Monday, 23 April 2012

Bus Lanes and Councillors - the lack of love.....

It's the perennial problem.
 Give the bus some much needed priority and you can bet your house that a Councillor will, at some point, decide that it's easy pickings for a bit of a spat in the local rag. I've seen it loads of times over the years. When it comes to creating an issue that will create a talking point, buses are easy pickings.
If it isn't the fact that they're "always late" or that they are "too expensive", or "don't go where people want them to go", the mere mention of them having some tarmac to themselves certainly gets the blood pumping. Take away some valuable road space from already "hard done to" motorists and give it to buses? Scandalous!
And thus it came to pass that, once again, the front page of the Express & Star was adorned in more ramblings that bus lanes in Dudley Town Centre "do nothing" from the Council's transport supremo.
Excuse me?
I've been catching buses in Dudley for many of my 40+ years. I can assure the Councillor making these claims that the only thing "doing nothing" is the Council for not enforcing the abuse of the bus lanes!
Dudley is like many other towns across the country. It suffers at times from damaging congestion. It doesn't have enough bus priority, but that is easier suggested than done. So why the suggestion to remove some of the precious little that we do have?
Dudley Borough is doing rather well of late when it comes to public transport. Following the bus network review in 2008 (the first in a series of partnership working reviews between Centro and the bus operators)bus use is up. National Express West Midlands, Diamond and other smaller operators have invested significantly in new vehicles. In the south of the Borough, Stourbridge's new Interchange has opened this week, to critical acclaim. Merry Hill is next, with a £10m investment in the bus station and surrounding roads. And more investment in the form of hybrid electric-diesel buses for a major route linking Dudley and Wolverhampton has recently been secured. A lot of investment, then. And it is needed.
The chronic congestion that snarls up this part of the Black Country can partly be tackled by making public transport vastly more attractive - and that is what is happening. More to do, granted, but I haven't felt so optimistic for a long time. So whilst we see millions of pounds invested in new kit and new facilities, the humble tin of white paint that defines bus priority on our roads is as much as important as anything else. Because new buses and shiny bus Interchanges mean nothing unless the buses can be relied on to run on time. Yes, a huge, mammoth task, but get the jigsaw of quality Interchanges, smart new buses, easy to understand routes, competitive fares and - by no means least - reliable services right, and the prize is huge. So the suggestion to consider removal of bus lanes in Dudley is, in my opinion, short-sighted. Progressive local politicians need to see the bigger, longer, wider picture. They need to have the guts to sanction bus priority for the wider benefits that reliable bus services bring.
It's all too easy to consider bus lanes a poor use of resource - they are anything but. Instead, they need to be seen as an effective tool in helping public transport provide a better image of itself as a reliable mover of masses of people. I have written to the Councillor in question on a personal level to urge him to think again about suggesting removal of the bus lanes, and instead concentrate on enforcing them more effectively.

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