Bus about nothing

the broader picture
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OPPOSITE a pub in a grim part of Victoria is the Department of Trade and Industry building; outside that a scrum of men are frantically wielding cameras and microphones around a bus. We cannot see what they can see: a woman checking the engine oil. What's going on? The woman is the Transport minister, Glenda Jackson; the date was 7 April, Transport Delivery Day: to quote the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, "an ideal time to take stock of what we have achieved since the election. We promised to deliver real improvements in transport and we have."

The picture perfectly demonstrates the mechanics of the modern political photo-call. A few minutes earlier, Ms Jackson had arrived, with Mr Prescott, on the bus, and quickly set about diverting attention from it to herself. The bus stands neglected, looking slightly embarrassed at the notice that is being paid to its hindquarters, like a cow being milked. But it is a fine bus, with a low floor and a ramp (both recent introductions) for the benefit of elderly, infirm and disabled passengers.

The purpose of the photocall was to launch London Transport's progress report, "Buses, a cleaner future", which details how a shift from cars to public transport, specifically buses, could improve the capital's air quality and cut congestion. The Government believes that the bus is the answer to London's public transport problems. Expanding the road system for private cars is expensive, and politically and environmentally unsound; tube lines take years and billions of pounds to plan and build. The bus is already the most used form of public transport in London, carrying about four million passengers each day, roughly the same as the total number of people who use the Underground and suburban trains. Glenda Jackson wants bus operators to provide more frequent buses, adapt them to cleaner fuel and allow wheelchair access. There are also plans to add new routes, alter the fare system and patrol bus lanes to keep them clear of cars.

So, the bus. The future.