Submission from Coventry Older Voices to the Select Committee on Public Transport Issues, 15th February 2017

Coventry Older Voices (COV) is an independent organization that aims to improve the lives of older people in the City by presenting their opinions and enabling them to participate in local affairs. In recent meetings held to identify the issues of most importance to older people, public transport was consistenly at, or near the top, of the list. We think we are well-positioned to contribute to this discussion and greatly appreciate the opportunity to put forward the views of our members.

This submission is concerned with issues covered in Session 2 (“How can we improve the bus service in the city?”) on the agenda for the Select Committee Meeting. Inevitably this document will focus on areas where shortcomings have been identified and where we believe improvements can be made. It does not follow that COV’s attitude towards public transport provision in the City is totally negative, or that older people in Coventry do not appreciate the benefits of public transport. It is worth pointing out that free bus travel within the City (and train travel within the West Midlands) can transform the lives of a great many older people who would otherwise be unable to get out and about. Long may it continue.

We will concentrate on the two issues which our members mention most often:

1. Waiting for buses.

The least pleasant part of a journey can take place before getting on the bus, particularly if:

The bus is late, missing, or early.

We appreciate that the late running of buses may be caused by factors beyond the control of bus companies, such as heavy traffic, accidents, etc. We simply point out that this is a cause of considerable dissatisfaction among older people.

Passengers are usually unaware of the reason for a missing bus. Some have complained that at times the same bus seems to be missing every day for a whole week. This leads them to believe that a driver is absent, and that no replacement has been organized. If the service is an infrequent one, a missing bus can cause extreme inconvenience, not to say discomfort, to older people. It is a common view that not enough is done to tackle this problem.

We can think of no valid reason for buses to depart from their stops before the advertised time. It is highly frustrating to approach a bus stop just before the scheduled departure time, only to see the bus pulling away. This does happen!

There is no bus shelter, or the shelter is not fit for purpose.

Waiting for a bus in the rain is a thoroughly unpleasant experience. If there is no bus shelter, or only one that provides insufficient protection from the elements, one can get very wet very quickly. This is especially undesirable for those older people who are frail or in poor health.

There are many stops in the City with no shelter, and many that provide very little cover. Decisions on which stops to provide with shelters sometimes seems bizarre (as reported in COV’s bi-monthly Newsletter and website).

The perfect storm occurs when you are waiting in the rain to travel by bus with little or no shelter, the bus you expected to catch leaves early, and the next is missing.

2. Communication

There are issues concerning the lack of communication in both directions – from the transport providers to the travelling public in the form of day-to-day information, and from the public to the transport providers in the form of feedback and consultation.

Current information

There was considerable disruption to bus services last year because of road works. Our members have complained that they were not notified about the changes to routes etc. in advance, and that they caused a great deal of inconvenience. We are aware of the efforts that were made to inform the public of the changes - nevertheless many older people remained unaware of them. It is suggested that in the future, use could be made of leaflets delivered to all Coventry residents, and that notices could be posted inside buses and at bus stops to better inform the public.

The lack of approachable staff within Pool Meadow bus station is reported to be a problem. We understand that there are always two staff on duty throughout the day, but we are told by our members that they have difficulty in locating or identifying them. They do not appear to have an office that is available to the public, or to wear a recognizable uniform.

The pages of the Network West Midlands website relating to bus travel are comprehensive and easy to use. Nevertheless, fewer than 50% of COV members (and presumably of older people in general) have access to the Internet, and there is no office in the City where they can go to seek information and advice. We have been told that phone calls to the Birmingham office are answered by people with little or no knowledge of Coventry.

Feedback and consultation

Passenger Area Engagement Groups have been discontinued, and there are no “Your Public Transport Matters” or “Exhibition Bus” events advertised on the Network West Midlands website. Older people feel they are not able to be involved in questions that affect them regarding bus services.

The Select Committee on Public Transport to which this document is addressed gives COV an opportunity to raise issues of concern, but this is a one-off event. We are told that our members do not know who to approach, and how to influence decisions such as those regarding changes to bus routes and the positioning of bus stops, etc.