In order to make town centres work in terms of reducing pollution, improving efficiency of access and use of space and encouraging healthier and more rewarding lifestyles, car traffic needs to be reduced. Traffic reduction can be achieved through a combination of transport sticks and carrots. The stick in transport policy lies in deterrence through price of or the removal of car trip-ends, i.e. parking. Reduction or realistic (car parking is highly subsidised in Winchester) pricing of car park provision, of itself provides the carrot of a city centre which healthier and less intimidating to the alternatives of walking and cycling. But not everyone, through health, age or distance is able to access the city centre by these modes. Public transport is the key.
Most of the population of Hampshire that accesses Winchester lives within a short distance of an existing bus or train route to Winchester. If price, frequency, reliability and coverage (i.e. the period of the day when it is available) were improved markedly, public transport could provide a realistic access mode for most people coming to Winchester. Park and Ride facilities could cater for the rest of the rural population who do not live anywhere near existing bus routes.
Bus transport works when it is used well. The vicious cycle of decline in many bus routes is obvious – if a route is not used, it becomes difficult to maintain the service – frequency reduces, price increases, reliability and coverage decline and more people are deterred from using it. A virtuous circle of improvement could be had with a public transport system that was properly linked to traffic reduction. Moving the subsidy from car access (i.e. the large subsidy on car parking) towards supporting public transport will tend to increase the use of the public transport and making it less in need of subsidy.
The current political establishment fails to address the problems of poor public transport. It is indicative of decades of neglect that Government has sought to reduce the costs of motoring, but increased the cost of transport to the non-motorist:
We believe that a Winchester centre, free of the burden of most of its traffic would not only be healthier for residents, shoppers and visitors, but would also be an environment conducive to better economic success. In relation to the latter, public transport represents the only way of increasing access of people to the centre in a road network which is currently close to gridlock (it cannot in fact deliver cars to fill the existing central car parks).