Saturday, 18 March 2017

National Express Pulls Out of Morecambe

Busier days at Morecambe coach station
Morecambe is set to lose its last remaining long-distance express coach service when National Express re-routes its Whitehaven to London service 571 away from the town from Monday, 3rd April.  Also losing their connection with the national coach network are Carnforth and Bolton-le-Sands with coaches diverted to run via the M6 between Kendal and Lancaster.



The changes will mean that the morning coach to Birmingham and Lancaster will leave Lancaster bus station ten minutes earlier, at 0950, but due to additional running time being granted south of the city, arrival in London will be 15 minutes later at 1750. On Fridays even more time is added with coaches due to reach Victoria Coach Station at 1805.  The departure times at Lancaster University and Galgate are brought forward by similar amounts.

In the return direction coaches will leave London half-an-hour earlier at 1030, but due to the additonal time allowance, arrival at Lancaster will be only ten minutes earlier, at 1815 (1840 on Fridays, but earlier, at 1750 on Saturdays and Sundays) no doubt refelcting the differing traffic levels throughout the week.

Admittedly, Morecambe is no longer the important seaside resort it once was but it is hard to accept that the town, once a magnet for coaches from all over the north, the midlands and Scotland  is no longer thought worthy of even a single long-distance coach service.


Monday, 13 March 2017

Dales Bus Services for 2017 Announced: and Lancaster Gets Three!

Dales & Bowland CIC has announced details of the summer Sunday and Bank Holiday services for 2017 and the coming year sees a significant expansion of the service from Lancaster and the surrounding area. Additional sponsorship has been obtained from Northern Rail and the two new services offer connections with that company's trains at Bentham and Clitheroe.  The miserly - and possibly illegal - attitude of North Yorkshire and Lancashire County Councils unfortunately means that concessionary bus passes continue to be unavailable on these services but the Concessionary Dales Rover ticket at £6 for passholders  (£10 for adults) continues to allow an affordable day out in the Dales.

THE NORTHERN DALESMAN, which this year is numbered 830 throughout  the route, is diverted to take in Kirkby Lonsdale en-route to Ingleton, Hawes and Richmond and also continues through to Leyburn. This year it will be operated by Preston Bus and will therefore start at Preston, running non-stop via the M6 to Galgate then via Lancaster University (Underpass) calling at all stops along the A6 to Lancaster Bus Station. Although the Dalesman no longer serves Morecambe there will be a connection provided at Lancaster by the new Malham Tarn Shuttle (see below)

The Dalesman won't serve Keld on its outward run this year, but a timed connection will be made at Muker to allow walkers to reach the village.



First of the new services is the BOWLAND EXPLORER. To be known as service 833 and operated by Travellers Choice (although don't be surprised if a Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire bus turns up!)


It starts at Lancaster railway station at 0915 and calls at the bus station (where passengers from Morecambe have a connection (see below), before continuing along the Lune Valley to Hornby, then on to Bentham railway station, where it will connect with a train from Leeds and Skipton. 


From Bentham the Explorer continues to Ingleton and Clapham and  travels over Bowland Knotts, through Gisburn Forest and past Stocks Reservoir to Slaidburn before running over Newton Fells to Waddington and Clitheroe

 After meeting the train from Manchester at Clitheroe Interchange, the Explorer returns to Slaidburn and then travels over the Cross of Greet  Road and Lythe Fell to Bentham station for another train connection and another trip to Gisburn Forest. Return journeys from all points give a wide range of possibilities for walkers and the route is certain to prove attractive for those passengers "just along for the ride".  


Malham, when Pennine Motor Services ran the service.
The third Dales Bus service from Lancaster this year is the MALHAM TARN SHUTTLE, which as service 881 will be operated by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire. 

The service starts at Morecambe Bus Station at 0835, calling at Lancaster Bus Station at 0855 to provide a connection onto the Northern Dalesman and Bowland Explorer buses for Morecambe passengers. It then runs via Hornby, Wennington, Bentham, Ingleton, Clapham, Giggleswick, Settle, Langcliffe and Streets to Malham Tarn and Malham village. 

There are two return journeys during the day as far as Ingleton (for connections with other Dales Bus services) and a final return journey to Lancaster and Morecambe arriving at 1810.


All three Dales Bus services run on Sundays and Bank Holidays  from 7 May until 24 September 2017 inclusive. 

FARES

 Individual single and return fares are available for all journeys, although the best value is likely to be a Dales Rover ticket, bought from the driver, at £10 for adults and £6 for students (with NUS card) or holders of English National Concessionary Bus Passes.  One or two children (aged 16 or under) may travel FREE with each Dales Rover ticket holder.


The Dales & Bowland CIC are to be congratulated for finding the means to continue and expand the Dales Bus service in what have become very challenging times for local bus services, particularly in rural areas. Thanks are due to Northern Rail for supporting the services this year alongside existing sponsors including Settle - Carlisle Railway Development Co. Ltd.   Dales Bus services bring many passengers to Northern's trains - and vice-versa - and the network is an outstanding example of what can be achieved by the public transport industry working together in a spirit of co-operation rather than the unwanted competition that our present legislative framework often forces it into.

Monday, 6 March 2017

New Timetables on City Services Start Today

Three Lancaster city bus services have new timetables from today, Monday 6th March.

Service 9 on Primrose Street
Service 8  City - Ryelands - St. Chads - operated by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire
There are extra journeys on this service at 08:15 from the Bus Station to St. Chads and 0827 from St. Chads to the Bus Station arriving at 08:38

Service 9 City - Primrose - Bowerham - Farmdale Road -  operated by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire
There are extra journeys on this service to give a bus every hour in both directions.
Buses leave Farmdale Road for the city at 09:29 and every hour until 17:29
Buses return from the Bus Station to Farmdale Road at 09:10 and every hour until 17:10

Service 18  East City Circular  via Moorlands, Williamson Park and Lancaster Farms Prison  Operated by Stagecoach.
This service will operate regularly between 06:55 and 18:15 from the bus station. Between 09:00 and 16:00 buses leave at 5 and 35 minutes past each hour. Outside this period times may be slightly different as the timetable is adjusted to allow extra time to complete journeys due to the traffic.

The changes to services 8 and 9 have been made possible by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire re-deploying the bus that used to operate the previous limited timetable on service 18.  The major improvement to service 18 follows a campaign by the Bus Users' Group and local city and county councillors to unlock funding from housing development that the county council has been sitting on since 2012.

There are links to the timetables on our LOCAL BUS MAPS AND TIMETABLES PAGE although at the time of posting Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire had not updated its website so we have linked to Traveline instead.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

East City Circular Successfully Launched

The culmination of eighteen months of campaigning by the Bus Users Group (and even longer by local city councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox) was marked today (Tuesday) at a brief ceremony in Williamson Park to launch the new timetable on service 18, or the "East City Circular" as it is to be known.
Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs Director, Matt Cranwell (left) and Operations Manager Willie McPhail (right) joined Lancaster City Councillors Tim Hamilton-Cox and Mel Guilding (centre front), Lancashire County Councillors Gina Dowding and Lizzi Collinge (centre rear) and Bus Users Group members at the Park gates to launch the new service.

Poster in place on the launch bus
The East City Circular provides a much needed link to Williamson Park as well as Lancaster Leisure Park, Lancaster Farms Prison, Moorlands and Standen Gate and is operated under contract to Lancashire County Council. It is funded through money made available as part of the planning consent by the developers of the new housing at the old Moor Hospital site. The new timetable starts on Monday, 6th March and Stagecoach is already doing its bit to help publicise it with posters due to appear on city buses in then next few days.

Both the bus company and the Bus Users' Group have produced timetable leaflets for the service and BUG members will be helping to distribute these along the route before the service begins. Copies will also be available from the Stagecoach enquiry office at Lancaster Bus Station.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

How to Get the County Council to Spend its Own Money

Service 18 on Balmoral Road
Finally, after almost two years of campaigning and over two months after a meeting at County Hall in which we were promised improvements in "weeks not months" the Bus Users' Group can announce that the new timetable on service 18 in Lancaster will start on 6th March. The new operator will be Stagecoach. (Details of the new route and timetable can be found in the post below)

Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire reduced its previous hourly service to just four journeys a day in June 2015 when an attempt to take the previously-contracted service commercial failed. Lancashire County Council had just adopted a policy of not entering into any new bus service contracts due to its deteriorating financial position and refused to pay for replacing the withdrawn journeys, despite the fact that until recently they had been subsidised.

The Bus Users' Group was then put in touch with Lancaster City Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox, who made us aware of the existence of £500,000 of developer contributions made available by the developers of the former Moor Hospital site, now known as Standen Gate, in March 2012. The Agreement under which the money was provided required it to be spent on three things:

1.  Improvement of the bus service

2.  Provision of a cycleway

3. Introduction of a 20 mph limit on nearby roads.

Item three had been completed before the Agreement came into force but there had been no sign of the other two requirements, which Tim Hamilton-Cox had been trying to get progressed.

Once the BUG got involved it became apparent that part of the problem was a lack of communication between the City Council (who as housing authority had received the money) and the County Council (whose job as highway authority it was to spend it). 

We have to admit that we made little progress at first. The County Council's public transport officers appeared unsure as to whether funding was actually available, whilst more senior staff appeared to blame the City Council for not releasing the cash.  Last summer, the County Council started work on a scheme to improve the roads at the junction of Quernmore Road, Wyresdale Road and Moor Lane and it appeared that the bulk of the available funding was to be used to pay for this, with the bus service improvement having to wait until the final cost was known and make the best of whatever funding was left over.

Throughout the campaign we had experienced great difficulty in getting a straight answer from anyone who ought to know - and frequently got no answer at all, with letters and emails to County Hall going ignored.

The breakthrough came when Cllr John Fillis, LCC's Cabinet Member for Highways & Transport agreed to speak at our October meeting.  When the matter of service 18 was raised he claimed to be unaware of the problem but did agree to our member - and Green Party County Councillor  - Gina Dowding's request for a separate meeting to discuss it at which Bus User Group representatives would be invited.

The meeting took place in December and involved BUG representatives as well as County Councillors Gina Dowding and Lizzi Collinge, City Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox and even Cat Smith MP, who made a point of being in County Hall so she could attend.  When it became clear that the senior highway officers present were showing no sense of urgency towards the bus service and were sticking to the line that it would have to wait until all the other works had been completed and paid for we pointed out that the whole purpose of making the money available was that the bus service should be improved at an early stage in the housing development so that new residents could take it into account before their new travel habits became established. We also pointed out that someone had been sitting on the money since 2012 and that the terms of the Agreement required it to be spent - or at least committed - within five years of when it was signed.

To his credit, Councillor Fillis then instructed the officers to make at least £100,000 available and to organise the new service in "weeks not months".   The new contract actually has a value of £115,000 and should be sufficient to operate the new timetable for 19 months or until September 2018. During that time additional developer funding is expected to become available and this will allow the service to be extended. The BUG will be doing all it can to help promote the new service and to increase ridership to a point where the service will be a commercial proposition after funding comes to an end.




Saturday, 28 January 2017

Service 18 Improvement Moves a Step Closer

Following Lancashire County Council's promise to the Bus Users' Group that the new, improved timetable on Lancaster service 18 would be introduced "in weeks, not months" there is some progress to report.

Two months (or is it 8 weeks?) after our meeting at County Hall details have emerged of the new timetable to be introduced now that the council has finally agreed to unlock £115,000 of the £500,000 it received from developers of the housing on the former Moor Hospital site back in 2012 to pay for transport improvements made necessary by the development. (The rest of the money has been spent on highway works that did not form part of the development agreement).

Buses will run every 30 minutes from 06.55 (07.25 on Saturdays) until 16.05, with four further journeys at 16.37, 17.10, 1742 and 18.15. These non-standard times being necessary to allow the bus extra time during the afternoon peak traffic period.  

Here is the timetable that bus operators have been asked to tender to operate.
The final timetable may be slightly different, as operators can put forward their own suggestions during the tendering process, but should be at least as good as that above.

The available cash is likely to be enough to keep the service running for up to 19 months, although this will depend on the amount of revenue from passengers. During this time, however, further funding is expected be become available from other housing developments in the area. Hopefully, by the time the funding is exhausted the revenue on the service will have grown sufficiently to make it a commercial proposition for the bus company. The BUG will be doing its best to promote the service during that time.

During the process of trying to get the County Council to take some action the Bus Users' Group suggested a change of route for the service and we are pleased to see that this will be implemented.
The existing service returns from Lancaster Farms Prison via the Freehold area, which means that passengers from Moorlands have no direct service into town and have to make a lengthy circular trip via the Prison. Freehold is already served by Stagecoach service 10 and running the 18 back into town through Moorlands instead will give residents of Balmoral Road and surrounding streets a much quicker journey into the city, which should attract more riders.

Here is a map of the current service 18 route
(Map from LCC)

and here is the new route:

(Map from MapOmeter)

When will it happen?

The tendering process is complete and a contract will be awarded very shortly. Unfortunately there are various formalities to go through with the regulatory authorities before the new timetable can be introduced and the council is not being any more specific than "early Spring 2017" at this stage. The change of timetable may also see a change of operator and BUG understands that if this is the case there may be some improvements to other city services at the same time.  

We will let you know as soon as we find out!

Monday, 23 January 2017

County Council Adopts New Policy on Bus Service Assessment & Priority

Lancashire County Council's funding difficulties have led to a large number of cuts to supported bus services in the current financial year and projections for future years paint a similarly depressing picture. It's no secret that in many areas the council sees the future for public transport consisting of community transport, parish buses and even car sharing schemes. But a revised policy for supported bus services suggests that there may still be a role for the conventional local bus.

The County Council's new "Assessment & Priority Policy for Public Transport Services in Lancashire", adopted in December 2016 sets out a two-part process for bus services that require financial support from the council.

Step 1:  Service Need Assessment Process

The first step is to determine whether there has been a "failure of the market" where no commercial bus operator is running a service or where a commercial service has been withdrawn. This process has five stages  which can be summarised as

i)  Are there any alternative services available to people either to the same destination or to alternative comparable destinations and will provision of a supported service by the council undermine any comparable commercial services by diverting passengers away from them. If none of the above applies then the process moves on to stage ii)

ii) In the absence of the proposed service will the needs of the communities affected still be met. The "needs" in question will differ from area to area and are defined in the council's "needs profile" for each of the 34 "neighbourhood areas" that Lancashire is now divided into.  If these needs are not being met then on to stage iii)

iii) What will be the impact of the loss of a service on existing users?  There are three considerations here:  a) Does the council have a statutory duty to provide transport for any existing users? (This is generally restricted to schoolchildren attending provided schools over the maximum walking distance away); b) Will any users be denied access to key services? (Basically Employment, Medical services and shopping)  and c) Are any users "particularly reliant" on the bus service (i.e. elderly people, young people, people with disabilities or those living in areas of high social-deprivation and low car-ownership).  If this stage is passed, it's on to stage iv)

iv)  This stage asks "Is the service "value for money?"  This is calculated by taking the cost of running the service, deducting all the income from fares, concessionary passes, season tickets etc and then dividing the result by the number of passengers travelling to calculate a "cost-per-passenger-journey.  If this figure works out at £5 or less then the service is considered to have passed the test.

v)  Step five requires a decision to be taken about whether the local circumstances (taking into account the previous four steps) show that a service is required.  If this is the case then we move on to Step 2

Step 2:  Service Provision Priority Process

This stage is required because the County Council recognises that its financial position is such that it is unlikely to be able to fund all the services that make it through Step 1 and it will need to prioritise them. The priorities taken into consideration are:

a) What is the purpose of passengers' journeys? (In declining order of priority these are Employment, Medical/Welfare, Shopping, Education and Leisure). Education may seem a low priority here, but schoolchildren to whom the council has a legal duty to provide transport are taken into account separately).

b) Does the service serve at least one of the 34 Neighbourhood Centres determined by the council.

c) Does the service pass through one of the council's "Air Quality Management Zones" and could thus be seen as contributing to improved air quality. (A curious one, as the bus services concerned likely to be used to relatively small numbers of people, most of whom will not have access to cars so the effects on air quality are likely to be marginal)

d) Priority is to be given to services running at least five days a week. (A priority that appears to discriminate against rural areas where many potential users would be happy to see buses one or two days a week rather than none at all).

e) What alternatives are available. (This appears to duplicate stage i) in the Assessment Process (above).

f) Priority is to be given to services carrying larger numbers of holders of Concessionary Bus Passes on the grounds that they are less likely to have access to alternatives. (This is encouraging and it should stop passholders feeling in any way "guilty" that by using their passes they are undermining their bus service, whereas in practice they will be doing the opposite).

g) Usage.  The more people that use the service and the lower the cost-per-passenger the higher the ;priority. This ensures that the available funding benefits the maximum number of 
passengers.

And Finally. . . 

Even when a service has passed successfully through all the above it will still have to be evaluated against the alternatives  with a bus service seemingly a bit of a last resort!  The council will consider whether a service can be provided by other means (such as community transport, Parish Bus Schemes, taxis, car clubs or even car sharing schemes.

It will, sensibly, search for alternative funding sources such as District or Parish Council contributions or payments from developers under "section 106" (although if Lancaster's service 18 is anything to go by don't hold your breath!)

It will look to see if the need can be met by diverting an existing service (although one would have thought that this might have been done at the start of the process!) and if more services qualify for funding than is funding is available for they can be placed on a reserve list until such funding becomes available.

The good news is that the council sees a value in maintaining stability in its supported bus network and it has recently announced that it is extending all existing contracts until the end of March 2018. Furthermore, all the Lancaster area services supported by the council are, according to published figures, well within the £5 per passenger journey criterion.

Anyone wishing to read the policy and the criteria in full can do so from Lancashire County Council's website via this link.