Sunday, 8 September 2019

We've Come a Long Way

Following the introduction of Regulations made under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, it has been illegal to operate a local bus service using a bus with more than 22 seats that is not accessible to wheelchair-users and which doesn't comply with various other requirements designed to make it accessible to everyone.  Our local bus operators completed the updating of their fleets sufficiently to comply with the Act shortly before the deadline of January 2017. Even before that date the majority of our local buses had been "accessible" and accessibility was being taken for granted by passengers.

However, the recent Vintage by the Sea Festival in Morecambe provided a reminder of just how far the bus industry has come.

Present at the Vintage Festival was this bus, built in 1966, which was fairly typical of single-deck buses operating at that time and for many years later. This example was owned by Ribble Motor Services of Preston and similar buses would have been used on services throughout the Lancaster District. Boarding a bus like this was not exactly easy, even if you had no mobility problems.

Some bus entrances were even less inviting, as this example from Scotland shows:

By the 1980s some progress had been made, but boarding a bus was still not exactly easy for the less than perfectly-mobile even in the 1980s and 1990s.

The "Leyland National" was built in Workington between 1972 and 1985 and was the standard single-decker bus for the state-owned National Bus Company. Examples were operated by both Ribble and Lancaster City Transport.  Whilst obviously an improvement on earlier types it was still not particularly easy to board and completely unable to cater for wheelchair users. Nevertheless examples continued to be used in service throughout the remainder of the 20th Century.

The wheelchair space on modern buses is widely used by people with pushchairs containing small children. It's worth reflecting just what catching a bus entailed for such passengers in the days before accessibility became standard and especially once conductors had disappeared from buses with the spread of one-person-operation.  The sequence went something like this:

Image result for image of mother and pushchair1. Passenger waits at bus stop carrying shopping bag with baby in the pushchair alongside.
2. As bus approaches,  put down bag, take baby out of pushchair and whilst holding baby in one arm use other arm to fold pushchair before transferring it to first arm.
3. Carrying baby and pushchair in one arm, use other arm to pick up shopping bag and board the bus via several steep steps.
4. Whilst balancing baby and pushchair in one arm, furtle in shopping bag to retrieve purse and pay fare, making sure to put the ticket away safely in case an Inspector gets on and wants to see it.
5. Carrying baby, place pushchair in luggage bay, then find a seat and place baby safely on lap for duration of journey.
6. On approaching alighting stop, ring bell then gather up baby and shopping bag and make way to front of the bus (before it reached the stop so as not to delay everyone's journey). With free hand, pick up pushchair and make way down several high steps to the pavement.
7. Whilst holding baby in one arm use other to unfold pushchair. Place baby in pushchair, retrieve shopping bag and proceed on way.
8. Repeat as required whenever travelling by bus!

Whilst things were difficult for "mums and babies" they were, of course, impossible for wheelchair users or even anyone unable to climb steps.  Such people were simply not expected to travel by bus.

Fortunately things are much better nowadays and a modern bus entrance looks more like this:

The modern bus has a single-step entrance, which can be lowered, as well as a fold-out ramp to allow passengers in wheelchairs to board and alight.  

But all is not perfect.  Inside the bus is a dedicated area for wheelchairs. This is designed so that wheelchair-users can access it independently and travel safely. The Accessibility Regulations that require low-floor buses in the first place also determine the design of the wheelchair area. 

Because of the need for users to access the area without assistance there are no restraints or clamps to hold a chair in place: for that passengers rely on the chair's own braking system.  Because passengers travel backwards (for safety reasons) but need to leave the bus facing forwards, the angled yellow pole is provided to assist them in manoeuvring the chair in and out of the wheelchair area. Some passengers, however, find this impedes rather than helps them and the lack of a restraint system does concern other users.

The Bus Users' Group is always interested to learn how the lot of all bus passengers can be improved, including those who rely on a wheelchair to get around.  The current systems have been in place now for almost fifteen years and it would not be surprising if someone thought they had come up with a better approach.

One such person is Helen Dolphin. Helen is a disability campaigner and sits on The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), She is Chair of her local Driving Mobility centre, sits on the Consumer Panel for the Civil Aviation Authority and runs a pan disability organisation called The Joint Committee for the Mobility of Disabled People (JCMD).

Helen is an advocate for the Quantum system of catering for wheelchairs on buses which, she says, many users would find more acceptable.

The Quantum system incorprates an automatic restraint system providing that degree of security that many passengers seek. We are very pleased to welcome Helen to speak about the system as well, no doubt, on other issues facing disabled passengers at our next meeting, which is being held on Wednesday, 18th September at The Cornerstone, Sulyard Street, Lancaster starting at 3.15pm. The meeting is open to everyone.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

New Timetable for Service 51

From Monday, 9th September Service 51 between Carnforth and Silverdale, operated by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire under contract to Lancashire County Council will have a new timetable.

Click here to download the new times
Or view them here on

The current service pattern dates from April 2016, when the county council reduced its budget for supported services and combined the "Silverdale Shuttle", which connected Silverdale village with Silverdale railway station, and the service then operated by Stagecoach, which linked Silverdale to Carnforth.  The marriage of the two services was always uneasy as the focus on the local links to Silverdale station lead to an irregular service pattern and reduced frequency of buses through to Carnforth, which also affected the villgaes en-route that did not have the alternative of the train.

The new timetable, whilst retaining some peak-hour short workings to Silverdale station, sees other station-shorts replaced by through journeys to Carnforth giving an almost regular 90-minute headway throughout the day. Journeys serving Carnforth High School are retained at slightly amended times, whilst another advantage of the new timetable is the removal of most of the differences  between the "schooldays" and "school holidays" services on the route.  The regular timetable has been achieved inevitably at the expense of train connections at Silverdale station, which are now particularly poor in the afternoons.  Bus-to-bus connections at Carnforth are good on those journeys that arrive at 10-minutes past the hour, with a 5 minute wait for the 55 to Lancaster, but not so good for those hours when they arrive at 40-minutes past and require a 26 minute wait for a 555. The trains at Silverdale and Carnforth don't run to a regular pattern, so maintaining bus-rail connections whilst offering a regular bus service will always be hit-and-miss.

Northbound bus-to-bus connections are generally good. Journeys that depart at 1020 and 1320 have connections from Lancaster arriving at 1014 and 1314 and departures at 1150  1450 and 1550 have connecting arrivals at 1135 1435 and 1540. However, the late afternoon service is poor.Following the introduction of a regular service the 1709 from Carnforth to Silverdale has had to be put back to 1740.  A brave passenger might attempt to connect into this by catching the 555 from Lancaster that arrives also at 1740 (!) but its a risky strategy and most people will no doubt choose the earlier service 55 even though by arriving at 1714 this means a 26 minute wait. Nor is the train from Lancaster a suitable alternative: it arrives at 1712.  The BUG feels that the 1740 should be retimed to give a reasonable connection out of the 555 or at least that the proposed spot-connection should be guaranteed.

The last bus of the day at 1915 continues to offer a connection off the 555 that arrives at 1900 whilst the return working at 1950 from Silverdale continues through to Lancaster as service 490 from Carnforth, although the BUG wonders why this is not shown in the county council's timetable leaflet. At least that is now correctly titled "Silverdale to Carnforth" rather than "Silverdale to Warton" as it was last time!

The Saturday timetable is now identical (apart from the service to and from Carnforth High School) to the Monday to Friday, although the need to retime the 0907 journey from Holgates Caravan Park to improve the train connection at Silverdale station has resulted in the loss of the present "Saturdays only" 0838 from Carnforth.

Despite that, he BUG feels the changes are a big improvement, and not only because they are much closer to what we proposed to the County Council in 2016, and require only a "guaranteed" connection at Carnforth at 1740 and the inclusion of service 490 in the timetable leaflet to receive our full support.