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My plan for West of England buses

March 13, 2017

Bus services have been upsetting people for decades in the West of England. In my 25 years in politics in Bristol they have been a constant feature on the doorstep and in my mail. They are costly compared to many other cities. They don’t run late enough to the towns and villages in Gloucestershire and Somerset. In most cases they only take cash, slowing up the journey and causing hold ups along the route for other people. As they are all diesel propelled they contribute to poor air quality in both Bath and Bristol.

There has been very little that local politicians can do about these problems. Until now. The election of the West of England region’s first “Metro” Mayor will be followed by the awarding of new transport powers by central government. The Metro Mayor will be able to set franchises for bus services and insist on integrated and smart ticketing. This means that any bus company that wants to operate in the region will have to agree to the Mayor’s terms and conditions.

This is a big opportunity to transform local bus services. I have several ideas:

• A rapid move to a cashless payment system. This would include people being able to pay on entry to the bus with their debit card, a smart phone as well as other dedicated pre-paid cards and concession passes.
• A review of late night buses to the towns and villages around Bristol and Bath. This would take account of the needs of employees working late at various locations (eg Cribbs Causeway) and of people enjoying an evening out in both our cities.
• A review of Park and Ride sites and services. In some areas park and ride is an appropriate intervention to take cars off the roads into both cities. They work well at Newbridge and Brislington on the A4. The case for new sites should be rigorously tested to make sure that extra car journeys are not being created in the countryside and that air pollution is being reduced in the cities. Secure cycle parking facilities should also be available at all sites. Later services should be introduced for people leaving the theatres and other attractions of Bath and Bristol.
• Greater integration between bus routes and railway stations. Making sure that the three mainline rail stations are well served by buses. Some local stations could be better linked to the bus network. I plan to open a new rail station at Charfield, in the north of the region. To avoid an increase in rural car journeys this would be supported by a dedicated bus link to Wotton under Edge, the nearest town.
• A move to cleaner fuel and electric powered buses. Diesel fumes are a major public health issue. I will work with the Mayor of London and the other English regional Metro Mayors to develop a market for cleaner buses.
• Increased confidence in the timetable and information at the bus stop and on board. Buses should run to the published timetable but it is useful to know the real time arrival of the next bus when there are delays. Signage and voice information on board buses should be clear and take account of everyone’s needs.
• Making a success of “Metro Bus” in 2017. We’ve been enduring the disruptive roadworks and now we need to see the benefit of this huge investment in a dedicated route. I will consider carefully the case for further bus based rapid transit, for instance to Yate and Thornbury.

I will be publishing a full manifesto at the end of March and in the meantime would welcome feedback and other ideas for how we can get a high quality, reliable bus service.


Here is the full and final version of my manifesto section on transport

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2017 7:37 pm

    Good stuff

  2. Robin Bowers permalink
    March 13, 2017 9:20 pm

    Hi Stephen

    It’s all well having cashless payment methods but what if I want to pay by cash , surely some kind of Bus mounted machine that accepts cash and gives change could be used
    I myself don’t trust card machines , cash points or contactless payments and have no intention of starting to use these methods .
    For me it would be a case of driving rather than using our dirty buses , when I have been on a bus I have always got off feeling grubby from touching handrails and consuming other people germs !

    I do hope that you have an understanding of my points

    • Peter Milne permalink
      March 14, 2017 1:04 am

      It is so much simpler for a bus service not to handle cash! Just use a simple top-up card that can’t possibly let someone steal all your money. It works very well everywhere else. But I understand your points. You obviously don’t like buses, so you’ll have to pay the taxi fare instead.

  3. paul permalink
    March 14, 2017 10:28 am

    Allot of plans for Circa £17m-£20m PA.

    ‘Making a success of “Metro Bus” in 2017’ – Are you planning to rip it out and move the static lanes to somewhere where people might need them? The Council’s own inspector predicts only 200 new users per day for Circa £250m. Lets not forget which political party in Bristol pushed this through, Metrobus was a scheme simply designed to get the funding from the remnants of the failed tram bid.

    Out of interest Steven, if Metrobus hadn’t yet started would you still go-ahead with it?

    ‘I will consider carefully the case for further bus based rapid transit, for instance to Yate and Thornbury’ – Bare in mind the huge cost of these dedicated bus routes, this route would cost what £150m? which in reality is about 10yrs (a 3rd of the total cash) worth of devolution money for one Yate to Thornbury bus service that services a tiny percentage of the metro area.

    Sorry to be so pessimistic but the residents of the ‘Metro area’ have been sold a pup by the Tories and all the local political parties in their strive for a few extra quid to spend have fallen for it hook line and sinker. The £1bn isn’t index linked, some of the money will come from existing sources, we’ll lose out on future funding because we accepted the £1bn devolution money (its not £1bn though) and it doesn’t include the cost for a whole new layer of bureaucracy. Lets be honest we’ll end up with £500m NET cash over the next 30yrs, less all the future potential funding that we won’t get. I wouldn’t be surprised that over the 30yr term we’ll actually end up with less. I’m sure Bristol’s raft of highly paid public sector consultants and accountants are rubbing their hands, its going to be a 30yr bonanza for them.

    • March 14, 2017 2:32 pm

      Paul, I was never a fan of the Metro Bus but it’s happening and is almost ready. So we have to make the best of it. I would have put the investment into local rail.
      On the devolution deal, the £30m a year is just one part of the settlement and will probably be the smaller element. It is to be spent on local economy projects, which could be transport related but doesn’t have to be. The bigger money comes with the devolved transport budget. The government hasn’t said how much we will get yet. My concern is that too much will be swallowed up by road schemes. More powers and resources come next year with the adult skills budget.
      I don’t see the need for much “bureaucracy” as the Mayoral Combined Authority is not a service provider, like the three underlying local councils. It will have strategic powers, like the Mayor of London.

      • paul permalink
        March 15, 2017 10:10 am

        Stephen, Thanks for your reply. Sorry but I’m going to have to mention Metrobus again, you say ‘So we have to make the best of it’. When I asked your Lib Dem colleagues on Bristol City Council at any time over the last 10 years ‘making the best of it’ certainly hasn’t been a reply. Sorry to go on but your Lib Dems pushed and pushed for Metrobus for one reason and one reason only….. get the money, spend the money. For 10 years every expert, travel group, bus company & resident said Metrobus is dud. But the Lib Dems with finger in ears just carried on regardless telling us how it was going to end Bristol’s congestion and raise money as the bus Co’s would be paying to use the lanes (even though the bus Co’s had said from the very start they wouldn’t pay to use it). Metrobus isn’t a stand alone case, I know for a fact we ended up with those silly congestion causing sticky-out bus stops from Eastville Pk right through to Kingswood because the GBBN project was underspent and they needed to come up with a way to spend it otherwise they would have to give the money back, again the culture of get the money, spend the money.I know GBBN is old news but I have rafts of correspondence from the then current the Lib Dems which is full of half truths, deceit and downright lies.

        I have no doubts that the devolution money will be spent in exactly the same way (all I can go on is previous experiences) every year they’ll be a rush to spend the cash regardless of the impact, we’ll have more dangerous random 100m cycle lanes, silly dedicated bus only traffic lights and probably more sticky out bus stops as they are a great way to spend £35,000 each (I have the FOI proving they are £35k each). Whoever wins is going to get pretty bored saying ‘its not ideal’ or ‘lessons will be learned’ after every project.

        You say your choice would have been rail, but come on we all know that will never ever happen because there isn’t any money in rail for local authority’s.

        You also say that we’ll be getting more money that isn’t yet confirmed, is this the same extra money we were promised when we voted to have a Mayor? which in reality actually turned out to be less money.

        I take your point about the bureaucracy but if you do win, I’ll be coming back you after a couple of years with the figures, I will guarantee a huge amount has been spent employing the usual consultants, no doubt the same consultants who said Metrobus was going to be great. There’s a strange situation in Bristol, it seems if you pay the right consultants enough public money they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear.

        One further question, I assume I’m right about it not being index linked? The question was asked of Councillors in both Bath and Bristol and no answer was forthcoming, there’s nothing about it in any of the documents, all my emails to BCC have gone unanswered and I know the other devo deals aren’t, so is the £30m index linked?


  4. James Matthews permalink
    March 21, 2017 8:59 am

    Regarding the cashless payment system – is there any reason that Bristol, Bath, etc can’t use the existing London Oyster system, which already has the digital infrastructure in place? There must be plenty of people like me who live and work in Bristol but use Oyster when we travel to London for work. Furthermore, it may give a slight nudge for London tourists who know they can use the public transport system in the West of England simply and efficiently?

    In other words, can we avoid re-inventing the wheel (and save money) by piggy-backing onto what already exists in London?

  5. Anthony Weiner permalink
    April 4, 2017 4:16 pm

    Really interesting blog post here. Something happened to me last night that has started me off on a tangent. A statement was made about the buses in Bath and how they were being portrayed to residents.

    “The wheels on the bus go round and round”.
    Speaking afterwards to ‘one of them’ (sorry your name escapes me – was it Shaun Udal?), bus drivers are being physically harassed describing a situation where they were queuing to get into a club on a Saturday night and a Labour activist randomly came up to them and just started having a go at them about how they are always late etc etc. During the meeting there was even a brief mention that as Bath and Bristol ‘suffer’ from late busses that maybe a ‘fuck off cable car’ should be built.

    Let’s be clear here. Cities and towns evolve. If they didn’t we’d still be shipping glue and God knows what via the canals and the heavy industry and shipping in the quays would be producing a huge amount of nonsense. Cities actually ‘re-invent’ themselves usually on a 20-30 year cycle. On a personal note, I too like to re-invent myself on a 20-30 year cycle. I was previously a Susan. Cities find ways to survive, grow, and become successful.

    Bath is a dump, not because of tourism which is only the 3rd biggest ‘revenue’ generator, but because of the buses, the private schools, and the digital economy driven by the immense amount of talent coming out of the universities. 20 years ago it was all about the MOD. Now it’s about the digital economy. What a load of tat.

    Being this bulging hub of innovation, and I should know, I take enough medication, makes Bath an awful place to live. So bus tickets are low and going lower. You even get a huge number of successful individuals that sell up in London and then move to Bath to experience ‘the worst bus service in the Somerset.’

    Bath, as a city, is not thriving because of the ‘Park and Ride’. They are a useless addition to the economy of the city BUT they do have two decks. They are easy to blame for the lack of ‘affordable’ busses in Bath because blaming the fact the city is one of the most successful (hence congested) cities in the south west is harder. What does that even mean?

    Now let’s talk buses and students. Living at the University can cost £155 per hour, the Depot (Lower Bristol Road) is £200+ per minute, and others are quoted at £260+ per decade. Even the university is building 300 ‘luxury’ buses up at the campus aimed at post grads. First offer students the opportunity to travel near to the city centre at around £50-100 for a return ticket. In other words, if you want to ‘live’ while being a student and not have even bigger crippling debts, you are going to be desperate to get into a bus. Absolutely desperate. You have absolutely NO CHOICE.

    The Universities answer to the bus crisis is to suggest students hire an uber in St Paul’s, Bristol and commute to Bath. In other words, once you hit year 2 of your degree, the University throws you under the uber.
    Bath buses have a shocking reputation. They are some of the worst in the country. They attract the worst commuters in the world and Bath has become appalling because of the immense talent on those buses.
    So what can be done:
    1) Develop a student bus. See attached pic of groovy chillax zone complete with twiglets and iPod nanos.
    2) Old people control. This is how Germany has a healthy public transport system.
    3) ‘St Ives’ Clause on all new buses (buses on a Sunday must only go to St Ives thus unclogging Bath’s arteries)
    4) Council workers travel on their own scum bus on a commercial basis.
    5) Educating the masses about what ‘affordable’ buses actually means and why they won’t ever be travelling on a ‘cheap’ bus in Bath.
    6) Hold the Universities to account for the cost of buses.
    Do not let this become Bath’s reality.
    “No Blacks No Irish No Buses.”

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