms of reducing congestion is a 4.4 per cent increase in passengers across the south west year-on-year," he said.

"Those figures are a good proxy for Exeter itself, and show that the £2 bus fare is proving popular, given that the average annual passenger growth figure is three per cent."

The panel, which as well as Mr Knight and Mr Hulland included representatives from rail service operator GWR and Exeter City Council, agreed that the £2 bus far, which is being subsidised by central government, is a sensible initiative, but needs more publicity.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak announced at the Conservative Party Conference earlier this month that the scheme will now run to the end of 2024, with the price kept flat rather than increasing to £2.50 this November, as previously planned.

Separately, GWR's transport integration manager Luke Farley outlined how improvements had been made to synchronise bus and train services to improve connectivity in the county.

In Combe Martin, for example, buses are timed to leave Barnstaple's train station after rail passengers arrive, thanks to greater collaboration between his firm, Stagecoach, and Devon County Council.

"And another success has been the Tarka line,which recorded 200,000 more journey in 2022 than the year before," Mr Farley added.

Delegates of the Exeter Chamber seminar raised issues about how park and ride services could be improved, and whether low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) were working as hoped.

On the park and ride services, Stagecoach's Mr Knight said Exeter needs better bus lanes to ensure a quicker and reliable service, while Devon County Council's Mr Hulland said work continues to promote the use of the existing park and ride infrastructure.

And Mr Hulland added that both Exeter City Council and the county council  are funding air quality monitors on roads where traffic may have risen because nearby LTNs have diverted traffic from residential streets onto other highways.

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