Thursday, 16 November 2017

Bus Users' Group Calls For Free Bus Travel for Christmas Shoppers

Image result for lancaster car park images

Lancaster District Bus Users' Group is calling upon the City Council to introduce free bus travel in the run up to Christmas to match its offer of free parking in the city’s car parks.
Between Sunday, November 26th and Sunday, December 24th all of the city council’s main car parks in Morecambe and Lancaster will be free to use on Sundays as well as after 6pm on Thursdays for late-night shopping.
Lancaster Bus Users’ Group feels that this is unfair to public transport users and is asking the City Council to match its offer to motorists with a similar one to bus passengers and to make bus travel free throughout the city at those times. 
Jim Davies, Chair of the Bus Users’ Group said:
“Bus passengers contribute towards the cost of the free parking through their council tax but receive no benefit”.
The Group admits that the free parking offer is popular and doesn’t want to see it abolished but says that it also brings its own problems. Jim Davies explained:

“The free parking attracts large numbers of shoppers to Lancaster, which is a good thing but the extra traffic generated causes congestion and delay to all road users and can act as a disincentive for shoppers to visit the city. Bus passengers suffer from delays to their services whilst still having to pay the full fare for their journeys. Offering free bus travel would allow more people to reach the city centre without adding to congestion and, by offering an alternative to the car would actually reduce it, whereas giving away free car parking and continuing to charge for bus travel is likely to reduce bus use as people who may have travelled by bus use their cars instead".

The Bus Users Group recognises that the city council does not run the bus service, but feels that it should be possible for the council to come to an arrangement with Stagecoach to make good the revenue lost by offering free travel.

Councillor James Leyshon, who has responsibility for car parking, is quoted in the Lancaster Guardian as saying that there is "no additional net cost to Council Tax payers" due to the initiative, but this clearly misunderstands the situation. All the city's car parks would be busy during both late-night shopping and Sundays in the run-up to Christmas, so a substantial amount of revenue is being lost, which has to be made up either through council tax, paid by motorists and non-motorists alike or through reduced public services.

Whilst it is probably too late to introduce free bus travel for 2017 the Group has called upon the council to consider it for future years.

Monday, 23 October 2017

December Service Changes - First Details Revealed

One of the supported services that will continue.

Last September Lancashire County Council began the process of spending the additional £1M funding allocated to local bus services by the new administration. As part of the process all existing contracts were cancelled and fresh tenders sought.  The new services are due to start on 10 December and the Bus Users' Group can now reveal how services in the Lancaster area will be affected.
The following services receive support from the County Council:

Service 1  Lancaster Park & Ride
This service will continue unchanged.

Service 18  East Lancaster Circular
This service will continue unchanged.

Service 33 Morecambe - Bare (Circular)
The route and timetable are unchanged but operation will pass from Travellers Choice to Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire.

Service 51 Carnforth - Silverdale
This service also passes from Travellers Choice to Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire. Following a request from the Bus Users' Group the early evening service is improved. There will be an additional journey from Carnforth to Silverdale at 19.09 on Mondays to Fridays and 19.01 on Saturdays. In the opposite direction on Mondays to Fridays  the 18.25 from Silverdale village to Silverdale Station will continue to Carnforth arriving at 19.06. On Saturdays the 16.35 and 18.05 from Silverdale Village to the station will continue through to Carnforth (the 18.05 will leave at 18.17) and there will be a new journey from Silverdale at 19.40 through to Carnforth arriving at 2021.
The new buses offer reasonable connections with the 555 at Carnforth. Passengers for Warton, Yealand and Silverdale will be able to leave Lancaster an hour later than present at 18.30 and it will be possible for them to leave Kendal at 18.05, Keswick at 16.30 and Bowness at 17.40 (on service 755).  It will also be easier for passengers from Lancaster to visit Silverdale as the new journeys to Carnforth will connect with Lancaster services there.

Service 89  Lancaster  - Knott End on Sea
Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire will continue to operate this service. All journeys will operate via the main entrance to the Infirmary (the "H" suffix is likely to be dropped and the section of route via MU2 is not operating due to building work at the turning point). 
The 07.02 Pilling to Lancaster journey will run 10 minutes earlier than now, whilst the first two buses of the day from Lancaster are retimed to depart 5 minutes earlier at 06.15 and 07.45.
The last supported bus of the day from Knott End to Lancaster remains at 18.00. The later, 19.30, journey is operated outside the contract and the BUG hopes this will continue to be the case.

Service 81 at Kirkby Lonsdale
The situation on the last supported service - the 81 Lancaster to Kirkby Lonsdale is not quite so straightforward. Lancashire County Council currently only pays for the 18.40 Lancaster to Kirby Lonsdale journey (which operates beyond Hornby only on request and was included in the supported network following a BUG campaign). The remainder of the service is provided commercially by Stagecoach, with some early and late journeys run by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire and so the council cannot just seek tenders for an improved service.  Instead it is "in discussion" with the operators to develop a number of options for improvement that are likely to require some funding by the council for approval by the Cabinet Member, Cllr Keith Iddon.

The Bus Users' Group has submitted a number of ideas including re-introducing a service to the north side of the valley through Gressingham, Arkholme and Whittington; running the 18.40 all the way to Kirkby Lonsdale and back in service without the need to "request it" and requiring the two operators to accept each other's tickets and produce a joint timetable for the public.  We have been promised an input into the "discussions" although it has to be said there has been no sign of that to date.

As ever, we will post full timetables on this website as soon as they are available.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Stagecoach Short-Listed for Major Award

At a special event held today in Manchester's Museum of Transport the finalists for the 2017 UK Bus  Awards (the "OSCARS" of the bus industry world) Stagecoach Cumbria & North Lancs was announced as a finalist for the Award for Sustained Marketing Excellence, sponsored by Exterion Media.This Award is designed to recognise marketing excellence over a sustained period that is likely to be measured in years rather than weeks.
The Award will go to the organisation that best demonstrates how an active, customer-focused marketing strategy, consistently applied over time, has driven business improvement, won extra journeys and captured new customers, ideally through a shift of travel from car to bus.
The winner of this Award will be able to show that this sustained approach has:
  • delivered measurable improvements in customer service and customer satisfaction
  • created or developed strong brands
  • helped to change public perceptions and/or consumer behaviour
  • genuinely driven all aspects of the business, particularly
    • customer service
    • staff training
    • management and supervision.
The important thing is that the winner can demonstrate a passion for marketing and for serving the customer over a sustained period.
Stagecoach is one of six finalists in this category, which was open to operators, authorities, partnerships or other organisations participating in the securing, marketing or promotion of registered local bus services.  Entries were welcomed from nominees, winners or runners-up of previous marketing initiative awards, who could now demonstrate how their sustained activity had produced results.
This was Stagecoach's case:

'Lakes Connection' 555 service - Stagecoach Cumbria & North Lancashire

A 555 bus in Ambleside
The Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire 555 service operates between Lancaster and Keswick, through the Lake District Park National Park, serving key destinations such as Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere. Tourism in the Lakes presents a drastic change in population during the summer months. This requires the marketing of the advantages of the service to those in the local area, bringing people in from Lancaster and Keswick, but also to stand out and attract those unfamiliar with the area who may be visiting for the day or weekend. Sustained, consistent and clear marketing of the service is a necessity to its success, as its route, frequency, cost and experience need to be communicated to a new audience each and every season. All social media platforms are used to promote the service, as well as more conventional leaflets and roadside publicity. The launch of 12 new vehicles in July last year was an opportunity taken to fully utilise the bus to promote the 555 service through eye catching branding and Stagecoach is continually looking for new ways to promote the service to encourage the public to leave the car at home or holiday accommodation.

The Bus Users' Group is happy to congratulate Stagecoach on being short-listed and wishes them "good luck" for the finals to be held in London on 21st November

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Greyhound Bridge Closure - Less Priority for Buses.

Greyhound Bridge
Greyhound Bridge carries the main Lancaster to Morecambe road over the River Lune as well as northbound traffic on the A6. Its importance in Lancaster's road network can be seen from this map, where it is the lower of the two crossings near the city centre, the other being Skerton Bridge, which carries south and eastbound traffic.

Despite it's importance, Lancashire County Council proposes to close it to all traffic for over six months from the end of January next year for "vital" maintenance work. The bridge originally carried the Lancaster to Morecambe railway line over the river and was converted to a roadway after the line closed in the 1960s. This allowed a one-way system to be set up with Skerton Bridge converted to carry only east and southbound traffic. Without the work the council says it would have to impose a weight limit on the bridge because of its condition.
Long-distance traffic will be encouraged to use the new Heysham Link Road - the A683 shown at the top of the map  - whilst all local traffic will be diverted over Skerton Bridge, which will revert to carrying two-way traffic for the duration. 

The closure will have a significant effect on bus services. Not only will west and north-bound services have to follow the diversion over Skerton Bridge, but buses will lose two important pieces of bus priority that help them to keep to time despite Lancaster's traffic.  At present, buses coming over Skerton Bridge into the city can turn right to  take advantage of a bus-only link to reach Parliament Street, which saves them from following other traffic around the back of the old Kingsway bus depot and Baths on Caton Road, saving them several minutes in the process. Once Skerton Bridge becomes two-way this will no longer be possible and buses will have to join the queue of other traffic on Caton Road.

This section of bus lane on Morecambe Road will have to carry all eastbound traffic with
 westboundvehicles using the adjacent lane (where the traffic is queueing.
The benefit of the bus lane to buses is clearly shown in the image above.
The second section of road to become two-way will be the Morecambe Road between the A6 and Carlisle Bridge, where it passes between Rylands Park and Our Lady's School. The current bus lane will carry all eastbound traffic with westbound vehicles using the general traffic lane.  Together with the loss of capacity for all vehicles during the work the suspension of these bus priorities is likely to cause serious problems for the bus operators, but details are now emerging of how they intend to cope.

Stagecoach intends to retain frequencies at current levels even though the increased journey times mean they will have to employ additional vehicles and drivers. As revenue is unlikely to increase - and may even decrease due to longer and less attractive journey times - this is a welcome move.

However, one major change is likely to come about. In order to confine reliability problems to the west side of the river the cross-city services that run between Heysham, Morecambe and the University are likely to be split at the bus station and operated in two parts. Passengers on services 2 2A 3 and 4 who now travel through the city centre will have to change buses at the bus station. Although inconvenient, this should ensure that delays suffered by buses crossing the river are not carried forward to affect services  - and passengers - between the city centre and University.  If this plan does go ahead we will post details of the new arrangements on our timetable pages.

The work is scheduled to start on 29th January and continue to August, although some necessary preparatory changes to the roads affected will happen before then.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Not Much for Lancaster in County's Christmas Stocking!

Service 81 at Kirkby Lonsdale. Will buses soon
return to both sides of the Lune Valley?
Lancashire County Council's cabinet will shortly consider proposals on how to spend the additional £1M the new administration has allocated to funding bus services with the improvements to take effect just before Christmas.

Given that the previous council cut approximately £5M from the bus budget it was always obvious that not all the services withdrawn in April 2016 would be replaced and indeed the money has been thinly spread throughout the county.

Despite significant improvements to services in Ribble Valley, Pendle, Fylde and West Lancs there's not much cheer for Lancaster's bus passengers with only one service set for improvement.

When the consultation on the funding was announced the Bus Users' Group put forward suggestions that would have restored a service to Crag Bank in Carnforth and those parts of Bolton-le-Sands that no longer have a bus. We also asked for more buses for Warton and Silverdale as well as the restoration of evening and Sunday buses in Lancaster, all of which we felt met the priorities that the Council had set itself. The Cabinet Report, to be considered on 14th September, however includes none of the above improvements. Indeed, the only part of Lancaster District to benefit will be the Lune Valley, where it does at least appear that the BUG's requests are being considered. The Report includes an action "to work with (bus) operators to develop a sustainable daytime service for the villages of Gressingham, Arkholme and Whittington as well as the Lune Valley as a whole".

As these villages were left without any usable buses by the April 2016 cuts and have since gained only a token service provided by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire buses en-route to and from another service this is, to say the least, overdue.  The full report makes reference to the county council working with "operators and stakeholders" to develop proposals and the BUG has already asked for an input into the work of designing the new service.

The proposed introduction date for any new service is 10th December, which means that timetables will have to be agreed and ready by mid-October at the latest. As ever, we will post details on this site as soon as we get them.


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!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Campaign for Better Transport Recognises Our Work

Any campaigning organisation is always pleased to have its work recognised, particularly if that recognition comes from  larger and well-established fellow-campaigners.  Lancaster District Bus Users Group was therefore delighted to be asked to contribute a "guest blog" for the Save Our Buses pages of the Campaign for Better Transport's website.

We chose to tell the tale of our successful fight to restore a bus service to those parts of Lancaster badly-hit by the reductions to service 18 (East Lancaster Circular) and the County Council's reluctance to spend the money it had been given to improve it.