The BusTracker -17/02/17

….a new (hopefully) regular part of the blog featuring snippets from the bus World…

Regional Resilience…?

The “new, improved” Centro (which we can’t call them anymore) – “WMCA – West Midlands Combined Authority” has put out a press release declaring that it’s got plans for coping with upcoming “anticipated congestion”, due to a series of infrastructure work.

Not that we should be ever-so-slightly cynical of this (it was released on a Friday afternoon, after all – when Greater Birmingham regularly descends into gridlock hell as it is) – but where is the plan to deal with the existing apocalypse?

David Jamieson – the Police & Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands – naturally welcomes this, to…”ensure our roads keep flowing”. He’s obviously never caught a bus up the Hagley Road after 5pm.

We await the election of the “Metro Mayor” later this year, to see if congestion – and the meaningful tackling of it – really is on the agenda….

Talking of which…

Run Transport Services like John Lewis?

The Tory candidate for West Midlands “Metro Mayor”, Andy Street, reckons that he’s learnt a thing or two from his days running John Lewis. Suggestions abound that all sorts of local services could be run by “co-operatives”, in a not-dissimilar way to his old store empire.

The Times reports suggestions such as council care homes and public transport providers could be spun out in a John Lewis-style operation, should Mr Street emerge victorious.

It’s an interesting thought. Whilst the upcoming Buses Bill doesn’t appear to be blowing any hint of an ill-wind around the West Midlands, what might “Mr John Lewis” have up his sleeve for public transport in these parts? And would bus-operating staff on the front line feel more enthusiastic if, like John Lewis staff themselves, they partly owned the business?

I still hear the occasional lament from bus drivers of the time that West Midlands Travel was “proudly employee-owned” (even though plenty of them did rather well with shares, etc when they merged with the mighty National Express all those years ago).

I suspect it’s little more than the usual politicking from an electoral candidate, trying to catch the eye of the voter. Whoever wins the Metro Mayor contest, traffic congestion should be right up the top of the list of things to tackle in the West Midlands. Ken Livingstone in London was brave enough to introduce the radical Congestion Charge – will whoever wins here tackle it head on?

Doctors Against Diesel

Brum is also in the firing line for air quality. It’s had a dressing down from Brussels for the state of it’s environment, along with several other urban areas. The talk on the Clapham Omnibus (and the Selly Oak one, around here) relates more or less to a two-fingered salute to Johnny Foreigner, now that we’re going to make a success of Brexit (according to Mother Theresa). Of course, the irony of folks sitting in their personal tin boxes in endless miles of traffic jams blaming “dirty buses” for all of our ills isn’t lost on the BusTracker, but there’s uproar from the local taxi trade, as they’ve been told to clean up their act – actually just like the bus industry has been doing in recent years.

But of course, the way to effectively clean up Birmingham’s air quality is to get rid of all the private cars and “white van man”. It’s all too easy to ride into the City Centre in whatever vehicle you like – and beggar the air quality. The teensy problem with all of this is that Brum hosts loads of shiny swanky shops that attract lots of people in cars. Witness the regular shenanigans when they put the “car park full” sign up outside the Bull Ring. Perhaps Mr Jamieson the Police Commissioner should get his boys and girls in blue to get down there and “educate” a few of those blocking up the highway, forlornly awaiting a precious car parking space. A leaflet from Doctors Against Diesel, detailing the 25,000 deaths a year in England linked to vehicle emissions might not go amiss…

This, though, isn’t great for buses. Although Birmingham is pushing on with it’s Clean Air Zone (and consequent much-improved buses), the media headlines of bus users being 7 or 8 times more likely to be exposed to harmful fumes than motorists, and a historic viewpoint of buses spewing out black smoke (which is rarely the case these days) all add to a negative feel for those of us on the top deck. It feels like the bus industry isn’t in a great place at the moment – maybe a concerted effort to spell out the facts easily and positively is in order. Plus hopefully a meaningful effort to put the bus at the front of the queue from whoever wins the Metro Mayor contest.


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