Saturday, 5 October 2013

Buses and stations the fish and chips of transport

 A bus at a bus stop on Station Street earlier today, by the temporary Nottingham Station ticket office. For six weeks during the summer the station was closed and buses operated instead of trains. Weeks after the trains started again, the bus stops remain in situ. I guess it was there to pick up a private party arriving by train. 

Growing up in Wembley on the edge of London I came to associate railway stations with buses in the sense that you rarely got one without the other. Most of the bus routes I knew and used as a child and as a grown-up terminated at a railway station. The 18 at Edgware Station every day and London Bridge on Sundays; the 46 at Alperton, Victoria and Waterloo stations; the 79 at Alperton and Colindale stations; the 79A at Alperton and Edgware stations, and the 83 at Ealing Broadway and Golders Green stations. Even when they didn't, their destinations displays mentioned them, like short-workings of the 79 in the evenings or 92Bs on Sunday, which bore the legend 'North Wembley near Preston Road Station'.

Look at any contemporary London bus map and you will see that railways stations are still where many bus routes begin or end, yet once outside London, stations lose their importance as a bus destination. Why is this? The answer is far too complex for me to address in a few paragraphs, so instead let me concentrate on Nottingham, where I have lived for thirty-three years. It has just two railway stations: Bulwell and Nottingham, with only another two, Carlton and Netherfield (in the neighbouring Borough of Gedling) served by Nottingham City Transport. All of them are passed by buses or they run close by, but no importance is attached to them.

Two bright red Nottingham trams wait at the Station Street terminus earlier today. I travelled on one to Market Square, where I changed to a bus home to Lenton. It was full of folk going to Goose Fair. Personally, I love the bright red colour of these two trams, but that's the London Transport boy in me I'm sure.

Hidden by hoardings, but I put my arm around the edge and snapped and this is what I got. A view of the new tram bridge across Nottingham Station from the existing Station Street tram terminus. Not a worker in sight. Even like this, it looks impressive. 

Why this failure to harmonise bus and railway links? The short answer is that public transport matters far less outside London and, even in a city like Nottingham, where the City Council is committed to improving public transport, trains and buses are still treated as separate entities. The Tram runs on a track, so there is synergy of sorts and the city's first modern tram line out to Hucknall could not have been developed without the railway (the same is true for the new tram line to Clifton now under construction). They all run beside existing railway lines or follow the course of an old railway line along part of their route.

Living in Lenton, less than a mile from Nottingham City Centre, I cannot get a bus direct to the railway station. I could get one to Beeston Station, on the south-west side of the city, direct (a Trent-Barton 18), but they do not run frequently and very few trains actually stop at Beeston anyway. My neighbours either go in their car or by taxi. I don't own a car and can't afford taxi fares, so I have to use a bus and walk the last half-kilometre. If I was on the existing Tram route or one of the bus routes coming into Nottingham from the south side, then I could get to Nottingham Station direct.

The taxis are always here on Station Street, as they have been for decades. Once they queued here to gain access to the station forecourt, now they are waiting for fares. The Trent-Barton bus, on the other hand, is an non-stopping interloper because of road closures elsewhere. The bus stop, no longer in use, is just one of many (complete with shelters) put up for train passengers to use whilst waiting for one of the replacement bus services which operated whilst Nottingham Station was closed for six weeks during the summer.

I tell you this because great play is made of how important public transport is, but look beyond the spin and most of us are poorly served in some way. Assuming it is published, my next personal comment column in the Nottingham Post will look at one claim in particular and a simple and relatively cheap solution I have to the problem of how we can reach the point where everyone living in the city can get to Nottingham Station by public transport.

Buses and stations are like fish and chips. They belong together.

No comments: