Monday, 11 March 2013

Film enthusiasts living in Boston may experience a Groundhog Day moment today as work starts on the town’s Market Place.
Despite all the warnings before, during and since, the £2 million project went ahead regardless, and only now is it starting to dawn on the powers that be that maybe for once the public was right and they were wrong.
A raft of improvements is due to start today and last for six weeks – following “feedback and assessment.”
Perhaps the most important of these will be better marking of parking spaces – to ease many of the problems which have led to drivers being ticketed – in some cases, it is suggested, unfairly.
In the meantime, the work will mean a temporary reduction in parking at certain times – which may well increase confusion rather than the reverse.
If there are no delays, shoppers and local businesses could get a few weeks’ breathing space before work starts to replace St Botolph’s Footbridge, which will entail a route march for arrivals at the bus station to get into town.
Still, as we are constantly assured by the great and the good – it’ll all be worth it in the end, and they, of course, are never wrong.
The work will be carried out against the counterpoint of the ceaseless noise, inconvenience, pollution and creeping damage to the road surface of the Into Town bus service.
The Lincolnshire County Council subsidy for this runs out in June – and the debate has already begun about the possibility of making some changes if it is to continue.
It is fair to say that no one opposes the service – what they are against is its use of Strait Bargate as a rat run.
The service operators, Brylaine, say the Strait Bargate route is justified because the buses cannot turn round at either the Post Office or the Market Place end.
But looking at the map of the route, we cannot accept the argument that the buses are unable to retrace their route rather than go through Strait Bargate.
We know that many councillors are strongly opposed to the buses using an area supposedly reserved for pedestrians – including the cabinet member responsible for Boston Town Centre, Councillor Derek Richmond.
Last week, a fellow cabinet member, Councillor Mike Gilbert, also backed the idea of an alternative route – but then tried to muddy the waters of the debate.
He began by claiming that – “like many issues this one too has nothing to do with Boston Borough being a Lincolnshire County Council and Brylaine buses matter.”
He accepted that the issue was an emotive one – but then came up with “some facts” for consideration.
He cited a figure of 26,000 journeys a month – many made by elderly and disabled passengers.
“If it were to cease because a change in route were forced upon the operator so as to avoid Narrow (sic) Bargate, thus making the service unprofitable, these would be the people most affected. As of course would be the five bus drivers who would be unemployed and who would have been employed by a private company at no cost to the council tax payer.
“If we think about it more thoroughly is this really what we want, a lack of transport for disabled and elderly people, unemployment for local workers, all because we pressurise our councillors into demanding an end to buses through Narrow (sic) Bargate because we find it at worst a bit irritating.”
We would have expected better of Councillor Gilbert than to try to pull the wool over our eyes in this way.
We’ll have to take his word about the passenger figures, as they are seldom published.
But a service that carries 26,000 passengers a month for six days a week over three routes with 12 journeys a day on each, averages around 15 passengers each way.
When figures were presented in the early days of the service, it emerged that almost 50% of passengers held concessionary bus passes – which means that they are over sixty and nothing more – but their fare is paid for them by the county council, which must help profitability.
As far as Councillor Gilbert’s playing of the disability card is concerned, we assume that people heading into town are not so seriously disabled that they cannot get around the shops.
So unless they remain in the self-same spot as that on which they alighted, they are surely capable of covering the distance from one end of Strait Bargate to the other if the buses were no longer routed through it.
We wonder whether Councillor Gilbert has any evidence to support his claim that if the service were discontinued the drivers would be dismissed? If so, we would like to see it.
At the last elections, all the competing parties – except for the Boston Bypass Independents, who foisted the route upon us – said that whilst the service was a good thing, the route was not.
And to call the intrusion of the buses “a bit irritating” is a misstatement that beggars belief.
Councillor Gilbert tells us that the issue has nothing to do with Boston Borough Council – which is a handy cop out.
But is he seriously saying that if almost every Boston borough councillor voted for a change of route that the County Council and Messrs Brylaine would ignore them?
Unfortunately the answer to that is probably yes, but it would be interesting to raise the question and find out the answer.
Somewhat naively, Councillor Gilbert declares that he is “relieved that with an open mind both Lincolnshire County Council and Brylaine the bus operator are looking at alternative routes …”  
Are they really?
Questions were raised before the route began about the choice of Brylaine, and at the recent “briefing” of borough councillors the company’s operations director said no changes would be made to the service, emphasising: “There is definitely no intention on our part to alter the route at all and no immediate plans to do anything other than keep it as it is. In short – it ain’t bust so we aren’t going to fix it.”
Mind you, to a Boston Borough Council Tory, that qualifies as an “open mind,” we suppose.
And of course, the Conservatives were in opposition when they criticised the route.  Now that they are in power and under the thumb of County Hall, their vote may well be quite different.

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