Monday, 24 February 2014

No change / No duplication

A comment article in Herald Scotland makes the case for a Netherlands-style national public transport smartcard. While the UK seems unwilling to even consider such a thing, could an independent Scotland make a go of it and revolutionise its public transport? The writer is clearly irked that Lothian Buses don't give change, a problem that smartcards would solve. It seems hard to believe that there are still some bus operators who refuse to give change when paying in cash for a fare, but somehow the likes of First Glasgow and National Express West Midlands have survived. Do you know of any more that are stuck in the 1980s when it comes to giving change? Name and shame them in the comments below.

An interesting idea has been floated in Chester, that I'm surprised hasn't already been tried elsewhere. Maybe it has. Chester First tells how Cheshire West and Chester Council is looking to curtail some subsidised bus routes where part of the route duplicates an existing route, such as one of the city's park and ride services. the idea is that rural buses instead of running into central Chester would instead terminate at a park & ride site on the edge of the city and those passengers intending to travel to the city centre would then have to transfer to the park & ride bus. The risks are obvious: waiting time at the new transfer point and ticket interavailability between the two buses you need to use. Pensioners won't get off lightly either. Look at this on the Chester Park & Ride website:

The dodgy highlighting is mine. Maybe this idea is a ploy to get pensioners to pay something towards their travel after all without going to the bother of axing the bus pass scheme. The council of course saves money because it's not paying to subsidise a bus to run where a commercial service or a park & ride bus already runs. As long as they can ensure that farepayers can buy one through ticket and publicise that fact, Chester could be on to something here.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Council check: Bournemouth Borough Council

Each Sunday, we take a look at how one of our local councils provides information on the buses operating on their patch. Today, we look at Bournemouth Borough Council.

Where do the buses go?

Bournemouth Council mentions a bus map, but you have to e-mail them and then they will post one out to you. It isn't available online. There's a link to Getting About, the transport site that is shared with Poole next door, but that also doesn't have the map available to view online.

Both sites give a list of bus services that are subsidised by the council and Bournemouth links to the timetables on the operators' websites, while Getting About merely lists them. Commercial routes aren't listed but both sites list the operators that run commercial bus routes and link to their websites. They both also link to Traveline South West, where you can view a list of all bus routes in Bournemouth and see individual route maps and timetables.

So the information from the council is patchy, but Traveline South West saves Bournemouth from a big fat zero in this category. 1 out of 5.


Only provided by Bournemouth Council for subsidised routes. For anything else, you need to go to the operators' websites or Traveline South West, which is linked to.

It isn't immediately obvious from either of the council's websites that Traveline is the place to go for comprehensive timetable information. 2 out of 5.


No information on single fares. The council also ignores the operators' own tickets. Bournemouth Council mentions the any-operator Getting About ticket which is valid throughout the boroughs of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch, but confusingly the Getting About site does not mention the ticket of the same name.

A Plusbus ticket is available, but neither the council nor Getting About mention it.

The information available here is incomplete and confusing. 2 out of 5.


So there's a map, but you can't see it online. Traveline is relied upon heavily (but not linked to clearly enough) for a comprehensive local route list and timetables. Fares information is either non-existent or patchy and confusing. Bournemouth Borough Council scores a total of 5 out of 15.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Announcements / Prison camp?

A Leeds man is calling for all buses in the city to have audible announcements giving the name of the next stop. The Yorkshire Evening Post reports how Sajid Ali, who is blind, has difficulties using the bus that could be alleviated by next stop announcements. He explains that they don't even need to be automated - drivers could make the announcements. This blog supports Sajid's campaign wholeheartedly. So far only London and a few higher end bus companies bother with next stop announcements. But on the continent, they come as standard and have done for years. When I lived in Berlin in 1999, some of the older buses that didn't yet have automated announcements had the driver making a live announcement of the name of each stop, so it absolutely can be done. It makes bus travel so much easier and more attractive not just for blind people, but also for tourists and anyone who is unfamiliar with the local area. You can join Sajid's campaign on Facebook here.

Winsford residents are up in arms about Cheshire West and Chester Council's decision to axe a once a week Saturdays-only link to Liverpool. A campaigner tells the Winsford Guardian that the cut to the X22 will turn the town into a "prison camp" and describes the route as "popular". At first I was sympathetic to the cause, but then I looked at a map of Winsford...

Highlighted is the town's railway station with an hourly direct service to Liverpool (and a local bus that stops outside). So what's the point of the X22 bus? If it truly was "popular" surely it would be run commercially rather than relying on taxpayers' cash from the council. Of course it might well be popular with pensioners, none of whom pay a bean to use the bus, therefore making a commercial service out of the question. Yet another reason to scrap the pensioners' passes, at least in their current unaffordable form. Nobody is isolated in Winsford: see the times for all of the trains that go to Liverpool here (£6.85 day return with a senior railcard).

Monday, 17 February 2014

Politician in bus use shock!

It's obvious that most senior politicians never use buses and don't even respect those of us who regularly do so. But Labour's Shadow Infrastructure Minister, Andrew Adonis, has agreed to slum it by using London's buses for a week and to tell the Independent all about them.

This is of course a welcome rare chance for a senior politician to see what life is really like for millions of ordinary people, but he should bear in mind that the experience that he gets will be entirely atypical of bus use in the majority of England or in the whole of Wales and Scotland. London's bus network is centrally planned by TfL, which is accountable to London's elected representatives. Outside of London, commercial bus companies decide what will run where and how much it will cost the passenger. Councils can fill in the gaps if they want, but are of course under no obligation to do so. What he's doing is a start, but a repeat run in a variety of places around the country would not go amiss and would demonstrate that Labour wants to govern the whole nation rather than just London.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Council check: Essex County Council

This week, we take a look at how Essex County Council promotes the bus services on its patch.

Where do the buses go?

There's a comprehensive map of the entire county here. You can zoom in, click on a route number, and see who operates it and click through to the full timetable. This is really joined up. There are enlarged maps of all the major towns and cities too. 5 out of 5.


Use the map linked to above, click on any route number and you can click through to the timetable for any route in the county. It could not be easier. If you really don't like the convenience of the interactive map, you can find links to every bus operator in Essex here. 5 out of 5.


As usual, there is no info about single or return tickets. You need to go to the operators' websites to find out details of their own tickets. But, we have a ticket valid on all operators in the county: the Essex Saver. On Sundays, the Sunday Saver is surely one of the best value bus tickets available anywhere in the country. Plusbus also gets a mention, offering tickets in several areas of the county. 4 out of 5.


We have an excellent interactive map, that actually does what it should. Timetables are easy to find. The only reason Essex doesn't have full marks is that single and return fares are not publicised. Nevertheless, we have a new leader: Essex County Council scores a total of  14 out of 15.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Image problem / Completion / Sold

Another survey about commuting bashes the bus, as the Independent reports. In not the best written piece ever, accompanied by a badly-posed picture of passengers crammed onto a tube train, the Indy highlights the image problem that the bus industry has to overcome if it is to tempt people out of their cars. Apparently commuting by bus for more than 30 minutes each way has a significant impact on people's happiness. Something tells me that survey wasn't very scientific. How did they measure happiness, for a start?

Two ladies who need no encouragement to use the bus have completed their mission to ride every single one of London's bus routes end to end. Londonist spoke to them at the end of their five year journey.

Hexham Bus Station is to be sold. The Journal reports how Northumberland County Council have decided, despite opposition, to sell the site to developers. Buses will use new stops on Priestpopple, which local traders have said does not have the space to handle terminating services.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Council check: Lancashire County Council

Each Sunday, we look at how one local council promotes the bus services in its area. Today, it's the turn of Lancashire County Council.

Is this Britain's most carved-up county? Manchester and Liverpool left in the 1970s, then in the 1990s, Blackburn with Darwen and the zero-rated shame hole of Blackpool broke away.

Where do the buses go?

Lancashire used to produce a comprehensive bus map for each borough in the county. Not any more. This is what welcomes you on their website when you try to get an overview of where you can go by bus in Lancashire:

Traveline is a feasible alternative in the South and the Midlands, where it lets you search for all bus routes serving a particular area, but the woefully inadequate Traveline North West does not let you do this. If you don't already know which operator runs the route you need to use, you have no way of finding out. Unacceptable: 0 out of 5.


This page has links to timetables of all bus routes in the county. So far so good, but the order in which the links appear is in no way logical. If you don't already know the route number of or the end destination of your route, you'll struggle to find it in amongst the clutter. The information is there though, if you look hard enough. 4 out of 5.


No information on single or return fares. In fact, no indication about how much it costs to use the buses at all. There are links to all bus operators in the county here, but each will only tell you about its own tickets. There is no multi-operator ticket available in the entire county, meaning you'll pay over the odds if you need to use more than one bus company. Plusbus is completely ignored, even though it offers tickets in Accrington, Burnley, Chorley, Lancaster & Morecambe and Preston & Leyland. Maybe Lancs County Council is run by pensioners who don't need to worry about how much a journey will cost and want to keep the buses all to themselves. 0 out of 5.


If you're unfamiliar with Lancashire's bus network, you can't easily find out which bus goes where. You can find a timetable, but only if you already know what you're looking for. There's no information on fares or tickets at all. For such a large county that could attract a lot of extra tourism if it made it easy to find out how to get around, this is really quite disgraceful. Lancashire County Council scores a paltry total of 4 out of 15.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Five buses crash in Manchester / Lancashire reprieve / First Dorset strike

Five buses crashed in Central Manchester this morning, just around the corner from where I currently work. I saw nothing from the tram I was on though, so knew nothing about it until later in the day. The MEN has pictures and details of the accident, which involved buses belonging to Arriva and Stagecoach.

Staying in the North West, BlogPreston reports that Lancashire County Council are having second thoughts about the plan to axe all subsidised evening and Sunday bus services in the county. Each route will now be looked at on a case-by-case basis, but cuts will still be made.

Passengers in Dorset face disruption next Monday, when drivers at First go on strike. The Dorset Echo has the details.

Monday, 3 February 2014

London goes cash free / Herts introduces weekly tickets

As far as buses and many other things are concerned, London is a different country, totally different to the rest of Great Britain. Its buses are regulated and centrally planned for a start. No free market exists in the capital. London's buses are lavished with a level of subsidy that the rest of the country can only dream about. One of the benefits of that is the multi-modal Oyster card, which has sped up London's buses by doing away with the need to pay by cash when you board. Cash has still been an option though, until now, but it will be phased out from this summer. To stop people being stranded, Oyster cards will allow people to go overdrawn by the value of one bus journey. Even if you lose your Oyster card, you can pay with your contactless bank card. All in all, this is a positive step, which will speed up journeys even more ... and widen the gap between the experience of using buses in London and elsewhere in the country.

While London gets excited by the end of cash on buses, just a few miles up the road, Hertfordshire marvels at the fact that you can now buy a ticket that is valid on almost all buses in the county for an entire week. In fairness, the Intalink Explorer makes Hertfordshire one of the best places in the country to use the bus. There are a great many regions with no all-operator ticket whatsoever. Visitors from Europe quite rightly view us as primitive.

Transdev Lancashire network diagram

Last Thursday, we ran a story about Transdev Lancashire upgrading one of their routes. While looking on their website, I was struck by the lack of a network map or diagram. You can see a Google map of each route individually, but not one of the wider network. So, I've thrown one together:

Transdev Lancashire major routes. Some routes and places have been removed for clarity. Obviously not to scale. Blame any omissions on Transdev for not producing a map themselves.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Council check: Hampshire County Council

Each Sunday, we review how one local council promotes the bus services in its area. Today, we look at Hampshire County Council.

What happened to Bournemouth? Left in 1974, conquered by Dorset. Southampton? Divorced the county in 1997. Portsmouth? Same. But the rest is still there.

Where do the buses go?

We have a county-wide map, a selection of detailed local maps (although they don't cover all areas) and some local timetable books, again covering selected areas only. It's a lot more than what some councils provide. Services can change often, so the maps are occasionally out of date, but not normally for too long. I'm feeling generous: 5 out of 5.


Council-issued timetable books cover most of the county, but Fareham and Gosport are obvious exemptions. To fill in the gaps, you're left to your own devices to find timetables on the operators' websites or on Traveline South West, which does its job quite well. this was so nearly a 5 but the fact that some areas' timetables are left out drags Hampshire's score in this category down to 3 out of 5.


No info on single fares or on operators' own tickets. Operators' websites vary in how much fares info they give. There is no ticket valid on all buses in the county, but the southern half does have the Solent Travelcard, also valid in the breakaway cities of Southampton and Portsmouth. The link is rather hidden though: you won't find it on the Public Transport page of the council's website. Rather, you need the Public, Community & School Transport page to find out about it and also to see the link to Plusbus, which covers several areas of the county: Aldershot, Basingstoke, Eastleigh, Fareham, Farnborough, Havant & Winchester. Considering what's on offer, the information could be made a lot clearer. 2 out of 5.


So we have a good range of maps, timetables for almost everywhere in the county but little fares information even though some very good value tickets do exist. Hampshire County Council scores a total of 10 out of 15.