Tuesday 25 August 2015

Ricoh Arena railway station: farce upon farce

Sometimes there’s a news story, perhaps insignificant in the global scheme of things, that just causes you to stop in your tracks and wonder. As I picked up the Coventry Telegraph this morning such a thing occurred.

Since the Ricoh Arena—home to Coventry City Football Club and more recently Wasps Rugby Union Club as well as the venue for many other events—was built around ten years ago there has been the promise of a railway station to serve the facility. Given its location on the outskirts of the city with limited other public transport available this was a rare piece of good sense.

On my last visit to the stadium a week ago it was apparent that the long-awaited station was finally near completion. At the time I commented that of course there will need to be bigger and more frequent trains running to the station to make it worthwhile but hey—the transport authorities and stadium operators have had a decade to work that out. What could go wrong?

Well, according to today’s paper, it transpires that is not at all the case. The same service that has always run on that line will continue unchanged. And since that can carry only 75 people and runs once an hour the station will actually close around events so that the service is not overwhelmed by the potentially thousands of people that might want to use it. There won’t be extra trains. They won’t run more frequently. Visitors to the stadium just can’t use the train service that runs literally yards from the stadium. If ever a demonstration of the sheer illogicality of deregulated public transport was needed, this is surely it.

From the outset the provision of public transport to the stadium has been a sore point. Like other such facilities built today there was always a supposed commitment to environmental concerns. In reality this has meant more stick than carrot: dissuading motorists with heavy charges and fines for parking in close-by residential areas. A few bus service run close by which just about cope but are barely adequate. A dedicated bus service ran to the stadium on match days but appears to have fizzled out over the recent period, and in any case—astonishingly—didn’t run when most needed such as bank holidays.

Compare this to other European countries. The Stade de la Beaujoir, for example, in the French city of Nantes is quite similarly located to the Ricoh Arena and is still fairly modern though has been around a while longer. I’ve been there a few times. A good tram service runs right out to the stadium from the centre of the city and after games guess what? Trams queue up to relay people back to the city centre. Surely this kind of joined up thinking is not hard. Surely?

Well, if you’ve spent the last last few decades enslaving your public services to the dictates of the market as we have seen in the UK then it actually is that hard. This farce is just one more example of the utter bankruptcy of the neoliberal approach to running our services—maybe not an earth-shattering one but one that repeated over an over again, across every facet of public service—extending now across vital services like education and health—is in microcosm a shining example of how not to run services for the public good.

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