Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Folly of the Great Fuel Scandal

What a surprise.
The moment Mr Cameron issued his Pike-like "Don't Panic" edict, there was only going to be one outcome. A mad dash to the pumps, with all the usual motorist's manners of pushing, shoving and "me first". How depressingly typical.
Whatever Unite's reasons to vote for strike action, it proves once again how over-dependent on barrels of fuel the Western World is.
Public transport ought to be well-placed to capitalize on such angst amongst motorists.
I for one haven't joined in the melee down at the pumps, because I know the bus, train and tram can get me to where I want to go, most of the time.
I'll just pause for a moment for those who now wish to rant at me about how their life depends on the car to compose themselves first.
But I'm being pedantic.
However much there's a lot of truth in the fact that public transport is well-placed to pick up new users, it rather isn't that simple.
Rail is enjoying a boom time. There are already record numbers of people using the trains, and we're having to play catch-up with regard to capacity issues. Backing High Speed Rail 2 is a welcome move, as are plans to add extra capacity in the form of carriages in some areas. But there is still lots to do.
Buses are different. Operators are finding it increasingly difficult to operate services profitably. Local Authority budgets are facing significant cuts to subsidise some services.
And the elephant in the room is that, for many people, buses aren't on their radar, for a whole host of reasons.
My blogs are often positive about public transport, because I have a passion for good public transport - and there's plenty of it around. But the industry still has a monstrous challenge to convert more people to use buses - and the bus industry can't do it alone. It needs Local Authorities and local politicians who are on the same wavelength.
There is also the issue of actually understanding public transport.
I've seen seemingly intelligent people stare blankly at timetables and information. I work with it every day, but I recognise that there is still a job to simplify the information that the travelling public sees and tries to use. Describing large conurbations like the West Midlands Centro area is always going to be a challenge, but it is this very interface that people have to come into contact with. How sad it would be if, given the impending fuel strike, people turned to public transport and had a poor experience, for whatever reason.
Now, more than ever, is the time to pick up new passengers and leave them with a feeling of "hey, that wasn't actually that bad. I might use it again".
There are lots of variables until we get to that point, but our public transport network is basically a decent one in many areas. Selling it to fuel-starved motorists - and then keeping them - must be the focus for every single person who works in the public transport industry.

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