An "off-peak" bus to the University on Day One of the new network
Stagecoach's new Lancaster network came into force on Monday and it's fair to say it experienced more than a few "teething problems". It has to be said that if you wanted to completely revise routes and timetables for Lancaster's busiest bus services, including all those to and from the University, you probably wouldn't want to do it on the very first day of term, when lots of new students who don't know the times, the routes or the fares are trying to make their journey for the first time!
Of course, Stagecoach didn't plan it that way. The new network was always timed for introduction when Greyhound Bridge re-opened in August. . . then September....then - with less than a week's notice. . .the 7th October. Had things gone to plan, the new routes would have had time to bed down and for regular passengers and staff to get used to them before the annual onslaught of university traffic began.
It didn't help that, despite the county council's promises, Greyhound Bridge didn't re-open "fully". Throughout week one only one lane was open westbound, whilst the inbound bus lane on Morecambe Road between Carlisle Bridge and the A6 junction was out-of-use until Friday.
|The single-deckers on service 2 have been leaving people behind.|
As expected, most problems have occurred on the University routes, especially on service 2 via Bowerham, where a reduced frequency and substitution of double deckers by singles have led to overcrowding, full buses and passengers being left behind. Problems have also occurred on Greaves Road where the new service 1, now double-decked, has been unable to cope at peak times.
The reasoning behind the changes was sound. Stagecoach sought to concentrate maximum capacity - the largest buses and the most frequent service - on the fastest route between the city and the University. Under the old network, students would often let the double-deckers on the roundabout Bowerham route go by and wait instead for a faster ride on the less frequent single-deck buses on Greaves Road. Encouraging more university passengers to catch the Greaves Road buses by improving the service would, it was thought, leave more room for locals along the Bowerham route whilst adding more seats on the service via Greaves.
That it hasn't worked out like that, at least so far, is due to a number of factors. The main reason appears to be the sheer numbers of passengers. Historically, the first week of term has always been busy with maximum loadings. As time goes by, students find they don't have to travel at the start of the day - or indeed at all on some days - and those that do travel find they are offered lifts or car-shares or take up cycling or walking, all of which eases the pressure on the service.
It's also unclear whether Stagecoach know how many students to expect. Student numbers are rising every year and the proliferation of custom-built student residences in the city centre and the move away from suburban housing for students changes the balance of passenger loadings each year by an unpredicatble amount.
But Stagecoach admits that some of its problems are self-inflicted. The company recently invested in new ticket machines for its buses, which can accept contactless card payments and these have had teething problems themselves. It appears that serious errors were made in programming the new machines for the new services. This led to some passengers being overcharged and drivers had difficulty in issuing tickets to destinations that were "missing" from the machines! All this led to vastly increased loading times which then caused the buses to run late, leading to gaps in the service and adding to the problems.
The University and the Bus Users' Group have been out and about monitoring the new services in an attempt to identify the areas of most concern and are working with Stagecoach to see where extra resources may be needed to solve the problems that some people are having - not just students but also people who are late getting to work because they can't get on a bus.
Away from the University a few other problems have come to light and have been raised on our Facebook page. Here are some of them, together with the BUG's view:
"The last evening buses from Lancaster back to Heysham are now too early and bar staff and other night-time workers can't get home."
BUG: Last bus to Heysham Towers is now 2340.Later buses are term time only and go only as far as Euston Road. During the Bridge closure the last bus was 0038 (38 minutes past midnight) although before Greyhound Bridge closed it was 2330 with later buses to the Battery. The last bus to Heysham Towers is therefor now 10 minutes LATER than it was in January. We will however raise the matter with Stagecoach.
"There is no longer a direct link from Bowerham to Euston Road which means anyone working near Euston Road has to set off earlier to get to work on time"
BUG: This is true and in the example given to us the journey between the two points was actually quicker when Greyhound Bridge was closed than it is now. We will make Stagecoach aware of this.
"The first bus from Heysham to the University is too late for an 0800 start time for workers."
BUG: The first service 1 through bus does not arrive until 0755 and has been reported as being often late. However, it is possible to reach the University at 0737 or 0752 by getting the 2X to Lancaster and then service 2 to the University
"The first bus on service 4 into the city is too late for schoolchildren"
BUG: The first one is now the 0827 from the University. Before the bridge closed it left at 0800. We will take this up with Stagecoach.
"The last bus from the railway station to the University on service 4 is much earlier than the previous U3R journey at 1843"
BUG: True. But the U3R was a temporary service running only when the bridge was closed. Before the closure the last departure on what was then 3A was at 1736. The last service 4 is now 1815.
"There is no longer a through service between West End Road and Combermere Road"
BUG: From the Westminster Road end of West End road this is true, but it is difficult to see what can be done about it. We will, however, pass this on to Stagecoach. We have also had a suggestion that service 1 should run via Combermere Road, which would solve the problem and this seems a good idea.
"Service 6A should serve the Retail Park at Mellishaw Lane"
BUG: Getting a service to the Retail Park is a long-standing objective for this Group and we will continue to press Stagecoach to consider this.
The Bus Users' Group will forward all these matters to Stagecoach which is intending to review the network when it has settled down. Thank you to everyone who has commented and sent suggestions.