Birmingham’s small city centre is going through another of its periodic transformations – this time to accommodate new tram routes. My normal bus route down Corporation Street to the station is now closed to all but pedestrians and cyclists.

From 22 July 2012, with nothing but the most legalistic exercise in public consultation, every bus stop that a few days ago delivered passengers to and from New Street Station, has been removed.

Centro, were I to complain, would show proof they’d been through legal consultation with the public and aim to placate me by saying that in a few years I will be able to take a tram that stops beside a refurbished New Street Station.

In political terms, pedestrians and bus users, unlike cyclists who have long constituted an educated population of skilled lobbyists, don’t rate in the calculation of Birmingham’s transport planners. I – normally a member of an advantaged class – get a whiff, when I travel by bus and on foot in the city, of what it means to be a social, and therefore, a political nobody.

From the 16 terminus to New Street Station – five Centro minutes

“Where’s my nearest stop for New Street Station” I asked the driver. “Priory Queensway”, I was told.

I prepared for a walk the length of Corporation Street. As we came into the city centre he changed his mind: “Your closest stop to New Street Station is by the Markets”.

We got off the bus at Park Street, across the road from St Martin-in-the-Bullring. It’s raining as I trundle my luggage, Oscar on his lead, up pedestrianised Edgbaston Street to the lift that rises to Queensway opposite the Birmingham Shopping Centre where there’s another crossing.

I’m getting tetchy. A private hire cab drives rather fast through a red light out of New Street Station and hoots me as I’m crossing. I stop and stare at him, making him brake. I give him a rude sign and yell at him – he replies in kind. I’m disgusted with Centro for claiming my walk from the new-nearest stop to New Street takes five minutes, and even more with myself for losing my temper over a matter deserving a wry smile of resignation, rather than my ridiculous pedestrian road rage taken out on an already frustrated taxi driver.

Porkies: the ‘5 MINUTE WALK’ circle

Most bus users wanting to go to Birmingham’s central station now have a ten minute walk from their new nearest stop. The insult of this change – unheralded but for statutory small print – is compounded by the bland claim that the substitute bus stops are just ‘5 minutes’ from New Street Station.

I welcome the Metro. We can’t have enough of it, especially when I’m not travelling with my dog!

The ‘5 minute walk’ circle is almost certainly a paper exercise, a map-based calculation by people who drive cars with minimal experience – though they manage bus services – of relying on buses. I don’t rely on them. For me they’re a choice. My indignation is vicarious. I’m darned if I’m going to pay for taxis, especially as so many local drivers regard dogs as unclean and will not accept me as a fare with Oscar. Where normally I’d do this journey easily by bicycle, I’m off to the Highlands by train and don’t need to take my bicycle with me.

But there is a real problem, especially for people with heavy luggage trying to take a 16 and a number of other buses in order to catch a train from New Street Station. I resent the bland use of the ‘just 5 minutes walk’ claim. I’m sure this calculation would fail an empirical test using a sample of walkers of all ages – even without luggage, a pushchair or young children or an elderly companion.

Let’s start by changing that ‘5 minute circle’ to the timing of a sample of bus users. I’m sure it should be more like 8-10 minutes. Centro will not like that because the ‘5 minute’ claim seems to resolve the kind of problem I described.

 

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