Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Trials and Tribulations at the Bus Station

Lancaster bus station is equipped with a very useful overhead electronic display screen, telling passengers the times of buses due to depart, their destinations and which stand to find them at. It's particularly useful for those who have a choice of services and just need to know which one will be next without traipsing round several stands to consult - and remember - the paper departure lists. New and occasional passengers also find it very useful, but recent developments mean they should take care!

Having been abandoned by the County Council as part of its expenditure cutbacks the screen is now maintained by Lancaster University, with funding from United Utilities after a campaign by passengers to get it reinstated.  The University has the laudable aim of adding Real Time information to the display so that users know not just the time the bus is due to leave, but a prediction of when it might actually do so.  Stagecoach has recently made this information available via its website using data collected from GPS-equipped ticket machines that continuously report their position - and therefore that of the bus - allowing information as to where the bus is to where the timetable says it should be - and it is this that the University is attempting to incorporate onto the system.

Following a revamp earlier in the year the departure screens looked like this:

Only scheduled departure times were shown and the destinations were shown in an odd way that prioritised the stop location over the town the bus was heading for. So in the image above the 1900, 1928, and two 1930 departures are all shown as going to "Bus Station" and only in parentheses to their actual destinations of Preston, Morecambe, Kendal and, er...Lancaster - this last being another failure of the system that appears to consider several Lancaster local services as circulars, which they aren't.

At the beginning of October the screen layout was changed to incorporate real time information, where this was available.

It showed scheduled times of departure and in the next column either "on time" or, as in the case of the 1658 service 2 to Heysham (top right), a predicted actual time, although this would have been more useful if the journey concerned had been shown in timetable order (i.e. before the 1700 to the University on the left hand side of the display) rather than predicted time order). 
As can be seen from the image a significant number of buses had no real time prediction shown, presumably due to a breakdown in communication somewhere between the on-bus GPS signal and the display itself. What isn't so apparent however is that several significant services seem to have disappeared from the screen altogether - The 1710 service service 40 to Preston, 1715 service 80 to Ingleton and 1715 service 555 to Ambleside are all missing!

Following an email from the Bus Users Group, more recently the Display has reverted to scheduled times only

Some of our concerns appear to have been acted upon. Buses now go to "Morecambe (Bus Station)" and "Preston (Bus Station)" etc rather than the other way round (although the 49 seems to go to "Railway Station (Carnforth)")  and local services 7 and 11  go to "Vale Estate" and "Marsh Estate" rather than Lancaster Bus Station. Service 41 to Preston has reappeared but some important services are still missing such as 555 to Keswick (no 1115 departure shown above) and 81 to Kirkby Lonsdale (again no 1115 departure). A separate visit also showed a service 42 departure to Blackpool shown incorrectly as heading to Garstang, due to a failure by the system to cope with the fact that service 42 is registered as two separate services either side of the town, whilst buses operate as a through service.

After the Bus Users Group pointed out that the system appeared to be being tested on an unsuspecting public some notices have appeared warning that "some of the departure stands shown for services may not be correct"  but as yet there is nothing to warn passengers that several important services are missing altogether.

The Bus Users Group strongly supports the incorporation of real time data into the display and welcomes the initiative by the University to do so. We hope that the system will be fully up and running very shortly - and that ALL services from the Bus Station will be included in it!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Park and Ride Set to Fail?

Lancaster's first Park & Ride scheme is due to open later this month (or early next?), being required as a planning condition of the construction of the Heysham Link Road.  The service will link a dedicated car park site adjacent the remodelled Junction 34 of the M6 with the City Centre, although full details have not yet been made public. Even the offical Cabinet Member Report that authorises the service is short on detail but from what little information has been provided it appears that the service is, perhaps intentionally, perhaps through lack of expertise, being set up to fail.

Park & Ride is a long-established concept in the UK with many cities and large towns running successful schemes taking traffic out of central areas. As one would expect a great deal of research has been done into what makes schemes successful, but one such report - from the prestigious Chartered Institute of Highways & Transportation. (CIHT) on what constitues best practice suggests that Lancashire County Council, for whatever reason, hasn't got it right.

So how does the Lancaster Scheme compare with "best practice"?

CIHT's Report suggests that:

Park and ride facilities should be sited at convenient locations, intercepting the main radial routes of the conurbation it services, preferably with a dedicated high quality bus service. The sites need to have prominent advanced signage with good accessibility whilst providing attractive and secure parking facilities including adequate lighting incorporating CCTV coverage. Toilets and real time information are "desireable" though not "essential"

Lancashire Proposes:
A 650-car site, incliuding 60 disabled spaces,lighting and CCTV columns, fencing and landscaping, road markings and traffic signs as well as (unspecified) "bus shelters".

Comment: The site meets the "convenience" requirement being at the junction of M6 and Caton Road and it appears that lighting and traffic signage (of whatever quality) are to be provided. Note, however, the curious reference to CCTV "columns" and the inference that cameras and, importantly, camera monitoring are not automatically included! Toilets and Real Time Information will not be provided.

As for the "High Quality Bus Service" CIHT suggests:

The sites should be welcoming and provide high quality waiting areas, toilets and information points (real time information and toilets were considered to be desirable but not essential). In addition, waiting times should be no more than 8 to 10 minutes (10-15 minutes maximum off peak) and the number of dedicated buses used should ideally be sufficient to ensure that one is waiting at each park and ride site. Route lengths need to be carefully co-ordinated and designed, incorporating a limited number of intermediate stops conveniently located at popular locations.
Park and ride services are generally being provided from 07.00 until 19.00 with varying arrangements at weekends. Weekend provision depends largely on the activity and demand in the town centre together with the associated on and off-street parking charge policy. Clearly, free or low parking charges in the town centre will reduce the demand for services and fewer services are provided on Sundays, except on special occasions.

In place of "high-quality waiting areas", Lancashire is proposing an unspecified number of bus shelters, which may or may not be fully enclosed and contain seating and lighting.

Instead of "waiting times being no more than 8 to 10 minutes"  Lancashire proposes a bus every 30 minutes, which means that someone arriving at the site just after a bus has left will have to wait half-an-hour for the next one. Neither is there anything in the Cabinet Report to suggest that enough huses will be used so that there is "always one waiting" leaving the would-be user to wait for up to 30 minutes in what may, or may not, be a "high-quality waiting area".  The Report does not specify routes or city centre stopping places, but a reference to the provision of facilities for bus crews being available at the Bus Station - at the bottom of the hill on which the city centre lies - suggests that this might be one of them.
The Report does not contain details of days or times of operation.

Concerning charges CIHT recommends:

Charging policies are primarily designed to encourage longer stay visitors to use park and ride, such as commuters and shoppers together with tourists where appropriate. However, park and ride fares will normally also compare favourably with shorter stay parking charges making the service attractive for shorter visits. Using park and ride removes the need to search for parking places and direct access is provided to the town centre which is particularly attractive for infrequent visitors who are unfamiliar with the local geography.

Almost all services (in a survey referred to in the report) charge for the bus element of park and ride combined with free parking. The average return fare for an adult is £2.25 with most charging between £2 and £3. Several discounts are offered for children (mostly free with adults), offpeak travel, groups sharing a car and concessions. Some permit unlimited trips per day for one ticket

Lancashire proposes a more complex and less user-friendly charging system.  All users of the car park will be required at purchase and display a £1 parking ticket.  Those proposing to use the bus service will then pay a further £1.50 return fare (75p for children)  Group and Regular User Discounts will be provided but are not specified in the Report. 

According to the County Council All-Day Parking in Lancaster city centre costs £6.50 and therefore for a car containing up to three adults the Park and Ride will offer a (small) saving.
In the case of Off-Peak travellers, such as shoppers or tourists the position is less attractive. For two adults travelling together the cost of using Park & Ride will be £4 ( 2 x bus fare + £1 parking charge). If two children are included this rises to £5.50.  Short Term parking in the city costs:

Up to 1 hour £1.40 
Up to 2 hours £2.40 
Up to 3 hours £2.80 
Up to 4 hours £3.50  

meaning that it will always be more expensive to use Park & Ride if there is more than one person in a car and even a single person would need to be staying for over 2 hours to make a (small) saving, although as Concessionary Bus Passes will be accepted the situation will vary depending on how many people in a car have such a pass.

So How Does it Compare?

It appears that the Lancaster Park & Ride Scheme meets the requirement of a convenient location and will meet some (but by no means all) of the high-quality waiting environment requirements, 

The proposed payment system is hardly user-friendly, requiring users to park, find a ticket machine and buy a ticket, return to the car to display it and then find the bus stop where they can wait up to 30 minutes for a bus!  Whether the cost is attractive depends very much on the length of time users will be spending in town and the number of concessionary pass holders in the car.  For comparison, the return fare on the regular bus service 81 from Caton Road Business Park into the City is £3.20 so the service may prove attractive to some local residents who can "park" at home.

Where the service falls down badly is the proposed frequency of one bus every 30 minutes. Whereas regular bus users can cope with this and can adjust their lives around the bus timetable, this service is supposed to attract car drivers who are used to the freedom of setting off when they please. Nor, unlike regular bus passengers, are they used to hanging around - even in a "high-quality waiting environment" - for up to half-an-hour, especially for a bus journey that "should" only take a fraction of that time.

It appears that the service has been designed around what the county can afford, rather than what is needed to make it a success and that were it not a requirement of the planning consent it might not be provided at all. Lancashire proposes that the service will run for at least 18 months to get it established after which it is hoped that a bus operator might take it on commercially.  The Bus Users' Group will be surprised to see it last that long unless drastic improvements to the offer take place as, at present, potential users are being expected to negotiate a fiddly payment system, which may or may not save them money, then wait a long time for a bus that will then take them into town through the same congested roads that they could drive along themselves.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

"Bus cuts are just not fare" - Lancaster Guardian

  LATEST: A Link to the Report is now available here.

There doesn't seem to be anything in the online version but if you can get hold of a copy of the print edition of this week's Lancaster Guardian you'll find an excellent two-page special report on how last April's cuts to supported bus services have affected local residents.

The Bus Users Group was pleased to assist the Guardian in compiling the report and its Chair is particularly pleased to be quoted in the same paragraph as local MP Cat Smith!

Even the County Council's Cabinet Member for Highways & Transport admitted that they had a "good working relationship" with the Bus Users' Group.

Let's hope we can put that relationship to some use in restoring some of the worst of the cuts.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Stagecoach announces October service changes.

From the Stagecoach website:

Service changes in Lancaster

From Sunday 2nd October 2016, following a review of services, we will introduce changes to some services in Lancaster.

Service 2X.
Following a route change around White Lund Industrial Estate in Morecambe, there will be a minor change to timing points in Heysham from Monday - Saturday. From Morecambe, timing points between Mossgate School and Heysham have been re-timed to run 2 minutes earlier.

Service N1 and X4
Service N1 will be re-numbered to N2 and integrated into the timetable for service 2. Normal single journey fares apply or pay £1 per journey with a megarider or unirider ticket.
Service X4 will be re-numbered to X3. Poorly used journeys on Service X3 will no longer run. On Monday to Friday, the 0840 and 1810 and on Sundays, all journeys to 1915 will no longer run. The 2215 Sunday journey has been re-timed to run 10 minutes later to better meet the trains.
Take a look at the X3 timetable and the 2/2A/N2 timetable

Service 40/41
To improve punctuality on these services, journey times will change on Mondays to Saturdays. This will particularly affect journeys during the morning and evening rush hours.
Take a look at the 40/41 timetable.

Service 940/941/942
All journeys have been re-timed slightly to run earlier. Every journey will run on school days only.
Take a look at the 940/941/942 timetable

Friday, 9 September 2016

Information Improvement for Carnforth and perhaps Lancaster

Following Monday's post (read again here) about less than useful information concerning temporary disruption to services in both Carnforth and Lancaster there has been immediate imnprovement!

Stagecoach has revised its "Service Update" concerning the closure of the road between Carnforth and Warton to make it clearer what the alternative arrangements are - and full marks to them for including the replacement operator's telephone number on their website. The announcememt now reads:


Road Closure - Warton Road, Carnforth affecting services 49 and 5505 Sep 2016 to 04 Nov 2016

From Monday 5 September to Friday 4 November 2016 or until completion of the works, whichever is sooner, Warton Road in Carnforth will be closed to allow utility works to be carried out.
During the closure, bus services 49 & 55 will terminate at Carnforth.
A free shuttle bus will operate from Millhead via Warton, Croftlands, Yealands and Carnforth to connect with the 49 and 55 services.
Contact Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire for further information on 01524 733831.
Also, Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire has supplied the Bus Users' Group with a copy of the temporary timetable for replacement service 55X, which we have also been informed has been distributed house-to-house by the county council. Whilst this is useful for residents of the area wishing to travel to Carnforth or Lancaster it doesn't help people from elsewhere needing to get to Warton and therefore we are happy to post a copy here.

Temporary service 55X 

Meanwhile the issue of the erroneous inclusion of "University Terms Only" service 3 buses on the electronic display at Lancaster has been brought to the intention of the people who maintain it, who have promised to investigate.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Less Than Helpful Information at (1) Carnforth and (2) Lancaster

1). Less than helpful road closure information from Stagecoach and the County Council

Warton Road in Carnforth is closed until 4 November for "utility works" to be carried out, which means that buses on services 49 and 55 (Stagecoach) and 51 (Travellers Choice) are unable to follow their normal route.

On being altered to this by a resident the Bus Users Group contacted the operators and the County Council seeking details of alternative arrangements for bus passengers in Warton, the Yealands and Silverdale who are all affected.

No resposes were received at the time but today the following was posted on the "Service Updates" page of Stagecoach's website:

Road Closure - Warton Road, Carnforth affecting services 49 and 5505 Sep 2016 to 04 Nov 2016

From Monday 5 September to Friday 4 November 2016 or until completion of the works, whichever is sooner, Warton Road in Carnforth will be closed to allow utility works to be carried out.
During the closure, bus services 49 & 55 will terminate at Carnforth.

So there are no buses between Carnforth and Warton and passengers should do what, exactly....?

The County Council has been a little more helpful and has posted this notice at Lancaster Bus Station, and perhaps other stops along the route.

The County Council's notice is more helpful although not entirely so. It expalins what is happening to the third (non-Stagecoach) service affected and also - unlike Stagecoach - tells you what the alternative is - a temporary - and FREE - service 55X; although if you want to know when that runs you'll have to contact a third operator, Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire on 01524 733831.  

The BUG will do that and if we recieve anything useful we will post it here.

2). Less than helpful service information at the bus station

This was the normally very useful electronic departure screen at lancaster bus station early this evening.

Note the frequent (every 20 minutes) service 3 to "Cartmel College" (Lancaster University) (whilst trying to ignore that it would surely be better described as "Lancaster University, Cartmel College" or even "Lancaster University, Alexandra Park", which is what is shown on the front of the bus.  

But whatever it's called, you'd wait a long time for a number 3 tonight, or any other night until the "University Terms" service starts at the end of September. Until then, the journeys shown at 1850, 1910, 1930  and so on throughout the evening just do not run!

A similar mistake was discovered on the roadside timetable displays at the start of the summer and when reported to the County Council by the Bus Users Group it was swiftly corrected.  Did no one think to check the bus station display?

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Next Meeting of the Group

The next meeting of the Bus Users' Group is on Thursday, 8th September at 2pm in the upstairs meeting room at Lancaster Library. All welcome.