TRANSPORT MATTERS

Traditional buses were always a struggle for mothers with toddlers, and impossible for wheel-chair users. Modern buses are designed to make life easier for them.
Traditional buses were always a struggle for mothers with toddlers, and impossible for wheel-chair users. Modern buses are designed to make life easier for them.

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 above 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 much more difficult to access the information is apparently irrelevant, confirming that for some politicians it’s 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 reopened 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 for just one commuter service morning and evening.

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 north-east England 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.

In the meantime, the East Coast franchise is due to change hands in February. It was said that the identity of the new franchisee would be announced in November, but this now appears to have been deferred to December. Whether this can be interpreted as a fault having been found in the selection procedure, as happened on the West Coast a few years ago, is a matter for speculation. One can but hope. The new operator will have very little time to prepare, especially with the Christmas and New Year holidays intervening.

John Wylde is the author of ‘Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp?’ (www.john-wylde.co.uk). This book, priced at £14.95, is available to Berwickshire News and Berwick Advertiser readers for £11.95 post paid and signed by the author. Order from the office in Berwick.