Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Local MP asks "Bus" Questions in the House

Cat Smith, member of parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood has been asking questions about bus services in the House of Commons.  The questions have been addressed to Jesse Norman MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) who has provided written answers.

Ms Smith asked  about the provision of audio-visual "next stop" announcements on buses.
Here is her question:

Photo of Cat Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, when he plans to introduce regulations requiring operators of local bus services to make information available on buses in the form of announcements about forthcoming stops.
The Bus Services Act 2017 included provision for the government to require all bus operators to equip their vehicles with visual displays and audio announcements to let passengers know the name of the stops along the route, with each stop being announced just before the bus arrives.
Using GPS technology, this system is in use on every bus in London as well as an increasing number of English cities, with Nottingham being a prime example.

An example from Nottingham, showing the name
    of the approaching stop and the two following. Audio 
                     announcememts are also made.
Locally, it is in use on a small number of buses in the Blackburn and Burnley areas but the nearest we get to it here in Lancaster is on Stagecoach service 555 where an inferior audio-only system makes rather lengthy announcements when approaching some (but not all) of the stops north of Carnforth. Even then, it is often not working, although whether that is due to a faulty system or someone having chosen not to switch it on is unclear.

A simpler, but perhaps less cluttered example from London.
When used properly, such systems are invaluable for blind and partially-sighted passengers, whilst the visual displays cater for those who are hard-of-hearing. The
systems also help any passengers who may not have hearing or sight impediments but who may just be travelling a route for the first time or to a destination they have not been to before.  The Bus Users' Group was very pleased that this requirement had been built-in to the Bus Services Act and has been waiting for news of when it might be implemented, so we are grateful to Cat Smith for raising the issue in parliament. It does look, however, that the introduction of these systems may still take some time. Here is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary's reply:

Photo of Jesse Norman

The Bus Services Act 2017 incorporates powers to introduce an Accessible Information Requirement, mandating the provision of audible and visible information on local bus services in Great Britain.
We are currently working with stakeholders to develop the detail of the requirement, including timescales for its implementation, with a view to consulting publicly in 2018. Following consideration of the consultation responses, we expect to publish Regulations and accompanying guidance when the Parliamentary timetable permits.

 "Stakeholders", of course, will include the bus industry itself, which will no doubt find many reasons why the introduction of such systems should be delayed or even abandonned. The industry is notoriously short-termist in its thinking and usually acts as if keeping costs down will prove more beneficial (to it) than improving its offering to the public.  We hope the government keeps its nerve on this and works towards early implementation.  But here lies another problem. Note the reference above to publishing Regulations "when the Parliamentary timetable permits".  Anyone who takes any interest in politics may have noticed that the "parliamentary timetable" is presently somewhat over-subscribed with the a certain issue involving us and our European neighbours. The BUG won't be holding its breath!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

(Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Buses Over Christmas

"Everything you need to know about buses in Lancaster and Morecambe over the festive period" is the title of the leaflet produced by Stagecoach to advertise their services over Christmas and the New Year.  You can read a copy via this link

As in previous years, services will close down early evening on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and there will be no buses at all on Christmas Day.  Boxing Day (26th December) sees a special daytime service operating on the following routes:

2A University - Lancaster - Heysham (Combermere Road)
3A Lancaster - Bare - Heysham (Combermere Road)
6A Lancaster - Morecambe
40 Morecambe - Lancaster - Preston
55 Lancaster - Carnforth

Full timetables are in the leaflet

However, despite its title, the leaflet doesn't really tell you everything about Lancaster's bus service over Christmas.  Service 555 Lancaster - Carnforth - Kendal - Keswick will be providing a Sunday service on Boxing Day, but as it's operated by a completely different part of Stagecoach (known as "Kendal Depot") there is no mention of this in the "Lancaster and Morecambe" Christmas leaflet. 

If you want to check, you need the "Kendal and the Lake District" leaflet, which you can see here.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

New Round of County Council Cuts Threatens Carnforth and Morecambe Information Centres

Carnforth railway station
Even before an additional £1M of spending on bus services has come into effect Lancashire County Council has announced cuts to funding for bus and train information centres across the county.

As part of a round of spending reductions totalling £7M per annum Lancashire proposes to close the bus station enquiry offices at Preston and Nelson as well as the ticket offices at Clitheroe and Carnforth railway stations. Funding for staff who deal with transport and tourism enquiries at Morecambe Visitor Information Centre is also to be withdrawn in a bid to save £198,000 over the next two years.

Cabinet Report
A report due to be considered by the Council's cabinet on Thursday 7th December admits that the service provided by the centres is "popular" and that the public would no longer have access to public transport information or, in the case of Clitheroe and Carnforth railway stations, the ability to purchase tickets. The council-owned property at Clitheroe would become "surplus to requirements" whereas the Nelson office would be left vacant and would "still incur costs until disposed of (or) leased" The report admits that disposals may be "difficult to achieve" given the localtions and that the council would therefore still incur maintenance costs for the empty and unused properties.

The Carnforth office provides a rail ticket booking facility for staff travelling on council business and the loss of this service "will have an impact on business support services and possibly greater costs to service budgets".

Lancaster's bus station enquiry office survives only because it is operated by Stagecoach although that means it  only provides information on that company's services.

It was only following the election in May this year that the ruling Consrervative party increased the funding for non-commercial bus services by 50% to a new total of £3M per annum, achieved by re-directing funding from the aborted Parish Bus Scheme. It now proposes to save at most £198,000 and possibly much less than that by removing the ability of the travelling public to find out about the new bus services it is paying for as well as those provided at no cost to the council by commercial bus operators.

The Report also admits that "(The) Proposal may make travel by public transport more difficult for older people and for people with disabilities because other sources of information and tickets are less understandable. Older and disabled people are less likely to use digital alternatives to obtain travel information or tickets".  Therefore "The proposal may be updated following consultation".  The BUG will be looking out for the promised "consultation" and hopes that as many people as possible make their views known to Lancashire.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Lune Valley Improvements Delayed

No improvement yet for services to Kirkby Lonsdale
Lancashire County Council has published new timetables for its contracted bus services that will apply from 11 December, following the injection of an extra £1M per annum into the bus service support budget. There are a large number of improvements to services throughout the county, particularly in the Ribble Valley, Fylde and West Lancashire Districts. Lancaster, however, doesn't fare so well. 

The only improvement of note is the introduction, following a request from the Bus Users Group, of early evening journeys on service 51 between Carnforth and Silverdale (with connections to/from Lancaster). On Mondays to Fridays an extra journey will depart Carnforth at 1909 running through to Holgates Caravan Park at Silverdale for 1944. There will be a return journey (operated outside the contract by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire) at 1945 arriving back in Carnforth at 2028.

On Saturdays there will be an extra bus from Carnforth to Silverdale at 1901 arriving at 1940, whilst in the return direction the present 1805 (retimed to 1817) and 1940 from Holgates Caravan Park to Silverdale Railway Station will run through to Carnforth.

Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire will utilise the bus arriving at Carnforth at 2028 each evening to operate new service 490, which follows the route of Stagecoach service 49, with a bus leaving Carnforth at 2028 via The Kellets and Halton to arrive Lancaster at 2110.  This journey will be operated free of charge to begin with until the service registration takes effect.

There is, however, no sign of the promised improvement to services in the Lune Valley between Lancaster and Kirkby Lonsdale and in particular for the villages of Arkholme, Gressingham and Whittington left almost busless by the April 2016 cuts.

The county council says only that "talks are continuing with commercial bus operators to provide a sustainable option to develop a daytime service link" to the affected villages. and whilst the council is known to have approached at least two local operators for proposals the mprovements to the service are not now expected until at least February 2018.  

Lancashire County Council's budget for bus service support is now £3M per annum compared with over £7M in 2015/16.

The county's leaflet explaining the changes from 11 December can be seen via this link  and the new timetables are on the Local Bus Maps and Timetables page of this website.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Stagecoach Win Silver at UK Bus Awards

Stagecoach Cumbria & North Lancs was this week awarded a "Silver" at the prestigious UK Bus Awards  in what is described as a "glittering" ceremony in London's Docklands. The award, for "Sustained Marketing Excellence", was won for the company's marketing of sevice 555 which links Lancaster to Kendal and the Lake District.

Here's what the judges had to say:

Winner, Silver Award

'Lakes Connection' 555 service - Stagecoach Cumbria & North Lancashire

A 555 bus with a Windermere steamer - two iconic images of the Lake District.

"The Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire 555 service operates between Lancaster and Keswick, through the Lake District Park National Park, serving key destinations such as Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere. Tourism in the Lakes presents a drastic change in population during the summer months. This requires the marketing of the advantages of the service to those in the local area, bringing people in from Lancaster and Keswick, but also to stand out and attract those unfamiliar with the area who may be visiting for the day or weekend. Sustained, consistent and clear marketing of the service is a necessity to its success, as its route, frequency, cost and experience need to be communicated to a new audience each and every season. All social media platforms are used to promote the service, as well as more conventional leaflets and roadside publicity. The launch of 12 new vehicles in July last year was an opportunity taken to fully utilise the bus to promote the 555 service through eye catching branding and Stagecoach is continually looking for new ways to promote the service to encourage the public to leave the car at home or holiday accommodation."
In what they described as a well written, model entry, the judges thought this was an example of best practice for an inter-urban bus route. Sustained investment and marketing with plans for future development should secure a future for this service."
Stagecoach nationally won nine awards, five silver and four bronze  although the smaller Go-Ahead Group, which runs buses on Tyneside, East Anglia and the south of England won no fewer that 12, including six golds.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Bus Users' Group Calls For Free Bus Travel for Christmas Shoppers

Image result for lancaster car park images

Lancaster District Bus Users' Group is calling upon the City Council to introduce free bus travel in the run up to Christmas to match its offer of free parking in the city’s car parks.
Between Sunday, November 26th and Sunday, December 24th all of the city council’s main car parks in Morecambe and Lancaster will be free to use on Sundays as well as after 6pm on Thursdays for late-night shopping.
Lancaster Bus Users’ Group feels that this is unfair to public transport users and is asking the City Council to match its offer to motorists with a similar one to bus passengers and to make bus travel free throughout the city at those times. 
Jim Davies, Chair of the Bus Users’ Group said:
“Bus passengers contribute towards the cost of the free parking through their council tax but receive no benefit”.
The Group admits that the free parking offer is popular and doesn’t want to see it abolished but says that it also brings its own problems. Jim Davies explained:

“The free parking attracts large numbers of shoppers to Lancaster, which is a good thing but the extra traffic generated causes congestion and delay to all road users and can act as a disincentive for shoppers to visit the city. Bus passengers suffer from delays to their services whilst still having to pay the full fare for their journeys. Offering free bus travel would allow more people to reach the city centre without adding to congestion and, by offering an alternative to the car would actually reduce it, whereas giving away free car parking and continuing to charge for bus travel is likely to reduce bus use as people who may have travelled by bus use their cars instead".

The Bus Users Group recognises that the city council does not run the bus service, but feels that it should be possible for the council to come to an arrangement with Stagecoach to make good the revenue lost by offering free travel.

Councillor James Leyshon, who has responsibility for car parking, is quoted in the Lancaster Guardian as saying that there is "no additional net cost to Council Tax payers" due to the initiative, but this clearly misunderstands the situation. All the city's car parks would be busy during both late-night shopping and Sundays in the run-up to Christmas, so a substantial amount of revenue is being lost, which has to be made up either through council tax, paid by motorists and non-motorists alike or through reduced public services.

Whilst it is probably too late to introduce free bus travel for 2017 the Group has called upon the council to consider it for future years.

Monday, 23 October 2017

December Service Changes - First Details Revealed

One of the supported services that will continue.

Last September Lancashire County Council began the process of spending the additional £1M funding allocated to local bus services by the new administration. As part of the process all existing contracts were cancelled and fresh tenders sought.  The new services are due to start on 10 December and the Bus Users' Group can now reveal how services in the Lancaster area will be affected.
The following services receive support from the County Council:

Service 1  Lancaster Park & Ride
This service will continue unchanged.

Service 18  East Lancaster Circular
This service will continue unchanged.

Service 33 Morecambe - Bare (Circular)
The route and timetable are unchanged but operation will pass from Travellers Choice to Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire.

Service 51 Carnforth - Silverdale
This service also passes from Travellers Choice to Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire. Following a request from the Bus Users' Group the early evening service is improved. There will be an additional journey from Carnforth to Silverdale at 19.09 on Mondays to Fridays and 19.01 on Saturdays. In the opposite direction on Mondays to Fridays  the 18.25 from Silverdale village to Silverdale Station will continue to Carnforth arriving at 19.06. On Saturdays the 16.35 and 18.05 from Silverdale Village to the station will continue through to Carnforth (the 18.05 will leave at 18.17) and there will be a new journey from Silverdale at 19.40 through to Carnforth arriving at 2021.
The new buses offer reasonable connections with the 555 at Carnforth. Passengers for Warton, Yealand and Silverdale will be able to leave Lancaster an hour later than present at 18.30 and it will be possible for them to leave Kendal at 18.05, Keswick at 16.30 and Bowness at 17.40 (on service 755).  It will also be easier for passengers from Lancaster to visit Silverdale as the new journeys to Carnforth will connect with Lancaster services there.

Service 89  Lancaster  - Knott End on Sea
Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire will continue to operate this service. All journeys will operate via the main entrance to the Infirmary (the "H" suffix is likely to be dropped and the section of route via MU2 is not operating due to building work at the turning point). 
The 07.02 Pilling to Lancaster journey will run 10 minutes earlier than now, whilst the first two buses of the day from Lancaster are retimed to depart 5 minutes earlier at 06.15 and 07.45.
The last supported bus of the day from Knott End to Lancaster remains at 18.00. The later, 19.30, journey is operated outside the contract and the BUG hopes this will continue to be the case.

Service 81 at Kirkby Lonsdale
The situation on the last supported service - the 81 Lancaster to Kirkby Lonsdale is not quite so straightforward. Lancashire County Council currently only pays for the 18.40 Lancaster to Kirby Lonsdale journey (which operates beyond Hornby only on request and was included in the supported network following a BUG campaign). The remainder of the service is provided commercially by Stagecoach, with some early and late journeys run by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire and so the council cannot just seek tenders for an improved service.  Instead it is "in discussion" with the operators to develop a number of options for improvement that are likely to require some funding by the council for approval by the Cabinet Member, Cllr Keith Iddon.

The Bus Users' Group has submitted a number of ideas including re-introducing a service to the north side of the valley through Gressingham, Arkholme and Whittington; running the 18.40 all the way to Kirkby Lonsdale and back in service without the need to "request it" and requiring the two operators to accept each other's tickets and produce a joint timetable for the public.  We have been promised an input into the "discussions" although it has to be said there has been no sign of that to date.

As ever, we will post full timetables on this website as soon as they are available.