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Author Topic: The view from the bus operator  (Read 934 times)
grahame
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« on: March 22, 2019, 07:48:42 am »

A very interesting presentation on Wednesday at TravelWatch SouthWest from a bus operator, looking at how things have changed for them in the last five years - in both the right and the wrong direction.  As I sat near the rear of the room I tapped in notes which I am sharing - far from perfectly edited (regulars here know just how much trouble I have spelling) but I feel worth sharing to a wider audience.



Giles Fearnley. / First Bus

Changes 5 years

- worsening congestion; bus speeds down 50% over 50 years. Dramatic business loss.
- compounded by mix / e.g. white van deliberates

- Lack of funding esp. rural areas (but things can turn on head)
- e.g. Taunton Ė First took over local P&R from contract.Working well

- Bus service act / not franchising / other stuff taken up yet. Mcr grappling

- Clean air, Greener journeys etc.
- Known by politicians / value of bus
- Transforming cities fund

For passengers

- Slower and less reliable journeys and less service / lack of increase
- Ticketing Revolution. Taken very quickly.
- Trialling model 2 / capping. Now 23% mobile, 18% contactless national. 63% First Bristol
- Tap and tell for feedback

Gridlocks - Bristol and Bath. Couldn't cope - extra vehicles trying to help.
School contracts withdrawn dumping passengers onto regular service
Had extra buses / congestion-busters waiting to jump in.

For Operators

- Congestion. Feel disempowered; blamed by customers
- +100 on 700 added in Glasgow. +50 in Bristol
- Increased polarisation of economy Ė very strong areas and very weak
- churn of bus drivers in good economy areas. Retention issues. Also how customers treat drivers
- Driver assaults (unprovoked on drugs / drinks) also easy-to get angry under influence
- We have data like we never had before. Where / how many on bus / etc help planning
- 54% increase in Bristol bus since (6 or 7 years)
- 40% S Glouc / NE Somerset
- Cornwall turned around
- Discover "Growing so fast" ...
- Euro6 really clean - tremendous product for interim until battery lasts a day
- For First Group - A lot more linked up Bus and Train
- Far more positive bus talk; now understood role to play

Rural ...
- Precarious unless on main
- Needs transport connection / links all work together and integrated info
- Connect not duplicate; technology can help

- "LEZ" access £120 million in Leeds / help on road prioritise?
- Bus becomes the attractive mode. Glasgow not far behind.
- West of England - "constructive talks with mayors"
- Major cities, "money doesn't help rural areas"

- Public Transport feeding health.

Qns to GF
- Medium sized towns? 
A: Difficult challenge. Town numbers low
- Waiting at stop is irritating. Can timetables be speeded up.
A: Real time telling us; 10% present at bus stop. Need to allow for congestion and running
- Information / payment ...
A: Cash and printed timetable still there
- Bus to customer link / Taunton Bus User Group. Get public to help
A: Take point back
« Last Edit: March 22, 2019, 08:28:00 am by grahame » Logged

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Red Squirrel
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« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2019, 08:40:00 am »

I went to a forum organised by Bristol Civic Society on Wednesday, in which the estimable James Freeman (MD of First West of England) spoke of the successes and challenges of running buses in Bristol, including 7-10% annual growth and the merits of flat fares, m-tickets, contactless payment and - yes! - recruiting bus drivers who actually like people. Mr Freeman is clearly very happy to get up in front of the public and honestly explain and justify his decisions; we could do with more like him.

Tellingly, he said that he often walks from First's Lawrence Hill HQ into Bristol because congestion is so bad it's not worth getting on a bus. He's counted over forty of his buses queuing for the Bear Pit roundabout. He's clearly very keen on more bus priority measures, which need to be better-joined, and greater use of 24-hour bus lanes.

At the same meeting was Jason Humm, WECA Head of Transport, who talked through JLTP4; disappointingly he didn't have much to say to those who suggested that WECA is still too heavily biased in favour of the private motorist, effectively accusing his audience (few of whom can have been under 50) of being too progressive and saying that it is politically difficult to stand up to the motoring lobby.

Also there was Matthew Galton of GWR, who spoke among other things of the huge improvements in performance since the introduction of IETs - but I digress...
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froome
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« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2019, 02:27:19 pm »

I went to a forum organised by Bristol Civic Society on Wednesday, in which the estimable James Freeman (MD of First West of England) spoke of the successes and challenges of running buses in Bristol, including 7-10% annual growth and the merits of flat fares, m-tickets, contactless payment and - yes! - recruiting bus drivers who actually like people. Mr Freeman is clearly very happy to get up in front of the public and honestly explain and justify his decisions; we could do with more like him.

Tellingly, he said that he often walks from First's Lawrence Hill HQ into Bristol because congestion is so bad it's not worth getting on a bus. He's counted over forty of his buses queuing for the Bear Pit roundabout. He's clearly very keen on more bus priority measures, which need to be better-joined, and greater use of 24-hour bus lanes.



I attended the Bath Bus users Group meeting a few weeks ago where the very same James Freeman spoke along much the same lines. As well as the problem of some bus drivers not liking the passengers, he raised probably a more significant point that only 10% of Bath's bus drivers actually live in Bath due to the high costs of housing here, and that is a major problem for reliability of drivers punctuality and attendance, especially in poor conditions. Apparently when we had the recent snowfall, it was this rather than the ability of buses to drive on Bath's hills which actually led to most services being cancelled for the day.
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2019, 03:21:50 pm »

effectively accusing his audience (few of whom can have been under 50) of being too progressive
This really annoys me. Some of these civic forum type events are trying to address the issue: yesterday I received an email informing me of the local "Community Partnership" meeting, where one of the items on the agenda was to be "Help us to reach under-represented people in our community". I don't know what they actually did about it though, as when I turned up they said you were supposed to book in advance (and I'd only received the email the same day) and pay (I think it was £5) to reserve a place. Hmmm, strikes me that one way to put people off, especially people with busier lives , other commitments and less money, is to require booking and payment. For the record, I'm (just) over 50 myself.

(Sorry for the lack of bus content in this post!)
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« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2019, 03:23:58 pm »

- worsening congestion; bus speeds down 50% over 50 years. Dramatic business loss.
That is a dramatic drop, even over 50 years.

Quote
- Ticketing Revolution. Taken very quickly.
- Trialling model 2 / capping. Now 23% mobile, 18% contactless national. 63% First Bristol
- Tap and tell for feedback
That's encouraging.
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TonyK
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« Reply #5 on: March 22, 2019, 05:40:23 pm »

- Ticketing Revolution. Taken very quickly.
- Trialling model 2 / capping. Now 23% mobile, 18% contactless national. 63% First Bristol
- Tap and tell for feedback
That's encouraging.
[/quote]

I lived in Bristol when the mobile phone ticket was introduced. I occasionally caught the bus into town from Arnos Vale on Bath Road. Previously, if I was still in Bloomfield Road when a bus went past on the main road, it would still be at the stop when I arrived, having negotiated two major roads and four sets of pedestrian traffic lights. That all changed quickly when mobile tickets arrived, and even more when a price differential was introduced. It certainly gets the buses away from the stops much more quickly, especially on Monday mornings when everyone was renewing weekly passes in the olden days. I still use the mTicket if I visit, need a bus, and haven't a PlusBus.
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Red Squirrel
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« Reply #6 on: March 22, 2019, 06:23:13 pm »

Quote
- Ticketing Revolution. Taken very quickly.
- Trialling model 2 / capping. Now 23% mobile, 18% contactless national. 63% First Bristol
- Tap and tell for feedback
That's encouraging.

I lived in Bristol when the mobile phone ticket was introduced. I occasionally caught the bus into town from Arnos Vale on Bath Road. Previously, if I was still in Bloomfield Road when a bus went past on the main road, it would still be at the stop when I arrived, having negotiated two major roads and four sets of pedestrian traffic lights. That all changed quickly when mobile tickets arrived, and even more when a price differential was introduced. It certainly gets the buses away from the stops much more quickly, especially on Monday mornings when everyone was renewing weekly passes in the olden days. I still use the mTicket if I visit, need a bus, and haven't a PlusBus.

Did I hear James Freeman correctly? I think he said that over 50% of users in Bristol use m-tickets and another 30% use contactless - presumably NFC payment technologies like Google Pay. Remarkable, if that's what he said.
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« Reply #7 on: March 22, 2019, 08:10:33 pm »

As somebody who has worked for James Freeman as a bus driver, I shall not pass comment on his opinions here just that he wasn't always so honest with the public at Reading Buses. His ideas about public transport are very different to mine.

On the subject of driver assaults, I always found it quite easy to negotiate with people under the influence of drink, sober people were harder work. The biggest transformation in people getting more aggressive with drivers in Reading, was the installation of attack screens!
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« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2019, 08:59:37 pm »

On another note I have often thought that the real time information guessing game should be replaced with a figure of how many stops the bus is away. Real time information is certainly fully trusted by the public and they get very frustrated when real life doesn't match the real time, which is quite often. The real time never works 100%. Operator opinion seems to be that displaying something, even if it isn't accurate, is better than displaying nothing. I would still use paper timetables or the online version if I was using a bus route.
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Red Squirrel
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« Reply #9 on: March 23, 2019, 10:57:42 am »

As great as I think it is that these types of vehicles are becoming the norm, I will never understand why overhead and trolleybuses aren't ever considered anymore, particularly in Britain. ...

I'm struck by how clear the roads are of cars when looking at old pictures of trams and trolley buses, and I note the comments from Giles Fearnley at TravelWatch about how much congestion has slowed down buses.   I suspect that vehicles tied to a track (above or below them) are going to have real issues if they get routed through areas of congestion - they can't wriggle around queues ....


Unfortunately many bus routes in our towns and cities need to go through these areas of congestion. In the U.K we think rather differently to what public transport is for compared to elsewhere. There is an enormous amount of attention to interurban transport and how people from other communities around cities access them but not much attention paid to how people move around within them. The local bus (or trolleybus, tram or anything else) must go to areas with congestion because it's normally these areas where large populations live or where the traffic generating points, such as hospitals, are. The Eastern 'MRT' project Reading Council recently proposed would have moved several bus routes away from the Newtown and Cemetery Junction area which is a huge bottleneck for road traffic but also a large generator of passenger traffic for public transport in both directions. Moving the public transport away from the area to avoid the congestion seems rather backward when it is that very congestion we are trying to remove. Moving the regular traffic to the new proposed route in Reading would have been the better option for public transport. Back in the 1960's and 70's when new major road building towards urban centres occurred, such as the M32 into Bristol, this would have been of benefit to public transport on the previous main corridor the traffic used. The cars from elsewhere used the new road while buses continued running along the original corridor serving the communities along it free from the main flow. Now I am not suggesting that building new urban motorways is what we should be doing, but public transport bypassing inner areas is not the way forward. Sorting the area of congestion with public transport is what's needed.

Persuading people onto public transport is difficult, especially when it remains a regular bus. The biggest barriers against people using the bus I can see, after 18 years of driving them, is the speed the vehicles travel. One point to this is other road traffic of course, however the other factors slowing the vehicles are largely ignored. The driver having to see every individual onto the bus is the first major factor. If there was a major change by operators in how they collect and protect their revenue which led to people stepping on and off the bus in the same way they would use a train (or tram) then this would make a huge difference to the speed of the vehicle. Pay as you enter vehicles have to wait for the individual to prepare themselves.
The next factor is the amount of stops. Here is where local councils can get involved since they normally decide on the locations of these. Many stops in my town are in out of date locations that are difficult for buses to use and more awkward stops have been added between the originals over time in a vague attempt to promote public transport in the post deregulation era. A minimum stop distance in urban areas is what is needed to speed up bus services so that vehicles make better progress.
Getting more people onto public transport is supposed to lead to less road traffic so bus only lanes can be justified in heavy congestion areas. These would be even more acceptable by many people if some sort of permanent infrastructure is present. The infrastructure presents a commitment to reliable public transport. It builds an established corridor to draw people towards and trolleybuses are the cheapest way of doing this.

Cheers.

Good to get an insider's perspective, Reading General. A lot of what you say tallies with James Freeman's observations, which I alluded to above (and I note that you don't necessarily see eye to eye with Mr Freeman!)

Someone at the Civic Society meeting asked him why MetroBus services pass right through Easton/Eastville and St Paul's without stopping. Wouldn't is be easy enough to pull off the M32 at Eastville and get back on at St Paul's? At another meeting I attended, someone asked him why the Bristol-Bath express bus couldn't just whizz round Park Estate in Keynsham once an hour. His answer was clear - these are express services whose attraction is their speed; when the X39 pulls on to the Keynsham Bypass everyone on board breathes a sigh of relief.

MetroBus services offer much of what you are advocating - fewer stops, off-bus ticketing and permanent infrastructure. Many here may bemoan the fact that this infrastructure does have steel rails running along it, but it does at least, as you say, present a commitment to public transport.

This approach seems to be working for people coming in from Bristol's outer suburbs (Thornbury, Emerson's Green, Keynsham, Bath and so on) but it does little for travellers within the city. Here much more needs to be done, and with very few opportunities to to increase road capacity this will mean rebalancing what's there by restricting turns, simplifying junctions and plugging gaps in bus lanes. The A4018 and Muller Road schemes are examples of this. Put simply, it can only be done at the expense of the private motorist - and we shouldn't expect the motoring lobby to go quietly, having had things their own way for so long!
« Last Edit: March 23, 2019, 11:32:44 am by Red Squirrel » Logged
TonyK
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« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2019, 11:26:43 am »

On another note I have often thought that the real time information guessing game should be replaced with a figure of how many stops the bus is away. Real time information is certainly fully trusted by the public and they get very frustrated when real life doesn't match the real time, which is quite often. The real time never works 100%. Operator opinion seems to be that displaying something, even if it isn't accurate, is better than displaying nothing. I would still use paper timetables or the online version if I was using a bus route.


The paper timetable in Bristol has long been filed under "Works of Fiction". It shows what time the bus will arrive if there is no other traffic on the road, or it things go to plan, but even for the MetroBust routes it is of limited value. The displays at the bus stops display real-time information, some of it accurate. It's like the buttons on traffic lights that do nothing but light up when pressed, but make you think you are influencing the pattern of traffic light changes - it makes you feel more in control.
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« Reply #11 on: March 23, 2019, 03:12:50 pm »

Quote
- Ticketing Revolution. Taken very quickly.
- Trialling model 2 / capping. Now 23% mobile, 18% contactless national. 63% First Bristol
- Tap and tell for feedback
That's encouraging.

I lived in Bristol when the mobile phone ticket was introduced. I occasionally caught the bus into town from Arnos Vale on Bath Road. Previously, if I was still in Bloomfield Road when a bus went past on the main road, it would still be at the stop when I arrived, having negotiated two major roads and four sets of pedestrian traffic lights. That all changed quickly when mobile tickets arrived, and even more when a price differential was introduced. It certainly gets the buses away from the stops much more quickly, especially on Monday mornings when everyone was renewing weekly passes in the olden days. I still use the mTicket if I visit, need a bus, and haven't a PlusBus.

Did I hear James Freeman correctly? I think he said that over 50% of users in Bristol use m-tickets and another 30% use contactless - presumably NFC payment technologies like Google Pay. Remarkable, if that's what he said.

Canít comment on what was said but personal experience in another area is that I take very little cash on the majority of shifts. Cash fares are without doubt much slower. Mobile QR scan and NFC methods are very quick. Discounted rates are on the mobile app to try and encourage daily, weekly and monthly tickets through that way.
Having to carry less cash is great from a drivers point of view, security, time, time taking to count and pay in my takings. I honestly canít see a negative from my view as a driver to cashless transactions
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« Reply #12 on: March 23, 2019, 06:13:04 pm »

Certainly the above is the type of step forward we need in the U.K, but in urban areas it's no longer enough. In Reading, the cash on the town routes moved to no change available vaults which, although initially sped things up as people were ready to hand over money, has actually slowed things down while we wait for people to find the correct money at the last moment. This of course meant that as town drivers we no longer had any responsibility for making sure it tallied up at the end of a shift. nor did we have to pay anything in. So the journey took longer but with less hassle at the end of a shift. Mobile ticketing with QR codes is quick if individuals are prepared when they board, and this was popular in a big way when I left the job, but with the added revenue loss of many adults simply using under 18 tickets on the app as there was no registration required. You could not believe some of the so called responsible adults, many from respectable areas on there way to good jobs, who do this. Reading Buses frankly weren't that bothered by it as it meant less complaints, more awards. As James Freeman once said about an earlier different form of fraudulent travel, getting something out of them is is better than nothing. However, I never thought this fair on the honest paying passenger who expect the bloke next to them to have payed the same as them. Anyhow, I'm not sure what ticket machines are used elsewhere but contactless is what takes the longest to use at the moment, taking far longer than handling change, as the technology is quite crude. This was fast becoming the most popular way to pay as it required next to no effort except to say what ticket type you want.

Cheers
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grahame
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« Reply #13 on: March 24, 2019, 09:06:16 am »

Certainly the above is the type of step forward we need in the U.K, but in urban areas it's no longer enough. ...

From a passenger viewpoint, I considered the time taken on a journey I sometimes make ... and concluded that my productive movement if I take the bus is just 35% of the time.  It's {{here}} and the 35% is actually a high figure, I suspect - bearing in mind that I'm making a direct journey, live close to the bus stop, and it's an interurban route.  Posted as a separate thread as it's no longer "the view from the bus operator"

So ... how do "we" keep loading times down, congestion and road control times down ... are we headed for schemes such as I've see outside the UK where buses have multiple door, people join at stops into a lobby and pass though a gate / payment point into the main seating and travelling area once the bus in under way?  A return of the conductor, bearing in mind less drivers will be needed if you can get the same frequency with less vehicles?  Free travel on the model that a couple of countries are trying so that there's no need to pay or check payment, allowing multiple vehicle entrances and exits on vehicles?   Congestion / clean air charging in places like Bath for private cars to help reduce traffic and encourage bus use?    Are different charging / paying regimes (contactless, cash, exact fare, mobile app) just tinkering around the edges?

I note stats about "only xx% still pay cash" and "cashless now yy%".  Good (I think) - does anyone have the stats for want the percentage of ENCTS cards is within those quoted percentages?
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« Reply #14 on: March 24, 2019, 09:32:17 am »

From my viewpoint I would say that the use of m-tickets, TtravelWest cards and ENCTS passes do speed up the boarding of passengers. Just go to the UWE Frenchay Campus and watch the students boarding metrobus with all their m-tickets. I wish those students who are slow in activating their m-ticket would stand aside whilst their m-ticket is loading. Its like counting sheep to an extent, ONE - BEEP - TWO - BEEP - THREE - BEEP - FOUR - FOUR - FOUR- FOUR - BEEP - FIVE - BEEP - SIX - BEEP and so on.
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