Middlesbrough is determined to demolish its bus station. It should replace it with a new transport hub

A bus passes the Middlehaven redevelopment site. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of last year, Middlesbrough Council put in a bid for a “media and innovation village” on the west side of town. The catch? The development would be built on what is currently the bus station.

The mayor of Middlesbrough, Dave Budd, has promised that the work will only go ahead if another central site can be found for the bus station. Meanwhile on the northern edge of the centre, work has begun to redevelop Middlesbrough railway station in preparation for the return of direct trains to London in 2020.

And, just past the railway, huge tracts of former docklands sit overgrown and unused. This site, in the shadow of Middlesbrough’s famous transporter bridge, is earmarked for the Middlehaven development project. But despite ambitious plans, much of the land remains unused and in public ownership, and according to the council website no-one seems to have applied for planning permission on any of the sites near the station.

These are three disparate regeneration projects – but together they mean there’s a need for a new bus station, the political drive to create a transport hub, and land going spare in a convenient central location. The solution seems obvious – to put the new bus station next to the existing railway one. So why hasn’t the council been able to agree a new site yet?


One factor is that, as long as the Middlehaven project is ongoing, to scale it back would look like defeat, even if the project is behind schedule and appears to have stalled. Building the bus station here would require redrawing the plans – although it may also come with the advantage of making the rest of Middlehaven more attractive to developers.

Another is that the current bus station location is already a good one. It sits right in the heart of the shopping district and just a few minutes’ walk from Teesside University, on a major road with easy access to the wider UK network for long-distance coaches. Although it shows its age, its circulatory design seems to work well – plus, how many other bus stations have an on-site butchers? The one disadvantage is its distance from the railway station – no fun when you’re lugging your suitcase through the rain, rushing for your train. Still, there is probably nowhere in the town as ideally placed for a bus station.

I’m not sure it makes sense to demolish the bus station. But since the council is set on doing so anyway, they should seize the opportunity to make Middlesbrough into a proper gateway to the Tees Valley region.

Central Middlesbrough. The patch of empty land highlighted would seem to be the best site for a new bus station. Image: OpenStreetMap.

A bus station on the empty land immediately past the railway station would only be slightly further from the central shopping district than the old bus station, and it would be on the main roads through Middlesbrough and out to the surrounding towns of Teesside and beyond. The rest of Teesside, much of which currently only has hourly trains, would be better connected to the national rail network, while visitors from outside the North East would be greeted a by modern, convenient transport interchange, rather than having to follow a warren of underpasses and backstreets to their connection.

Some bus routes would have to be redirected – but if the streets of Middlehaven were wide enough for the industrial lorries of a thriving port, they should be wide enough for buses. Increased capacity for cross-town buses might ease the blow to the university from moving the bus station further away. Plus, as an added benefit, it would improve transport links to Middlesbrough College and Middlesbrough FC’s home ground, Riverside Stadium – which currently has no public transport at all.

Next Wednesday, the council will meet to discuss the demolition and rebuilding of the current bus station. They have the chance to make Middlesbrough into a transport hub for the Tees Valley region. It will be interesting to see what they do with the opportunity.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray has strong feelings about bus stations, and tweets @stejormur.

 
 
 
 

Here are eight thoughts on TfL’s proposed cuts to London’s bus network

A number 12 bus crosses Westminster Bridge. Image: Getty.

In 2016, the urbanism blog City Observatory had a modest proposal for how American cities could sort out their transport systems: “Londonize”.

Its theory, the name of which referenced another popular urbanism blog, Copenhagenize, was that the key plank of Transport for London’s success was something that even transport nerds did not consider very sexy: its buses.

Though the Tube might get more glamorous press, London’s bus service really is impressively massive: It carries roughly 2.3bn passengers per year—much more than the Tube (1.3bn), close to the New York City subway (2.8bn), and nearly half as much as every bus service in America combined (5.1bn), while serving a population roughly 1/35 as large.

How has TfL done this? By making its bus network high frequency, reliable, relatively easy to understand and comprehensive. We rarely talk about this, because the tube map is far more fun – but the reason it’s so difficult to fall off the transport network in Greater London is because you’re never that far from a bus.

Given all that, we should probably talk about TfL’s plans to rethink – and in most cases, cut – as many as 36 different central London bus services over the next few months.

I’m not going to rehash details of the changes on which TfL is consulting from next month: there are just too many of them, and anyway it’s someone else’s scoop. The story was originally broken by Darryl Chamberlain over on 853 London; there’s also some fascinating analysis on Diamond Geezer’s blog. You should read both of those stories, though preferably not before you’ve finished reading this one.

Before offering my own analysis of the proposed changes, though, I should offer a few examples. More than a dozen routes are facing a trim: the 59 from King’s Cross back to Euston, the 113 from Oxford Circle to Marble Arch, the 171 from Holborn all the way down to Elephant & Castle and so on. A couple – the 10, the 48, the C2, and at most times the special routemaster version of the 15 – are being withdrawn altogether.

On, and one new route is planned – the 311, from Fulham Broadway to Oxford Circus. This will help plug some of the cuts to the 11, 19 and 22.

So, what does all this mean? Some thoughts:

1) This might not quite be as awful as it initially sounds

TfL says that demand for buses has fallen by around 10 per cent in London in recent years. It predicts it’ll fall further when Crossrail opens, as passengers switch to the new line, or to the tube routes relieved by the new line. So: the idea of taking some unwanted capacity out of the system is not, in itself, terrible.

Striping out unnecessary buses should also improve air quality in some of London’s worst pollution hot spots, and improve traffic flow, hopefully speeding up journeys on those buses that remain. 

A map from the presentation in which TfL explained its plans, showing the reduction in bus numbers on key arteries. Hilariously, notes Darryl Chamberlain, “It no longer produces its own maps, so has had to use one prepared by a bus enthusiast”.

The plans might even free up buses and staff to increase frequencies in outer London where demand hasn’t fallen – though these plans won’t be unveiled until next year and, for reasons I’ll come to below, I’ll believe it when we see it.

2) For many bus users, a lot of these changes will pass almost unnoticed

By my count, I use nine of the affected routes with any regularity – but only three of the changes are things that I’m likely to be at all inconvenienced by. Most of the changes either affect a part of the route I don’t take, or one where there are easy, and pain free alternatives.

This is anecdotal, obviously – perhaps I’m just lucky. But my suspicion is that a lot of these changes will go unnoticed by most passengers. It’s only the sheer number of them happening at once that makes this look like a big deal.

3) The Hopper fare makes this easier...

Once upon a time, if you had to switch buses, you had to pay a second fare. This isn’t true of journeys on the tube or railways – and since bus passengers have, on average, less money than tube passengers, it amounted to a pretty unfair tax on poorer Londoners.

But in January, in what is probably his most notable policy achievement of his two years in office so far, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan changed the rules. Now you can take as many buses as you want within an hour, for a single fare: that means you can switch buses without paying a penalty.

That will have made it easier for TfL to cut routes back: replacing a direct bus journey with one that requires a change no longer means imposing a financial penalty on passengers.


4) ...but not that easy

That’s about where the good news stops, though – because there are reasons other than cost why people prefer direct bus routes. Needing to change buses will be difficult for anyone with any form of mobility impairment, for example. Even for those of us lucky enough not to fall into that category, it’ll be annoying: it’s just easier to stay in one seat for 40 minutes than to get turfed off and have to fight for a new one halfway through.

More than that, from the passengers’ point of view, excess capacity feels quite good a lot of the time: it means your bus may well be nice and empty. Reducing the number of buses along those key corridors will also make those that remain more crowded.

5) The motive is almost certainly financial

Another of Sadiq Khan’s big policy promises was to freeze fares. He made this promise at a time when central government is massively reducing the financial support it gives TfL (the work, Chamberlain notes, of Evening Standard editor George Osborne, back when he was chancellor). And the Hopper fare, while a great idea in many ways, means a further reduction in income.

So: TfL is scrambling for cash: this is why I remain cynical about those new outer London bus routes. I would be amazed if money wasn’t a motivation here, not least because...

6) TfL thinks no one will notice

Any attempt to reduce tube frequencies, let alone close a station, would result in uproar. Hashtag campaigners! Angry people pointing at things in local newspapers! Damning reports on the front of the Evening Standard from the bloke who made it happen!

Buses, though? Their routes change, slightly, all the time. And do you really notice whether your local route comes every 10 minutes or every 12? That’s not to mention the fact that bus passengers, as previously noted, tend to be poorer – and so, less vocal – than tube passengers.

So cuts, and the savings they bring, are much easier to sneak through. TfL probably would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling bloggers.

Although...

7) Scrapping the C2 might be a mistake

The C2 runs from Parliament Hill, through Kentish Town and Camden to Oxford Circus. In other words, it links north London, where a lot of journalists live, to the offices of the BBC and Buzzfeed.

As occasional New Statesman writer James Ball notes, this is probably not the easiest route to quietly shelve.

8) None of this is set in stone

The consultation doesn’t even begin until next month and then will run for six weeks – so all these plans may yet be forgotten. We shall see.

Anyway – here’s Darryl Chamberlain’s original scoop, and here’s some detailed analysis on Diamond Geezer. Please support your local bloggers by reading them.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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