Thursday 2 January 2020

Newcastle Christmas Road Closures Bad for Passengers & Bus Services

Stagecoach says it expects it numbers to take a big hit this winter due to Blackett Street being closed, after a petition was launched to keep the busy route from being pedestriansied.

 Passengers wait in the rain for their diverted buses which will be late due to the diversions. No bus shelters were provided for the key cross city routes.

The bus company has hit out at city council chiefs over the closure of a busy route to make way for Newcastle’s Christmas markets.

Stagecoach says it expects to see “significant” decline in its passenger numbers caused by the closure of Blackett Street this winter.

 Normal times on Blackett Street. All of the bus stops were out of action during the Christmas period, inconveniencing passengers greatly

A petition was launched last week calling on Newcastle City Council to abandon plans to pedestrianise the street permanently, warning that re-routing buses had caused heavy delays.

Civic centre transport bosses say they want to make Newcastle a cleaner, safer environment for workers and shoppers, adding that the city cannot “stand still”.

Above & below, Stagecoach make great use of Blackett Street for their heavily used east west services
Temporary closures have also been introduced on Blackett Street during the past two summers.

Steve Walker, managing director of Stagecoach North East, said: "Over 12 million of our customers use Blackett Street each year and recent closures raise the wider question pertaining to equality and the negative impact on key user groups, including disabled passengers and concessionary travellers.

 The bus companies continue to invest in clean vehicles whilst the council fail to control the flow of taxis and illegal vehicles which add heavily to the pollution.

"During the closures in 2018 and 2019, we saw an overall patronage decline of -16% and -22%, respectively, and whilst we continue to build the picture of how this current Christmas markets closure has affected customers, early indications suggest another significant patronage decline.

"In a bid to mitigate congestion delays on the network, we have five additional buses running across the Newcastle network, as a direct result of Newcastle City Council's inability to introduce a range of mitigation's before the closure was implemented, such as red routes and bus stops on Newgate Street.”

From 2021, the highest-polluting buses are set to be charged £50 per day to drive into the city centre under a new Clean Air Zone designed to cut illegal levels of air pollution in Newcastle.

Stagecoach have used hybrids on the 39 &40 services since 2011.
These routes were heavily affected during the recent closures.

Mr Walker added: “As congestion is costing the UK economy more than £13bn a year and bus organisations continue to invest in making buses a better choice, we believe that prioritising bus services via Blackett Street can provide an excellent solution for Newcastle.

"We continue to try and engage productively with council officers to remove up to 60% of traffic which uses Blackett Street and has no legal right to do so."

Newcastle City Council has long wanted to pedestrianise Blackett Street despite the heavy opposition from bus operators.

The petition to keep it open, launched last week by the Newcastle Independents group, now has more than 500 signatures.

Coun Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for transport and air quality at Newcastle City Council, said: “We recognise that different people and organisations will have different views on what the future of Blackett Street should be.

Focus Comment
We had first hand experience of what closures mean to Newcastle residents.
The temporary bus stops way away from the city centre offered no cover from the rain which was falling heavily during our lunchtime visit to the city.
How infirm and disabled passengers coped with the extended journey to the revised bus stops I do not know.
It is wrong to go along with the idea that 'Blackett Street was closed due to the Christmas market' The market was situated on Grainger Street not Blackett Street.
The council had closed Blackett Street to allow the erection of a tacky funfair which had few customers during our walk to the temporary bus stops. 
I think that it is time that the council opened their eyes to the massive inconvenience this road closure causes to large numbers of people. The council cannot be said to be supportive of public transport by bus. They allow taxis and a host of other traffic to short cut through Blackett Street and can't even be bothered to put controls in place to catch illegal traffic in other nearby areas.
Council employees have reserved car parking at the plush Civic Centre and can work flexitime to allow them to arrive early or late to escape the horrific peak time traffic jams. They exist in another world and appear to have no respect for the people who choose to travel by the excellent bus services on offer.
If the Council could join the real world and engage in meaningful discussions with the bus companies maybe the bus companies would begin to take the Council seriously and work together to provide hybrid and electric vehicles which would eliminate the air quality problems at a stroke.

 Grainger Street prior to the closure of Blackett Street.This section of the road becomes part of the diversionary route and as a result becomes gridlocked.
As stated above, Civic centre transport bosses say they want to make Newcastle a cleaner, safer environment for workers and shoppers, adding that the city cannot “stand still”.
Well Newcastle Council, think again because the city did stand still, because you forced the buses to divert onto roads that couldn't cope.
People took to their cars because the buses became unreliable and then the car drivers queued for two hours to get out of the car parks. see here