Buses are hardly ever out of the local news it seems, and usually the news is bad. There is undoubtedly a strong perception, especially among non-users, that public transport is unreliable. The reality is not that bad, but buses do face an increasing struggle to keep to time.
Consider that perennial butt of comedians' jokes, the bus bunch-up: you wait for what seems like forever and then three buses come at once. This happens because, as a bus gets delayed in traffic, it starts to pick up passengers waiting for the next bus as well as its own passengers, which slows it down further. Meanwhile, as a result the bus behind picks up fewer passengers and begins to catch up. What's more, as the patterns of traffic congestion in our towns and cities are not always predictable, it can be difficult for bus schedulers to make appropriate allowances for it.
But hang on, here's a novel idea! Why not replace a bit of existing road capacity on the busiest routes with dedicated bus lanes? That would stop them being delayed by the congestion caused by other road users at least.
Oh, I forgot. This is Birmingham, and the Council and business community don't like buses. As you will recall, the number 67 bus lanes on Tyburn Road (A38) were originally suspended in the summer of 2004 to accommodate the expected increase in traffic arising from nearby motorway roadworks, as well as to test the theory that allowing traffic into the bus lane would relieve congestion. The Council has just decided to continue the suspension for another six months, starting in July, possibly making this the longest "experimental" bus lane suspension in history.
Last December, Birmingham FoE joined forces with transport campaign groups Bus Users UK and Transport 2000 West Midlands to try and get the Tyburn Road bus lanes reinstated, and on 5th April 2005, Councillor Kath Hartley, a member of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, presented the City Council with a petition organised by our little coalition and signed by 2,000 number 67 bus passengers calling for the suspension to be lifted.
The UK's first 'Statutory Bus Quality Partnership' was to have been set up on Route 67, but now there appears to be little prospect of the improvements to the service it promised ever being realised. This is a worry, as we could definitely use a bit more partnership on this front: the City Council didn't even inform Travel West Midlands of their decision to continue the bus lane suspension on Tyburn Road. A closer working relationship between Centro and Travel West Midlands is also called for.
Watch this space for more updates on the campaign.