Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Annual Report 2016

Lancaster District Bus Users’ Group

Annual Report 2016

2016 proved to be a very successful year for the Bus Users’ Group.

 The early part of the year was dominated by the County Council’s decision to cancel all its contracts for non-commercial local bus services and to replace them with greatly-reduced funding for “Parish Buses” to be run by local communities on a not-for-profit basis.
Along with other organisations, the Bus Users’ Group responded to the consultation on this with the view that this was not the way forward and that whatever funding was to be available should be used to continue the most important local bus services. We reluctantly accepted that it would not be possible to save all our buses and that evening and Sunday services would have to be withdrawn as the county council made it clear that under no circumstances could these be afforded.
The 89 Lancaster to Knott End service was oneof those
reprieved following represntations by the BUG and others.
In March, the council decided that £2M per annum would be available to continue some contracted bus services. The Group put forward proposed timetables for services 33 Bare Circular; 51 Silverdale-Carnforth; 89 Lancaster – Knott End and an early evening journey on service 81 Lancaster – Kirkby Lonsdale to cater for workers for whom the proposed last bus at 1730 was too early.  The council decided to continue all these routes but admitted to us that the 33 and the 81 would not have been saved had we not campaigned for them.
The campaign to save these services gave the Group some excellent publicity with articles
Our member Duncan Foster's picture
appeared all over the media!
in the Lancaster Guardian and your Chair giving two interviews on BBC Radio Lancashire. Our member, Duncan Foster, gave permission for his name to be given to Nick Lakin at the Guardian for a follow-up article later in the year about how people had been affected by the cuts. Duncan’s – and his home-made Hi-Viz jacket’s – story was then taken up by the BBC Regional TV news and also had a story – with picture – in the Daily Mail. Sadly, despite all this publicity Whittington, Arkholme and Gressingham remain almost busless.

The campaign also helped develop our relationships with local councils and councillors. Your chair attended parish council meetings at Caton, Thurnham (with our member CC Gina Dowding) and Overton (with city councillor Margaret Pattison). The Chair was also invited by Councillor Caroline Jackson to attend a meeting of the City Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  In October, County Councillor John Fillis, the county’s cabinet member for Highways & Transport spoke to us and later invited the Chair and Gina Dowding to a meeting in county hall which was also attended by County Councillor Lizzie Collinge and Cat Smith MP.  As our Treasurer will report, we have received grants from two local county councillors and it is particularly pleasing that we have been able to establish contacts with representatives of all three major political parties locally.
We have also continued to develop good relationships with county council public transport officers and, of course, local bus company managers. The MD and Commercial Manager of Stagecoach have attended our meetings and, of course, Matthew Sutton from Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire has joined our Group.
Real Time information was trialled at the bus station
We hope it will return later in 2017
Our contact with the team at the University that operates the electronic information display at the bus station has been very useful this year and has allowed us to suggest a number of improvements. Further work to incorporate “real time” information on the display will be undertaken in 2017 and we hope to be able to make a further contribution to the quality of information provided.

Last, but not least, we have developed a good working relationship with Nick Lakin at the Lancaster Guardian, who now approaches us for news and comments on buses and with reporters at BBC Radio Lancashire and, most recently, Bay Radio
 At the end of the year we had 27 paid-up members with another 34 people on our mailing list who have not joined the Group but who have expressed an interest in what we do. One hundred and fifty people follow our Facebook page and posts there regularly receive over 200 “views”, whilst our blog has had over 110,000 views and we can expect to get between 100 and 200 readers for each post – and sometimes many more. 

We also took a number of other steps to raise our profile during the year. In January we produced a poster for display in buses serving the University asking passengers on busy buses to consider giving up their seat to someone who needed it more than them, following complaints about overcrowding on some University buses.
In March your Chair attended an event organised by Bus Users UK in Preston where national organisers from that body were present.  We were also invited to participate in a Transport Workshop organised by the county council as part of the Transport Masterplan for the District.
We have raised a formal complaint against thecounty council
 over the non-acceptance of bus passes on Dales Bus.
For the second year running we assisted the Dales & Bowland CIC with distribution of the Dales Bus leaflets for the summer service between Morecambe and the Yorkshire Dales and – with a little bit of persuasion – were able to get them on display in the bus station enquiry office for the first time.  Unfortunately, both Lancashire and North Yorkshire county councils decided not to accept concessionary passes on the service in 2016. The Group has challenged the decision and is currently awaiting the outcome of a Formal Complaint to Lancashire that it is acting outside the law in doing so, whilst North Yorkshire is understood to be reviewing its decision for 2017 and we have asked for an input into that review.

We have also designed and had printed our first leaflet telling people about the Group and
2016 saw our new logo for use on publicity and correspondance
encouraging them to join. Designed by our vice-chair, Joy, it is now on display in Lancaster and Morecambe libraries and visitor information centres and it has been successful in recruiting a number of new members.

County Councillor John Fillis
Cabinet Memnber for Highways & Transport

At our October meeting the County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways & Transport, John Fillis, answered a number of questions about his work and future policy. This was a very successful meeting leading, amongst other things, to our Group being the first to learn that Cllr Fillis had been successful in gaining continuation of the funding that will allow all the county’s remaining contract bus services to be continued for a further year.

In the wider world in 2016 Stagecoach announced a fares-freeze with the annual increase that usually takes place in the Spring being cancelled. The company also introduced a cut-price Day Rider ticket for under-19s which gave large savings to the 16 – 19 year olds who previously had to pay full fare.

Cuts to bus services following the ending of Council contracts in April saw the withdrawal of a number of rural services and the loss of evening and Sunday buses on many routes. Stagecoach did elect to continue Sunday buses between Overton, Morecambe and Carnforth on a commercial basis and also extended the Halton service to Warton, via Over Kellet and Carnforth to replace some contracted journeys.      
Due, at least in part, to the work of our group a full service was continued on the 33 to Bare, and a reduced timetable on the 51 to Silverdale and the 89 to Knott End with these services passing to Traveller’s Choice or Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire with new LCC contracts.

The Heysham Link Road opened at the end of October and, although no bus services presently use it, the reduced traffic on the main road between Lancaster and Morecambe has improved reliability for buses on that corridor. Stagecoach has previously indicated that once the impact of the new road is known it will review its services in the district and hopefully be able to introduce some of the improvements we have previously asked for. 

Lancaster's Park & Ride started in December.
As part of the Link Road project, Lancaster’s first Park & Ride service opened before Christmas. Whilst it has got off to a slow start, not helped by the county council’s inability to fund more than a half-hourly service, it appears that LCC is willing to give it a fair chance to develop and to demonstrate the advantages of the bus in bringing people – but not cars – into the city centre.
At the very end of year – December 31st – it ceased to be legal to use a non-accessible bus (with a few minor exceptions) on a local bus service, thus ending the problem of wheelchair-users being unable to use some buses on service 42 to Blackpool. Stagecoach’s last non-accessible buses disappeared some time before this and all local bus services are now “accessible”.

New hope for service 18
Not all our work has been successful however, and it would be wrong to conclude this review without a mention of the fight to improve the service on the 18 to the Moor Hospital site. The Group has been in constant contact with city and county council officers throughout the year to try and establish what – if anything – was happening to the funds the county was known to have available to do this but without much success.
Finally, however, at our October meeting, Cllr Fillis agreed to a request for a meeting to specifically discuss this issue, which subsequently took place in December at County Hall where the Group was represented along with a city councillor (Tim Hamilton-Cox), two county councillors (Gina and Lizzie Collinge), Senior Officers from the Transport Department and even Cat Smith MP!   Following the meeting the county council has sought tenders for an improved service and we hope to learn the outcome of the tendering exercise very shortly.

I would like to end this report by thanking my fellow committee members for their help and hard work during the year and also our members, for continuing to support the work of the Group by attending meetings, contributing to our social media platforms and generally being supportive of what we do.
Thank you.

Jim Davies

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