Calls for urgent bus improvements in Birkenhead after elderly ladies 'walk home from hospital in the dark'

Wirral Globe - 09 Nov 2018
Frank Field MP has written to Merseytravel after feedback from residents in the Wirral town found people struggle to get to work, health appointments, shops and the town centre.

Now he wants the combined authority to step in and address the issues as a “matter of urgency” by introducing services through the night and at weekends rather than buses “grinding to a halt in all too many parts of the town”.

In a stern letter to Liverpool City Region transport chief Cllr Liam Robinson, Mr Field said: “The existing services leave all too many people struggling. [There is], in my view, a clear need for the combined authority to regulate the routing and timetabling of key services upon which so many people, particularly the poorest with no alternative means of transport, rely to lead their lives.”

In his letter, he listed six key elements arising from his research, and what he wanted to see done about it.

1. Staff at Arrowe Park Hospital find it “almost impossible” to get to and from work if they live in certain parts of Birkenhead. Mr Field said these problems are even worse at evenings and weekends – and shared by patients and visitors who have “no option” but to travel to hospital during these times.

2. Following “various services” having been cancelled in recent years, there is now less access to places like “key leisure and work destinations” like New Brighton, West Kirby and Woodside, meaning it puts people off travelling there.

3. Birkenhead residents who work in Liverpool also encounter difficulties, as well as additional costs. They told Mr Field they wanted improved bus services during that time to avoid the need to use the trains. He said he also wanted better links to Deeside Industrial Park ahead of new train services being introduced in three years’ time.

4. Routes with larger numbers of elderly passengers need to have services with more frequent stops – particularly around the Mount Estate, Tranmere and Rock Ferry, while main roads with fewer stops between Birkenhead, Leasowe and Moreton need more direct services.

5. Bus users said they wanted return tickets made transferable between different providers serving the same locations, and for routes to be timetabled to prevent buses turning up and departing “very early, very late, not at all, or in twos and threes”.

6. Residents on the Beechwood and Noctorum estates who rely heavily on buses are worried about the availability of evening and weekend services. One resident told Mr Field the routes have been “systematically decimated”, with some parts becoming deserted as a result. He was also told a resident must walk 20-30 minutes just to get to a bus stop.

That’s limiting people’s abilities to get to and from work or visit relatives who are ill, without forking out large sums for taxis. His letter added: “Noctorum residents who are reliant on buses cannot, for example, make it to the evening visiting times at Arrowe Park. In extreme cases, according to another resident, people are being ‘left stranded. It’s an absolute disgrace that middle aged and elderly women are walking home in the dark on cold winter nights’.”

His letter concluded: “Might I therefore ask please whether the combined authority would be in a position to address these issues as a matter of urgency, using the powers it has been given by the Bus Services Act?

“In particular, Birkenhead residents are keen to have additional services running through the night and at weekends when it is felt, at present, the buses grind to a halt in all too many parts of the town.”

A Merseytravel spokesperson said: “We have received a letter from Frank Field MP relating to bus services in Birkenhead and a full response will be sent covering the issues he has raised in due course.

“The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is committed to finding ways to improve bus services and through the Big Bus Debate, recently launched by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, we are looking for the public to give their views and help us build the modern, affordable and reliable public transport system that our city region deserves.”

Tom Houghton, Wirral Globe