Birmingham transport services: making the right connections?
The Governments Social Exclusion Report 'Making the Connections: transport and social exclusion 2003' stressed the importance of accessibility in reducing social exclusion within communities.
Almost one year on, and accessibility is definitely the in word among policy makers, planners, local delivery agents and the like, but have transport services really moved on?
Accessibility can mean different things to different people. It can mean getting to places and getting there safely; it can mean making it easier to get somewhere, or at all . As the UKs second city there are, of course, a wide range of interests to be served here in Birmingham. Although we have seen some improvements to transport services, much more needs to be done.
We have seen huge investments on large-scale projects, such as the Metro link between Wolverhampton and Birmingham. In fact, heated discussions are on-going about the routes of possible extensions to the line. But what about smaller, more localized projects, improving infrastructure for walking and cycling facilities for example, which benefit a wider range of people?
I feel Birmingham needs to listen to and involve its communities much, much more. The process should give everyone the opportunity to participate to the fullest possible extent in decisions affecting how they function in their everyday lives. There are a few transport user groups dotted here and there throughout the region but I dont believe their concerns and ideas are being taken on board. From what I have read in the local press, and from the occasional users forum I have attended, it seems the rest of the public is becoming increasingly frustrated by this problem too!
Accessibility is not primarily a transport issue; it is about accessing local services. Sometimes, therefore, this may involve minimal or reduced travel arrangements. Where more extensive travel is required, partnerships between organisations such as local education authorities, employment centres, primary care trusts, and the police are the only way to ensure the ongoing provision of sustainable local facilities for all.
Research is also key in the way forward so that we can identify connections between social inclusion and travel behaviour. We have seen some very positive examples in the past, such as the cycle challenge at Moseley School in 1997, Steps to Work in 2002, and the more recent West Midlands Area Multi-Modal Study. But please, sir, can we have some more?
We are all affected by transport issues and, in the words of the DfT, transport needs to work for everyone. I'll finish with an amusing insight into public transport in the region. This poem, I feel, highlights the need to develop more refined measures of accessibility and the need for transport services to be more responsive to the perception and needs of different social groups.
Transport Researcher and Birmingham FoE volunteer
If you travel by bus, then its time you knew
Its best to be home by half past two;
Cos after that, as a general rule
Our dear little children drift home from school.
St. Trinian girls, in striped school ties
With skirts that barely cover their thighs.
Unbridled, hostile, yet self-assured
The whole bus shakes as they climb aboard.
Thats just the girls! But the boys are worse
One cant depict them in elegant verse!
Theyve mobile phones, and were sure theres fags...
Who knows what lurks in those huge school bags?
If you travel by bus, you will later find
The muck and rubbish theyve left behind....
But weve spared the rod, and weve bent the rule
When these little darlings drift home from school
Win Saha, Nov 13th 2002