Thursday 5 December 2019

Bothered By Bristol Part 3

Comment writers are always ready to jump down fbb's chubby throat whenever he comments about service reductions. "Bus companies need to make a profit if they are to survive." True is the only system under consideration is the "commercial model". If our society it serious about "the climate crisis" and serious about reducing the number of cars on the road then the "commercial model" as created by the deregulation and privatisation of the bus industry in 1986 is simply not delivering the goods.

Bristol's Metrobus was a political construct, deemed cheaper than a tram system, aimed at providing quality public transport along bus prioritised corridors to tempt the jaded Bristolian out of their cars, to reduce pollution and congestion and to shine a bright light for new-look bus travel.

So the ten minute frequency of route M1 ...
... has already been reduced to every 12 off peak Monday to Friday.
On both sides of the city centre ...
... the route runs along long stretches of open road with no housing nearby.

From January it is reduced further to every 15, every 20 on Saturdays. It may have posh stops, it may have pay before board to speed loading, it may have distinctive buses but it is nothing like a tram.

Interestingly peak travel is being increased from January to give an every 7/8 minute headway from Patchway Brook to the depot at Bedminster.

M2 replaced the Long Ashon park and ride.
Its little nibbles of guided busway (which doesn't go round any corners) ...
Guidedness ceases travelling west after the stop

... ensures that buses are slower than those it replaced which used the normal road system throughout. Currently every 12 minutes off-peak ...
... it drops to every 20 Monday to Friday. Surely this defeats the potential attractiveness of Park and Ride. The advantage of a motor car is that you leave when you like; there is no hanging around waiting for a bus. OK, depending on time of travel, you may hang around in a traffic jam; but we are talking off-peak frequencies.

First bus has an interesting use of language to describe this cut-back.

Service m2 (Long Ashton - City Centre) will continue to operate every 10 minutes during peak times on weekdays but will run at a slightly reduced frequency of every 20 minutes during off-peak times on weekdays and Saturday. Some evening departure times on this service have also been revised.

A slightly reduced frequency? No, a gurt big reduction! Does it encourage use of the Park and Ride option? A big, loud and resounding NO.

BUT ...

To encourage more sustainable travel at weekends, and to coincide with the start of the busier spring period, a new Sunday service will operate every 20 minutes on the m2 from 5 April 2020.

fbb predicts that the Sunday buses will be somewhat lacking in passengers, whether sustainable or not.

Yesterday's blog reveal First's contention that the spring period was "less busy" hence the cut backs on 1, 2, 75 and 76.

Is someone being a little economical with the truth?
M3 from a much less used Park and Ride at Lyde Green manages every 20 minutes off peak at the moment.
This becomes every 30 minutes from January - and even less encouragement to use the site off-peak.

Again, much of its route is along the "empty" A 4174 - empty that is of housing and bus passengers. There are houses, of course but Filton Road is on the edge of the estates and largely inaccessible from the road network.
Another quote from First explains things further.

Rob Pymm, Commercial Director at First West of England, said: “As metrobus grows in popularity, we continue to learn more about people’s travel patterns and this helps us to adjust the services and make sure we have the right number of buses in the right places at the right times. Peak time services are exceeding expectations, so we are pleased to be able to put extra peak buses on the busiest section of m1 from January and also launch a Sunday service on the m2 from April, but to make these investments we need to ensure that we have the right level of service during the quieter periods as well.

“We are working closely with the metrobus team to develop ways of encouraging more off-peak demand and to get things moving in the new year we’ll shortly be launching a January offer aimed at getting more people to use metrobus during what is typically a quiet month after the festive period.”

From 6 January until the end of the month, a group ticket on all metrobus services will be available from 10.00 on weekdays allowing up to 5 people to travel for £5.00.

Rob added: “85% of metrobus users told us they’d recommend metrobus to family and friends, so we really hope people will take advantage of the offer and give metrobus a try.” 

fbb is wary of making predictions, but it is traditional at this time of year, so here goes.

Within 12 to 18 months the "Metro" network will be disbanded and incorporated into First's "normal" bus route pattern. Monoliths will be removed and (maybe a bit far fetched, this) ...
... the Long Ashton Park and Ride will revert to its pre-busway route.

Maybe, maybe not; but fbb does also wonder whether the weaker performance off-peak might be a consequence of the Bristol flat fare system.

Whilst weekly tickets etc cater well for the "commuter", a high flat fare discourages those little off-peak trips down to the local shops or for a meet up for a coffee at the Community Centre. £2.50 single, £5 return is a lot to shell out for a purely social or local trip. (Yes, there is a three stop fare of £1.20 - three stops is a bit mean)

That is yet another challenge to the "commercial" model.
The fbb Advent Calendar
The fbb Alphabetical Advent Calendar

The secular seasonal festival is full of expectations. A child is excited to see what gifts he will get; although increasingly, these days, the quality, quantity and price of the big gift will already have been pre-booked with parents. So the expectation is less than it was.

"We are meeting up to have a good time" is a pretty standard expectation. Presumably this "good time" will include consumption of alcohol which can, in extremes, lead to a bad time.
Missed expectations.

Apparently this particular season is tops for family rows, marriage breakdown and a whole range of relationship difficulties.

And then there is the paying of the bills!

Of course many expectations are fulfilled; time with the family, good food, charades and hours of top quality televisual entertainment (?).
The people of Israel had high expectations. One day God would do something outstanding to provide a new relationship between the Heavenly Father and sinful man. God would send his Messiah.

But what sort of Messiah?

This very day in David's town your Saviour was born - Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you; you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.


  1. 1. A return is not £5, it's a £4.50 day ticket.
    2. A group day ticket is £9 - for up to five people, that's an absolute bargain.
    3. Off peak passenger numbers are in free fall in many places, as town centre retail continues to shrink.
    4. As has had to be explained to many councils across the country, simply transferring peak hour car drivers on to a bus does not make a profitable operation. Metrobus is clearly a success in doing this, as is Vantage in Manchester, where the PTE is now having to pay for extra capacity in the peaks (the V3/V4 journeys that start from the main park and ride). However you measure it, peak hour transport needs an element of public subsidy, whether it's extra highway capacity, a longer train or another bus.
    5. And that links neatly to what may be the problem with the park and ride. I surmise that it is now so full of peak hour arrivals, there is no space to accommodate off-peak custom. I've seen it elsewhere - there is not sufficient turnover of customers during the day to make the site attractive, and so there is hardly anyone travelling on the off peak journeys, which as a result, get reduced
    6. Finally, there may be driver shortages which can be partly alleviated by reducing the number of duties.

  2. It seems like FBB's knowledge of Bristol buses is as limited as mine, but this series of blogs seems to be a standard "off the peg" rant about frequency reductions rather than any attempt to work out why.

    Bristol has known traffic problems- quite serious ones, in fact. So let's look at the options:
    1. Keep the frequency the same, add extra vehicles, but add the cost to the fares. Lose passengers.
    2. Use the same number of vehicles, reduce the frequency. Possibly lose passengers.
    3. Do nothing, keep promising fairy stories of frequency and journey times, have a 12 minute frequency but buses run at 20-4-18-6 in reality. Lose passengers.
    4. Nationalise the bus industry. Do nothing else. Problem isn't solved, but even less money to spend. Lose passengers.

    Let's also not forget that First Bristol have a route that was due to be withdrawn, yet they cut the frequency to make it more reliable and since then passengers numbers have *grown*. (Service 5? One of the green ones).

    Perhaps Metrobus started at a high frequency on purpose. Passenger numbers have not reached quite what they wanted, so rather than run expensive vehicles with expensive drivers carrying fresh air, they have decided to make reductions now, with the hope of increasing them again later?

    The approach of a) take somewhere in the UK b) find frequency reductions c) slate how terrible the bus company is for doing so d) bask in the glory when proved even slightly right is starting to get a little repetitive, especially when FBB clearly doesn't know the area and its flows.

    FBB ran a bus company in different times. I wonder whether he too would be doing the same sort of thing if he ran one now (and somewhere other than the Isle of Wight), or whether he'd be happy pushing more and more money just to avoid facing the realities.