Putting passengers first

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Transport matters! It lubricates everything that we do. The trouble is that decisions about public transport are taken by people who mainly use cars themselves, and certainly never buses.

So many things which could make life easier for those who are dependent on buses are not done, because the decision-makers just do not understand what is required.

The picture shows a traditional bus, designed before any consideration was given to accessibility.

It was not possible for a wheelchair user to travel by bus and not very easy for mothers with small children.

Modern buses are designed to make it easy for both, but this has sometimes given rise to conflicts between these two types of user, when a wheelchair user boards and finds the wheelchair space occupied by a large buggy.

One thing which makes life easier for bus users is the provision of information.

Nowadays almost every bus stop has a list of departures displayed, but experience suggests that this is not always accurate or even up-to-date, and often it is full of notes about buses not operating on schooldays or non-schooldays, or on Sausage Fridays Only.

Information at bus stops usually gives no clue about how to return from where you want to go, either.

It is a fact that, even now, it is often possible to reach many places by bus, but not so easy to come back.

This gave rise to the joke ‘When is the next bus?’ ‘Ah. You’re lucky, it’s tomorrow’.

Some people make fun of John (now Lord) Prescott, but when he was put in charge of transport in 1997 he set up an information system called Transport Direct, which anybody with access to a computer could use to find out absolutely anything about travel by public transport, or by car, from anywhere to anywhere.

People who could not use a computer usually knew somebody who could, and this has been a most valuable source of information for public transport users since printed timetables have become an endangered species.

Unfortunately, because its instigator was of the opposite political persuasion to the present government, it has recently been scrapped, on the grounds that there are some commercial websites which can provide the required information.

The fact that it is now very much more difficult to access the information is apparently irrelevant, thus confirming that for some politicians it is more important to sustain the profitability of commercial activities than to provide easy access for the users. People might like to remember this when they cast their vote next year.

Talking of next year, the Scotrail franchise changes hands next April, and there seems every likelihood that pressure to extend Scotrail services to Berwick, including calls at a re-opened Reston station, might yield results.

The further possibility of extending these through Northumberland to Newcastle will depend on pressure from the residents of Northumberland who regret the lack of daytime services at their local stations, which remain open just for one commuter service morning and evening.

Belford in particular ought to be included in the campaign for more local services in Northumberland.

There is one problem. Will it be possible to fit local services into the timetable?

The Inter-city services from Edinburgh to London are now so well used that there must soon be a case for raising their frequency.

People in the North East complain that they cannot see what benefit HS2 will be to them.

A continuation in the form of a relief line from York to Edinburgh could be designed to provide much higher speeds for the long-distance trains, while leaving the existing lines free to accommodate more local and semi-fast trains.

When the A1 question was looked at in 1992 it was said that there would be no traffic justification for dualling it through Northumberland until at least 2050, other than some additional ‘convoy-busters’, but it was recommended that there should be very much better local train services.

This was partly based on the fact that the East Coast mainline had been electrified the previous year, and in fact the level of service at Berwick, Alnmouth and, to a certain extent, Morpeth, has improved enormously.

But the other ‘little’ stations now deserve some attention.

Photographs of congestion on the A1 in Northumberland are taken at very particular times.

It is equally possible to take pictures showing it almost deserted, and statements by politicians which seem like undertakings to improve the road usually turn out to be no more than undertakings to carry out yet another assessment of the need.

Beware of statements made for political purposes!