A new transport Interchange has opened at Cradley Heath. Phil went mooching….
Heaven knows it’s difficult to try and convince non-regular bus users to come across to the enlightened side. Ensconced in their private tin can, free to scream Meatloaf’s “Bat out of Hell” to themselves and no one else (fair enough), why should they do the “bus thing”?
Long have I wittered on about “the package” that proves the bus’s case, but one rather large consideration is the facilities that prevail. Bus stations can be dingy affairs, losing potential passenger’s custom (and their will to live) before we’ve even begun.
So a new quality facility is always welcome – if only to give me a bit of breathing space in the pub in my never-ending quest to get people to see the light.
Cradley Heath – deep in the heart of the Black Country – is the new recipient of such a thing. Lying adjacent to the Snow Hill railway line, it is a perfect opportunity to showcase the possibilities of integrated transport. Yes! Here in Britain – where those who would shout us down might claim it is impossible.
The new Interchange achieves much of this. It’s shiny, attractive and practical – in short, it’s very good news for locals.
It might never have happened. When Transport Authority Centro won a large pot of gold from a Government fund, it was primarily meant for new facilities at the nearby giant Merry Hill Shopping Centre (dubbed “Merry Hell” by those of us who decry the nightmare traffic congestion the place generates). By golly, it needed them. The bus station is far from big enough and the surrounding roads are crying out for a solution that lets buses glide through, avoiding the bumper-to-bumper scenario that regularly afflicts the site. The plans to upgrade the bus station and access at Merry Hill were largely watered down, thanks to the project being dependent on Merry Hill’s then owners Westfield stumping up cash of their own to add to the balance. But they sold Merry Hill to another operator and the dream of good bus facilities in Merry Hill disappeared up the proverbial exhaust pipe. We have been left with one short stretch of bus lane in Merry Hill (as you leave the centre), and even this isn’t used by the majority of buses turning right to access nearby Brierley Hill. All very disappointing.
So the large penny pot got reallocated to Cradley Heath. Some argued that the Interchange didn’t need upgrading, but, in 10 months, it’s been transformed into a beautiful swan.
There is now two-way operation inside the bus station for the first time, with the main stands being fully enclosed and weather-resistant. There are two stands with outdoor shelters for the new opposite direction flow towards Cradley Heath town centre.
Electronic information looks even more smart and cleanly presented than recent bus station upgrades in Wolverhampton and Stourbridge (although none of it seemed to be operating in “real time” when I was there). Paper timetable information is also on stands, which is a good idea, given the “record” of electronic displays elsewhere across the Centro area…When it works, it looks really impressive. There are also bus and rail departures being shown side-by-side on screens.
Commuters arriving in the adjacent car park are presented with bus/rail information as they enter the Interchange.
There is also a very attractive waiting area adjacent to the railway entrance, with toilets available.
It’s all very splendid, and for those who use Cradley Heath Interchange regularly, it’s great news.
Apparently, it’s one of the top Interchange points for those using “PlusBus” tickets from outside the area, as there are regular buses to Merry Hill, just up the road.
It would, however, be remiss of me not to point out that, whilst this is all very grand, there are a couple of issues – one quite small and another fairly fundamental.
Buses heading towards Cradley Heath High Street and onwards used to stop over the road in Forge Lane. Now, whilst a safety consideration might have been removed by allowing buses to enter the Interchange (therefore removing the need for people to cross the busy road) and granting users the facility of boarding within the bus station, it has now created a rather awkward “turn right” out of the bus station. I sample this on a 141 heading towards Birmingham, with our driver eventually having to edge his way out and wait for someone to flash him out. Otherwise we’d have been there for some considerable time. And that was off-peak. I think this may be an issue during busy peak times.
The other more fundamental consideration is that there are bus routes that don’t serve the facility. National Express West Midlands’ 243 – the most direct to Dudley – has long since stopped coming down as far as the Interchange, instead preferring to loop around the Timbertree estate after serving Cradley Heath High Street on its way to the bright lights of Merry Hill. Similarly, Diamond’s 4 buses per hour on the 002 route and Hansons 004 disappear out of sight just down the road. This is a conundrum. I’m not advocating these routes should do timely and costly “double-runs” to serve the Interchange – that might seem silly to users on the routes concerned – but at times there seems precious little activity in the facility. There are some important services here, such as the 4M to Oldbury, West Bromwich and Walsall, and the 141/241 combination towards Halesowen and Dudley (the long way) or Birmingham (also the long way compared with the train adjacent).
But I digress. Cradley Heath now has a state of the art Interchange facility, and in an age of austerity, it’s no mean feat to have seen Centro erect similar quality at Wolverhampton and Stourbridge in recent years. Creating real quality public transport facilities is in everyone’s interest!