Transport Users’ Committee meeting is nearly always interesting to me dealing
as it does with our roads, buses and trains, one of which is bound to interest
a BiB reader too. None of the Councillors on the Committee attend in order to score
political points as happens at some meetings and the Chairman doesn’t need to do a lot.
As a bonus everything is well organised by Council officer Mike Summerskill who always makes sure the public
are well looked after, even though there was only three of us and one may have
been a Tory election candidate.
Police from the South East Traffic Unit and the Bexley and Greenwich Safer Transport Team police are supposed to attend but last night both were caught up elsewhere. We learned from their brief written report that there were two fatalities on the roads of Crayford within the past three months although the most recent death, just a week ago, may prove to be from natural causes. We also learned that bus crime is down; 22% fewer incidents last year than in 2016.
Mr. Smith from Bexley Council reported on rail issues. On Crossrail he said nothing that would not be well known to Bonkers’ readers.
A new South Eastern franchise will become operational in April 2019 and is to run for eight years. The successful company must provide space for an additional 40,000 passengers, provide on-board wi-fi and improve customer service.
To provide the extra capacity the Bexleyheath line will lose its Victoria service and the Sidcup line will only serve Cannon Street in peak hours. The North Kent trains routing via Lewisham will no longer terminate at Charing Cross. After years of disruption for engineering work it is nothing but bad news for Bexley unless you need to go north of London via Thameslink. Such a service will run via Abbey Wood from next May.
Chairman Val Clark said there would no longer be a service to Denmark Hill for King’s Hospital and changing platforms at Lewisham was impossible for the disabled. The Network Rail representative had no answer.
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Crayford) made it very clear that he objected to the planned seat reductions which will lead to 40 minutes of standing on a crowded train.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) was not happy about the arrangements proposed under the new franchise, specifically the issues arising from the loss of Victoria services and the inadequacies of Lewisham station. The Chairman had already made the same points but Stefano went further with comments about the loss of the loop services via Sidcup, Crayford, Erith and Abbey Wood which he described as “bizarre” bearing in mind the coming of Crossrail.
The track diagrams at Abbey Wood station suggest that the service withdrawal has already been anticipated.
Councillor Borella said that January had seen an abnormal number of signalling problems around London Bridge. The Network Rail man agreed there had been teething problems and they were working hard to fix them. There were no plans to improve Lewisham station in the immediate future.
Councillor Nigel Betts (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) wondered “where railway people get their ideas from”. His residents had made work/life decisions based on the local rail services and “sudden withdrawal for the convenience of transport engineers makes life considerably more difficult. People seem to think that Crossrail will be the great panacea but I just don’t think it will be. It will just mop up the growth in the north”.
Councillor Betts is absolutely right. Maybe if you are heading to Heathrow with a huge amount of luggage the Bexley and change at Abbey Wood route might be worthwhile but apart from that, forget it.
For reasons that no Councillor believed made sense, Network Rail is going to improve disabled access at Bexley station before Erith which has none, London bound.
Cabinet Member for Transport Alex Sawyer summed up rail issues. Despite what the franchise document specifies he is going to send a “very strongly worded letter” to the Secretary of State. His proposals for Victoria are “unacceptable and are particularly disappointing after he came to Bexley and had the problems explained to him”.
Moving to Network Rail Councillor Sawyer said it was “disgraceful” that disabled access to Bexley station was prioritised over Erith. “It is appalling to treat impaired people as second class citizens.”
He didn’t think it mattered who won the new South Eastern franchise the same old problems would continue.
Buses were the next subject for discussion despite no TfL representative being present.
If I may digress for a moment, who willingly uses buses any more? Up to a couple of years ago I would always use a bus but now it is the car and damn the expense. Early this afternoon I was caught at the end of Yarnton Way (Thamesmead) when the heavens opened. I sheltered at a bus stop from which I might expect ten buses an hour to take me home. I wasn’t wearing a wrist watch but the fact that four 180s went by (12 minute interval) in the time I was there, the date stamp on the last photo taken and the clock on the bus suggests I waited a minimum of 32 minutes for a 469 to show up and not a single 229 in sight.
I hope not to be on a bus again any time soon.
By the way, it was said at the meeting that the annoying ‘about to leave’ announcements are on a time delay from when the bus arrives at the stop so rarely go off at the right moment. Obviously they should be linked to the doors shutting. I knew this anyway because of my family links with a vehicle safety expert but it was the first time I had heard the news put into the public domain.
No one knew if the (loudly trumpeted by Bexley Conservatives) new 96 service to Darenth Hospital was being well used.
The 301 ‘Crossrail Express’ is due to commence service on 8th December. If Bexleyheath to Abbey Wood for Crossrail becomes a popular route - which I doubt - a tiny single decker every 15 minutes will be inadequate.
There were complaints that early morning buses from Erith towards Bexleyheath were grossly overcrowded and six or more would go by before one with spare capacity arrived.
The Chairman doubted that anything could be done about it but would pass the comments on to TfL.
Note: The man in uniform is a fireman, sorry, fire fighter.