Sunday, 24 July 2011

It's Getting Better All The Time.....

When you're an advocate for public transport, you open up yourself to be shot at from all angles.
Virtually everyone has a transport horror story (me included, as it goes!) and I quickly get to know about it, as soon as people learn of my interest in the subject.
Recently, I've been having some "head-to-heads"with people in the letters page of my local paper - I always believe it's good to talk about public transport wherever possible, if only to dispel some deeply held beliefs by some people about it.
Journalists are a pretty disparaging lot in general. They look for the worst in everything in order to create a headline. In my years at Bus Users UK I would regularly field questions from local hacks who were often interested, sadly, in the downside of public transport.
Sadly, things rarely improve.
Today sees a genuinely great piece of public transport news - the opening of Wolverhampton's new showpiece bus station. When us transport geeks talk about improving the passenger's lot, this is exactly what we mean. A fantastic new facility that is genuinely welcoming and a good experience to use. When Birmingham's new coach station opened last year, I felt the same. Rail-wise, it is an absolute pleasure to spend some time at stations like Birmingham Moor St, Manchester Piccadilly and London's Marylebone and St. Pancras.
Yet, still the press seek the downside to all of this. In the case of Wolverhampton, we had rumblings of discontent as the thing was being built because sections of the Ring Road suffered disruption. Heaven help us if we inconvenience the motorist in any shape or form. Now, the focus is on some of the services in Wolverhampton that won't serve the new facility. (See previous blog post for my thoughts on that!)
Is it what we Brits do best? Knock public transport because it's the easiest thing to do? Are we all drawn to the supposedly famous phrase that Margaret Thatcher allegedly uttered about being a failure in life if we're still catching the bus past aged 27? (although there is some dispute that she ever actually said it).
I'm constantly bemused by people who try to engage me in conversation about how cars bring "freedom" to their lives, and that buses are an "outdated mode of transport" (the subject of my latest debate on the Express & Star's letters page). Maybe they forget or aren't aware that I too am a motorist and I also drive my car around. But I'm only too aware that I'm adding to traffic congestion when I do so. I don't consider myself to be "free" when I'm driving. I actually consider myself to be more "free" when I'm using public transport. Free of stress, road-rage and bad driving.
Today not only is a day to celebrate another great new transport facility in Wolverhampton. The City has a new network of services, designed with a lot of public consultation. Of course there will be winners and losers, but the new network is a chance to improve the public transport offer.
Elsewhere, in Oxford, something else rather big is happening.
The major operators are working together to launch a new, co-ordinated service in the City, accepting each others tickets and actually reducing wasteful duplication on some routes where they formerly competed. New buses and smartcard ticketing also feature here.
In a couple of weeks,the new guided busway in Cambridge will finally be in operation. Put to one side the farce that has arisen in actually building it, and celebrate another piece of transport infrastructure that will improve the service to the travelling public.
Also next month, new trains for the Snow Hill lines. A step improvement in the passenger experience. New clean and greener hybrid buses will gradually take to the streets of the West Midlands in the coming months. Birmingham's New Street Station is having a huge makeover that will transform it's appearance. Stourbridge's Parry People Mover is genuinely innovative and now has some of the best reliability figures of any rail line in the country, as well as improving the frequency and reducing emissions compared to its predecessor class 150 diesel loco. In just over a month, Chiltern Railways will launch it's new "Mainline" services, promising faster journey times from Birmingham to London. And of course, High Speed 2 continues to occupy the conversation of the chattering classes - if it is built, it will address the growing issue of capacity on the rail network, as well reduce journey times to a mere 49 minutes from Birmingham to London. And, as a Stourbridge (or at least nearby) resident, there is no one looking forward to the opening of our new bus station more than me. Another superb investment in our public transport future.
Public Transport rarely gets the accolades it deserves for being the backbone of life in this country. So as we sit, fuming, in never-ending traffic jams and wonder whatever happened to the "freedom" of life in our tin boxes, let's applaud the Ladies and Gentlemen who are quietly working hard at all levels to bring us better public transport.
As those 4 lads from Liverpool once sang on the Sgt. Pepper album "It's Getting Better All The Time".....

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