Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Confusion on Common Garden Street


Common Garden Street is the main picking-up point for south and eastbound buses leaving the city centre and, due to the one-way system, is also a major setting-down point for buses from the south of the city. There are three stops, helpfully lettered by the county council as "A" "B" and "C" Each stop has a flag showing the service numbers as well as a timetable case showing departure times.  So far, so good.

The service changes necessitated by the Greyhound Bridge closure mean that the displays at these stops, along with every other stop in the city, have been updated.  A mammoth task, for which the county council, which maintains them and which deserves praise - especially with the reduced staffing levels under which it operates these days.

But it looks as if the city centre stops have been just a little bit too much for them this time.


Stop A (just off camera to the right in the image above) is for buses heading towards the University on services 2, 2A, 3, 3A and 4.  For the duration of the bridge closure (which is expected to be six months) these services have had a "U" prefix added to the number to distinguish them from buses heading to Morecambe that were previously part of the through services that have been split at the bus station.  LCC's first failure is not to have updated the flag.




As far as the Bus Users' Group can determine - and as Stagecoach has confirmed to us - there have been no changes to how these stops are used, so we are puzzled as to why the display case now contains times for:

2X Battery-Lancaster .
3A Lancaster - University
18 East Lancaster Circular
U2 University - Lancaster(i.e. towards the bus station)

The 2X (just one journey at 0821) and the 3A towards the University DO use this stop, although the service number 3A is not in use for the duration, having been replaced by U3 and U3R.  Service 18 uses Stop C as do buses on the U2 towards the bus station.  However, buses on U2 U3 U3R and U4 towards the University, which use this stop, are not mentioned on the display!


Stop B, behind the bus in the main image, is for buses to Preston, Blackpool and Knott End as well as local service 9 to Bowerham. The stop sign has never been updated to take account of the fact that alternate journeys on the 40 to Preston were renumbered 41 several years ago and that the 89H was discontinued last year.  The N1 is a late-night service to the University, which surely uses Stop A (although this blog author is usually fast asleep when that operates) and which in any case has been numbered N2 for some time.
The display case here correctly includes the 9, 40, 41, 42 and 89. But it also includes the service 3 journey at 0630 to the University that almost certainly uses stop A as well as, inexplicably, all the U2 journeys (every 10 minutes all day) to the University that also use Stop A


Stop C is for westbound buses towards Heysham (although these are terminating at the bus station during the works) as well as city services 10 (Ridge) and 18 (Williamson Park) that, despite the stop designation, head east out of the city.  It's main use however is as a setting-down point for buses coming into town from the south.

Here, the council has put up a display for the 10 (which is correct) as well as some - but by no means all - of the buses that are heading for the bus station. The rest of these buses as well as service 18 to the Park are wrongly included in the Stop A display instead!

The Bus Users' Group watched  these stops very closely to see what actually happened before writing this post and we can confirm that buses are using the very same stops that they always have done. Regular passengers know the times they are due and buses to the University are frequent enough for passengers not to need a timetable (at least during the day), but for infrequent users or visitors to the city it must be a nightmare.

Just up from Common Garden Street is George Street, used by services in the opposite direction. There are two stops here, but the confusion that must be caused by the displays the council has put up here is so great that we don't have the time to go into it here. Suffice it to say that they are just plain wrong! Fortunately these stops are mainly used by alighting passengers  - which is just as well.

This group normally holds LCC's public transport team - and especially the people dealing with bus stop publicity - in very high regard. They are very keen to get things right and usually reply to and act promptly on any suggestions we make when we discover an error or something we think could be improved in their displays. However, these faults were brought to their attention over a week ago and we have not received even an acknowledgement, let alone seen any action on their part.  It's a shame, as generally the bus service is coping extremely well with the disruption and is being let down only by poor publicity from the county council.


Monday, 12 February 2018

Greyhound Bridge: What do you think of it so far?

Two-way traffic on Skerton Bridge
Greyhound Bridge in Lancaster was closed to all traffic on 29th January when two-way working was introduced on Skerton Bridge for cross-river journeys.
The closure necessitated major changes to bus timetables, with extra time being allowed for the diversion and the expected traffic congestion that would occur. Some services were split into two halves, either side of the city, and extra buses and crews deployed to maintain frequencies.  Stagecoach warned passengers to allow extra time for their journeys and everyone expected major delays throughout the six-month period of the works.

So, after the first fortnight how are things working?

It was to be said that most people have been surprised at how well the traffic is flowing. The fact that the Lancaster Guardian has not been able to come up with a "Traffic Chaos, Shock, Horror" story in the two editions that have appeared since the closure says a lot.  There have been some delays to certain services at certain times but on the whole things are going a lot better than people expected.

It could be that some motorists have just discovered the existence of the Heysham Link Road, which acts as a diversionary route, or perhaps some people are avoiding the city altogether but the congestion and delays that were forecast don't seem to have happened - so far.

In fact, things could be said to be working almost too well.  The extra buses and the extra time allowed aren't always required - and buses are arriving at the bus station earlier than scheduled - when they should still be stuck in the traffic.  Unfortunately this does cause a problem: they have nowhere to go when they get there!  The bus station has very limited space for buses on layover between trips. This is a problem at the best of times and although some services have been moved to a different stand to help things, it's now getting out of hand. Buses arriving at the station are finding their departure stand already occupied and the nearest space can be at the other end of the station - if indeed there is space at all.


Buses queueing to reach a stand.



It's not unknown for buses to have to queue to get into the station and once inside it's common for drivers to have to leave their bus and go and look for the passengers who are waiting in the right place and shepherd them back to the bus. Needless to say, some are better at doing this than others.




"17...18....19....20??, Where's my bus?




Because of the uncertainty, passengers tend to mill about in the middle of the concourse, rather than wait at the designated stands.









Everything "on time" if you know where to look



The popular electronic departure screen can't be of any help to them as it can't be programmed to show any alterations to the departure stands and resolutely directs passengers to where the bus ought to be, rather than where it is. (The 100% "on time" record seems to confirm that the buses have more than adequate time added to their schedules).

Help is at hand








But Stagecoach is trying to help and extra staff are on duty to help and advise passengers. Something which appears to be very necessary at times.









The company tells us they are aware of the problem and are looking for alternative places to park buses between trips - although these can't be too far away from the station itself.

But apart from this, there don't seem to be too many operational problems at the moment, although if you've had a different experience please leave a comment and let us know.

Unfortunately, Lancashire County Council is rather letting the side down when it comes to bus stop information and we'll have more on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

All Greyhound Bridge Timetables Now Available


All the new timetables that will apply during the Greyhound Bridge closure, between 29th January and next August are now available online, both from Stagecoach and Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire.




Almost every service in the city will have some changes made to times.  Those which normally cross the river are most affected of course with buses having 10 to 20 minutes added to their running times.
Through services between Lancaster University, Morecambe and Heysham (services 2 2A 3 and 4) will operate as two separate services with through passengers required to change at the bus station. However through fares will continue to be available between connecting buses.

Even services that don't cross the river are affected with extra running time being added to allow for the effects of expected traffic congestion in the city centre.

The following services will have significant changes

18  East Lancaster Circular.  Frequency reduced from every 30 to every 40 minutes with a completely new timetable.

41  Morecambe - Lancaster - Preston:  Most journeys will operate between Lancaster and Preston only. Passengers for Morecambe will have to change at the bus station on to other services.

New service U2:  Lancaster - University via Bowerham:  Evening journeys are reduced from every 20 minutes to every 30  during university vacations.

New service U3 Lancaster - University via Greaves Road:  The daytime service along Greaves Road will operate only during university terms. In the vacations a half-hourly service will continue to be provided by service U3R. Greaves Road is also served by the 40, 41 and 42.

All these changes, including the service reductions are temporary and full services will be restored after the works are completed.  Stagecoach tell us that they are sorry they have had to make cuts to services during the holidays but point out that due to the closure they have had to provide a significant number of extra buses and drivers just to keep existing services running.  As they will receive no compensation from the county council for the extra cost and loss of income caused by the roadworks they feel they have no alternative but to make some temporary reductions to services that are heavily-used by students in term time but not in the holidays.


Thursday, 18 January 2018

More News on Greyhound Bridge Closure


Following our post on how to find out about your bus service during the six months from 29th January that Greyhound Bridge will be closed there is now some information on Stagecoach's website.

There are now links to most new timetables with the rest expected to be added very shortly. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

New Bus Times During Greyhound Bridge Closure

Greyhound Bridge closes on 29th January for six months.

The closure of Greyhound Bridge in Lancaster from 29th January for at least six months will result in new timetables for ALL the city's bus services.

With less than a fortnight to go these new times are still not available on-line or in print, but the information is there, buried within Stagecoach's website. This makes it possible to check on how the new timetables will affect your journey. Here's how to do it on-line:

1.  Go to www.stagecoachbus.com

2. Make sure the Location tab (top centre) is set to "Lancaster"

3. Click on Plan a Journey

4. Fill in the starting and finishing points of your journey and your departure time and set the date to after 29th January 2018

5. This will give you a journey plan that will apply when the new timetables are in place.  
In the example on this link you can see that a journey from Lancaster University to Heysham, which can normally be made on a through bus (service 2 or 2A) will need a change at Lancaster Bus Station because during the bridge closure there will be no (or at least very few) through buses between south Lancaster and Morecambe.

6. But don't be tempted to follow any more links. From the results page it looks as if it might be possible to reach a full timetable for the new services, but it isn't - and clicking on the new service number just takes you to a copy of the current (pre- 29th January) timetables!

We will post links to the new timetables as soon as they become available.

Monday, 8 January 2018

New Lune Valley Service Details Revealed

Matt Sutton from KLCH and Andrew Snowden from LCC launch the new service.

The Bus Users' Group has refrained from publishing what it knew about the new Lune Valley bus service to be introduced on 5th March following a request from Lancashire County Council to wait until all the details had been finalised.



There may be more news to come, but a timetable for "Service 582  Lancaster to Kirkby Lonsdale" has now appeared on Cumbria County Council's website (Kirkby Lonsdale is within that Council's jurisdiction).  As expected, the timetable shows buses operating every two hours between Lancaster and Kirkby Lonsdale via Hornby, Gressingham, Arkholme and Whittington and includes the limited peak hour services currently operated by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire. There is also a new, later, evening journey from Kirkby to Lancaster.  First bus of the day from Kirkby Lonsdale is at 0730 (except Saturdays) with following journeys at 1015, 1215, 1415, 1615, 1815 and 2015 six days a week. There is also a journey on service 81 (via Melling and Tunstall) from Kirkby at 1915.

In the other direction, buses leave Lancaster at 0645, 0745, 0945, 1145, 1345 and 1545 all running Mondays to Saturdays.  Stagecoach buses on service 81 via Melling and Tunstall continue as now.

The Cumbria County Council timetable can be seen via this link.

What the Cumbria website doesn't tell you is that most buses on service 582 continue from Kirkby Lonsdale through to Settle as service 581 and then on to Skipton as 580. For example, passengers will be able to leave Lancaster at 0945 and without changing buses reach Settle for 1125 and Skipton at 1210. And, for example, passengers can leave Skipton at 1445  or Settle at 1530  and arrive home in Lancaster at 1705. Later journeys in both directions are available.

When the Bus Users' Group was campaigning for this new service we asked the County Council for two extra benefits:
 - For inter-available tickets to be made available between Kirkby Lonsdale and Stagecoach buses so that passengers could make best use of the available service and - 

- For someone - either the operators or the council - to produce a joint timetable showing ALL buses between Lancaster and Kirkby in one document.  We are still awaiting news on both these items although there is plenty of time yet before the service starts.

Monday, 1 January 2018

How Things are Done Elsewhere

We recently posted how one of our local MPs, Cat Smith, was trying to get the government to take action to implement its own legislation requiring bus operators to equip their buses with "next stop" audio-visual displays to assist ALL passengers. Read again here

Whereas in the UK a small number of bus companies have fitted a number of different systems, a recent visit to Switzerland showed how a different approach could succeed.

Every bus (or, at least, every bus we travelled on) was fitted with a screen (or more than one in larger vehicles) that showed the name of the approaching stop together with a diagram showing the next few stops with the time it would take to reach them as well as the ultimate destination of the bus.


This bus is on service 29 and is approaching the stop "Neuheim" in the village of Udlingenswil, where it is due at 14.48. It is on time as shown by the classic Swiss Railways clock graphic at the bottom right of the screen.
The two following stops are shown below and are 1 and 6 minutes away. The service terminates at "Root D4 Bahnhof" (which is a railway station in a large industrial estate/business park in the suburbs of Lucerne).

When approaching major stops and interchanges the display alternates with a screen showing available connections.
This screen shows that from "Udingenswil, Frohsinn", which the bus reached, on time, at 14.47 there are departures on sevice 29 to Root  D4 Bahnhof as well as connections in both directions on the 73 to Udingenswil or Luzern (Lucerne). Note that the first two 73 journeys are shown in real time as running 1 minute late!
Whilst there did not appear to be any audio announcements, a loud and clear gong was sounded at the approach to each stop to alert passengers. Fortunately, perhaps, stops on rural Swiss buses are rather farther apart than in the UK!

Your BUG representative spent a few days travelling around the Lucerne area by bus and train and can report the following further differences to the UK scene:

1. The vast majority of buses and trains arrived on time. 

2. Bad weather, including heavy snow, appeared to have no impact on the service.

 This bus, which was operating on a rural service that connected with a mountain funicular railway was actually three minutes late when it picked up your BUG rep, but was back on time when it reached the town of Schwyz fifteen minutes later.

3. Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day are treated as normal service days. A Sunday service operates, but that's not very different from a weekday one anyway. There is no early close down on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. The bus in the small village where we stayed connected with trains from Lucerne right up until after midnight and again from 05:00 throughout the Christmas period as it does every day of the year.

4. Very few passengers pay cash, most having some form of pass or season ticket, although the high "walk-on" fares probably have a lot to do with this.

Overall, in Switzerland, one gets the feeling that one is using a properly planned and integrated system. Despite ownership being split between central government, local government and private operators there is a proper "network" with planned connections between buses and trains, buses and other buses and even buses and boats. Needless to say the fares are integrated and one ticket covers all operators and all modes of transport.  Information is easy to come by, both online and on paper and all stops have well-maintained, up to date and legible displays (county council please note) Even for someone unfamiliar with the language it is probably easier to find your way around than it would be in a strange city in the UK.  The only downside for a visitor is the lack of an overall timetable book and, as in Lancaster, one is expected to rely on individual service leaflets and just hope that you've managed to find all the ones you need.

Why can the Swiss do things so much better?  One is tempted to say that they just operate at a higher level of civilization, but clearly they, as a society, are prepared to put a lot more money into public transport than we are, both in terms of higher fares and higher contributions from local and central government. There is also a different approach in terms of politics. Public Transport is "non-political" in that there are no arguments over ownership. Buses and trains are publicly-planned but provided by a variety of public and private operators, and most rural and interurban bus services are run by the Post Office! Because systems are properly planned there is no issue with particular operators having a monopoly and no attempt to rely (unsuccessfully) on competition to improve things.  In short, buses are seen as a public service and one that is entitled to be funded to the necessary extent to ensure a high-quality operation. Because this is a view that prevails across the whole political spectrum there is no danger of a sudden change of approach upsetting the applecart and destroying what has been achieved.