Response to Consultation on Lancaster Bus Rapid Transit Proposal

In July, following an exhibition at The Storey, Lancaster City Council conducted a consultation excercise into the proposed "Garden Village" housing development at Bailrigg and what appears to have become the "associated"  Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal that was first mentioned in the county council's Transport Masterplan for Lancaster in 2015 and further developed in a Stakeholder Workshop, attended by the BUG in February 2018.

Here is our response to the consultation:


Lancaster BRT Project Team
C/o Atkins
The Exchange
2nd Floor
3 New York Street
M1 4HN                                                                                                                                                                     4th July 2018

Dear Sirs,  

Thank you for the opportunity to respond as a stakeholder to the consultation on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme for Lancaster.  In view of the size and complexity of the issue we are responding in a narrative format via this letter rather than by means of your questionnaire. The response is, however, based on the questions raised on that form and follows the attendance of various members of the executive committee of the Bus Users’ Group at the consultation exercises held a number of venues in and around Lancaster in June 2018.

1. Would you favour a BRT system in the Lancaster area?
1.1 The Bus Users’ Group (BUG) understands a “BRT system” to be a high-quality bus service employing attractive, modern buses coupled with enhanced passenger waiting facilities and facilitated by a number of bus priority measures aimed at increasing the attractiveness of the bus service relative to the use of private cars. We comment further on this issue in section 9.2 of this response.

1.2 Clearly, the BUG would favour the introduction of any measures that would improve the quality and attractiveness of bus travel in Lancaster and which would increase patronage of the network by effecting modal shift from private transport. As an organisation representing existing bus users however, we would not wish to see any proposed new services abstract traffic from existing bus services to such an extent that those services would be reduced to the detriment of passengers unable, for whatever reason, to make use of the BRT scheme.

2. What would be your preferred route options from Bailrigg and in the City Centre?
2.1 Whilst welcoming the opportunity to comment, the BUG is unsure as to the value of seeking views from a wide audience at this stage. The information available through the consultation process appears insufficient to allow respondents to develop an informed opinion as to the merits and demerits of each option.  For example, respondents living on or nearby each of the suggested routes might favour that route being used in expectation of benefitting from the service, only to find that in order to provide a faster journey from Bailrigg to the city the BRT buses will not observe all local bus stops.  On the other hand, those residents who see no personal benefit to themselves may express support for routing options that keep BRT away from their homes because they view it as an unnecessary obtrusion.

2.2 Under current practice the continuing operation of the BRT service will be undertaken on a commercial basis by bus companies. The route and timetable will therefore in practice be determined by the commercial operator. The results of this consultation may be one factor taken into account in determining that, but only once operational practicality and potential revenue have been considered.

2.2.1 However, due to the importance of the BRT project and the application of public funding involved it may be more appropriate for the operator(s) to be required to enter into one of the various Quality Partnership schemes permitted by legislation including the Bus Services Act 2017.  The purpose of such a Partnership would be to regulate route, frequency, vehicle quality and fares of the BRT service and, if necessary, other services in the Lancaster and Morecambe area.

2.3 The BUG has considered the three stated options and would comment on each as follows:
2.3.1 Ashton Road.  This route would have the benefit of being lightly trafficked and less prone to traffic delay that the alternatives. However, it does have a number of significant disadvantages:  It is less direct than the A6, is narrow and tortuous in places and passes Ripley St. Thomas School, where large numbers of buses occupy the carriageway at each end of the school day.  There would, however, appear to be potential for northbound BRT buses to avoid the Pointer roundabout by use of the old section of Ashton Road passing the hospital entrance, subject to suitable alterations to the road layout at Penny Street Bridge.
The fact that the road cannot presently support a commercial bus service and has only a limited rural service using it that is dependent upon county council financial support suggests that there is no potential for the BRT service to generate patronage other than from Bailrigg Garden Village itself thus reducing the commercial potential of any service and limiting the frequency of the BRT service to that which can be justified solely from patronage at the outer end of the route.

2.3.2 Bowerham Road.  In contrast to Ashton Road, Bowerham Road currently supports a frequent and well-used bus service, although even this is reduced by 50% during University vacations and which is currently under review by its commercial operator. There is, however, potential to generate patronage other than from Bailrigg, although much of this will necessarily be abstracted from existing services.
The route is, however, indirect and may be perceived as being circuitous and hence unattractive by passengers wishing simply to travel to and from the city centre. The BUG notes that many university students presented with the choice of travel on the service via Bowerham and the alternative service via Greaves will opt for the latter on the basis that it is faster and more direct.

2.3.3 Greaves Road (A6). This route is sometimes perceived as being the most congested of the three options and therefore subject to the most delay. However, whilst the BUG does not have any access to traffic data we feel that this fear is overstated and that in any case traffic conditions are variable.  The main source of delay is at the Pointer roundabout, where all three suggested routes come together. One source of delay to city-bound traffic is the fact that traffic coming off Bowerham Road has automatic priority over traffic on the A6.  If it were possible to reverse this priority by means of traffic management measures, or if buses on the A6 could be given priority to get to the front of the queue at the roundabout (which might entail the removal of on-street parking) then the Greaves Road route would be superior in every respect.  Delays at the Boot & Show crossroads in Hala would also need to be addressed by bus priority measures including possibly transponders on vehicles to extend “green time” at the signals for approaching buses.

2.3.4 It should be noted that traffic delays on all these corridors are confined to in-bound traffic in the morning and afternoon peaks. There are no significant delays to out-bound traffic once the Pointer roundabout has been reached.  It should also be noted that the present maximum demand for bus travel on this corridor is “against the flow” at peak times. Buses from the city to the University in the morning peak are much better patronised than buses heading into the city, with the opposite applying in the afternoon peak. Duplicate buses provided to carry students to the University in the mornings return to the city “not in service”, such is the lack of demand. This reflects the dominance of the student market on the corridor and suggests that there is significant spare capacity to cater for “with flow” demand from Bailrigg using existing buses.

3.  Should traffic in the city centre be restricted in favour of BRT?
3.1 The BUG would be in favour of any traffic management measures that would assist the operation of ALL bus services (not merely BRT services) in the city centre, including restrictions on private car traffic.

3.2. Lancashire County Council, in its Transport Masterplan for Lancaster (October 2016) in the section 29 (Lancaster City Centre) says:
“There are large numbers of cars coming into the city each day, many from local areas. We also need to remove as many of these as we can by providing alternatives that really work for people, offering genuine convenience beyond that of the car. Then those cars that still head for Lancaster need, where possible, to be intercepted before they reach the city centre.”
This would appear to support the restriction of private car use in the city centre.

4.  Is the bus station in the right location?
4.1. In many ways the bus station is not in the optimum location, being on the fringe of the city centre and remote from the railway station, to which it is poorly connected both by bus and due to the road layout by other forms of transport.  However, it is noted that where they have a choice passengers, especially daytime shoppers, will alight from buses in George Street and Common Garden Street at the uphill end of the city centre and make their way downhill to the bus station to catch a bus home. The bus station therefore works well for them in conjunction with city centre stops.

4.2. The BUG has some concerns that what this question is really asking is “Do we need a bus station at all?” The answer is, emphatically, “yes”!   The bus station fulfils several roles.
·         It provides an easy interchange for passengers needing to transfer between different services.

·         It provides safe and relatively comfortable accommodation for passengers waiting for buses.

·         There is a travel shop providing information and answering queries (although this would be improved if the shop’s operator could be persuaded to provide information on all bus services and not just its own and if the opening hours were extended to include Saturday afternoons and Sundays).

·         There are toilets and a small shop and tea bar as well as rest and refreshment facilities for bus crews (albeit restricted to staff of the dominant operator).

·          Finally, but perhaps most importantly the station provides a visible presence of the city’s bus network and an obvious point of reference for passengers, particularly those who may be using buses for the first time.

4.3 The BUG would like to suggest that the value of this role could be established by sending a member of staff to Lancaster to find out how to get to Blackpool by bus and then sending him or her to Blackpool (where there is no bus station) to work out how to get back!

5. What is the most convenient location for bus stops in the city centre?
5.1. Given the extent of pedestrianisation and the current road layout the stops in George Street and Common Garden Street are probably already the optimum locations.  However, if the necessary changes to the layout and traffic flows could be effected then transferring the George Street stops to Common Garden Street and locating them on the opposite site of the road would create a transport hub which, with the addition of toilets and an enquiry point could replicate several of the advantages of the bus station in a more central location.  The BUG does, of course, realise that significant changes to the way these roads and nearby junctions are used would be necessary.

5.2. If large-scale revisions to road use in the city centre are being considered then further useful locations for bus stops would be southbound on China Street or King Street, near to the junction with Market Street and northbound on Thurnham Street near to the junction with Gage Street.  Both these locations would be on the shopping area side of the streets, to prevent the need for passengers to cross the road concerned and would require the one-way system to be reversed.

6.  Should buses serve the railway station?
6.1. All the theories of public transport planning suggest that they should and in mainland Europe this would be the norm, even when doing so is not necessarily in the direct interests of passengers who have no wish to go to the station.

6.2. Some buses do go via the station, but the present road layout does not make this easy. Of the two services that currently operate via the station the 11 to Marsh has to pass it anyway and the U3R provides a useful link between the University and the station, whilst also providing the only bus service to the Quay.  It would be possible for other services, including the BRT, to serve the station as an extension to existing routes although operation would have to be via Meeting House Lane in both directions so as to avoid the possibility of double-deck buses encountering the low bridge on The Quay, which restricts service U3R to single-deck operation.

6.3. In the case of the corridor proposed for BRT operation the present balance of two buses per hour to and from the station is probably in line with demand and need not be augmented, but without knowing more about the travel patterns of the future residents of the garden village it is impossible to say what the optimum level of service should be. There is, however, currently unmet demand for services to and from the railway station on Sundays and Bank Holidays which could be covered by the BRT service.

7. Would more people use public transport/BRT if it served the railway station?
7.1 If at present there is suppressed demand for travel from south Lancaster to the railway station which is not being met by existing provision then routeing BRT via the station could increase patronage. If, however, doing so diverted the service away from the central shopping and employment areas served by the stops at Common Garden Street and George Street, or if it increased journey times for passengers not wishing to travel to or from the station it could have the opposite effect.

7.2 If a way could be found for BRT to serve the railway station that was not to the detriment of passengers travelling to other parts of the city centre the BUG would support that move.

8. How can car use be reduced in local areas?
8.1 It could be argued that car use “in local areas” is not the problem. It is when those vehicles all attempt to enter the city centre or other congested areas that the need for action arises. The car can, in fact, provide a useful feeder service from residential areas to trunk bus routes to and from the city centre through a system of informal “park and ride” arrangements, providing that the necessary “parking” can be managed appropriately.

8.2 Reducing car traffic in the city centre can be accomplished either through a “carrot” or a “stick” approach. The proposed BRT scheme and public transport improvements generally are an example of the former. However, the BUG suspects that the main reason people chose to travel by car is the convenience that it offers and that in practice even an improved bus service will not match the level of convenience obtained by most car users.

8.3 Significant reductions in car use will come about only through the application of measures that reduce result in car use becoming less convenient and attractive that the alternatives. Such measures include:
·         Increased car parking charges to change the balance between the perceived cost of car and bus use.
·         Reduced availability of car parking spaces in the city centre.
·         The introduction of road-user charging for vehicles entering the central area.
The BUG recognises that such measures would be opposed by the majority of existing car drivers and would be difficult to introduce.      

9. Additional Comments        
9.1 The consultation events attended by the BUG executive provided very little information as to what form the BRT would take, other than it would be bus-based. The Group would therefore like to put forward its suggestions as to how the attractiveness of the system could be maximised in the eyes of users.

9.2 The Vehicles.
9.2.1 All vehicles used on the BRT service should be new at the time of operation commencing. They would need to be internally and externally “refreshed” after five years and replaced after no more than ten years’ service.  We would recommend that the policies of the bus operator “Transdev” and, in particular its vehicle policy on the flagship service 36 between Leeds, Harrogate and Ripon be studied in this regard as they provide an excellent example of best practice.

9.2.2. The vehicles should have an attractive external livery that distinguishes them from other buses operating in the city and readily identifies them as BRT vehicles.

9.2.3 They should have high-quality seating with adequate leg room. The seating capacity should be kept below the theoretical maximum for the type of vehicle employed so as to create an impression of spaciousness and comfort at least equivalent to, and preferably surpassing, a medium-size private car.

9.2.4 Free-to-use WiFi should be provided and the vehicles equipped with audio/visual next-stop announcements.

9.2.5 Vehicle layout, fare structures and ticketing systems should be designed to optimise rapid boarding and alighting of passengers to minimise bus-stop dwell-time.

9.3 The Stops
9.3.1 The bus stops themselves should be of high-quality with level-access boarding, high-quality waiting shelters to a distinctive design with adequate seating, and fitted with real-time information displays. Such facilities should be provided not just on the sections of route where the BRT will be the only service, but throughout the route followed by the service. In view of the potential for traffic to and from the University in addition to the city centre these standards should be applied, in full, at all stops in both directions.

9.3.2 Stopping places within the Garden Village development should be determined as part of the design of the road network so as to be easily accessible on foot from adjacent housing rather than being an afterthought as is too often the case.  They should be located and designed in such a way that waiting passengers can easily see the approaching bus from within the sheltered and seating area and that, similarly, bus drivers have a clear view of waiting passengers.

       9.4 The route
9.4.1      Irrespective of the route chosen, priority in the use of the available road space should be allocated to BRT wherever possible.  Such priority could take the form of bus lanes, bus priority at junctions and traffic signals and bus-only access, particularly in the city centre.  The Group suggests that bus lanes and bus-only access roads be surfaced in a contrasting colour from the adjacent general traffic lanes so as to emphasise the priority and importance of the BRT lane.

      10.  Other Routes
      10.1 The consultation and certainly the questionnaire, appears to concentrate solely upon the route between                        south Lancaster and the city centre.  The BUG understands that the full BRT scheme consists of additional links to Caton Road (Park and Ride) and to Morecambe.  We have, however, confined our response to the south Lancaster portion of the scheme and would welcome an opportunity to comment further on the remainder of the proposed route when appropriate.

Yours faithfully


JD 240618/1