What's it like to live without a car in Portsmouth?
EVERY morning and every afternoon, roads in Portsmouth become backed up with the hustle and bustle of rush-hour traffic.
Cars and vans sit stationary, toxic fumes fill the air and horns are honked as careless motorists attempt to change lanes; overall, it’s not a pleasant place to be.
Picture the scene: you’re stuck on the M275 heading home from work, someone’s just cut you up in the middle lane and tempers are flaring. To your left, you see a bus come sailing past in the bus lane, free of traffic and overtaking absolutely everyone – and realise that could have been you.
Across Portsmouth and the surrounding area, public transport is used by millions of people each year.
Now, transport bosses, politicians and even passengers are urging more people to use public transport to get around, as it can save people both time and money and is better for the environment – as well as easing the aforementioned traffic.
Some passengers have even ditched their cars for good, saying it’s both cheaper and easier to travel by bus, train or ferry.
In Portsmouth, one of the main motivations for switching from cars to public transport is the environmental benefit.
Currently, the city has one of the poorest environmental records in the UK, with the highest readings of PM 2.5 – a fine air pollution particle – outside of London.
The introduction of a clean air zone stretching from Gunwharf Quays to Fratton Station and up towards Rudmore Roundabout is penned for September 2021.
This would create a charge for older lorries and taxis to pay for driving through the zone.
Leader of Portsmouth City Council, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: ‘The clean air zone that’s coming in is especially designed to reduce the amount of pollution filling the air. Traffic is a major part of that problem.’
Nick Sebley, the Extinction Rebellion coordinator for Portsmouth, says the current level of air pollution is just one reason why people should switch to public transport.
He said: ‘The answer to pollution is very simple – we need more people to ditch their cars.
‘While steps still need to be taken to make public transport greener and more reliable, the fact of the matter is it takes cars off the road.
‘People who go to work by bus or train can take pride in how they’re doing much more for the planet than their co-workers.’
Certainly, improving their services is something public transport companies are all striving for.
South Western Railway has committed to a £50m refurbishment programme of its train fleet, with improved toilets, new seating and seat charging points.
The class 442 trains which are being refurbished will run between Portsmouth Harbour and London Waterloo – directly affecting the city’s commuters.
Meanwhile, First Group, one of the city’s bus providers, has introduced a new fleet of buses for the Star 7 and 8 services.
Managing director Marc Reddy says the key to encouraging more people onto public transport is securing the infrastructure, in terms of both roads and vehicles.
He said: ‘There are three main roads out of Portsmouth – if one is blocked by an accident you lose a third of your capacity, so I believe the city lends itself to public transport use.
‘We’re constantly working with Portsmouth City Council and Hampshire County Council to try and get public transport ahead of the car, a prime example of which is the Eclipse bus route through Gosport, which bypasses the A32.
‘If roads are built which dedicate a portion of the tarmac to public transport, you can make it so much more attractive to people because the buses don’t get stuck in traffic like everyone else.’
Many passengers say the service provided in the Portsmouth area is better than some may give it credit for.
Pat Hazell, 72 from Portchester, has even ditched her car in favour of public transport.
She said: ‘I stopped driving about two years ago and use the buses all the time now.
‘Parking is such a problem in Portsmouth that it’s just easier to use public transport – the service is always excellent and I think more people should consider it.’
Susan Noble, 69 from Fratton, added: ‘Public transport is just easier to get around town than using a car.
‘People should definitely be using it more; I use it to travel to Southampton, it beats driving on the M27 with all the roadworks and you can relax while travelling.
‘It’s more environmentally-friendly too – there are so many reasons to use it these days.’
However, not everyone is sold on public transport just yet, with suggestions that the services could be further improved.
One issue that’s frequently raised is that of cost.
A weekly bus ticket from First Group in Portsmouth costs £17 online, whereas the same ticket in Southampton costs £9.
Meanwhile, a Stagecoach weekly ticket in Portsmouth costs £16.90.
This year, rail fares are rising by an average of 2.7 per cent – though not all routes will be affected.
Marc Reddy from First Group explained: ‘The prices are something we’re always looking at.
‘Every city is different and Portsmouth is more constrained than Southampton, but people can save money by buying online or in advance.’
But Drayton resident Bryan Jenkins, 75, remains unconvinced.
He said: ‘The thing is, my car can take me straight to my front door – a bus can’t do that.
‘If you want to encourage more passengers it’s got to be cheaper.’