Birmingham Friends of the Earth and West Midlands Campaign for Better Transport (WMCBT) have launched a joint campaign to lobby for improvements to the bus service in Birmingham and the West Midlands conurbation. The campaign has been launched following Councillor Len Gregory’s decision to remove bus lanes along the Tyburn Road in Birmingham. Gregory’s decision, after dithering following a consultation exercise that was undertaken three years ago, is a retrograde step that threatens millions of pounds of funding for improvements to public transport in the city.
The bus lanes on Tyburn Road were originally suspended in 2004. The suspension was only ever going to be a “temporary” exercise whilst major roadworks were completed on the M6 during the summer of 2004. These roadworks were completed on time, however rather than re-instating the bus lanes Gregory decided to suspend them. Birmingham Friends of the Earth and WMCBT, together with Bus Users UK (a pressure group that represents bus passengers) worked during the early part of 2005 to collate a petition from bus passengers on the 67 route (the main service using Tyburn Road) calling for the bus lanes to be re-instated. Over 2,000 passengers signed the petition, which was presented to Birmingham City Council in Spring 2005.
The petition led to a consultation exercise looking at future traffic management options along the Tyburn Road, and the Council launching a scrutiny review of bus services in Birmingham which reported in 2007. This scrutiny review concluded that there needed to be better “partnership” working between the different agencies that operated bus services, and that there needed to be a dramatic improvement in the quality of bus services in Birmingham which were felt to be not satisfactory enough to get people out of their cars.
The Tyburn Road consultation was carried out in Autumn 2006. WMCBT and our partners worked hard to get the consultation questionnaires out to bus users on the 67. In press reports on his decision on the Tyburn Road bus lanes, Gregory has claimed “unanimous” public support for their removal, but the reality is far different. WMCBT made a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the consultation report; whilst there was a majority in favour of the removal of the bus lanes it could hardly be considered to be “unanimous”. 51% of those who responded (mainly car drivers) supported their removal, whilst 49% of the sample (mainly bus passengers) supported one of the options which would have allowed their retention.
Meanwhile, progress on improvements to services in the city has been slow. There has been a project to provide improved information at bus stops, and Real Time Information displays have been installed on a number of routes. Some “partnership” routes have also been launched but these have not been on the main routes used by thousands of passengers every day.
However, the key performance indicator for bus services is “punctuality” – i.e. the bus turning up when it is advertised to. Performance has been woeful. Figures released to WMCBT (again under the Freedom of Information Act) showed that the percentage of buses running less than one minute early or five minutes late is no better now than it was five years ago. The target for 2007/08 (the most recent year for which figures are available) was 69%, but only 60% of services met the punctuality standard. At this rate of progress it is unlikely that the target for 2010/11 of 81% of services being less than 1 minute early or 5 minutes late will be met. Taking out bus lanes seems a strange way of boosting the performance of the punctuality of the city’s bus services.
The Tyburn Road scheme was to be one of the Council’s flagship public transport projects, and was to set a benchmark for improvements to other bus routes around Birmingham. The city spent hundreds of thousands of pounds putting in bus lanes; now it is to spend more money taking them out. The impression this gives ministers (and indeed local council tax-payers) is that the Council does not know what it is doing. Indeed, decisions by the Department for Transport to refuse money for transport projects in the West Midlands, such as the planned Metro extensions, may have been based on the Council’s failure to manage the Tyburn Road project effectively.
Passengers, meanwhile, remain deeply unhappy about the standard of their bus services. National Express West Midlands along with its competitors pushed through an inflation-busting fares rise just before Christmas. This led to more than 7,000 users joining a group on Facebook earlier this year calling on the operator National Express West Midlands to lower the fares. It is clear that city bus passengers have had enough of “Second Class Fare”. It is time real improvements were delivered to Birmingham’s bus services.
We are looking for volunteers who can donate some time to assist in a leafleting campaign.
A leaflet has been devised for the “Second Class Fare” campaign with an insert letter to be sent to Cllr Gary Clarke, Chairman of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (WMITA), which is responsible for promoting and improving public transport.
I would like people to help in leafleting passengers at bus stops in the city centre, and getting them to sign the letters so we can present them to Cllr Clarke at the AGM of WMITA in June.
If you could help, ring (0121) 440 7092 (evenings please) or email email@example.com