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Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Bus Service Reduction Disappointing

Rural Bus

It is disappointing to find that a number of Solihull’s rural areas are to be served by a less frequent bus service from this weekend, affecting the young and the elderly, who are more reliant on the service, in particular.

Several services are being cut from half hourly to hourly. One village is being reduced from an hourly service to two hourly. Those late night services that did operate post 9pm are being eliminated altogether.

No doubt this results from poor utilisation of the existing service. However, regular users and former frequent bus travellers know that a couple of years ago passengers numbers were increasing. But then the quality of service went into decline, both in terms of reliability and quality of stock, and, unsurprisingly, those who could made other arrangements.

I compare the large number of National Express buses I see as I travel around the borough against the far lower number of Diamond rural buses. Yet, in the past year I have seen far more of the latter getting roadside maintenance attention than the former.

Promises made by Diamond under the contract, of ‘Signature’ branded vehicles with on board wifi and internal visual information boards all went west. So, it is to be hoped that the new service from Solihull based operator, Landflight, performs far better.

Travel for West Midlands, the service commissioners, too, have broken their word. In their October consultation they wrote:

“We are keen to highlight that we are not looking to reduce the support for bus services across the borough. We are looking at how we can use that support to give the best possible service to all residents in the area, whilst pursuing opportunities to grow and develop the network further.”

Now a reduced and far from ‘best’ service has been announced about two weeks before it is implemented, leaving communities with no time to challenge the intention.

It is people that get hit with the inconvenience that appears inbuilt into the new timetables. I know from my own use of the current S3 service that there are some significant issues with the new A3 timetables can be expected. Just as examples:

  • A busy time of day for the service is mid to late afternoon, but there are to be significant gaps between the three services leaving Solihull Town Centre at 15:19, 16:41 and 17:50, just three buses between 2.30pm and 6.30pm.
  • This can be expected affect a few Solihull School pupils who regularly catch the bus back to stops between Knowle and Dorridge, with the end of school day at 15:30, as well as shoppers looking to beat the end of work rush.
  • There are a number of regulars of the final couple of services which currently leave the Town Centre at about 22:10 and 23:10 with a new last bus time changing to 20:50, these people will be left with only expensive taxi services as their route home.

When I highlighted the newly published timetables through social media, others from rural areas added their own concerns:

  • EP said “I do an 8-6 shift in Solihull. The first but through Bentley Heath is at 7.29, having been through Chadwick End, Blythe Valley and Hockley Heath. I can’t see it running on time to get to Solihull at 7.55.”
  • SJ had noted “My children will have to catch the 07.47 bus to be in school for 08.45 and 09.30. This is way too early! If that bus fails to turn up, as is often the case now, the next bus is 2 hours later!! Coming back home is equally as bad, 16.06 bus and the next one at 18.06.”
  • EH added “I’m also going to be faced with getting taxis to Solihull each morning to take my foster child to school .”

Local policy is to encourage public transport use to reduce congestion and pollution but this cannot happen whilst services are in decline.