Monday 6 January 2014

Northampton newbies / Lessening in Lancs

New buses are coming to Northampton courtesy of Stagecoach. After years of decline and aging buses with First, which has now withdrawn from the town completely, Stagecoach are showing their commitment to the region. More in the Northampton Herald & Post.

The Lancashire villages isolated by the collapse of Classic Bus North West have a temporary solution, thanks to three parish councils. The Blackpool Gazette says they've funded a partial replacement for two weeks, after which it will be up to the County Council to step in. The County meanwhile is looking to cut evening and Sunday services across Lancashire and a local transport expert has detailed the damage that they will cause in an interview with virtual-lancaster. My own view is that running buses only at times that are convenient for pensioners will mean no-one but pensioners uses them. When that generation are no longer with us people won't be in the habit of using buses and our industry will be crippled. Evening and Sunday services are essential to make a bus service viable, especially where it provides a key link between towns.


  1. Sorry to disagree, but evening and Sunday buses are NOT "essential" to make a bus service viable. Nice to have, but not essential.

    Let's look at an example. A route runs 0700-1900 six days per week. The service runs every 30 minutes, and takes 50 minutes end to end. That's 4 buses running for 12 hours each - 48 hours. Assume that each driver works productively for 8 hours (a tad high, but good enough for now). That will require 6 drivers per day.

    Now then - we add an hourly service from 1900 to 2300. That's one extra driver's worth of work. Assume that each driver earns £26K pa (including NI and pension contributions from the company). Over 52 weeks, that's £500 per week (or £100 per weekday, which is all we're looking at here so far). I'll just note that, so far, we've included around 55-60% of all costs.

    So - eight single trips per day - that's £12.50 cash income per weekday per trip. If the average fare for a single journey was £3 per passenger, then we'd need 4 cash passengers per trip. However, bearing in mind that most concessionary fare schemes pay around 50% of the fare foregone back to the bus company, we're now looking at around a minimum of 6-7 passengers per trip. Now add in the cost of fuel, the need to provide extra supervision and engineering cover, the extra maintenance for the buses, and the likely minimum requirement for passengers per trip will rise to around 10-12, or around an extra 100 passengers per evening. All well and good on a fine summer's evening, but not so on a dark, wet winter's evening.

    Are there decent leisure facilities at each end of the route? Is there a hospital with extended visiting hours? Is there any reason for passengers to travel regularly at all, because, remember, we need around 100 passengers each evening EVERY evening (that's 500 passenger journeys each week).

    Unless the route runs through a populous area with mainly low income residents - forget it! It is a fact that most families have access to at least one car, and that car will be available in the evenings. That car WILL be used for almost all journeys. We may not like it, but it is a fact.

    And that's why, I'm afraid, most evening bus services just aren't viable outside proper urban areas (Leeds etc). If evening bus services are required, then they need to be financially supported.

    {I'll just say that Sunday (0900-1800) routes ARE generally viable in many areas, because of the rise in shopping on that day. That's why many commercial services now include a Sunday service, but ending at c1800. Horses for courses}.

    My background? In the industry since 1975; a planner since 1993; commercial manager of a small bus company for 4 years (until recently) and managed to build up a network of routes slowly but surely during those 4 years. No evening buses, but a Sunday service that, after one year, just pays its way.

  2. Firstly I agree with what greenline 727 says above, and in recent times have similarly had an involvement with a small to medium sized operator.

    We wouldn't mind running evening services provided they do at least 'wash their face'. With shops closed and few leisure destinations in our town demand is however too fragmented to do so without financial support. Revenue in the daytime is under pressure (reducing fuel tax rebate, bus pass reimbursement, contract rates and scholar rates) and does not have sufficient margin to cross subsidise an evening service.

    Some years ago when working for the transport authority in that area I attended a joint youth forum and with the Borough council agreed to support two initiatives to help transport in the evenings. The first was an extension of a contracted journey at around 2300 hours to a group of villages. A representative for three schools claimed he had over fifty young people who would regularly support it. In six months we had carried a grand total of two passengers!

    The second initiative involved a closed door pre booking operation to/from a small market town with leisure facilities for girls of two schools using a spare minibus at minimal cost. Despite their enthusiasm it only lasted one weekend.

    As a parent of several teenagers at that time my observation was that most tended to organise their leisure time according to the latest mobile phone call or txt message. Unless services could operate more frequently they would not work despite the recurring requests.

    As greenline says someone has to pay for them.

    The battle for many of us now is to try and keep daytime services operating in the rural areas and smaller towns.

    1. "The battle for many of us now is to try and keep daytime services operating in the rural areas and smaller towns."

      Very true, I'm afraid. Unless a bus route runs between two decent sized towns with a few villages en route, then non-urban routes are unlikely to survive without subsidy (pace Dorset's proposed network reduction of subsidised rural routes to MF daytimes only). In my opinion most rural routes have been on borrowed time since the early 2000's, when Rural Bus Grant saved many routes that shouldn't have been saved.

      No transport professional is insensitive to the plight of Mrs Scroggins that travels once a week on market day, but there just aren't enough of her any longer! DRT isn't necessarily the answer - probably a shared taxi might be, as that can have very low costs compared with a full or even mini bus, and could be organised at very local (parish council) level.

      Is it sensible that a rural bus should be subsidised at a cost of several £k's and benefit perhaps 25 passengers per week, or that the same several £k should assist in the financing of a town service that carries maybe 50 passengers per day?

      Sometimes commercial pragmatism needs to overrule political involvement, and local government isn't good at that!

  3. The po0st above highlight just why bus services are failing. poor management, poor attitude and a total lack of initiative

    It is not going to change. Outside of large towns and cities are in terminal decline

    1. Poor management and poor attitude? Total lack of initative?

      Shame on you. You denigrate those people who have devoted their lives to attempting to stem the decline of passenger transport usage.

      There are plenty of examples of initiative where bus companies, and not only the big boys, have innovated and seen results with huge increases in patronage.

      However, a good manager will see where there quite simply aren't enough chimneys to provide sufficient passengers to make a service pay (and yes, since 1985 we are talking of that ugly word "profit"). That's the name of the game now - and if Government would be kind enough to actually provide bus operators with a fair reimbursement for concessionary pass holders, to stop regarding BSOG as a subsidy and instead see it as a simple method of keeping costs and therefore fares down, and stop withdrawing bus priority measures, then we'll respond appropriately.

      At the moment, though, it's quite simple: eventually, banging your head against a brick wall starts to hurt. When it does, it's a good idea to stop banging!!

    2. I stand by my comment. In spite of a growing population and a continued need to travel the market share buses get is continually shrinking. The industry is rife with low standards poor quality and an almost total lack of customers service and innovation and has refused to adapt and change to different market needs hence the slow and steading decline of services. If people have a choice and most do they are not choosing to use buses. In many areas now it can be cheaper to go by taxi

    3. Anonymous - could you perhaps provide some examples to back up your comments? I recognise that there are indeed some companies and towns that appear as you describe, but if I may point to (in no particular order) Canterbury, Brighton, Oxford, Plymouth, Northampton (post First), Ipswich, Eastbourne, Bournemouth and now Portsmouth and Southampton as well, we can see good customer service, innovation with both stylish vehicles and new routes and the willingness to try new services and branding/marketing. I've carefully avoided the big conurbations here, and looked at the smaller (but still sizeable) towns and cities.

      Stand in Canterbury Bus Station (for example) any time between 0900 and 1800 on a Saturday, and watch every bus come in with 30-40-50 passengers on board, and leaving with similar numbers. Market share continually shrinking? Nah!

      I don't think saying the industry is "rife" with low standards is really true, do you?

      Taxis may well be cheaper with a group, but in my locality a return bus trip for 6 miles each way is £3.90; a single taxi trip is £12+. Cheaper? I think not!

      ((BTW: Car parking is £1+ per hour; around £5 for a decent shopping trip of three hours. The bus offers a family ticket of £5 return for two adults and up to three children)).

      I look forward to some detailed examples from you to continue this debate.


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