Tuesday, 19 July 2011

It's Not The Horses Wearing Blinkers In Wolverhampton....

It ought to be another positive milestone for the City of Wolverhampton.
This coming Sunday, the new multi-million pound bus station opens it's doors for the first time. Added to that is the biggest upheaval of routes and numbering in the City, certainly in my lifetime.
Predictably, as the midnight hour approaches, there are concerns. Some are real concerns, from less-mobile citizens in the community who are concerned that their service will be inferior to the one they currently have. Others question the logic of opening a brand new bus station and then not having every route that serves the City going into it. Some even wonder why the route numbers have started at "1" again, when we have similar route numbers just up the road in Walsall and Birmingham (I have to say, I'm also yet to be convinced on the route numbering).
Large scale changes like this always result in someone losing out. For those that do, it can be unfortunate. But it can also be healthy for public transport to revise networks from time to time to best serve the majority of users. Buses, unfortunately, can never be taxis and cater for absolutely every single person's individual travel habits.
Rest assured, I'll be out and about in coming weeks to see just how effective (or not!) the new Wolverhampton network is.
But how about this golden nugget amongst the press cuttings?
In amongst all the angst from people whose buses are changing route and number soon, is a sorry tale from a group of business people in the City. Never mind the horses taking part in the 3.30 at the all-weather track - the blinkers are firmly strapped to this lot.
The Wolverhampton Business Group ("made up of hundreds of City company bosses" according to the Express & Star newspaper) has commissioned a survey on those pesky bus lanes.
The "survey" appears to have consisted of someone photographing all buses arriving into the City from the Wednesfield Road between 0730 and 0900 one morning. Then it would seem that someone has poured over the pictures to count how many people are on said buses. Even the spokesman quoted appeared to concede that he'd had difficulty counting the numbers of people on buses in the pictures;
"the only slight numerical issue was viewing the exact numbers on 50% of the buses that were double deckers".
This ought to be laughable nonsense.
Except that it's coming from supposed business leaders in Wolverhampton, who are reduced to photographing buses, then trying to work out how many people are on them in order to kick-start a debate aimed at removing bus priority. In order, presumably, for them to drive their cars just that little bit quicker into work.
Why am I reaching for my blood pressure monitor?
Because when I read articles about people's legitimate concerns concerning why they can't use the City's wonderful new bus station, I ask myself why it is that bus company managers consider it unworkable to route all City services through the bus station?
Those 2 words come to mind again.
Traffic. Congestion.
The bus companies have been brave in introducing some new cross-city services as part of the large review. Transport friends of mine (some in very high places, I might add) have voiced their private doubts to me as to whether they will be able to stick to their timetables. Routing them through the bus station would simply add to the time-keeping issue.
But this is yet another example of a British City that simply doesn't have the balls to tackle it's traffic congestion problem. And here we have supposed "business leaders" quite willing and open about being vocal in trying to get rid of some bus priority lanes!
The message, sadly, is as clear as ever.
Keep driving your cars into our City. Keep clogging it up.
We can dress up the new cross-city bus routes as much as we want. Of course they will open up new links, etc.
But if congestion wasn't an issue in Wolverhampton, wouldn't we have them serving our new bus station to allow easy interchange?
Goodness knows Wolverhampton is in need of investment and new business, as are many of Cities.
But just for once, why can't we have business people who look at the wider picture - one which recognises the importance that an effective public transport system can offer, which in turn can help reduce such damaging traffic congestion?
When we have the self-same people forsaking their breakfast to take pictures of buses to try and count how many people are on them to support a call to remove a bus lane, I for one begin to fear for our economic future in Wolverhampton....

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