Overdue: some ‘populist anger’ at the state of the city’s bus services 2002-2016. Avoid Birmingham buses if you need to arrive on time to work or attend a meeting in the city.

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“The socio-economic profile of bus passengers is very different from rail users, motorists and cyclists, with a much higher percentage of those on lower income travelling by bus.”

This statement by David Begg, Visiting Professor at Plymouth University and former chairman of the Government’s Commission for Integrated Transport, was a polite way of saying that the convenience of plebs can be ignored. He adds:

“Too little focus is placed on the importance of the bus because bus passengers carry too little weight with opinion-formers and political decision-makers”.

Midlands Connect hopes to ‘develop the vision for our regional connectivity and set out the long term transport strategy for the Midlands Engine by March 2017’. The main proposal highlighted by several organisations is that issuing ‘contactless payment devices’ will help to solve Birmingham’s traffic congestion problems by inducing car drivers to flock to the buses in droves.

Will these devices stop buses arriving too early, or very late and then in groups of two or three – ‘bus bunching’ ?

bus-bunching

The New Statesman’s CityMetrics says: “There are ways of mitigating this feedback loop. One is setting maximum or minimum stopping times in advance, to regulate the service. Another is building in waiting time at one end of a route, so that a bus doesn’t immediately turn around and set off again (in effect, doing the second half of a circular route), thus bringing a measure of predictability to the time it takes to do an entire circuit.

We suggest: management should permit drivers to wait in a layby when in a ‘bunch’ – without loss of bonus – until the time lapse has been restored – eg No 11 bus, every 8 minutes.

These problems are regularly aired; in 2002, a letter in the Birmingham Post said:

The No 2 bus is supposed to run every 12 minutes but the waiting time can run from 15 to (anecdotal evidence) 55 minutes – I have waited for 25. The people who suffer the most anxiety are the regular customers – those who travel to work. They really fear the repercussions when they are late for work – ranging from reproof to – at the extreme end – loss of job. One man told me that he has had to ask his elderly father-in-law to drive him to the station because he could not bear the stress of missing his train due to the late arrival of buses. I have learnt to allow at least 60 minutes for what should be a 35-minute journey from my stop to the city.

After detailing delays and other problems the writer continued:

I spoke to a member of staff in the bus garage as advised by the inspector. He said that TWM was short of thousands of drivers. When I cited the good service of the 6 and 50 routes he said that these were ‘showcase‘ routes and that if drivers were off for whatever reason, drivers from other routes were taken for these routes. When I expressed surprise at this level of shortage he said that wages were now so low that a man with a family was better off unemployed, taking into the account the stress of the job. The speaker was a driver waiting for a bypass operation; he attributed this to shift working and having routinely to eat ‘fast foods’.

In 2009 The Birmingham Post ran an article about FOE trying to persuade Birmingham’s ‘Power 50’ to give up their cars for the day

Andy Munro, then with the Jewellery Quarter Regeneration Partnership, decided to use the bus. Problems he encountered were:

  • the difference between timetable promise and performance
  • the alarming braking and acceleration
  • the cost
  • and occasional passenger misconduct

Added to these deterrents to bus travel is the problem of congestion, described in reports by National Express, Midlands Connect and one by Professor David Begg.

 

 

 

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