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Author Topic: 22 miles, up to 2 hours. Multiple providers with no common timetable or fares  (Read 1500 times)
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« on: February 17, 2020, 09:42:00 am »

Melksham to Bristol – 35 km / 22 miles as the crow files. 

The journey between them is commonly made. That's between a town of 25,000 people and a city  with a population of half a million. It's "downriver" on the River Avon – no massive geographic barriers on the way.  The city of Bath (population 175,000) lies in the middle of the journey and could be regarded as an obstacle.

Control case

32 miles (46 minutes) by road according to Google, and that comes with a 'health warning' - "These directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, weather or other events may cause conditions to differ from the map results, and you should plan your route accordingly. You must obey all signs or notices regarding your route." The AA suggests 53 minutes via the same route.  Both offer an alternative 36 mile route via the A350, M4 and M32 motorways that is three or four minutes quicker. The routes tend to get congested, and car parking in Bristol is not always easy or cheap.

Public Transport case examples

I made the journey twice last week to meetings in Bristol.

On Monday, I had planned to take the 10:01 train, change at Chippenham and arrive in Bristol at 11:07 for a 12:30 meeting in Brunel's Board Room at the Engine Shed on Temple Meads Approach.  Plan to work on the train, and to get a brunch and do a bit of work at the Knights Templar before the meeting. Returns at 15:00, 15:44 or 17:00, journey times ranging from 38 minutes to 1 hour, changing at either Chippenham or Trowbridge.

However... TransWilts trains were withdrawn that morning and as I planned my journey it was clear the 10:01 was not running, but unclear what alternative was to be provided.  I took the bus at about the same time (First bus route D3), and changed onto the x39 bus at Bath Bus Station – short wait there, but a total journey time of around 115 minutes; limited work opportunity as the buses are a bit bouncy.  Return journey - same route, time taken just under 110 minutes.

On Friday, I planned to take the 16:35 (First, D3) bus to Bath, then train to Temple Meads and train on to Clifton Down – 18:19 arrival.  Return plan – GWR (Great Western Railway) 21:59 train to Temple Meads, SWR» (South Western Railway - about) train to Bath, McDonald's burger and drink, bus (First, D3) at 23:20 for a midnight arrival in Melksham Market Place - 10 minute walk to my home stop.

However... standing at the bus stop, a Faresaver x72 arrived a couple of minutes before the D3 was due. Without real time tracking at the bus stop (heck, we don't even have a timetable!) I chose to travel on the Faresaver rather than wait, giving me a few more minutes of connection time from bus to train in Bath.  On time at Clifton Down, so outbound journey 105 minutes.  Return journey as planned, 121 minutes including expected layover in Bath.

Public Transport options – discussion

Finding the best options and tickets for these journeys was not straightforward.

When GWR cancelled the 10:01 on Monday, journey check was advising of money back via "delay repay" with no indication of alternatives. I believe buses were added later, but connections and how to get back later / what would be running were both unclear.  Real risk of ending up at Chippenham or Trowbridge with a 2 hour wait for a bus. Having elected to use the bus from Melksham to Bath, my bus ticket (First Day) included other journeys, and as I had the time and was paying for myself I stuck with the bus for the whole trip both ways.

On Friday, key to my planning was the 23:20 bus from Bath. It is the only piece of public transport available from Bath to Melksham late in the day; the last Faresaver bus is 17:40, the last train at 20:13. A bus the whole way from Clifton Down would probably have meant leaving the meeting early, so the trip had to be a bus/rail mix.  A good thing except that this necessary combination isn't available on just one ticket and ends up considerable more expensive than train-all-the-way or bus-all-the-way.

Fares are a mess ... joining the Faresaver bus, I was fortunate to know that an "Avon Rider" ticket would allow me any buses (including, but useless due to timing) my return trip from Bath via Bristol to Clifton Down. Had I just asked for a return to Bath, it would have been valid back on the 23:20 because it's one of two supported D3 services each day that accept these returns (that's 2 of 15 buses - the other is the 20:00 and not the 21:30!).  Had I got a normal "any Faresaver" day ticket, I don't think that would have been valid back from Bath.

Timetables and information are a mess... nothing on my local bus stop, and printed and online timetables from the two operators are separate.  With a third source to look at for the train, a fourth source for the other bus operator who runs from Melksham into Bath – the daily service by Buses of Swindon.   Online, Google has come forward leaps and bounds and DOES offer Bus - Train linkages.  However, it didn't suggest the 21:59 on Friday evening - it suggested the 22:32 from Clifton Down, with four minutes for me to get from an (on schedule) arrival at platform 1 in Temple Meads to a departure from platform 9. "Optimistic" and not a risk worth taking when it was the link into the final bus of the day.  Bath was interesting on Valentine's night at 11 p.m. but being stuck overnight or taking a taxi was not a risk I wanted to take.  Bad advise (in my opinion) from Google - and bad advise is worse than no advise at all to people who can't see the problem until too late.

Could it be better?

Is it any wonder that with the lack of networked information and networked fares, people are put off using public transport for this journey?  I'm not (yet) asking for additional bus services – but I am suggesting linked timetables, allowing correct connections, and providing fares that let you travel by any provider / any reasonable route.

Journey-wise, the availability of open bus data (will it include real time tracking?) combined with real time train data already available should allow the provision of combined timetables including all modes.

Ticket-wise, I like systems such as Oyster (Smartcard system used by passengers on Transport for London services) which have been with us for many year, and the WECA» (West of England Combined Authority - about) area Freedom Pass which cover all public transport.  Sensible.  What a pity that the Freedom Pass runs out / starts at Batheaston, leaving those of us in the WECA travel to work area, but not in WECA, without any option that allows us to travel out by public transport from Melksham to Bath or Bristol with a return ticket that's valid for us to come back on any reasonable bus or train.

Effect of making its better

I don't have a crystal ball ... but I would suggest that with a simple fare system and correct, understandable timetables that include all the options, more people would use the public transport for these journeys from Melksham to Bristol - and indeed the Melksham to Bath leg.

With more people making the journey, seat occupancy on the buses and trains would get much better, at little cost to the providers who are running the vehicles anyway - and a disproportionally positive change would take place in their profit / loss on the services - i.e. they would pay better for the operator and / or the supporting council.

Private cars dominate these trips at present, so major increase in bus / train numbers would only have a small effect on the number of vehicles on the road. But congestion is a funny thing and even a few vehicles less can make a big difference.

Please - can we have some quite cheap measures to have networked timetables and networked fares - making it less fearsome and inflexible to use the public transport we already have.

Coffee Shop Admin, Vice Chair of Melksham Rail User Group, and on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest.
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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2020, 10:00:26 am »

Grahame. You are bucking the current Mantra.

Buses compete with other buses and trains, trains compete with other trains and buses so any form of collaboration is anti competitive.

Except of course in London. (I wonder why?)
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« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2020, 01:59:48 pm »

Grahame. You are bucking the current Mantra.

Buses compete with other buses and trains, trains compete with other trains and buses so any form of collaboration is anti competitive.

Yes, I know; many a true word spoken in jest.  It may be the current mantra, but many times / on many corridors it's just plain wrong. 

Let's take a corridor I know well. 

Monday to Friday trains at 05:33, 07:19 07:52, 10:01, 12:32, 14:32, 16:41, 18:55 and 20:22
Monday to Friday buses at 07:02, 08:06, 08:24, 08:53, 09:28 and every 30 minutes to 14:28, 15:48, 16:49, 17:15 and 17:52

Monday to Friday trains at 06:27, 08:59, 11:20, 13:29, 15:29, 17:51, 19:06 and 21:00
Monday to Friday buses at 06:30, 07:20, 07:35, 08:25 and every 30 minutes to 13:25, 14:05, 15:05, 15:45, 16:30 and 17:30

The train is point to point (and predominantly passengers go beyond the two endpoints I have used); the bus is linear and serves perhaps a dozen or two intermediate stops.  Both have grown in ridership and frequently over the years and really they don't compete.  Train or bus operators might say to themselves "if only we could get the bus or train passengers onto our train or bus" but in reality the number to transfer would be very limited.   Where you do have an opportunity to get more bums onto existing seats is to encourage people to go out by rail and back whichever way they like, or out by bus and back whichever way they like.

Ticketing for such an arrangement? Buy a return ticket for the outward journey and it's valid back either mode. Fare is kept by the seller of the bus or train ticket; initial thinking suggest to me it would balance out and everyone would be a winner.  More passengers on public transport, more income for both operators for no extra seat provision.   Complexities?    Yes - how do we get there from here, what about season tickets and weekly passes.  How about people who go outbound all the way by train, but on the way back transfer at the northern station to a bus (it's a junction with plenty of other trains ...). How about other ticket types (Operator day tickets, rangers and rovers, etc)?

Except of course in London. (I wonder why?)

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« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2020, 07:01:13 am »

Even worse for those who don't live in a metropolis like Melksham. Downland villages north of Newbury in some cases only have one or two buses a day. In other areas it can be one or two a week.
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« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2020, 09:03:36 am »

Even worse for those who don't live in a metropolis like Melksham. Downland villages north of Newbury in some cases only have one or two buses a day. In other areas it can be one or two a week.

A different problem, though, CyclingSid. One I have heard of / seen but have no personal experience using.

There are some regions in Wiltshire too where a scattering of tiny to small communities which are not alongside any inter town route are hard to serve, amplified by their scatter which makes it hard to find a route covering all or most of them without spending "hours" going up and down country lanes in a zigzag pattern. The "zigzag" bus - yes, we have one with that name in Wiltshire - is an admission of the issue. 

Increase the frequency of these buses - big danger of carrying fresh air.  Make them demand responsive, perhaps?  My experience there is minimal; intrinsically it is a hurdle for me in moving away from "just turn up and ride" having to pre-plan.

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« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2020, 05:39:15 pm »

While there have been some attempts at joined up thinking (e.g. Some Newbury bus routes start at the station instead of the Wharf), there's a lot more than needs to be done to encourage multi-modal travel, for example:
1) There needs to be a sensible walking route between the station and the bus stops for other routes. This hopefully will be rectified as part of the redevelopment around the station area at the moment.
2) The PlusBus area only covers a small part of the surrounding area, so it's not possible to buy a through ticket to many of the nearby villages including those that used to have railway stations, such as Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys.

I recently stayed in Jersey, where the States now commission bus services (similar to the London model). Ridership has shot up, costs are low (£2.30 single for adults) and services are frequent. For an island which is mostly rural and has high car ownership, I'd commend this as a model. Of course, buses no longer connect with the trains on the island, but that's another issue.
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