Consultation, a Focus Group and a bus service that is anything but a service.

I have, for the first time in my life, been a member of a focus group. Last evening 12 or so bus users were gathered together at Bradley Stoke Leisure Centre to give our responses for a piece of consultation by Transport Research Company for our local council. The meeting was recorded and no doubt we have provided them with plenty of anecdotal evidence on life on the buses of South Gloucestershire. I won’t bore you with the minutiae of the gripes, they contained stories of rude drivers, the No. 1 Bermuda Triangle, the cost of all day tickets and many others. As a meeting it was chaotic at times, amusing and typically Bristolian in nature. The buses have a lot of goodwill and we tend to put up with so much that others would not. Like everyone at the meeting I came with my own agenda. As the only truly rural dweller using a limited service I felt I had to add a different perspective to those who travel within Bristol itself. I had talked a bit to the locals, including our local Councillor for his views and gathered opinions. My agenda looked something like this.

Wrong!

My notes looked exactly like this.
image

You will notice the ticks as they were covered in aspects general discussion and the absence of a tick re the last because I forgot to do the tick before I left at the end. I should elaborate on each of the points. I will now tell you what I wanted to say, rather than what I did say.

  1. Connections to Railways

As you will be aware, my social life revolves around getting to Bristol, visiting pubs and watching Football. The quickest route is to get the train from Severn Beach, a mile or so away from my house. If I were to “George it” (My euphemism for using public transport rather than the car), I could, in theory, take this route.

It is presently 10.23. My app (National Rail Enquiries) tells me the next train from Severn Beach leaves at 11. 54.

Travel West app informs me that at a bus leaves from the lay-by across the road, outside my house, at 11.48. It should arrive at the station at 11.53. That leaves me a perfect minute to walk along the platform and catch the train. I can almost feel the pride of the bus timetable planner when he typed the numbers on his excel spreadsheet. He no doubt proclaimed. “These two services will be perfectly timed, the people of Pilning and Easter Compton can now live the Fergusonian dream of an integrated system of buses and trains.” We have a one minute piece of wiggle room to work with.

The 11.54 reaches Clifton Down Station platform 2 at 12.16. I can walk to the nearest bus stop in 3 minutes and have a choice of buses in to the city centre.  The 12.23 bus arrives at the city centre at 12. 35.

Therefore, leaving my house at 11.45 I can be having my first beer in King Street at 12.45. I also have that 1 minute wiggle room and a four minute wait at the bus stop to enjoy.

It is now 10.45. I will now go and catch the bus an hour early, i.e. the 10.48, the one I would actually need to catch to get the 11.54 train. The photo below shows the bus arriving at 10.54.

image

Only 6 minutes late, but it is an hourly service. It arrived at the station at 12.00 dead, the train is 6 miles down the line by then. The extra minute was probably taken up with the driver searching for the return bus fare for me and issuing the ticket. The bus had five passengers. A minute for each of them might explain the six minutes of tardiness. “Damn those passengers” I can hear the bus planner curse.

The reality is that by bus and train it takes 2 hours to get to King Street. All for the sake of a bit of common sense wiggle room.

  1. Last bus Syndrome

The most important bus of the day for me is the last bus home. Somewhere near 6.30 p.m. (that is about as exact it can be) a 625 bus will leave the Mall at Cribbs Causeway and take all those under the Pilning Village social life curfew their last chance to get home. By this time of day  the number of passengers has maybe made the buses so late that cumulative extra minutes means the last bus cannot run within an hour of scheduled time, so it is removed from the list. The last bus should always run. There is however, another, even more annoying, habit for this bus. I often catch a bus out from the city centre to the Mall to catch the last bus home. On more than one occasion the bus on which I arrive will give way to a 625 leaving five or so minutes EARLY! I now know to intercept it by catching a bus that intersects nearer home i.e. at Morrisons, but that should not be needed. The 6.30 curfew translates into a 5.30 curfew in the city centre. The best full day from King Street arrival to city centre departure, using a bus / train service therefore, is 12 45 to 17.30 i.e. 4 and ¾ hours. It will keep my doctor happy but really. I am a fairly responsible 56 year old. It is hardly time to get started on any serious social eventing.

There are of course trains home to Severn Beach, but there is no bus to go the extra mile home to Pilning after that final bus. At the latest reckoning a taxi home from the city centre will relieve the happy traveller of £36.

An aside. The 11.48 has just passed my window on its way to Severn Beach. The time is 11.50. Nearer to time, but still late for making that rail connection.

  1. Multi – User Tickets

I now will describe my normal Saturday mode of travelling to Bristol. I catch the 11.15 bus (due 11.09) to the Mall. From there I cannot complain about the number of buses to the centre, one leaves every five minutes or so. It is best to get the more direct options and I check the travel updates on the various apps to attempt my personal best. My p.b. is to leave at 11.09, catch the 308, (now the 78) to Bristol Bus station at 11.25 (i.e running either early or late, who knows? but nowhere near on timetable) and arrive, as if Moses had parted the Gloucester Road traffic, at 12.10. A 55 minute total journey time, worthy of a celebratory two thirds of something crazy in the Small Bar. I will have paid £2.40 for a return to the Mall from home plus £4.40 for a Day Rider ticket (I know it has another name but we all call it a day rider). A grand total of £6.80. Should I catch a train home later at night it might cost me something extra. (£2 due but not likely to be paid, but that is another story).

The reason for the two tickets is because of the policy which means Wessex buses do not work with First Bus. Travelwest offer an all users regional rider for £7.50. Why would I pay more for less? First Great Western Trains offer an online bus rider ticket (access any bus) for £7.40, I think good value but it doesn’t include Wessex buses. I have just returned from a weekend in Whitley Bay. It is a similar distance from Newcastle City Centre as Pilning (8 miles). An all day, any transport (bus metro, train or ferry) ticket on the Metro from there cost £6.90, £4.90 in the evening. I compare them here, but there is no real comparison.

I long for the day of integrated travel (Under a Passenger Transport Executive as in most British Conurbations) using some sort of Oyster Card system to speed up travel times if for nothing else. Running past 6.30 in the evening, it might be timetabled to get people where they want to go at the time they want to go.

  1. Routes to Bristol

Where do people want to go? From Pilning people generally want to go to one of either the Mall, U.W.E. Bristol City Centre or to work on the estates between here and Avonmouth. Two out of four is not good.

There are plans to remove the direct bus to town. It leaves at 7.35 in the morning. Travelling via Westbury it takes a mere 47 minutes to dump the bleary eyed office worker in the city centre. It is quicker, because it is more direct. It is the only bus of the day in to town. The return trip home leaves at 17.40 (ish) arriving at 18.17, 31 minutes in the rush hour. Of course it doesn’t keep those times, but  the intention is there. Surely a direct route via Westbury could be introduced that people might use. Westbury could always do with alternatives to get in to the city centre. A route via the Mall and Westbury could do the trip in well under an hour and be popular. A subsidy to a one bus a day service looks expensive. One for an hourly service is somewhat different. Why not try something very different? Why not run it as a morning and evening only service, serving workers and leisure seekers? It might help the local economy by encouraging people to live in the local area, and in doing so support local schools, shops and pubs.

There are no buses to the factories beyond the Western Approaches. The No 40 makes a begrudging trail along St. Andrews Road The evidence of potential use is seen on the first and last trains at Severn Beach. The service is busy with people who leave the station and walk the extra mile or more to Warburtons, Tesco, Post Office sorting centre etc. There are no buses for them to use, of course. It is too early in the morning or late at night. If the local council don’t want to support the service than perhaps the warehousing multi-nationals, through the planning process, might be levied to support this.

  1. The Consultation process

I enjoyed the hour or so sharing thoughts. I did suggest that it was the non-users that need to be consulted. It is there reasons for not using the bus, that has to be recorded. It is an expensive process. We received £40 in vouchers for our time and travel It was ironic that most arrived by bus but several had to drive home because by 19.00 it was too late to get a last bus. A bit of fag paper Maths says £40 equates to 17 or so day returns to the Mall for me. I made approximately 30 such journeys in the last year so I can call it a significant discount on my travel costs. They were due to hold a similar meeting of people, chosen because they don’t regularly use the bus, in the following hour. So 24 people at £40 a time is £960 before tea and biscuit and meeting accommodation costs. All paid by the Council Subsidy when the bill comes in?

  1. Evening Services.

It was unticked because it was covered by the earlier questions.

It is now 12.47. Time to check on the next bus time.

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12.53. That bus has two minutes to get to the station. You will notice the bus is pretty full. I hope, no I know, that they will not be rushing for that Station connection.

Cheers,

Time for a pint. I should get to King Street by four if I get the next bus.

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