Thursday, 5 December 2019

Buses and the Election

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The Bus Users' Group is a non-political organisation, but with just a week to go before the general election we have taken a look at the parties' manifestos to see what they say about buses.

Naturally, transport features in all of them and most parties recognise the need to reduce pollution caused by cars, although the Conservatives intend to implement a large-scale road building programme, which would have the opposite effect.  As far as public transport is concerned all parties say far more about trains than they do about buses despite the fact that 59% of public transport journeys are made by bus compared with only 21% by train (Department for Transport figures)

This lack of appreciation of the importance of bus services is compounded by an apparent lack of understanding about how bus services are provided at present, which makes some of proposals put forward in the manifestos difficult to understand and evaluate, although we have done our best.

So, what do the parties say about buses? (With BUG's comments in italics)

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  • The Green Party says it will "make public transport cheaper than the cost of travelling by car". There is, of course, more than one way of doing that and it also begs the question of whether, when one takes into account the full cost of car ownership and operation, public transport may already be the cheaper option for many people.                                                              
  • Specifically, the Greens would give all councils "London-style" control over bus services (whether they want it or not?) and they would "support" (presumably financially) local authorities in bringing back lost bus routes and opening new ones.                                                 
  • They would provide more bus priority measures to improve punctuality. (Here, the party deserves credit for identifying the major problem facing urban bus services and the best remedy for it). Greens would also provide more money to improve bus stops and waiting facilities, a feature of bus travel usually overlooked.                                                    
  • Lastly, but very importantly, the party would ensure that the planning system ensures that all new housing developments come with high-quality walking and cycling facilities and much improved public transport.

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  • The Liberal Democrats promise to invest in public transport to improve its reliability and affordability but the amount of this "investment" is not quantified.                                                              
  • They also promise to reform the planning system, in their case "to reduce the need to travel" and to promote cycling and walking (but no mention of encouraging bus use).           
  • Specific proposals are to "give new powers to local authorities and communities to improve transport" including the ability to introduce multi-operator ticketing (Local authorities already have this power)  They would also provide £4.5 billion over five years to to restore lost bus routes.

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  • The Labour Party's manifesto is the only one to recognise that buses carry more passengers than other forms of public transport and that they are relied upon by "many economically disadvantaged groups".                                                                                               
  • The party will give local councils the powers and the funding (but not the legal duty) to regulate and "take public ownership of" bus networks, although whether that means public ownership of the actual buses is unclear. (However, the reason stated for doing so would appear to be to improve the wages and conditions of bus workers rather than to improve things for passengers).                                              
  • In areas where councils choose to take up such powers the party would provide free bus travel for everyone under the age of 25.   Limiting free travel to areas where councils take control of buses could lead to anomalies and inequality of treatment for the target group. Young people living in one village could receive free travel whereas people in a neighbouring community just across a council boundary would not. It is also not clear whether the free travel would apply across the country, as it does for elderly and disabled people, or merely within individual council areas. How bus operators were compensated for giving away travel to the under 25s would be crucial and with over 65s and disabled people already recieving free travel there might be very few passengers actually paying a fare on many routes.                                                                                                                              
  • Labour would "increase and expand" local bus services with "3,000" withdrawn bus routes being re-instated. (This implies that it would be central government that would decide where the new bus services would be provided, rather than at a local level although this is not specifically stated in the manifesto).                                                                                                                                                                  

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  • The Conservative party manifesto has the least to say about buses or public transport in general, preferring to focus on a massive road-building campaign and likening the UK at present as a frustrated country trapped "like some super green supercar blocked in the traffic", which might show where their priorities lie.                                                    
  • They promise to give "city regions" (but not shire county or rural areas) the funding to improve their bus services to make them "as good as London's" and say they will invest in "superbus" networks with low fares and increased frequency.  (Quite what makes a bus a "superbus" is not defined)                                                                                                                            
  • The Conservatives also say they will bring back and protect rural bus routes but do not say they will allow or require councils to take ownership of or regulate local bus services.                                                                                                                        
  • The party would invest in electric buses and create the first "all-electric bus" town in the UK.                                                                                                                 
  • Lastly, the Conservatives are the only party to specifically promise to keep the Older Persons' Bus Pass.   (The BUG would have been very surprised if any political party had promised to abolish it!)                                                                                                   
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  • The Bus Users' Group has difficulty in taking the Brexit Party seriously. But as the party has specifically said that it is not publishing a manifesto for this election we'll just leave it there, except to say that those Group members who visit the rest of Europe regularly usually compare their public transport systems very favourably against our own.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Christmas and New Year Buses

Details of bus services in North Lancashire over the Christmas and New Year period have now been announced.

Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve

All services are subject to an early finish, with buses stopping running after about 19.00hrs on most routes, although on 555 (Lancaster-Keswick) the service will continue up to and including the 20.40hrs journey to Kendal.

These early finishes, on two of the busiest nights of the year for "going out", have been going on for many years.The original reasons for them have been lost in the mists of time, but probably have more to do with not wanting to upset the drivers or the trade union than for any commercial reason. There's also a feeling that this happens everywhere (at least in the UK),although the BUG has evidence that that is not necessarily the case.

Christmas Day, and New Year's Day

There are no services on Christmas Day or New Year's Day.  Here, Stagecoach is certainly in line with common UK practice (although passengers elsewhere in Europe would be surprised). But compare the lack of buses in Lancaster with what's happening on the Isle of Wight, where there are full services on Christmas Eve,  extra late buses on New Year's Eve, a Sunday service on Boxing Day and New Year's Day and even a regular service on main routes on Christmas Day itself. Details via this link

Boxing Day

In recent years Stagecoach has redeemed itself by providing services on Boxing Day, which is still a bus-free day in many parts of England. This year's pattern is similar to last year, with special services on 1A, 2X, 6A, 40, 55 and100, a Sunday service on 555 and a normal service on 755 (Morecambe-Bowness) which wasn't mentioned at all in last year's Christmas leaflet.

The Days In-between

Between Friday 27th and Monday 30th December a normal (School and University Holidays) service will run on all routes, with normal services recommencing on Thursday, 2nd January 2020

Full details of Stagecoach services over the period, including full timetables, can be seen via this link and can also be found in a handy booklet available from the Travel Shop in Lancaster Bus Station and in Lancaster Library. The leaflet also details the opening hours of the Travel Shop and the availability of "customer services" from the Inspectors at the bus station.The BUG was surprised to see that there are apparently no inspectors on duty on Boxing Day, despite the extensive service operating, whilst on Christmas Eve they don't start work until 16.00 and are finished by 18.15 with a similar late start on New Year's Eve - although then they do at least remain on duty for a couple of hours longer!

Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire

The company does not appear to have published details of its Christmas services yet, although based on past experience we could expect a normal service to operate on all routes except on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day, when no service would operate.