Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Annual Report 2016

Lancaster District Bus Users’ Group

Annual Report 2016

2016 proved to be a very successful year for the Bus Users’ Group.

 The early part of the year was dominated by the County Council’s decision to cancel all its contracts for non-commercial local bus services and to replace them with greatly-reduced funding for “Parish Buses” to be run by local communities on a not-for-profit basis.
Along with other organisations, the Bus Users’ Group responded to the consultation on this with the view that this was not the way forward and that whatever funding was to be available should be used to continue the most important local bus services. We reluctantly accepted that it would not be possible to save all our buses and that evening and Sunday services would have to be withdrawn as the county council made it clear that under no circumstances could these be afforded.
The 89 Lancaster to Knott End service was oneof those
reprieved following represntations by the BUG and others.
In March, the council decided that £2M per annum would be available to continue some contracted bus services. The Group put forward proposed timetables for services 33 Bare Circular; 51 Silverdale-Carnforth; 89 Lancaster – Knott End and an early evening journey on service 81 Lancaster – Kirkby Lonsdale to cater for workers for whom the proposed last bus at 1730 was too early.  The council decided to continue all these routes but admitted to us that the 33 and the 81 would not have been saved had we not campaigned for them.
The campaign to save these services gave the Group some excellent publicity with articles
Our member Duncan Foster's picture
appeared all over the media!
in the Lancaster Guardian and your Chair giving two interviews on BBC Radio Lancashire. Our member, Duncan Foster, gave permission for his name to be given to Nick Lakin at the Guardian for a follow-up article later in the year about how people had been affected by the cuts. Duncan’s – and his home-made Hi-Viz jacket’s – story was then taken up by the BBC Regional TV news and also had a story – with picture – in the Daily Mail. Sadly, despite all this publicity Whittington, Arkholme and Gressingham remain almost busless.

The campaign also helped develop our relationships with local councils and councillors. Your chair attended parish council meetings at Caton, Thurnham (with our member CC Gina Dowding) and Overton (with city councillor Margaret Pattison). The Chair was also invited by Councillor Caroline Jackson to attend a meeting of the City Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  In October, County Councillor John Fillis, the county’s cabinet member for Highways & Transport spoke to us and later invited the Chair and Gina Dowding to a meeting in county hall which was also attended by County Councillor Lizzie Collinge and Cat Smith MP.  As our Treasurer will report, we have received grants from two local county councillors and it is particularly pleasing that we have been able to establish contacts with representatives of all three major political parties locally.
We have also continued to develop good relationships with county council public transport officers and, of course, local bus company managers. The MD and Commercial Manager of Stagecoach have attended our meetings and, of course, Matthew Sutton from Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire has joined our Group.
Real Time information was trialled at the bus station
We hope it will return later in 2017
Our contact with the team at the University that operates the electronic information display at the bus station has been very useful this year and has allowed us to suggest a number of improvements. Further work to incorporate “real time” information on the display will be undertaken in 2017 and we hope to be able to make a further contribution to the quality of information provided.


Last, but not least, we have developed a good working relationship with Nick Lakin at the Lancaster Guardian, who now approaches us for news and comments on buses and with reporters at BBC Radio Lancashire and, most recently, Bay Radio
 At the end of the year we had 27 paid-up members with another 34 people on our mailing list who have not joined the Group but who have expressed an interest in what we do. One hundred and fifty people follow our Facebook page and posts there regularly receive over 200 “views”, whilst our blog has had over 110,000 views and we can expect to get between 100 and 200 readers for each post – and sometimes many more. 

We also took a number of other steps to raise our profile during the year. In January we produced a poster for display in buses serving the University asking passengers on busy buses to consider giving up their seat to someone who needed it more than them, following complaints about overcrowding on some University buses.
In March your Chair attended an event organised by Bus Users UK in Preston where national organisers from that body were present.  We were also invited to participate in a Transport Workshop organised by the county council as part of the Transport Masterplan for the District.
We have raised a formal complaint against thecounty council
 over the non-acceptance of bus passes on Dales Bus.
For the second year running we assisted the Dales & Bowland CIC with distribution of the Dales Bus leaflets for the summer service between Morecambe and the Yorkshire Dales and – with a little bit of persuasion – were able to get them on display in the bus station enquiry office for the first time.  Unfortunately, both Lancashire and North Yorkshire county councils decided not to accept concessionary passes on the service in 2016. The Group has challenged the decision and is currently awaiting the outcome of a Formal Complaint to Lancashire that it is acting outside the law in doing so, whilst North Yorkshire is understood to be reviewing its decision for 2017 and we have asked for an input into that review.


We have also designed and had printed our first leaflet telling people about the Group and
2016 saw our new logo for use on publicity and correspondance
encouraging them to join. Designed by our vice-chair, Joy, it is now on display in Lancaster and Morecambe libraries and visitor information centres and it has been successful in recruiting a number of new members.

County Councillor John Fillis
Cabinet Memnber for Highways & Transport



At our October meeting the County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways & Transport, John Fillis, answered a number of questions about his work and future policy. This was a very successful meeting leading, amongst other things, to our Group being the first to learn that Cllr Fillis had been successful in gaining continuation of the funding that will allow all the county’s remaining contract bus services to be continued for a further year.




In the wider world in 2016 Stagecoach announced a fares-freeze with the annual increase that usually takes place in the Spring being cancelled. The company also introduced a cut-price Day Rider ticket for under-19s which gave large savings to the 16 – 19 year olds who previously had to pay full fare.

Cuts to bus services following the ending of Council contracts in April saw the withdrawal of a number of rural services and the loss of evening and Sunday buses on many routes. Stagecoach did elect to continue Sunday buses between Overton, Morecambe and Carnforth on a commercial basis and also extended the Halton service to Warton, via Over Kellet and Carnforth to replace some contracted journeys.      
Due, at least in part, to the work of our group a full service was continued on the 33 to Bare, and a reduced timetable on the 51 to Silverdale and the 89 to Knott End with these services passing to Traveller’s Choice or Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire with new LCC contracts.

The Heysham Link Road opened at the end of October and, although no bus services presently use it, the reduced traffic on the main road between Lancaster and Morecambe has improved reliability for buses on that corridor. Stagecoach has previously indicated that once the impact of the new road is known it will review its services in the district and hopefully be able to introduce some of the improvements we have previously asked for. 

Lancaster's Park & Ride started in December.
As part of the Link Road project, Lancaster’s first Park & Ride service opened before Christmas. Whilst it has got off to a slow start, not helped by the county council’s inability to fund more than a half-hourly service, it appears that LCC is willing to give it a fair chance to develop and to demonstrate the advantages of the bus in bringing people – but not cars – into the city centre.
At the very end of year – December 31st – it ceased to be legal to use a non-accessible bus (with a few minor exceptions) on a local bus service, thus ending the problem of wheelchair-users being unable to use some buses on service 42 to Blackpool. Stagecoach’s last non-accessible buses disappeared some time before this and all local bus services are now “accessible”.

New hope for service 18
Not all our work has been successful however, and it would be wrong to conclude this review without a mention of the fight to improve the service on the 18 to the Moor Hospital site. The Group has been in constant contact with city and county council officers throughout the year to try and establish what – if anything – was happening to the funds the county was known to have available to do this but without much success.
Finally, however, at our October meeting, Cllr Fillis agreed to a request for a meeting to specifically discuss this issue, which subsequently took place in December at County Hall where the Group was represented along with a city councillor (Tim Hamilton-Cox), two county councillors (Gina and Lizzie Collinge), Senior Officers from the Transport Department and even Cat Smith MP!   Following the meeting the county council has sought tenders for an improved service and we hope to learn the outcome of the tendering exercise very shortly.

I would like to end this report by thanking my fellow committee members for their help and hard work during the year and also our members, for continuing to support the work of the Group by attending meetings, contributing to our social media platforms and generally being supportive of what we do.
Thank you.

Jim Davies
Chair


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Please come along to our next meeting


The AGM will be followed by a talk from Matthew Sutton (Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire) about running a small bus company in Lancashire.

Everyone is welcome and you will be able to join the Group or pay your annual subscription for 2017 (£5 adult or £2 student or bus pass holder).

Friday, 30 December 2016

Park & Ride: A User's Report

As "Bus Users" we wouldn't expect to make much use of Lancaster's new Park & Ride service. It's aimed at motorists in an attempt to keep cars out of the city centre and, of course, you need a car to be able to use it in the first place. But one of our members has given it a try and here is his report:

"This morning at 8am I drove to the Park & Ride. The car park was empty save for my car and two others, which the bus driver said was a three-car share: two cars are left at the site and the occupants continue their journey in the third without using the bus. I waited in my car for about 20 minutes before a single decker Kirkby Lonsdale bus drew up. 

The bus shelter had a pretty purple silhouette of the Lancaster Skyline on it but little else. There were no toilets , no heating, and no visible CCTV.  The gates were open but had no locks so the main car park 1 seems to be open 24/7. Car park 2 overflow is locked and is clearly not needed at present. There was no Tourist information whatsoever.

There was a price list of fares and a family ticket for two adults and three children was £3 which seemed reasonable. I had to pay £1.50 as it was before the Bus Pass watershed. The car park charge will be £1 but is currently free until February as there are no ticket machines.

I was the only passenger. The driver said he had had 4 people yesterday and 40 on Saturday. The bus was new but did not have LED or audio announcements to indicate the route or stopping points.. The driver was friendly and told me he felt that stopping at George Street for the Hospital  was pointless. 

I asked the driver what tourist attraction he would recommend to a visitor to the city. With typical Lancaster realism he said " The Castle -  but it is shrouded in scaffolding" . Perhaps what he should have said is " The Castle and there are fantastic tours of the dungeons inside" I don't know what training the drivers get in promoting tourism but I am quite happy to take them on tours of Lancaster and the Castle. (Our member is a tourist guide in the city).

Something that rail passengers should note is that  Virgin Trains has hugely increased the daily rate for parking (It's now £12 on Mondays to Fridays and £4 on Saturdays) and it would be much cheaper to use the Park & Ride and get off at China Street for the short walk up Meeting House Lane to the station. But why does the bus not go to the Railway Station any way  and then on to the bus station before going to Caton Road?"

The above is, of course, only one user's view (and not necassarily that of the Bus Users' Group, although we would agree with much of what it says).  Perhaps the County Council and the operator would like to take up our member's offer of a tour of the city's attractions for the driver(s) and perhaps they might consider re-routing via the railway station if there is sufficient free time in the schedule.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Stagecoach Increases prices of Multi-Journey Tickets from 2 January


StagecoachSmart bus card reader

After pledging to freeze fares "throughout 2016" Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs is wasting no time in raising at least some of them in 2017, with an increase announced for 2nd January.
There is some good news. Ordinary single and return fares, as well as the popular Day Rider and Day Rider Plus tickets remain unchanged at April 2015 levels whilst the bargain "Under 19" Dayriders for the Bay Area and for "Lancashire"  are increased by only  20p and 40p respectively

The "Lancashire" Day Rider, which extends as far east as Blackburn, south to Bolton and Wigan and west to Southport and Liverpool is up by only 30p to £7.70 (the Under 19 version rises to £4.40), whilst the Explorer ticket is unchanged at £10.80

The weekly Megarider tickets rise from £14.50 to £15 (Bay Area) and £20.50 to £21,50 for Bay Area Plus. Increases of between 3.5 and 4.7%

The bad news concerns the company's longer 4-weekly tickets, which offer discounts for 28 days travel and it is these increases that have given rise to complaints. 

These tickets come in two versions: The basic "Megarider", which is a one-off ticket valid for 28 days and a "Megarider Xtra" which is the same ticket, but renewed automatically every 28 days and paid for by direct debit.

In the smaller "Bay Area"(which extends to Overton, Warton, Pine Lakes, The Kellets, Halton, Denny Beck and Galgate, Hampson Lane) the Megarider price rises  by 7.5% from £53 (£13.25 per week) to £56.99 (£14.25 a week), whilst the Megarider Xtra is increased from £52 per month (£12.00 per week) to £56.99 per month (£13.15 a week) a 9.5% hike.

But it is the larger "Bay Area Plus" (extending to Cote Green, Kirkby Lonsdale, Ingleton and Forton) that the sees biggest rises. Here, the Megarider Plus price goes up from £75 to £82.99 an increase of 10.6% whilst passengers paying by direct debit for a "Megarider Plus Xtra" ticket are hit by a swingeing 32% rise from £63 to £82.99 per month.

The Megarider and Megarider Xtra tickets are sold as smartcard products and are bought over the internet, and give huge cost savings to the company in administrative and "sales" costs. Most commercial organisations are keen to move customers on to payment by Direct Debit, where feasible, so as to ensure loyalty and continuity of purchase. It does seem strange therefore that Stagecoach appears to be penalising its regular customers, whilst leaving charges to more casual users unchanged.

Stagecoach defended the increase to the Bus Users' Group by pointing out that the Megarider and Megarider Plus tickets offered large discounts over daily fares and that particularly in the case of the Megarider Plus Xtra (the ticket with the 32% price increase) the level of discount could not be sustained.

The example quoted in the Lancaster Guardian's online report was of a young person travelling from Caton to Lancaster and back each schoolday using a Megarider Plus Xtra ticket. Such a passenger has the following options for five days a week travel:

Five Adult Return Tickets @ £5.70  =  £28.50  (the "base price")

Five Under-19s Lancashire Dayriders @ £4  =  £20  ( 30% discount over base price)
(an adult passenger would get no discount by buying a Bay Plus DayRider at £6.90)

A 7-Day  Megarider Plus @ £20.50  ( 28% discount over base price)

A 28-day Megarider Plus Xtra @ £63 equivalent to £15.75 a week (45% discount over base price)

Stagecoach may therefore have a point that the level of discount offered on the Megarider Plus Xtra is significantly more generous than the alternatives. Even at the new rate of £82.99 ( a regrettable move away from "round pound" pricing) or £19.15 a week the ticket still offers a relatively generous discount of 33% over the cost of five return fares bought daily, although no doubt existimg passengers won't see it that way!




Sunday, 11 December 2016

Park and Ride Service Starts


Lancaster's new Park & Ride service started operation on Friday (9th December). Operator Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire has sourced this new bus, which as the livery suggests is dedicated to the new service.  The Bus Users' Group photographer finds that all modern buses look the same to him (although he could tell a Guy Arab IV from an AEC Regent V at a glance!) so if any more knowledgeable person amongst our readership knows what it is please leave a comment.

Now is a good time to try out the service, which runs every 30 minutes between the new car park at Caton Road Business Park (just off Jc. 34 on M6) and the city centre, because the county council has not yet installed the necessary Pay & Display ticket machines at Caton Road and has pragmatically decreed that the "Park" element of the charge has been suspended until February, leaving only the "Ride" to be paid for at £1.50 per person return. (Bus Passes accepted after 0930 and all day Saturday).

Friday, 9 December 2016

BUG ISSUES "FORMAL COMPLAINT" AGAINST COUNTY COUNCIL

The Northern Dalesman at Ribblehead (c) Northern Echo



For this year's summer season, Lancashire County Council for the first time excluded the popular Dales Bus service 832 from Morecambe to Ingleton (continuing to Hawes and Richmond) (The "Northern Dalesman") from the Concessionary Bus Pass Scheme. In doing so it was following the lead of North Yorkshire County Council, which similarly excluded most - but not all - similar services in its area.

Dales & Bowland CIC, which organises the services, was quick to respond with a cut-price offer for passholders who had previously travelled free of charge, but the Lancaster District Bus Users' Group felt that an issue of principle was at stake and that the two councils appeared to be acting outside the provisions of the relevant legislation.

An Amendment to the regulations in 2009 does allow councils to exclude "services operated primarily for the purposes of tourism" from the bus pass scheme and it is this that the two county councils appear to be relying on to justify their actions. "Tourism" however, is not defined in the amending Order whilst Guidance from the Department for Transport makes it clear that this provision is not intended to exclude ordinary bus services which just happen to serve places of interest to tourists; rather it is aimed at services such as Open-Top City Tours with commentaries and local guides or services operated by vehicles of historic interest.

Lancashire claims to have received legal advice that it is acting within the legislation but has chosen not to share it with the public. A Freedom of Information Request to see the Advice was refused, leaving us with no option but to issue the Formal Complaint.

You can read the text of the complaint via this link.

Apart from being illegal, Lancashire's actions are illogical. It won't pay for local people with bus passes (whom it defines as "tourists") to visit Ingleton or Hawes for a Sunday day out but is happy to pay for them to have a day out in the Lake District or in Blackpool!  It's also happy to pay for them to travel to Ingleton on weekdays - but apparently not on Sundays!

The Council says that Dales Bus services are "outside the spirit of the Act". The Bus Users' Group strongly disputes that but reminds the council that its obligation is to observe the LETTER of the law.

We await the response to our complaint with interest.


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Lancaster Park & Ride to start on Friday - Timetable Revealed

The Bus Users' Group has been told by two separate authoritative sources that Lancaster's long-awaited Park & Ride, from Junction 34 of M6 on Caton Road to the City Centre, will start on Friday, 9th December and a notice to that effect has now appeared on Lancashire's website.

It has to be said that there is very little evidence of this on the ground, but our eagle-eyed observer at the bus station unearthed a clue today, with the appearance of a new "service 1" on the electronic display board.

The hitherto-unknown "service 1" can be seen at the bottom of the left-hand bank of services, with a departure due at 1205.

This is also the first time that "Caton Road Business Park" has appeared as a "destination" on Lancaster's bus network. So much so, that the Bus Users' Group had to "Google" it to find out what - and where - it was!  (Answer here!)

As there are no known plans to introduce any other new bus services in Lancaster at the moment the BUG is forced to the conclusion that "service 1" is in fact Lancaster's new "Park & Ride"that has appeared a little prematurely on the destination board! The feeling that the board is premature was backed up by the lack of any paper timetable information on stand 15 as well as the non-arrival of the supposed 12.05 bus.

It then occurred to us that as the destination display gets its information from the same data source as Traveline and other on-line journey planners that if the Park & Ride is on the bus station display it might be in the Traveline system as well.

So, as the County Council has so far seen fit not to tell anyone about it, the Bus Users Group is pleased to announce that the Park and Ride will operate every 30 minutes from Caton Road, stopping at North Road (Waring & Gillow); George Street, China Street (the stop near Atkinson's that isn't used by any other buses), Lancaster Bus Station and Parliament Street. First bus from Caton Road  is at 06.50 (07.50 on Saturdays) and the last from George Street is at 19.30 (18.30 Saturdays) There is no Sunday service  and the full timetable is here:

For a clearer version of the timetable you can go to Traveline.info and enter "1" in the service number box and "Lancaster" as the locality. (Apologies, but unlike other Traveline regions it doesn't appear possible to link directly to a timetable on Traveline North West).

And having read the timetable, if you do spot a Park & Ride bus, let us know!