Monday 7 November 2011

For Better or Worse at Chatham

The downstairs but upstairs bus station.
These buses are going up a ramp to use the former "underground" bus station in the Pentagon Centre at Chatham. It was not the most beautiful travel experience imaginable.
So a new facility had been built nearby but in the open air.
But the "Waterfront" bus station has not been a riotous success that the authorities had expected.

This, from the local rag ...

THE new Chatham bus station opened for business on Monday 13th October more than five months behind schedule – and it was still not ready. The controversial £7 million "dynamic bus facility" saw its first passengers off at 5.37am, but as the day went on, criticism of the long-awaited and over-budget station mounted.

Passengers expressed disappointment that certain aspects remained unfinished – including toilet facilities – or appeared to have been overlooked completely – including litter bins and, most worryingly, pedestrian crossings. Others slammed its open design and location in a "wind tunnel", fearing that as winter draws in, passengers will have little protection from the elements.

The development, which is part of the council's aim to open up the waterfront and connect it with Chatham town centre, was expected to open in April, but due to poor weather conditions and design changes, the delay – and the cost – continued to grow.

It replaces the outdated 1970s station inside the Pentagon Centre, branded as "one of the worst in the country" by Medway Council, which believes the new depot's opening marks "a significant step towards transforming and regenerating Medway".

Then Medway Council has been forced to compensate Arriva, the major user of the new station, in order to cancel their lease at the Pentagon. This has not gone down well with some colours of councillor.

A deal said to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds has been agreed between Medway Council and bus operator Arriva, to ensure that there will be buses running from the new Chatham bus station when it opens next month. The agreement was voted through at a special council meeting on Thursday (September 15), where Medway Council will pay Arriva a fee believed to be about £300,000 to cancel their lease of the old bus station, based in the Pentagon Centre.

Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors have blasted the move as a waste of tax payers money. Deputy leader of the Labour Group, Vince Maple said: “Arriva are part of Deutsche Bahn, a German company that made a profit last year of more than 900 million Euros! 

The conservative response: "The Arriva discussions were long running over several months and we have reached the best agreement possible."

And the LibLab riposte: "The council have agreed to pay Arrive hundreds of thousands to remove them from the lease, and we see that as anti-competition and the other bus operators will resent that as well."

Then the swirly, draughty sluglike bit of the bus station with 13 stands isn't actually big enough ...
... so some departures are from a less spectacular bit just along the road ...
... on Waterfront Way.

But the biggest fun (NOT?) is that the bus station has (will have??) "Dynamic Stand Allocation". As a bus approaches the bus station it will be electronically "scanned" and the computer will decide which stand is will leave from. No, this is NOT an fbb wind-up, honestly.

So Mrs Miggins, encumbered with bags of shopping, a buggy and a screaming child, is poised at Stop1, Stand A, for her bus to Snodland.
Departure time approaches; the computer dynamically re-allocates the bus to Stop 5, also on Stand A; the departure screens change accordingly (will they?) and Mrs M gathers her accoutrements and staggers breathlessly along the walkway. She drops a bag (it's the one with the eggs in and they break), the child vomits spectacularly and a wheel falls off the buggy, turning it into a near-lethal and uncontrollable weapon.
She misses her bus, dynamically.

Of course, it won't REALLY be like that, will it?

Next blog : due Tuesday November 8th


  1. "Dynamic Stand Allocation"

    Hmmm. Technology for the sake of it? "We can do it, so we will, regardless of whether it is actually of any use to anybody"

    Or perhaps an excuse for not planning the allocation of stands properly, in advance?

    Or perhaps just another instance where the dsigners of public transport facilities have no experience of actually using such facilities, and therefore no idea what real people actually need?

    I wonder which it is this time? All three perhaps?

  2. What seemed to be an inadequate size was forced on the planners by councillors' instruction not to reduce the green space between the Pentagon and the new bus station.

    However, the station has now settled down, and is using fixed stands, including two in Waterfront Way (14 and 15). The remaining four are used for layover, and so would indicate that there is considerable room for expansion, without needing dynamic allocation. In fact, on a rule of thumb that each stand should be able to cope with 8 departures an hour, another 32 could be squeezed in - and I don't think that will happen any time soon.

    By the way, route 151 actually does run from stand A5...

  3. Thank you Invicta. I was always suspicious of the press release re "Dynamic Stand Allocation". It looks as if the hapless Mrs Miggins of Snodland's stress will be mitigated.

  4. Dynamic Stand Allocation or not, the new facility is further away from the shops than the old one. I don't suppose that car parking facilities have been moved further away as well, have they?

  5. And not particularly near the station
    So, Little chance for integration
    Grey and swirly, trendy now
    But like some others; Hanley, Slough,
    Will it stand the test of time?
    Can't think of a concluding rhyme!

  6. "But the "Waterfront" bus station has not been a riotous success that the authorities had expected." I don't think they ever thought it was going to be a riotous success, as people are never going to like change.

    But - the old bus station had to go. I have actually been there. It is the worst bus station I've ever been to and one of the worst places I've ever been to. The picture doesn't so it justice. For a start, when I was there, is was really dirty. But, by far the worst aspect was "around the back". Waiting for your bus in a concrete hell, with absolutely no natural daylight whatsoever, and breathing in all the bus fumes, has got to be one of the worst bus travel experiences possible (especially for a first time user), even if it was closer to the shops.

    There's not actually that much to complain about about the new bus station. As is obvious, there were teething troubles everyone made a fuss of, but that's got absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the long term running of the bus station. Most (if not all) issues were sorted in a matter of days of the bus station opening.

    Therefore, the only two issues are regarding the wind and the further distance from the shops. But it's hardly that far away, it's about a two minute walk, if that. And, the huge benefit is that you can go anywhere you want, previously you were forced into the Pentagon shopping centre, unless you fancied going around the maze of concrete and bus concourses to get out of the narrow, poor side entrance. People are complaining about the weather and walking to the shops when it's raining - what about the summer when it's nice? Would you rather be outside in the fresh air or sat in a concrete bunker inhaling bus fumes? And with the open side of the old bus station, is was just as cold in winter anyway.

    As for it being "not particularly near the station" - well obviously not. The entire town centre shopping area is not particularly near the station. It would be utterly stupid to build the bus station near the station, as then it would not be near the shops (where most people want to go), besides, it would be impossible too as there is no space at the station.

    That's before we even mention the fact tonnes of services do actually call in at the station on their way into/out of town, anyway.

  7. Appreciate the comments, Anonymous. Change always provokes strong feelings. A dispassionate view is probably unobtainable. Perhaps a further review after a year?
    I agree that the Pentagon was awful! So anything might well be better; but ineffective cover when waiting is inexcusable.

  8. I think in this case, anything certainly is better! I don't think it's inadequate covering either, I'm sure there's enough glass to keep the rain off, even if it is a bit windy.

    If you want a real bus station change travesty, have a look at what they want to do in Guildford. At least the buses all still stop in the same place at Chatham's new station.

  9. Here's the Guildford plans.

    Transport integration destruction.