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BUS STOPPED : BRASSED OFF

02-02-2010

Residents in two Birmingham suburbs last night turned up by the bus-load to a public meeting to protest against the withdrawal of a bus route, only to find the meeting abandoned as the venue as too small. Kevin Chapman reports.

The meeting of the Fox Hollies Neighbourhood Forum was attended by over 150 people, angry that the 41 service had been withdrawn by bus operator National Express West Midlands. The meeting was held in a room at Fox Hollies Leisure Centre which could only accommodate a maximum of 35 people, resulting in the centres manager going in to advise that fire regulations were being breached!

The meeting ended up finishing after just five minutes, to be reconvened at a later date at a bigger venue. But it was clear after those few minutes the depth of feeling about the axing of the 41.

The 41 has been “replaced” by a number of services. Part of the route is now covered by the 42 service which runs from Solihull to Acocks Green via the Swan (Yardley), while another part of the route is covered by the 3/3A. However, some residents are angry that they’ve lost their bus service, as sections of the old 41 route are no longer covered.

After the meeting was abruptly finished to their credit managers from National Express West Midlands and Centro did stay behind to talk to residents. I also talked to several who had braved a freezing cold night to have their say.

One said that the 41 had never been given a chance, it used old buses running to an irregular timetable. Many said they only found about the changes through word of mouth or from the flyer for the meeting – NXWM not putting any kind of information through their door to advise of the changes. Other people were upset due to losing direct links to their doctors. A few said that they would now end up going back to using their cars.

What has really got peoples backs up though is a lack of consultation. National Express West Midlands is a private business; to succeed it needs to deliver what people want to the best of its ability and to listen to their views. The company has signed a voluntary agreement with Centro, “Transforming Bus Travel”, pledging to undertake a consultation exercise with customers and stakeholders (such as local councillors) before any changes are implemented.

In the case of the changes to the 41 and other services around Acocks Green and Hall Green there has been no consultation whatsoever. Legally a bus operator can change services within 56 days should it choose to do so, and does not need to consult, but it does beg the question as to whether “Transforming Bus Travel” is going to deliver a better service for passengers or if it is a worthless piece of paper when changes happen without any form of meaningful dialogue.

Operators also have to try and deliver a sustainable network that caters for current demand and meets future needs. It’s a balancing act, but ultimately what other business makes changes without listening to customers and attempting to match the offer to their needs? The changes were made for "commercial reasons", but will any company grow and develop if they keep chopping services?

Hopefully the show of force at the meeting will result in a quick solution that will solve some of the problems identified by residents. Long-term though, National Express West Midlands should be looking to get people onto the buses, rather than "bussing" them off.

A further public meeting about bus services in Hall Green is being held on Saturday 13th February 2010 at 10.30 a.m. at Hall Green Baptist Church, Stratford Road (near the Horseshoes Pub).

If you are a resident in Hall Green or Acocks Green, and want to make comment about the changes, you can send your thoughts to transport authority Centro. You can contact them by phoning (0121) 214 7214 during office hours, E-Mailing customerrelations@centro.org.uk or writing to Centro, Customer Relations Team, Centro House, 16 Summer Lane, Birmingham, B19 3SD

Kevin Chapman is the chair of West Midlands Campaign for Better Transport.

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