The Number 33 to Pheasey, the bus of the future

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The Independent Online
A BUS STOP on a Walsall housing estate does not appear a likely place to start a revolution, but this spot could be celebrated by generations to come.

What is happening in the Pheasey estate in the West Midlands is vital to one of the Government's main policies - not Europe, not the health service and not education, but the high-street bus.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, has promised to raise the reputation of the humble bus. He has called on manufacturers to produce abus for the modern traveller - in his vision a mother with young children carrying bags of shopping - instead of "buses designed by men for men".

The Number 33 to Pheasey, run by Travel West Midlands, is an insight into how bus travel could be. Out go vehicles with steep-stepped entrances blocked by dividing poles; in comes a modern vehicle with a wide entrance and a low floor that "kneels down" to pavement level - ideal for the mother with an infant and shopping.

On board, folding seats provide easy access for those laden down with baggage, and there are places for wheelchairs. The bus is well-lit, and an electronic sign tells the traveller what the next stop will be. In future the "33" may even have a recorded announcement heralding the next bus stop.

As the "33" approaches the most busy junction on the congested route into Birmingham city centre, the traffic light magically changes from red to green.

For regular bus users, the change has been breath-taking. One traveller pushing a pram with her baby son said: "I simply could not have used any of the old-fashioned buses. If I'd wanted to get anywhere I had to wait for a car. These are much better."

Mary Dennehy, who admitted she had taken the"33" five times in one day, was equally impressed: "These new buses are so big and airy that you don't feel closed in. The waiting was the worst thing and the bus was always cramped when it did come."

WTM has spent pounds 2.5m on 15 new Volvos for the route, with the local transport authority and council chipping in another pounds 1m. Since they were introduced in July last year, passenger figures have surged by 30 per cent, to 290,000 a month. On the Superline to Walsall, opened this June, passenger numbers are up 7.5 per cent to 29,000 a week, while on a route to Coventry, where new buses were brought in in July, passenger numberssurged from 40,000 a week to 46,000.

None of this is, by itself new. London boasts bus times displays at the bus stop and many cities have buses that kneel down for prams. But TWM, a subsidiary of transport giant National Express, believes that combining all these elements is the key to attracting the public back on to the bus.

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