Thursday, 12 October 2017

Stagecoach Short-Listed for Major Award

At a special event held today in Manchester's Museum of Transport the finalists for the 2017 UK Bus  Awards (the "OSCARS" of the bus industry world) Stagecoach Cumbria & North Lancs was announced as a finalist for the Award for Sustained Marketing Excellence, sponsored by Exterion Media.This Award is designed to recognise marketing excellence over a sustained period that is likely to be measured in years rather than weeks.
The Award will go to the organisation that best demonstrates how an active, customer-focused marketing strategy, consistently applied over time, has driven business improvement, won extra journeys and captured new customers, ideally through a shift of travel from car to bus.
The winner of this Award will be able to show that this sustained approach has:
  • delivered measurable improvements in customer service and customer satisfaction
  • created or developed strong brands
  • helped to change public perceptions and/or consumer behaviour
  • genuinely driven all aspects of the business, particularly
    • customer service
    • staff training
    • management and supervision.
The important thing is that the winner can demonstrate a passion for marketing and for serving the customer over a sustained period.
Stagecoach is one of six finalists in this category, which was open to operators, authorities, partnerships or other organisations participating in the securing, marketing or promotion of registered local bus services.  Entries were welcomed from nominees, winners or runners-up of previous marketing initiative awards, who could now demonstrate how their sustained activity had produced results.
This was Stagecoach's case:

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

A 555 bus in Ambleside
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.

The Bus Users' Group is happy to congratulate Stagecoach on being short-listed and wishes them "good luck" for the finals to be held in London on 21st November

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Greyhound Bridge Closure - Less Priority for Buses.

Greyhound Bridge
Greyhound Bridge carries the main Lancaster to Morecambe road over the River Lune as well as northbound traffic on the A6. Its importance in Lancaster's road network can be seen from this map, where it is the lower of the two crossings near the city centre, the other being Skerton Bridge, which carries south and eastbound traffic.

Despite it's importance, Lancashire County Council proposes to close it to all traffic for over six months from the end of January next year for "vital" maintenance work. The bridge originally carried the Lancaster to Morecambe railway line over the river and was converted to a roadway after the line closed in the 1960s. This allowed a one-way system to be set up with Skerton Bridge converted to carry only east and southbound traffic. Without the work the council says it would have to impose a weight limit on the bridge because of its condition.
Long-distance traffic will be encouraged to use the new Heysham Link Road - the A683 shown at the top of the map  - whilst all local traffic will be diverted over Skerton Bridge, which will revert to carrying two-way traffic for the duration. 

The closure will have a significant effect on bus services. Not only will west and north-bound services have to follow the diversion over Skerton Bridge, but buses will lose two important pieces of bus priority that help them to keep to time despite Lancaster's traffic.  At present, buses coming over Skerton Bridge into the city can turn right to  take advantage of a bus-only link to reach Parliament Street, which saves them from following other traffic around the back of the old Kingsway bus depot and Baths on Caton Road, saving them several minutes in the process. Once Skerton Bridge becomes two-way this will no longer be possible and buses will have to join the queue of other traffic on Caton Road.

This section of bus lane on Morecambe Road will have to carry all eastbound traffic with
 westboundvehicles using the adjacent lane (where the traffic is queueing.
The benefit of the bus lane to buses is clearly shown in the image above.
The second section of road to become two-way will be the Morecambe Road between the A6 and Carlisle Bridge, where it passes between Rylands Park and Our Lady's School. The current bus lane will carry all eastbound traffic with westbound vehicles using the general traffic lane.  Together with the loss of capacity for all vehicles during the work the suspension of these bus priorities is likely to cause serious problems for the bus operators, but details are now emerging of how they intend to cope.

Stagecoach intends to retain frequencies at current levels even though the increased journey times mean they will have to employ additional vehicles and drivers. As revenue is unlikely to increase - and may even decrease due to longer and less attractive journey times - this is a welcome move.

However, one major change is likely to come about. In order to confine reliability problems to the west side of the river the cross-city services that run between Heysham, Morecambe and the University are likely to be split at the bus station and operated in two parts. Passengers on services 2 2A 3 and 4 who now travel through the city centre will have to change buses at the bus station. Although inconvenient, this should ensure that delays suffered by buses crossing the river are not carried forward to affect services  - and passengers - between the city centre and University.  If this plan does go ahead we will post details of the new arrangements on our timetable pages.

The work is scheduled to start on 29th January and continue to August, although some necessary preparatory changes to the roads affected will happen before then.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Not Much for Lancaster in County's Christmas Stocking!

Service 81 at Kirkby Lonsdale. Will buses soon
return to both sides of the Lune Valley?
Lancashire County Council's cabinet will shortly consider proposals on how to spend the additional £1M the new administration has allocated to funding bus services with the improvements to take effect just before Christmas.

Given that the previous council cut approximately £5M from the bus budget it was always obvious that not all the services withdrawn in April 2016 would be replaced and indeed the money has been thinly spread throughout the county.

Despite significant improvements to services in Ribble Valley, Pendle, Fylde and West Lancs there's not much cheer for Lancaster's bus passengers with only one service set for improvement.

When the consultation on the funding was announced the Bus Users' Group put forward suggestions that would have restored a service to Crag Bank in Carnforth and those parts of Bolton-le-Sands that no longer have a bus. We also asked for more buses for Warton and Silverdale as well as the restoration of evening and Sunday buses in Lancaster, all of which we felt met the priorities that the Council had set itself. The Cabinet Report, to be considered on 14th September, however includes none of the above improvements. Indeed, the only part of Lancaster District to benefit will be the Lune Valley, where it does at least appear that the BUG's requests are being considered. The Report includes an action "to work with (bus) operators to develop a sustainable daytime service for the villages of Gressingham, Arkholme and Whittington as well as the Lune Valley as a whole".

As these villages were left without any usable buses by the April 2016 cuts and have since gained only a token service provided by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire buses en-route to and from another service this is, to say the least, overdue.  The full report makes reference to the county council working with "operators and stakeholders" to develop proposals and the BUG has already asked for an input into the work of designing the new service.

The proposed introduction date for any new service is 10th December, which means that timetables will have to be agreed and ready by mid-October at the latest. As ever, we will post details on this site as soon as we get them.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Curious Case of the 2 and 2A

A service 2 bus on its way to the University
Designing a bus timetable is rather more complicated than the average passenger might think. As well as the obvious things to be taken into account such as the length of the route and the speed of the bus, consideration must be given to the number of stops and the type of road used; a given distance will take longer on a busy, urban road or housing estate than on a fast, rural main road.

Thought must also be given to economy of operation. The quicker the buses can complete the route the more trips they will be able to do each day and so the fewer the buses - and drivers - needed to provide the service.

With the Traffic Commissioners (a sort-of bus industry regulator) taking an increasing interest in bus punctuality bus service planners must also take into account the differing levels of traffic congestion evident throughout the day and build allowances into the timetable.  In the case of service 2A a standard journey between the University and Heysham Towers will take 68 minutes during most of the day, but a peak-hour trip such as the 0727 from Heysham takes as long as 86 minutes! On the other hand an evening bus needs only 48 minutes to complete the journey.

Anyone who knows Lancaster's traffic will understand why this has to be the case, but there are some variations that are harder to explain. Take a look at the following timetable:

Look at the first two trips, the 0727 service 2A and the 0750 service 2. Although the 2 and 2A follow different routes from Heysham to the Battery they share a common route on to Lancaster and the University. The 2A leaves the Battery at 0740, with the 2 following ten minutes later at 0750. However, by Torrisholme Square the 2 is only 8 minutes behind which is still the case when they arrive at Lancaster Bus Station (0814 / 0822). For reasons best known to Stagecoach the 2A then waits for 10 minutes in the Bus Station before departing at 0824, the same time as the 2, which has only had a two minute layover. Despite leaving simultaneously and following exactly the same route, just two stops later at Common Garden Street the 2 is supposed to be three minutes in front of the 2A!  At the Bowerham Hotel, about a kilometre farther on, it is five minutes in front and it stays five minutes ahead all the way to the University thereby arriving five minutes before the 2A despite setting off 10 minutes behind it!  Eight minutes of this gain is accounted for by the 2A's protracted stop in the bus station but the 2 has still completed the journey in seven minutes less running time on the same route and in the same traffic at the same time of day.

Seasoned timetable readers will have noticed the "Uni" code above the column of the 0750. This means it runs only during University terms, when traffic can be expected to be heavier, but the 2A has no such code, which means it operates all-year round including term time, so that can't be the explanation. In fact, if anyone from Stagecoach - management or staff - or anyone else for that matter can offer us an explanation we'd be glad to hear it!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Campaign for Better Transport Recognises Our Work

Any campaigning organisation is always pleased to have its work recognised, particularly if that recognition comes from  larger and well-established fellow-campaigners.  Lancaster District Bus Users Group was therefore delighted to be asked to contribute a "guest blog" for the Save Our Buses pages of the Campaign for Better Transport's website.

We chose to tell the tale of our successful fight to restore a bus service to those parts of Lancaster badly-hit by the reductions to service 18 (East Lancaster Circular) and the County Council's reluctance to spend the money it had been given to improve it.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Evening Services from the Bus Station Relocated as Interior Refurbishment Begins.

When we said that Lancaster Bus Station would re-open "following the completion of the refurbishment works", what we SHOULD have said was that it was the external work that was complete.

As some people have pointed out, not a lot appeared to have been done to the inside of the station! The good news is that internal repainting and improvements to the passenger entrance will start after the bank holiday on Tuesday 29th August and continue until 1st September.

More good news is that this work will be done at night to minimise inconvenience to passengers. After 19.00hrs each evening all buses will leave from the "Night Stand" adjacent the taxi rank on Damside Street, which is usually used for departures after the bus station closes at 23.30 each evening including the overnight Scottish coaches. Sadly, the reduced evening service now operating in Lancaster means that all evening buses can be accommodated on this stand, at least for the period of the works during which the extra service 3s to the University will not be running.

Stagecoach will arrange supervision and notices to inform passengers, which at the suggestion of the Bus Users Group will include a map to indicate where the "Night Stand" is, although it should be easy to find as the picture below shows.
The "Night Stand" on Damside Street that will be used for all departures
 after 1900 during internal refurbishment of the bus station.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Bus Station to Re-open after early completion of refurbishment works.

Lancaster bus station will re-open fully from start of service on Friday, 18th August and all services will revert to their normal routes in the city centre, much to the relief of passengers who have been enduring the "summer" weather at the unprotected stops in Dalton Square for the last few weeks!

The refurbishment works were originally due to last up until the beginning of September, but have been completed ahead of schedule by the City Council and its contractors.

Work will continue for a short while to make Stand 1 more accessible to passengers in wheelchairs, following a campaign by Cameron Redpath - a Bus Users' Group member and passenger on the Ridge bus, so both this stand and adjacent stand 2 will remain closed. Stagecoach staff will be on hand to direct passengers to the alternative departure stands.

The Bus Users' Group has been observing the part-closure and the alternative arrangements and will be compiling a report on the exercise in the hope of avoiding some of the problems that have occurred should it become necessary to relocate buses away from the bus station for any reason in the future, but in the meantime our Congratulations and thanks are due to the Council and the Contractors as well as to Stagecoach for managing the process.