Strange things happen on Mondays.
I don't know if it's the effect the weekend has on some people, but here we are again with something else to exasperate us at the start of the week.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is supposedly proposing a 15 minute "grace" period to park on double yellow lines.
This, apparently, is to help the High Street in its battle to survive.
Nice thought, Eric. And I can see, however vaguely, the thought process behind it.
Now let's imagine this comes to pass.
We already have a major problem with illegal parking. The "l couldn't give a monkeys" brigade already have it far too easy. And I was sickened only yesterday to read an article in one of the Sunday papers about assaults on traffic wardens, complete with CCTV footage of some neanderthal attempting a kung-fu kick at a hapless emoloyee doing his job.
So how on earth does Pickles envisage this working?
Employ a new army of traffic wardens to enforce the 15 minute plan? Because as sure as eggs is eggs, Britain is no longer a nation of people who play by the rules. We'll have "I was only there for 15 minutes" pleas from the usual scallywags who've been there 3 hours.
And what about the delays it will potentially cause? In Wolverhampton the other day my bus was caught in a delay caused by some prat fixing his car stereo on the side of the road, door wide open, couldn't care a jot. Every extra obstruction makes buses more unreliable. Well done Mr. Pickles - some joined up Government thinking there.
Here's what I would do to help the High Street:
- pass legislation to force out of town shopping centres to charge for car parking - with profits ploughed back into public transport improvements.
- make car park charges on shopping centres at least 10% higher than the average bus fare, ensuring that travelling in by bus - helping the environment - would always work out better than driving.
- promote a scheme that gives widespread discounts to bus users and cyclists - again incentivising use of these modes.
Of course this won't happen. Government isn't in the business of upsetting large retail businesses. And there still remains large numbers of retailers who believe the motorist is king for their business, when the evidence shows that buses deliver more people to the High Street.
So if Eric's plans come to pass, we can look forward to more journey misery in our towns and cities.
Monday, 29 July 2013
Strange things happen on Mondays.
Saturday, 27 July 2013
Today, I did something rather simple. I just went for a ride on some of my local buses. I wasn't actually thinking about anything - just taking some time to let my thoughts wander for a while....
But inevitably I did start thinking.
I decided to have a ride on National Express West Midlands route 1 from Dudley to Tettenhall Wood. A recent recipient of hybrid double deckers in attractive green livery, to press home the credentials. Very smart too - and dare I say it; the green version of the NX livery is possibly more attractive than the standard one....but I digress....
As I glided, sometimes silently, trolleybus style, across the Black Country, I thought about how much things have really improved for regular users of this and other routes in the West Midlands over recent years.
Change can be unnerving, especially when it comes to bus services. In the last 5 years, we bus users in Centro-land have seen a huge change to what is on offer. "Network Reviews" have seen many routes changed, revised or renumbered (and I'm still fairly breathless trying to catch up!) - the bus user of 5+ years ago would see a significantly different network today.
We've also seen improvements that, whilst not always immediately evident, are most definitely there. Brand spanking new bus stations in Wolverhampton and Stourbridge, lots of new shelters, and lots of new and refurbished buses.
It's easy to be critical about a bus service, and sometimes if you use a service day in, day out, a regular problem can grind you down. But for users of route 1, they can have no complaints, certainly about the quality of the vehicles - these are a step change to what previously plied the route.
Before I get carried away with too positive thoughts, however, I am brought crashing back down to earth at the Tettenhall Wood end of the service.
Route 1 turns around at a mini-roundabout deep inside a housing estate, where the 7 minute NX frequency, with it's clean, green machines are joined by something of a quite different nature - the services of Travel Express, who compete between here and Wolverhampton City Centre, as "Handyrider".
If the business mantra is "competition is good", I decide to find out what the rival offering provides.
Travel Express offers a 15 minute service compared to NX's 7 minute daytime frequency. It only runs as far as the City Centre (as the previous incarnation, the 501 route did, prior to the Wolverhampton Network Review). No hybrid clean green machines on offer here - indeed some are H-registered single deckers that, in their faded cream and red livery aren't too pleasing on the eye.
I observe the scene for a while. NX's hybrid deckers routinely spin the mini-roundabout and begin their run back towards the City and on to Dudley. Travel Express's offerings are also running to time on this Saturday afternoon. It is clear that the majority of non-concessionary pass holders have an NX Travelcard as they ignore the older Travel Express single deckers and go for the big green offering. Those with concessionary passes are more open to Travel Express though, should one of their buses be on the stop.
So it is with slight bemusement to the NX driver and fellow intending passenger that I let the Hybrid vehicle go and await the rival service, which is negotiating the aforementioned mini-roundabout.
Even more bemused seems the driver, who like his colleagues, doesn't wear a uniform, but a green hi-viz instead.
"How much to Town, please?" I enquire. £2 is the response. He even addresses me a "Sir". But that appears to be the only advantage over the National Express offering. £2 is exactly the same fare as the clean, green machines.
So there's no monetary value in using the competition (although maybe a weekly offering is cheaper), and the experience is distinctly below average.
To be fair, the driving skills are good, but the bus itself has seen far better days. I sit at the back, with the engine resembling a farmyard tractor. This is "back to basics" in every sense. The floor needs to see a mop and the windows haven't seen anything wet for a while, either. We depart 2 minutes early.
Passing various intending passengers along Tettenhall Road towards the City, most of them step back. As previously noted, the only taker is an elderly gentleman in a suit, who can choose his operator. We are the only 2 passengers along the whole of the route, and we alight outside the Grand Theatre. Our driver disappears with a strained growl of the tractor engine in search of more custom.
Travel Express has more routes in Wolverhampton, all competing with National Express West Midlands. In the bus station, it is all the more evident, as a large investment in new vehicles in recent times by NX simply shows up the competition even more.
But I muse more on this as I await my 256 homeward.
The smaller operator must make a living out of this. I see several of their vehicles loading in the bus station, but many are elderly. I guess to many users, a bus is a bus is a bus. Especially if you have the freedom to use the first one to come along.
Stagecoach make an interesting comparison with their MagicBus services, serving student accommodation in Manchester. Yes, you can catch "regular" Stagecoach buses along the Wilmslow Road, but the cheaper Magicbuses, with their elderly vehicles are a no-frills alternative that students lap up. I've stood there watching how these services are used and it is fascinating.
But I'm struggling to understand any similarity in Wolverhampton along Tettenhall Road with Travel Express. On route 1 we have the two extremes of bus operation: posh environmentally-friendly buses (with stops announced visually and audibly - by a NX Manager with classic Black Country accent!) compared to just about as no-frills as you can get. And for a single journey it costs exactly the same.
I guess advocates of Quality Contracts will tell me that the "no-frills" operation would disappear under a QC, but whilst competition in the bus industry on the road can be interesting to various degrees (I'm thinking more a battle of "quality"), I ponder the image such "basic" service providers give to the wider public - especially the non-regular users we're all trying to attract.
The free market can bring us better buses - and sometimes not!
Friday, 26 July 2013
Am I the only one to find the "real-time" footage of the Spanish train crash both sickening and, frankly, unnecessary?
It is bad enough seeing images of carriages on their sides but I guess this helps to create the gravity of the story, unpleasant as that may be.
However I am somewhat sickened to see the wide use in the media of the security camera footage that captures the entire episode in all of its horror. What is the need for this?
I accept that media outlets are in some sort of "arms race" to get the best footage of any event, but I struggle to understand what "benefit" we get from this particular footage. If anything, in my view, it looks like something from an action movie, and I regret looking at it, because in my view adds nothing to my understanding of the story.
Out of respect for those who lost their lives in this awful event, I am only sorry that I, like many others, clicked on it.
Were the media too quick to show such horrendous scenes?
My thoughts are with those who lost their lives and their relatives and friends.
Monday, 22 July 2013
Thursday, 18 July 2013
Thursday, 11 July 2013
Skimming through the local free paper, I notice the local Conservatives are proposing to "sensationally" (Dudley News' phrase, not mine) scrap car parking fees across the Dudley Borough - should they take control of the Council next year.
My old pal Patrick Harley - who is leader of the Dudley Tories these days - makes a fair point when he says "our town centres are dead".
But is free car parking really the golden goose to pump blood back into our beleaguered towns? Merry Hill is - and has been for years - the major culprit locally in the Black Country.
Free parking might well encourage more activity in our traditional centres, but it will also encourage more congestion and more fumes.
As Cllr Harley points out "we need to do something".
I presume the often discussed topic of introducing car parking charges to Merry Hill is off the discussion table then?