Extract from Speech Social exclusion
The following are extracts from a speech given by Phil Bateman, Corporate Affairs Director of Travel West Midlands, a division of the National Express Group, at the Labour Party Conference 2002 fringe event in conjunction with Transport 2000 and Merseytravel on social exclusion. Phil Bateman is also a Wolverhampton City Councillor.
Social Exclusion is very much an issue as we have heard from our speakers to-night; it is an issue that National Express Group is very much aware of and has aimed to tackle in a variety of ways. Social Exclusion is not all about transport operators though.
It is a very important policy issue that should manifest itself in a variety of ways across Central Government and Local Government working.
Often Social Exclusion is exacerbated by the lack of real thought of objective in the early planning stages.
What do I mean by that?
Well the placing of schools in hard to reach envelopes of land served by cul de sacs. Forcing parents to take their children to school by car when schools are placed in out of Town sites.
The Sheltered Housing complex again on the cheapest bit of land away from the nearest bus route again at the end of a cul de sac, or even worse the peripheral site that is bereft of any other local service.
The medical authorities that think of public transport access last when designing new medical facilities. So we find swish medical facilities, but no way of accessing them easily by bus.
What I am trying to say is that Social Exclusion needs to be tackled by a whole range of bodies which includes central and local Government, the Office of Fair Trading, Traffic Commissioners and of course public transport operators.
Social Exclusion is not an easy issue to tackle, it is not uniform and it just doesn't hang out in easily defined geographic cores.
The industrial/ business site placed on one of the newest spine roads in the West Midlands County provided by Central Government money and provided for by those engines of growth the Development Corporation.
Yes, I know that this road was declared an award winner in that it provided access that opened up derelict land for development. But provided no access at all for the public transport user.
It provided no access at all for buses and yes all those factory units, have all been let… …….yes you have got it…..Many of them are at the end of cul de sacs!!!.
Exasperation doesn't end there. On the Spine Road itself. No bus lay-by's, no bus stopping points, and plenty of social exclusion because if you do not have a car you have to walk along a road that was designed for cars and nothing else but cars.
The Spine Road doesn't even have a pedestrian footpath!
Therefore no car; no job. In this case the Borough is Sandwell and Sandwell has more than its fair share of unemployment and people who suffer badly from Social Exclusion. National Express Group is an operator of network services. We believe strongly in this approach.We operate Bus services in the West Midlands seven days a week, 18 hours a day. We carry a million passengers every day. We travel 65 times around the World in a week.
Our first bus operates at just after 4.00am with the last bus out on the road some 18 hours later. In Birmingham, there are some ten corridors where buses run every three minutes or more. Five of these routes have a bus services every two minutes. We already carry many people that would be described as socially excluded including some 210 million female passengers and 30 million children aged between five to 16 years. Six million children aged under five years. Also in excess of 50m passengers on OAP concessions.
National Express Group welcomes the very challenging target that the Government has set Bus Companies of increasing bus passengers by 10%. We agree that there is a need to improve the image of the bus.That is why we have embarked upon a major investment programme that has seen National Express Group investing more than a £100m over the last few years in new low floor easy access buses.
We have recently had our 1,000 low floor easy access bus delivered to us. We have more than 60 % of our fleet now low floor.
We have a strong ethos within the company, which has led to 57% of our bus drivers register for NVQ with nearly 37% having full accreditation. We want to provide better quality services for everyone including persons with disabilities.
The NVQ figures ranks very well against the national average of 31%.
As a Group we recognise that there needs to be stability in bus service provision that is why we are currently considering measures that will limit the number of changes that we will make in the tweaking of local bus services.
Recent Government figures place West Midlands bus fares as amongst the lowest in the country. This obviously helps mobility and there is a wide range of travel cards that allow travel to take place across the whole of the county.
We believe very much in the "Quality Partnership" approach to growing the bus market and providing quality bus services. Our partnership approach to Showcase routes has provided good and better services for the conurbation. We have also launched a Mini-Link network in West Bromwich which has hit its targets. We have seen a small but welcome growth in riders for this network of bus services.
We also recognise that the fear of crime on public transport is also a contributor to people not travelling even when they do have a bus or train to call upon. We have not taken this issue lightly. We initiated an award winning partnership with West Midlands Police now titled Operation Safer Travel.
It has been highly successful in tackling petty crime, bad behaviour, and violence aimed at staff, all of these issues which impact upon the decisions of passengers to take public transport.
Yes we do know that passengers like to see police officers travelling on the bus.We have encouraged this by a policy that we have had for a number of years whereby officers on the production of a warrant card can travel free on our services. We know that we are having an impact on crime as we have seen a 26% reduction on driver assaults in the first eight months of this year against the same period of last year.
We have had a 32% increase in joint police operations and a 17 % increase in on-bus arrests this year.
Passenger research informs us that Operation Safer Travel is very popular with public transport users.
We have therefore expanded Operation Safer Travel to our subsidiary, Travel Dundee, and we have welcomed the joint working we are just starting to have with Tayside Police.
As a Group this co-operation extends to work with British Transport Police, National Express is very serious in its aim of making public transport crime free.
New and innovative schemes that provide better information, ticketing and fare arrangements to pockets of socially excluded people is required. Some of this innovation can be provided in partnership with Local Authorities and other operators.
But we do need a more enlightened view to emanate from the Office of Fair Trading for this action to take place.
To be fair that change of attitude may now be taking place. But we should not underestimate the damage that has been caused by the attitude and policy that the OFT had been previously pressing in creating a fear of 'partnership working ' between Local Authorities and other operators in trying to provide better and more efficient fares and services for passengers.
At National Express Group we are keen to improve all aspects of public transport. We believe that we are good at providing quality services. But we want to be better. We are not a Group that will sit back and admire what we have achieved.
We want to do much more than that!
We believe in partnership working with both Local Government and Central Government. We want to continue that approach and we shall play more than a small part in cracking the problems of Social Exclusion.
Author: Phil Bateman
Article Date: 27th October 2002