Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Sometimes it just takes a little nudge...

 Following the third national Coronavirus lockdown in January, bus services were once again adjusted to take account of reduced demand for travel. Stagecoach moved to "School and University Holidays" times on 11th January and two weeks later implemented far-reaching revisions with many Lancaster local services halved in frequency and some services being suspended altogether.

For the first lockdown - and the service cuts that followed - Lancashire County Council, which is responsible for bus stop displays throughout the county,  chose not to post the new times in its bus stop display cases, even those at Lancaster Bus Station, saying that this facility was "suspended" due to the pandemic. Updating of the cases resumed in July when a large number of new services started operating under contract to the council.

Back in March, 2020 Stagecoach responded by posting temporary timetable displays at the Bus Station, but all they could make available were low-quality internal timetables that .were not designed to be read by the public, who are now more used to departure lists of buses rather than full timetables. To make matters worse, the flimsy paper documents were suck to the outside of the display cases with sticky tape, all of which made it very hard for the public to find out when their bus might depart.

Passengers struggled to read the temporary displays

Enquiries by the Bus Users' Group established that there had been no communication between Stagecoach and the County Council as to how information might best be provided to passengers.

Same Again

Council-supported services were not affected by the service cuts and, just as in March 2020, the county council did not update its publicity displays following the two rounds of service changes in January, meaning that they continued to advertise many journeys that were no longer operating.

Initially Stagecoach reintroduced its low-quality printed timetables on the outside of the display cases in the bus station, although the stands used by city's busiest services, the 1/1A, 2X and 100 that link Heysham, Morecambe, Lancaster and the University, did not receive temporary displays and continued to show incorrect times.

Softly, Softly...

The Bus Users' Group prides itself on its good working relationships with bus operators and councils and also firmly believes that the best way to get a job done is to go directly to the people who actually do it.

So rather than make a song-and-dance about the lack of imagination and co-operation between the parties responsible for keeping the public informed, we had a quiet word with the staff actually in the bus station and asked that 
a) could all the affected stands have temporary timetables please;
b) could they perhaps find something a little easier for people to read and understand and
c) might it not be a bad idea to put the displays inside the cases!

It seems we were pushing at an open door. The only reason new displays for  the 1/1A, 100 etc hadn't been produced was that in the format used for other services the resulting displays were too big for the cases. Our approach had prompted those responsible to come up with a revised format, which was more like that used by the County Council and which easily fitted the cases. 

The only reason the temporary displays were on the outside of the cases was that no one at Stagecoach had the necessary bespoke Allen key to open them, but after we offered to lend them ours, a suitable key was found.

Easier to read displays produced at the bus station and placed inside the cases!

In an ideal world it shouldn't be up to the passengers to suggest that up to date information should be provided at bus stops, but we are grateful to the Stagecoach team at the bus station for responding so promptly and effectively to our "suggestion", which has been replicated at Common Garden Street

Now all we have to is find a way to get the rest of the District's stops done, although we do understand that the County Council is likely to re-start its operation on or around 12th April, when many movement restrictions are due to be removed and, hopefully, more people start travelling. 

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Stagecoach the Winner as Lancashire Re-tenders

 Stagecoach has tightened its grip on Lancaster's bus network winning two of the four contracts put out to tender by Lancashire County Council. The company will be taking over the operation of services 33 (Morecambe - Bare Circular) and 51 (Carnforth - Silverdale) from local operator Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire on 29th March.

A total of four contracts were re-tendered and the affected services are:

Service 18  Lancaster - East Lancaster Circular via Williamson Park and Lancaster Farms                                                                                      

This service has been retained by Stagecoach and will continue on its current timetable with no changes. The new contract will run until 25th October 2025.  The Sunday service is provided under a separate contract that runs until October 2023. The council has confirmed that this service now forms part of its core subsidised network and is no longer reliant on section 106 Developer Contributions.

Service 33  Morecambe - Bare Circular via Branksome    

 Operation of this service passes from Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire to Stagecoach. Frequency remains at every 40 minutes and buses continue to run at off-peak periods only. The terminus has been moved from Morecambe Bus Station to the Festival Market stop after the BUG pointed out to the council that this was what was happening in practice under the previous contract. Buses will continue to call at the bus station after leaving the Market stop. It is expected that Stagecoach Day Riders and other multi-journey tickets will be available on this service subject to agreement with the county council. The contract will run until 28 October 2023.

Service 51 Carnforth - Silverdale                                                                 

This service also changes hands from Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire to Stagecoach. No significant changes to the timetable are expected other than to ensure connections are made with trains at Silverdale station on appropriate journeys.  It is expected that Stagecoach Day Riders and other multi-journey tickets will be available on this service subject to agreement with the county council. The contract runs until 25 October 2025

Service 89 Lancaster - Knott End on Sea                                                      
 Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire will continue to operate this service with only minor changes to the timetable until 25 October 2025

Other Services

The contracts for the operation of Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire's service 582 (Lancaster - Kirkby Lonsdale), which is part-funded by the council and for the operation of the 18.30hrs journey from Lancaster to Kirkby Lonsdale on Stagecoach's service 81 have both been extended until 25 October 2021.

Sunday services to Marsh, Vale, Ridge, East Lancaster and Kirkby Lonsdale will continue under existing contracts until October 2023 and the contract for Lancaster's Park & Ride service will be retendered later in the year once the council has decided what changes it wishes to make to the service.

The council has taken the opportunity on all new contracts to reinstate its requirement that buses used on subsidised services should be no more than 10 years old, which it is hoped will see some newer vehicles in use on local services.

All other bus services in the Lancaster District are operated commercially by either Stagecoach or Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire and are not affected by the re-tendering exercise.