A modern public transport system
Dear Editor, When the present Government came to power in 1997, Birmingham was, in public transport terms, the sick man of Europe. The new Government, swept to power on a wave of unprecedented popularity, promised to reverse the cycle of under-investment and decline.
Already decades behind its rivals and competitors, the city submitted, during the ensuing 10 years, countless well-researched and carefully-costed proposals to improve public transport in the region. Among the most critical and urgent was the extension of the region's one small light rail line to include central Birmingham.
The Government's response has been to devise complex and obstructive policies designed to enable it to reject light rail schemes on the basis of spurious cost-benefit analyses which are heavily and artificially biased against them. In this latest of a long series of rejections it states: "Centro must develop a coherent and realistic strategy that is grounded in strong evidence, represents value for money and identifies solutions which bring long term benefits."
It is difficult to conceive of anything which more perfectly answers the criteria being questioned here than the extension of a modern rapid transit line through the centre of the largest city in Europe still to be without one.
The Government knows that this short extension cannot be built without its support. It also knows that it would be unrealistic and foolhardy to expose the region to the consequences of congestion charging without major improvements to public transport. By insisting that there will be no funding without congestion charging, the Government has neatly avoided taking responsibility for unpopular decisions: if congestion charging is introduced, the local council will be to blame; if the light rail extension is again refused, it will be because the local council has failed to fulfil the necessary conditions for funding to be released. The Government cannot lose - Birmingham cannot win.
It is difficult to see how any Government could possibly behave more irresponsibly.
Birmingham is now the only major European city attempting to compete in the post-industrial world without the benefit of a modern public transport system. I challenge any member of this Government to defend policies designed to ensure that it remains so.
A MILLINGER, By email
About choice and quality
Dear Editor, The current debate and comments by Barry Sheerman, chair of the Schools Select Committee, regarding the provision of faith schools, as highlighted in The Post (Jan 2), has the potential to increase tensions between faith communities within Birmingham, rather than act as a calming influence which is desperately needed.
The debate should concentrate on the quality of education rather than the issue of faith. It is of the utmost importance to parents that their children receive the best standard of education possible. It is equally important that schools offer the national curriculum and comply with nationally agreed standards.
Mr Sheerman implies that Muslim schools do not offer an "open" curriculum and are insular in their attitudes. He also implies that in faith schools women are not receiving the education they deserve.
The faith schools in Birmingham offer a comprehensive education for all, as demonstrated by the exam results which pupils have achieved.
I am in favour of opening more faith schools in the city where parents can demonstrate that there is a need.
The debate needs to be about choice and quality rather than about concerns over the perceived "failings" of faith schools which can not be substantiated.
Coun TANVEER CHOUDHRY, Liberal Democrat Springfield
Dire need for trams in the city
Dear Editor, I read with interest the recent letter from Alan Woodfield about the Metro extension.
The dire need for trams in the city centre is evident, so why does the city leave this key subject to be merely an extension to the appalling waste which is the Midland Metro line to Wolverhampton?
The route from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton used to be for mainline rail services and would serve Birmingham better by running full train services again. Using this asset for only trams is a waste of valuable resources.
Rather than compounding the problem by extending the Metro, the city should have its own complementary tram services.
Politicians in the city do us a dis-service by not progressing this independently of the Midland Metro.
ALAN JONES, By email
A fine way to raise more taxes
Dear Editor, Despite my voracious appetite for Post coverage on rail chaos across our region, I wonder, am I missing something?
You report that the Office of Rail Regulations is to fine Network Rail for engaging too few engineers; poorly managing them and forcing yet more delays to passengers and disruption to businesses.
Isn't Network Rail a wholly state funded outfit paying passenger money to ORR, another branch of the state?
As would-be travellers fork out for this chaos, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be rubbing his hands with glee at these 'penalty' windfalls.
STEVE KIRKHAM, Kings Heath
Tougher road penalties
Dear Editor, If a requirement of Gordon Brown's plans to reform the NHS is that everybody has to do their bit to improve their health and ultimately the nation's health, then that surely means the reform of road traffic laws also.
It means much tougher penalties for law-breaking drivers who not only cause death, injury and a whole lot of upset for all concerned, but upset the balance of the transport system and the environment too.
With tens of thousands of road casualties every year, and the health and well being of those who love them, and have to deal with them and support them, being adversely affected as well
it has to be treated as a major health problem that needs special attention.
And if the so-called healthy activity of cycling is to be taken up to improve health, and indeed improve the environment and reduce congestion, shouldn't cyclists as much as anyone deserve a better deal - more respect and protection? And what about some financial incentive similar to that attached to low emission cars? Cyclists who raise money for the likes of cancer and heart disease surely earn it.
ALLAN RAMSAY, Radcliffe
We just need a proper service
Dear Editor, Another new year... and another new year rail nightmare.
It's no wonder we can't get a decent train service, when operators and infrastructure suppliers are constantly at each other's throats - even taking out newspaper advertising to make cheap shots at the other side.
When will they understand, we don't care who's in the right or wrong, we just want a service that runs when it says it will.
JON GADD, By email
Sustained effort on the buses
Dear Editor, I would like to add a few comments to the recent piece by Paul Dale to properly reflect the progress that is being made by Centro-WMPTA and partners to improve bus services.
The Audit Commissions Annual Audit letter covered the financial year 2006/07, so concentrates on that period rather than looking at what we have recently achieved and have planned. However, we were pleased that it recognised the more constructive approach already being pursued by partners.
We also recognise that there is no 'magic bullet', but do believe that a sustained joint effort to improve bus services by Centro-WMPTA, West Midlands councils and operators will lead to more people using buses, and we have made good progress to date.
In August 2007 we signed a voluntary partnership agreement with National Express Group, the parent company of Travel West Midlands, which launched a programme of six route upgrades, including new and refurbished vehicles, increases in frequency, customer care trained drivers, more real time information, refurbished shelters and better passenger information and promotion. In addition, we have jointly created a passenger charter on the six routes. Three have already been launched - the 1, 377 and 451. The 934, 993 and 997 routes will be launched later this month.
We will be monitoring these services, to see if they can deliver a target 10 per cent increase in use.
In December 2007 we launched our 'Transforming Bus Travel' consultative document which contains proposals for improving bus services across the conurbation. We want to see the introduction of a more modern bus network, connecting people to the places they want to go, with high customer care standards throughout.
Our proposals build on the greatly improved information we have delivered through our Network West Midlands initiative - which has already turned around and made significant improvements to passenger satisfaction ratings by the Department for Transport. This has included providing bus information at all stops for the first time ever. They also build on the work we have done with councils and operators on 'Bus Showcase' routes, where there have been increases in passenger use of up to 12 per cent where improvements have been introduced.
Our priority is the passenger, and we are consulting widely with the Department for Transport, councils, operators and passenger representatives on how we move Transforming Bus Travel forward to meet people's needs.
Improving bus services will take a sustained effort by all partners, and it will take time to achieve, but we have made a good start. Bus services have a key role to play in the future of the West Midlands.
STEPHEN RHODES, Bus and Highways Director