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Posts Tagged ‘city

Bankrupting Bristol

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According to Bristol Labour party activist Amanda Ramsay

Bus route availability and costs in cities like Bristol and Glasgow could be overseen and controlled by the local authority and elected representatives, in a similar way Transport for London runs the capital’s bus system, where residents are well served across the whole city and pay just £1.35 a journey using Oyster, a pre-charged electronic swipe card. Prices are also capped.

That’s correct. The problem is that there is a strong possibility that increased local authority involvement, in the form of an integrated transport authority (ITA), would not transform public transport quality, or increase usage.

For example, Centro, the West Midlands county ITA, has existed under various names, for more than forty years. Yet people are still having to carry pushchairs up flights of steps at railway stations, and pay £1.70 to travel half a mile on a bus. Bus patronage has been declining for years. the multi-million pound real time information system does not work properly, and the bus fleet is largely responsible for the poor air quality on Birmingham streets.

Stechford station remains inaccessible to persons with reduced mobility, forty years after Centro was established

In Bristol, it is often cheaper to get a taxi than to hop on a bus, for a family or group of friends. This is crazy, especially, for a city with bad air quality from high car usage with higher than average asthma rates, stemming from its basin-like geographical location. This is an environmental issue as well as a social policy imperative.

Why is it crazy that a ‘taxi’ should be cheaper than a bus, to transport a group of people? Even commercial bus services get subsidies through Bus Service Operators Grant and concessionary fares, yet they may still work out more expensive than minicabs (which get no subsidies). And if the minicab has a petrol engine, it’s probably less environmentally impactful, than the bus.

Labour’s transport lead for Bristol city council, explains more about the challenges on the ground: “Labour achieved much in the Blair/Brown governments but needed to show more vigour in challenging officials and the traditional ways of evaluating proposals,” Cllr Mark Bradshaw says.

“But outright bus re-regulation would bankrupt Bristol at a time of £75 million cuts across council budget. That’s just a non-starter. Cuts are impacting on frontline services, tough choices are being made but the council needs to target limited resources wisely. But bus services must be reliable, affordable and connected.”

‘Achieved much?’ No bus network was re-regulated between 1997 and 2010. And as the House of Commons Library bus franchising note (19 April 2012) explained, “The Labour Government legislated to give local authorities franchising-like powers to implement what are known as Quality Contract Schemes. No local authority has ever used these powers, or even got to the point of making a formal application to the Secretary of State to use them, though there are constantly stories in the press that one or more area is about to do so.”

Written by beleben

June 21, 2012 at 10:47 am

Brummy Delight

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Birmingham Global City Local HeartOn BBC television yesterday (2011-05-16) there was another Business Nightmares programme about marketing failures. I suppose the Hoover free flights debacle is now long enough ago, for some people (business undergraduates?) not to know about it. A bit like when the intro to “Just Like Starting Over” was played on University Challenge, and neither team had any idea what it was.

Even though Business Nightmares wasn’t much more than an excuse to air some old tapes, it did – at least in the section about Sunny Delight – serve as a reminder of the limits of branding. After the British public woke up to the realities of the delightful drink, sales went into a freefall that no amount of rebranding could reverse.

About the time Sunny Delight was growing its market share, more of Britain’s local authorities were becoming interested in marketing. In the 1980s, Glasgow’s Miles Better was one of the first attempts to rebrand a British city. But no matter how many times this null comparison was printed on public relations brochures, it made no difference to daily life.

In 2005 Centro, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, commenced rebranding of public transport using the ‘Network West Midlands’ moniker on vehicles, bus stops, stations, printed material, advertising, and internet. Unsurprisingly, the rebrand failed to have any effect on usage of bus, rail and tram services. The idea of fostering the belief that there was a public transport ‘network’ – rather than a number of customer-averse companies, in competition with each other – was bound to fail.

Under council leader Mike Whitby, the phrase ‘Global City, Local Heart‘ has been added to Birmingham council’s website, amongst other things. The city wants to market itself as an international business city. But the buzzphrase had not stopped the implosion of the city’s private sector, which has seen Metro-Cammell, Serck, Denso (Lucas), Rover (Austin), and the Sherpa van factory (Leyland Daf) all passing into history, oblivious to sloganeering.

Hype is no substitute for substance. Any attempt at (re-)branding a city is destined to fail, unless there is some underlying truth on which to build. In Birmingham, the back story is years of industrial decline, bad air quality, poor transport, overcrowding, antisocial behaviour, lamentable architecture, and dysfunctional transparency. So I don’t think Sion Simon‘s talking up the importance of branding offers a way forward. There has to be a semblance of progress on real issues, before calling in the yah men.

Written by beleben

May 17, 2011 at 10:48 pm