Saturday, January 13, 2007

Buses and tolls

One story all week in different guises.

OnTuesday the city council meeting received a report on bus use, identifying measures to improve the popularity of buses.

We know what needs to be done - better safety and better routes but have little power to do it. I'm hoping and have been pressing for the West Midlands to be allowed to do what London does and franchise bus routes. That would mean the bus companies having to agree standards and fares to get a bus route. TWM and its owners National Express is dead against this and demonstrated this by hiking fares by 25 per cent this month.

One local resident told me the other day that buses are by far and away faster than a car to commute into town - but he won't use them because they are so smelly and uncomfortable.

My comments in my speech to the council, condeming this "utter disgrace", were widely quoted.

But I went on to talk about the other side of the coin, the proposals for road pricing. We pledged not to be too party political on this blog but the local MP has decided to try to make the issue political, accusing us of overstating the case by describing the congestion charging proposals as "official". Well, they were the main charging proposal in the consultation document Gridlock or Growth issued in the autumn and financed with some £2 m of public money. The government wants the West Midlands to introduce some form of road pricing by 2014. Is that official enough?

I remain hopeful we can nip the toll proposals in the bud. It is true there is probably no local political support for them - but the councils do not have any alternative to offer the government and the highly paid consultants who drew up Gridlock or Growth could not think of anything better.

On Thursday the Liberal Democrat shadow transport secretary Alistair Carmichael MP came to visit the West Midlands and, after a meeting with councillors, I brought him to view the M6 running over the Beeches Estate. His first comment, as he saw it approaching from a distance, was "this was Stalinist planning, wasn't it?". Yes it was and we're trying now to get a change in attitude from the public authorities.

Alistair's message was the sooner or later the system of taxing for vehicles will change.Petrol will run out and global warming is already a major problem. But we must get the solutions right and crude, badly thought out proposals get us nowhere.

I drove him back to the station on the M6, mostly all the along the boundaries of Perry Barr ward to Spaghetti Junction, and up the Aston Expressway which delivers cars straight into Birmingham city centre.


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