Last Wednesday’s Transport Users’ Sub-Committee meeting was faced with a scheduling problem. The representatives of TfL Buses, Network Rail and the police South East Traffic Unit all failed to turn up and Southeastern Trains had sent a substitute.
The first Agenda item was a presentation by pupils and staff of Beths Grammar School in Bexley. An idiotically narrow pavement at their nearest bus stop, no pedestrian crossing and school buses which arrive full because they start their journey in Wilmington, combine to give them a serious road safety problem.
This they have tackled themselves and their ideas were presented to the Committee via a slide show. As no paper copies were provided it is not practical to go into a lot of detail here but Councillors said they were impressed and offered help in getting the scheme more widely adopted.
After 30 minutes the Committee moved on to School Crossing Patrols. This subject was also given the slide show treatment and the gist of it was that there are fewer school crossing patrols now than ten years ago - some have been replaced by permanent crossings - and vacancies are sometimes prolonged because criminal records checks can take six months or more to complete. There is no budget available for any increase in the current level of patrols.
It is perhaps worth repeating that it is a legal requirement that drivers obey the instructions given by school crossing patrols.
After another 30 minutes (eight thirty on the clock) the Chairman, Councillor Val Clark said she was going to invite the substitute Southeastern man to present his report (Agenda item 9) because “he has to get away by nine”. The police (Agenda Item 8) objected because they said they had to get away by nine too, so the Agenda sequence was allowed to progress unaltered.
Usually a couple of officers from Bexley police deliver a report on behalf of their Safer Transport Team. This time they came from Greenwich because the two boroughs have combined Transport Safety forces with most of their staff based in Warspite Road, SE18. They argued that this improved the situation in Bexley because a larger number of officers was available should any trouble arise.
The school pupil problem in Broadway persists and barriers are being considered to regulate bus queuing and local police officers also patrol there because of the “issues”.
There was also a continuing problem with cyclists messing around in front of buses, wheelies and the like. A lot of CCTV recordings had to be trawled through to obtain clues about the perpetrators but generally only their backs were seen.
A spate of bus vandalism in Bexley last November came to an end when a window smasher was arrested.
A mobile phone action week had netted 6,045 traffic offenders of which 4,878 involved mobile phones. The old fixed penalty system has been abandoned in favour of reporting to the Criminal Justice Unit which will decide on prosecution or a training course.
The police officer twice said that the number of racial incidents had increased since last June which contradicts what the now departed Bexley Borough commander reported to the People Scrutiny Committee. Some incidents had been reported in Broadway but maybe there had been a big increase in Greenwich that caused a perceived spike. The incidents were of a minor verbal nature and not violent and over a whole month could still be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The Southeastern man didn’t get a look in until ten to nine. His brief report Included the facts that the lack of Boxing Day trains had been widely criticised, that their December performance (84·6% on time against a target of 85%) was better than November's. Recruitment of another 100 train drivers should further improve performance. On board wi-fi will make an appearance this year and completed during 2018 and will help better inform passengers.
Transport meetings tend to be dominated by Councillors Stefano Borella and John Davey who seem to be the only ones there with more than a superficial understanding of the subject, Councillor Davey had noticed that trains had not been stopping at every station on the Bexleyheath line. It is an unpopular practice but makes it look as though trains are running on time. He said it was “a fiddle”.
The SER man admitted that their Autumn timetable extended running times but that contrary to popular opinion the practice of skipping stations to make up time did not benefit their statistics because it was recorded as a cancellation. He also maintained that without 'skip stop', delays would accumulate to unacceptable levels by the time of the evening rush hour resulting in chaos.
Every train user must have noticed that there is an infuriating two to five seconds delay between a train coming to a standstill and the door opening buttons becoming active. Councillor Stefano Borella certainly had and asked what it was all about. The Southeastern rep. didn’t know anything about it. It was all news to him. Councillor Borella said he had encountered cases of ‘skip stop’ resulting in trains not terminating at the advertised station. Mr. SER accepted that that could happen.
Councillor Borella also referred to the two parallel and adjacent footbridges at Belvedere station where it had been reported that one was in a bad state of repair and the other wasn’t. However the SER man had been to have a look with Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour. Belvedere) and was able to tell Stefano that it was Bexley Council’s bridge that needed resurfacing while Network Rail’s was not perfect but acceptable.
With no one from TfL present we learned even less about buses. The proposals for rearranging routes in the North to accommodate Crossrail should become public quite soon and the Council's contribution to the cost of the Freedom Passes will reduce in the coming year. Usage has declined by 2·3% in the past twelve months. I think I can claim some of the credit for that.
I used to pride myself on going everywhere within the borough by bus but it takes up far too much time. For example, fewer than 15 minutes to Bexley by car and around an hour by bus. I simply cannot afford to waste 90 minutes on such a trip. The new hop on, hop off within an hour fare has also had an impact on the Freedom Pass cost reduction.
Another snippet of information was that the bus arrival indicators in Broadway are to be reintroduced imminently. Why were they ever removed?
On road safety it was reported that the percentage increases in accidents was steep but this was from extremely low figures, such as zero fatalities up to one. In two recent road accidents the fatalities were the result of the driver dying from natural causes.
The new London Mayor had not made clear his views on cycling in the borough so the plan to tarmac the gravel sections of the Thames path had not progressed.
Councillor Borella said the plan to install many bicycle stands around the borough appeared to have stalled. A Council officer agreed that it had due to personnel changes in the office but the programme is underway again.
The Traffic Engineering Manager tried to justify the madness about to be inflicted on Albion Road and admitted that his wonderful bit of road design at St. Augustine’s Road in Belvedere had resulted in a pedestrian refuge being hit and a child being injured in separate incidents. Well done that man!
There had been many complaints about the traffic delays which occurred daily following the works carried out in North End Road. It was hoped they would reduce when the traffic lights from Thames Road to the Fish Roundabout were coordinated via a planned interconnection cable.
Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer made an interesting remark. He said he was looking for more sites where drivers might be offending against the rules of the road. Not that he is “looking for more junctions where safety might be improved” but places where there are “large numbers of failures to observe road signs”. It was pretty close to saying he was looking for junctions that would generate the most revenue.
Note: The next camera site was mentioned but I didn’t hear it at the time, neither did my recorder pick it up, but I think it was an allegedly unobserved No entry sign.