Local press reports Worcestershire bus use in decline, political hands being wrung.
Two things on that while I sit on this packed bus.
One. As part of my various local commutes that vary depending on where I am working, I use a total of seven different bus routes across three major towns covering half the county. I’ve been doing this for about five years, on and off. All of the routes, without exception, are either: much busier than they have ever been in that time; so busy people have to stand; or both.
Two. Worcester itself, where about 18% of the population lives (circa 100,000), had until this year when it was withdrawn and shut down, a park and ride system for shoppers. The park and ride buses were also well used by schoolchildren so their parents could drop them at the out of town terminals to avoid central Worcester school runs. As a historic city with historic infrastructure, the roads are inadequate to cope with modern traffic volumes and central Worcester traffic at peak times is truly abysmal, with no hope of improvement (it’s the kind of old city where there may be one single lane road for all through traffic, which has listed buildings right up to it, but I digress). Most of the people that used to use this now drive. Some presumably contribute to the now-annoyingly packed central Worcester buses!
Given this I feel that comparing county wide numbers year on year at this time gives an inadequate and potentially misleading picture of bus usage patterns. I also feel that the local media has so far enabled this inadequate situation by reporting the political communications and spin on the matter, apparently without serious factual scrutiny.
Unfortunately there is no public figure or serious politician with anything to gain by doing a proper job on public transport patterns in the county.
It’s a fact that the local political machinery is fundamentally pro-private transport. It does not remotely prioritise public transport. That Worcester’s park and ride was shut is conclusive evidence of this: if as a public body you can’t make a park and ride work in one of the most congested cities around (Worcester has air pollution problems – exceedances of ‘safe’ limits of certain airborne pollutants – that rank amongst Europe’s worst, and that will probably lead to European Union fines under binding national governmental agreements to reduce pollution), it’s because you simply don’t care enough to prioritise the matter.
I accept that wealthy conservative areas ruled by majority rural and semirural constituencies do not tend to be that interested in good public transport, except to serve the tiny number of vulnerable people that cannot choose to drive or run a car, who they generally look after, but I digress again.
But what I don’t accept is cutting major services in a city that skew the county wide numbers downwards, and then having those now-reduced numbers used as evidence of some shift in transport patterns.