I met today with two officers from Centro at their offices in Birmingham. They are responsible for delivering public transport in the West Midlands. The purpose of the visit was to examine a few issues about bus services in Blythe ward, especially services in and around Tidbury Green, Dickens Heath and Cheswick Green. The issues mainly relate to reliability with services provided by Diamond, who operate most services in our area.
From the outset it became apparent Centro officers are ‘on the case’ because of complaints registered. I was informed Diamond became the operator for the area in April last year and because of their relocation of bases for their buses and staff (to Redditch) reliability issues were flagged from October. It appears about 95% of complaints received by Centro about these services were related to reliability. Centro expect 95% of all journeys to be within the range of 1 minute early and 10 minutes late. It was clear that Diamond were falling short.
Centro officers have been meeting with Diamond management since last October and now have weekly meetings to monitor their performance. Centro have a dedicated task force established with the sole purpose of monitoring Diamond services in Solihull with the purpose to help them meet service level expectations. This includes the despatching of survey teams to measure, monitor and inspect services and although Centro have seen a gradual improvement in service delivery there is still more work to be done for the provider to meet Centro standards.
Diamond is the second biggest bus service provider in the region and the expectation is that service provision will meet the required standards. Centro do have powers at their disposal but they believe the best course of action is to make sure that Diamond does meet their standards in providing better services to the public.
Railway Station Terminus – Service No. 5:
A few residents have specifically mentioned the number 5 service and that it does not use the terminus near to Solihull Railway Station. This does not help with connectivity to other services and travellers getting off at the railway station find they have to walk to the main stops in and near to Station Road, sometimes walking past the stationary number 5 bus that is parked by the railway station when the driver is resting.
The number 5 service is provided by National Express, which is a commercial service. Centro can not order the service provider to use the terminus at the railway station are they are not registered to allow the picking up of passengers at that location. It appears Centro would like the provider to use the bus stops near to the station but are not in a position at present to take any action. They do cite the numbers of passengers on buses in Solihull, with 120 buses coming into and out of Solihull town centre every day, with some 20,000 passenger journeys. The issue is one that is being looked at however.
What Centro staff suggests is that travellers can hop onto the number 6 or 37 service and travel the short distance to Station Road where they can connect with the number 5 service.
Centro uses RTI (Real Time Tracking) and this works extremely well. One resident has complained that the system used in Solihull is inferior to that used elsewhere. This is not exactly correct because the system used to track and monitor buses is similar throughout the West Midlands. Where there is some difference is at some locations in the City Centre in Birmingham, and soon also in Coventry City centre. There, Totems are present in some locations and these display a far more information about the service buses and times expected etc. These are very expensive, costing £11,500 for each totem.
At Solihull Gateway there are two stand alone units (near to John Lewis and the Travel shop). These display a lot of information but are clearly not the same as in some parts of Birmingham City Centre. The difference in effectiveness is minimal.
There are plenty of Apps available for getting live information about train and bus services. I do not have much experience in using these Apps and obviously some will be better than others. If you do use any and find them useful, or not, please feel free to feed that back to me to pass on.
As always, please feel free to comment accordingly about this post. The byword seems to be Centro are on the case but they do request that complaints should be made to them and that as much detail as possible should be given; times and locations, service numbers and any other information you can provide. They do act on our complaints with the aim of making service providers accountable to the public and ensuring as good a quality of service is provided.
Centro can be contacted via their website: https://www.centro.org.uk/contact-us/contact-form/