Bus problem reflects social change
Dear Editor, "The Trouble with buses is ..." It's a well-worn phrase. On one side is the Government, trying to shoe-horn more of us onto buses to counteract the twin evils of traffic congestion and pollution. On the other - us. The travelling public.

We're moving like never before. Our parents and grandparents lived close to where they worked. The kids walked to their local school. The shops were a mixture of local individual specialities - not a monster of a superstore.

Communities and societies change over time. Where bus routes ran because of specific requirements 20 years ago, may not be where the best use of resources are today.  And now the conundrum. Buses - public service? Or private commercial business?

The answer, of course, is both. Whilst buses are today run mostly by large commercial companies, they can only achieve financial success by providing the services where people wish to travel.

This week, I have seen yet another newspaper cutting referring to petitions as a local bus service is cut.

We are talking about a real social problem here. As our society lives longer, access to mobility becomes an increasing issue. Yet the jigsaw isn't complete.

The Midlands has one of the best bus networks in the country. Most of it is provided by private, commercially-minded companies. Every bus journey costs money to operate. Simple maths, combined with demands of shareholders, will conclude that bus routes that are not very well used will be taken away. It's the same in other walks of life.

And yet, what about those people who can't or won't drive? Are they condemned to a second class livelihood? Yes, we have community transport schemes, such as Ring & Ride, but on the wider scheme of things, we still haven't grasped it.

Transport requires investment. Stand in the middle of Birmingham and look at one of the many new (or nearly new) buses. Each one of these costs around £180,000. And as taxpayers, we haven't spent a single penny on them.

That is because since 1986, we, as a society, have entrusted most of our bus services to the private sector.

This gave private entrepreneurs freedom to innovate, invest in new vehicles and come up with some fairly good deals on fares. It also threw the ethics of public service to the vagaries of the capitalist system.

We can have a lot more buses in this country. We can decide not to withdraw a lightly used service in the suburbs and keep it going as a social service for the few that use it. But we, as a society, must accept that, if we go down that path, we must be prepared to pay more in taxation for it. In a country obsessed with gaining tax cuts and a general distrust of politicians - both local and national - don't hold your breath.

Should we have greater public control over our buses? That debate is currently raging within the bus industry. If we did, we need politicians that understand the need for a comprehensive, well provided bus network. What if we ended up five years down the line with more public control of our buses and the powers that be under pressure for budget cuts?

Do they chop social services? Schools? Health? Buses? One of those categories stands out as a candidate for cutbacks without too much political fallout.

I'm not defending bus companies. Amongst those shiny new aforementioned buses in Birmingham are some ramshackle sights. They are doing great damage to the image of bus travel, at a time when a huge section of society simply doesn't see bus travel as any kind of alternative to their car.

But we're back to the business case again. So is the answer fairly simple?  Invest more hard cash from the public purse and hope the public servants running it have the necessary vision to keep buses at the top of the agenda?

Or have the good and great of private enterprise keep the wheels turning by turning the cart horse into a race horse.

As someone said to me over dinner recently: "The trouble with buses is. . ."
 PHIL TONKS, Operations Officer at Bus Users UK

Colourful but hardly a triumph
Dear Editor, Like Christopher Morley I enjoyed MTW's Julie last week, but not entirely for the same reasons. Boesmans is highly rated on the continent; his fame is not so secure in the UK. Judging from the numbers who attended the performance of his fourth and latest opera at BCMG, it can hardly be headlined a 'triumph'.

As others have shown, Strindberg's subject matter has everything going for it. The combination of Luc Bundy's original German libretto, Anna Herklotz's translation and Michael McCarthy's direction saw a Lady Chatterley type plot given a 'kitchen-sink' treatment, creating an absorbing piece of musical theatre. There was never a dull moment with riveting incidents such as some erotic rumpy-pumpy on a kitchen table and the nauseating decapitation of a caged bird. However there were moments when I thought the libretto

and music were at odds with one another. Such an observation is often ascribed to translation, but on occasions the words would have been overpowered by the orchestral ensemble whatever the language.

All three protagonists acquitted themselves well. Emma Gane as Christine was a powerful coloratura soprano, able to compete with the majority of the triple forte accompaniment blasted at her. Andrew Rupp as Jean coped well with Boesmans' mainly conversational style, but failed to convince on the acting front, witness his panic attack when the master returns. By contrast Arlene Rolph in the title role was convincing, totally so, and as Morley says 'sensational'. Combining a fine mezzo voice with confident stage presence, she was able to communicate the varying emotions required by her character, contrasting coquetry with

vulnerability and despair. The blood red party dress was prophetic of the climax when she crosses the fourth dimension and commits suicide - a breathtaking moment.

Conductor Michael Rafferty ensured the MTW Ensemble made the most of the vast variation in sounds required by the predominantly tonal score. Each of the eighteen players needed virtuosic technique, ably demonstrated by the glissando of the first violin. Both percussionists were fully employed, as they are in so much contemporary music, particularly effective in the muted beats of the introduction. Highly colourful music, but Morley's 'abundance' of melody was lost on me. Perhaps a second hearing would be beneficial, but will there be an opportunity?

 GEOFF READ

 By email

Watering down religion

Dear Editor, Nativity plays are part of the Christmas celebrations. It is vital that British state schools participate in these celebrations of the birth of Christ.

It wouldn't be acceptable if these same schools openly displayed dissent to the observation of Islamic festivals. I don't believe the majority of Christians in Britain would want to deny Muslim children their right to practice their religious festivals, however we are denying Christain children their religion and their culture in order to

appease other groups. This is totally unacceptable and it must stop, be it by an act of Parliament or by public demand.

British Christian children must be taught the meaning of Christ. We must not let the politically correct water down our religion to accommodate a hidden agenda by those who hide in the shadows of hate and deciept.

 SYDNEY VAUGHAN

 Yardley Wood

Fresh fruit and vegetables

Dear Editor, Your readers may be interested to know that the Food Standards Agency concludes there is no scientific evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food (Eat green call at London Olympics, Post December 10).

The most important thing is to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, regardless of whether it is conventionally or organically produced.

 WENDY GRAY

 Crop Protection Association

Let the city stand on its own merits

Dear Editor, To the best of my knowledge, since The Manchester Guardian dropped the Manchester tag and moved to London, that city has been left without a morning paper.

Not to worry though, as The Birmingham Post has taken on the job of promoting that city by mentioning it at every opportunity, in any and every kind of article, always in comparison with this city in terms of culture, art, music, nightlife, economy, profile, ranking (of any type), education, sport, transport, welfare, architecture, politics, super-casinos etc, etc, to what seems to me to be an almost obsessive level.

Any chance of giving it a rest and letting Birmingham stand on its own merits rather than keep comparing it with that one particular place?

After all, we've got a morning paper and they haven't.

I think.

 PHIL KNIGHT, Edgbaston

Going back on an EU Treaty pledge
Dear Editor, Why are the Liberal Democrats planning to break their word over the EU Reform Treaty?

In 2003 Sir Menzies Campbell explained their position: "If any Government propose to agree to a major shift in control or any transfer of significant powers from member states to European institutions, or to agree to any alteration in the existing balance between member states and those institutions, there should be a referendum of the British people."

The proposals in the EU Reform Treaty fulfil those criteria. The Liberal Democrats said as much, when essentially the same proposals - with essentially the same British opt-outs -were embodied in the previous Constitutional Treaty, and they pledged support for a referendum in their 2005 manifesto.

However it is one thing to pose as democrats and score political points by demanding a referendum when there is little prospect of getting one, but a very different thing to vote for a Commons amendment calling for a referendum when there would be a good chance of forcing the Government to hold one - which might then produce the "wrong" result.

Unfortunately it appears that the Liberal Democrats have their priorities in the wrong order, putting devotion to democracy far below their commitment to the EU project.
 MURIEL PARSONS, By email