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Lichfield, Tamworth and Burton Liberal Democrats

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Lichfield City Bus Services

January 25, 2020 12:26 PM
By Cllr Richard Rathbone

Lichfield Local Bus Services - A New Approach

A number of trends have come together in Lichfield recently which make local bus transport an urgent topic. On the one hand Staffordshire County Council (SCC) seem to want to cut bus services in order, they argue, to save money. On the other, much more attention is being paid nationally to the challenges of climate change, of pollution, and of finding ways to create a carbon-neutral environment. Traffic congestion in our towns and cities is no longer just a transport issue; it also raises questions about the effects all these vehicles are having on our health. Furthermore, in Lichfield we are engaged in a far-reaching and essential scheme of new housing developments. More houses mean more cars on the road, more congestion and more pollution. This report is about providing an improved and expanded local bus service with the aim of persuading residents of Lichfield to take the bus rather than the car for those trips to the city centre.

The 821/822 Bus Service

Much of the area of Lichfield north of Birmingham Road and Trent Valley Road is covered by the 821/822 service run by Midland Classic, and it is on this provision that this report will be mainly concerned. This half-hourly service (Monday - Friday) or hourly service (Saturday) is provided in large single-deck buses which seem to attract few customers these days. During the school term the 822 ceases to run from 14.30 to 15.45 in order to provide a school service. Another timetable weakness is that the last 822 service of the day leaves the bus station at 16.30, leaving only the 821 for the post 17.00 "rush hour".

This inadequate provision needs a radical and fundamental overhaul. In the first place, a separation of the school and city bus contracts would mean that buses would be available for residents of the city throughout the day. The large "main road" vehicles presently employed on the 821/822 services should be replaced by smaller buses which allow bus drivers to cope more easily with suburban roads; such buses must also be electric or hybrid vehicles to reduce pollution. Parking restrictions should be intensified on bus routes, with residents along those routes compensated by having a regular and efficient bus service on their doorsteps. Furthermore, as an added incentive for people to leave the car and take the bus, both 821 and 822 services should run every 15 minutes and over a timetable which includes evenings. Local bus services could also be free to all Lichfield residents as a further incentive to leave the car at home.

Bus Stops

If the buses presently used by Midland Classic for the 821/822 service are unfit for purpose, so too are the bus stops, most of which consist only of bus stop signs. Evidence from one pensioner suggested that what such people find most distressing about bus travel is having to wait at bus stops such as the one by Vulcan Road on Eastern Avenue where traffic flow is faster and huge lorries pass at frightening speed.

The aim must be to provide covered bus shelters at all important bus stops, especially on main roads. Furthermore, people would be much more likely to travel by bus if they could find out with some certainty when the next bus was due. The installation of electric bus time signs, as found now for example along Trent Valley Road, is a welcome improvement though it has to be said that many towns and even country districts have had such information signs for a long time and in this respect, Lichfield has much catching up to do. Also, while the new Trent Valley Road signs represent progress, they would be improved even more if the bus times could be read from both sides of the indicator and if the frequent repetitive advert provided by the sponsor was eliminated.

RJR report LTV

The new electric bus time sign erected at the entrance to Trent Valley train station, an area considered dangerous for pedestrians. This bus stop would be used more if placed next to the railway station buildings and linked to the local 821/822 service.

Pedestrian Crossings

Access to bus stops often involves crossing busy roads and it is essential that this is safe for everyone. On the routes covered by the 821/822 services there are two spots where road crossing is dangerous.

The first is along the northern section of Eastern Avenue which is served by 822 buses in one direction only. There is a bus stop which is convenient for people visiting the Langton Grange Medical Centre but unfortunately it is on north side of Eastern Avenue; the medical centre is on the south side. There have already been a number of complaints about the lack of a pedestrian crossing at this point and this report fully endorses this need especially as many of those who use the bus service to access the medical centre are elderly.

The other danger spot is on Trent Valley Road at the end nearest the Eastern Avenue/Cappers Lane roundabout and close to a footpath linking Valley Lane with Trent Valley Road. There are two bus stops here, one on each side of the road, but this is a busy route at all times of the day and there is at present no pedestrian crossing in the vicinity.

This is a Staffordshire County Council responsibility and the council is urged to respond as soon as possible by providing pedestrian crossings at these danger spots.

Changes to the Routes

This report has identified several examples of where the present 821/822 service requires a comprehensive revamp and nowhere is this truer than in the routes followed by the buses. In this section three separate examples will be examined where a local bus service would be of benefit to the community.

  1. Valley Lane

In April 2019 residents of Valley Lane lost their 821/822 bus service which had served this road for many years. Midland Classic had applied to SCC to withdraw the service from Valley Lane. SCC admit that they did not ask Midland Classic at that time why the company wished to withdraw the service and when they did ask, it was too late. The reason given by the company was traffic congestion along Valley Lane which made it difficult for the bus service to run to time and it was felt that a convenient "by-pass" route along Trent Valley Road was available. Having belatedly found out why the bus company withdrew Valley Lane from its route, SCC were also at fault in failing to advise Midland Classic that they were aware of traffic congestion on Valley Lane and were preparing new parking restrictions in an effort to remedy the problem. These restrictions should come into force later this year.

The loss of this service in Valley Lane has adversely affected a number of residents, especially the elderly, who may not have a car and who regularly used the bus service to access medical centres, do shopping and meet their friends. Several are having to rely on taxi services which for pensioners are particularly expensive. Now the 821/822 follows the same route as the Burton buses on Trent Valley Lane and does not often need to stop on that part of the route to pick up passengers.

This episode illustrates vividly why there is a need for radical change in the way Lichfield's local bus services are run. SCC need to respond with much more vigour to the requirements and essential needs of Lichfield people; it is unfortunate that public transport is a county responsibility and not devolved to district or city councils who are more likely to be aware of where needs are greatest. It is to be hoped that Valley Lane will see its bus service restored as soon as the new parking restrictions are in operation.

  1. Trent Valley Train Station

In view of the fact that Trent Valley train station has an annual customer footfall exceeding one million travellers but very limited parking facilities, it is quite remarkable that this railway station is not better served by bus services. At present only buses on the Burton routes stop at the station's bus stop which is situated away from the station buildings where the station approach road joins the A5127 Trent Valley Road/Burton Road.

On the east side of the railway bridge at Streethay, new housing estates are being constructed. The developers have provided a bus stop, complete with shelter and cycle rack for residents of the new housing. This is off Oak Way which joins the A5127 very close to the railway station. So far this bus stop has yet to see a bus and the local parish council are not aware of any services scheduled to use it.

RJR report GKN1

Oak Way bus stop on the edge of the Cathedral View estate in Streethay. This stop is in the centre of a turning circle and is well-designed, though at present it is the only bus stop in the whole of the new Streethay housing developments, and of course has no bus service even though lots of the houses are now built and occupied.

This report suggests that either the 821 or the 822 or both should have their route extended to call at the new bus stop at Oak Way and at the Trent Valley train station stop thereby providing a public transport link for people living in the new Streethay estate with Lichfield city centre and enabling people in the north of the city served by the 821 or 822 to access the train station without needing to use their car.

  1. Watery Lane and the Curborough Hall Farm Countryside Centre

Next to Watery Lane where it joins Eastern Avenue is a newly-completed and occupied housing estate and along Watery Lane just the other side of the railway line you will find Curborough Hall Farm Countryside Centre. Both can easily justify being linked to a local bus service.

The Saxon Gate estate consists mostly of social housing for which a bus service should be made available. Houses have been occupied for over a year now, and there is no sign of any bus service and as yet no bus stops are in place.

Curborough Hall Farm Countryside Centre is more than just a craft centre, though this is an important feature; it also boasts a number of independent retailers including a health and beauty area, tearoom, garden centre, art gallery and antiques centre. Unfortunately, it is only accessible by car for most people though it is quite close to Eastern Avenue. Smaller buses of the type recommended in this report could approach along Watery Lane, go through it to a bus stop in the centre, and then re-join Watery Lane without having to reverse.

General Conclusion

Now is a really good time for a radical rethink of bus service provision in Lichfield. This report has concentrated on the 821/822 service but there are lessons to be learned which apply to other parts of the city too where a better bus service for existing suburbs and the new housing estates would encourage more people to leave cars at home when visiting the city centre. An efficient and frequent bus service has huge social benefits too in enabling people without cars to get about, shopping and meeting friends.

A massive improvement in environmental terms would be the introduction of smaller electric or hybrid buses, better able to negotiate our suburban streets than the those presently in use. The councils of a number of towns and cities in this country have already declared a "climate emergency" and are working on plans to encourage less car driving and more use of sustainable transport. Against this trend, it is most disappointing that Lichfield's district council have very recently agreed that the former police station in Frog Lane should be replaced by yet another car park. A new approach is needed to public transport in Lichfield too, with more frequent services, new routes and a park-and-ride service for our rapidly expanding population and many visitors.