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!

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