| What's needed to get people on buses?|
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|This started with a meeting between TBI and Stagecoach Highland, to see how we can work with them to promote the local bus services - all helping to reduce people's car mileage. Our survey of travel attitudes had already identified that buses feature in two of the three things people thing most likely to help them reduce their car use. Number two is more frequent buses and number three is a park-and-ride scheme on the way into Inverness. |
The guys from Stagecoach observed that a park-and-ride scheme at Tore would probably be very successful, as pretty much all the south-bound traffic into Inverness would pass it. What's more, pretty much all the local buses would also pass it, opening up the possibility of the park-and-ride also acting as a transport hub - and indirectly leading to better services.
Unfortunately, at the moment it seems as if there will be a temporary park-and-ride scheme for the duration of roadworks on the Kessock Bridge next year, but there's no money for a permanent scheme.
On the face of it, it seems as if this could do with a bit more investigation, and we're putting out some feelers - but it also raised the question of whether there's anything else that should be done to increase bus use.
|Here's John's very full comment: |
I have been advocating a transport hub at Tore for a long time. It would allow interchange with buses going north and also west to Dingwall, Ullapool etc as well as Inverness - Black Isle people do go to a variety of destinations and it is not good to have to go into Inverness and then back out. Having said that, its success depends largely on the facilities made available and the timetabling. No-one will want to stand for extended periods of time in winter weather with little shelter waiting for a connection that's late, or never comes.
I think that non-use of the bus is at least partly due to two related things: perceived inconvenience and unreliability; and the idea that bus travel is a second-rate form of travel only used by the disadvantaged. This has led to poor investment, lower staff morale, a poor experience for travellers, and even fewer users i.e. a cycle of decline.
Somehow perceptions have to change - taking the bus should be a positive experience.
Unfortunately, however brilliant the Culbokie buses have become, people elsewhere on the Black Isle will take a lot of persuading before they start to trust a service that has been terrible for years. A broken-down bus is still an occasional sight on our roads, and that in itself is a poor advertisement. And when a bus runs early, as it did recently, leaving people stranded, it is a PR disaster. There is a widespread view (possibly unfair) that many drivers are grumpy, unfriendly, and unhelpful. If you need some help getting yourself, your children, your shopping etc on or off the bus you are unlikely to get it.
So unless the whole service transforms its image and actually goes out and attracts new passengers, people simply won't use it.
What would encourage people to use the bus?
1. A reliable service that turned up and arrived on time, every time.
2. Helpful and friendly staff
3. A faster and more frequent service (from Cromarty it takes about half as long again to get to Inverness by bus as it does by car, and there's a bus only every hour). This is a timetabling issue. It is nonsense for the Cromarty - Inverness bus to go via N Kessock, apparently it is more convenient for the operator, but it demonstrates that passenger needs come pretty low down the operator's priority list. But any business that fails its customers deserves to fail.
4. Buses need to be part of a properly integrated transport system which includes defined connections with other buses and trains. Too much standing around at cold dark bus-stops in the rain is no fun at all.
5. At least the key bus stops /interchanges needs to be pleasant, reasonably comfortable places to wait, with some facilities nearby. At Tore, at least there is a cafe and wcs at the garage.
6. Cost - people will simply pay what the market will stand. It does cost more to drive, although much of that cost is hidden but I think many people won't be persuaded by that argument because, simply, they will be prapared to pay more. The car is seen as a convenient, comfortable, and safe, private space where you can (more or less) do as you please without risking upsetting other passengers or being upset or threatened by them.
So the bus is starting from a big disadvantage.
The bus is also run as a private monopoly - there's no competition, and no incentive to the operator to improve services. Really, either there should be some competition for passengers, or the buses should be run as a public service in the public sector. At the moment I can't see either of those things happening.
The problem with the questionnaires on bus services left at Post Offices is that theh are reactive, only address problems not succeses, do not address non bus users, and probably have a fairly low response rate as many will see them as a waste of time unless putting in a complaint leads to visible changes for the better.
I think we need to be more pro-active. How about the Million Miles project recruiting volunteers to actually ride on the buses and report publicly on their experience? And publish reliability and service improvement facts and figures? Without actual facts non-users at least will be too cynical to believe any real improvement has occurred.
If there is genuine good news to report, people will actually start to use the buses more - and maybe the bus company will then invest in our service.
If there is bad news, the operator can be encouraged to improve, and if there's no improvement the operator will be named and shamed. And then, presumably, it either gets into the political arena, or we end up setting up our own community bus service!
But it is great we have the Million Miles project to kick start a debate on this issue which has been allowed to fester for too long.
|And this response from Peter: |
A small comment on the cost of bus travel. Insurance, depreciation and maintenance are (for the most part) fixed costs for the motorist (not intending the start a debate on this - I appreciate that tyres wear quicker etc.). The variable cost of driving is petrol and this is more relevant when comparing journey cost (it is at the forefront of most driver's minds). This puts the cost of a bus journey and a car journey on a roughly equal footing (maybe a few pence difference per mile), which makes it difficult to choose the bus simply for financial benefits. What the Million Miles project needs to focus on is and promoting the cheaper ways to use buses (e.g. Megarider tickets may cost less than a return ticket to Inverness) to ensure there is a financial benefit and also improving the image of bus travel on the Black Isle (as John noted). How much would David Beckham charge to take the 26 bus from Cromarty to Inverness?
|Here are some of my own thoughts on John's and Peter's comments. |
I get the impression the buses are much better now than people expect. I'm only an occasional bus user, but I can't say I can remember any negative experiences in the last year or so. That may be the result of a concerted campaign on punctuality in Culbokie, but it doesn't look to me as if the improvement in the service has had much impact on usage. Stagecoach themselves recognise they need to engage with communities in order to improve the perception, and they have offered to work with us on the Million Miles campaign - providing better information on timetables and fares, funding us to produce independent studies of punctuality, and providing incentives to get people onto buses.
As far as cost is concerned, a lot of people only see the fuel cost for using their car, but for anyone wondering whether they can do without a car (or maybe manage with just one - about a third of Black Isle households responding to our survey have more than one car) the fixed costs of depreciation, insurance, MOT, road fund licence, etc, are very relevant.
|Communication with the user's would increase confidence in the service. In some of the more advanced citties in the world you are able to get an app for your smart that allows you to track your bus. But something as simple as a twitter feed would do, to update subscribers. |
There is nothing worse than standing in the wind and rain not knowing if the bus is just late or if it's never going to arrive.
Does wifi on the bus increase usership?
Given that the bus travels near to NCN route 1 and Learnie Red Rock Trails a bike rack might attract cyclist to use the bus rather lan their car as well as allowing cycles more oppotunities to use their bikes ( take your Bike From Inverness to Cromarty and cycle back).
But of course the only way to get people to use the bus is to make it the only sensible choice.
If we could get past the idea of car ownership as status symbol and see it for the money pit that it is, that would be a start.
The lack of any kind of usable Night service means that a car is needed for all those after schools clubs, dance and music lessons.
( Just don't get me started on the school run)
Perhaps the one choice will have to be "shared car ownership", after all a car spends 90% of it's life sitting somewhere ( and we have to make space for that too) This would allow us to use the bus for commuting and have a car when we need it with out the cost of full ownership.
As already mentioned the works on the bridge due in February should be a great chance to promote bus use, but also car sharing. Ideally if there were a way to allow only multi occupant cars to cross the bridge and force single occupant cars to go via Beauly, this might aid the congestion.
Finally as great as buses are for moving lots of people they may not be the right solution for all of the Black Isle.
Muir of ord, Tore, Culbokie, Munlochy, Avoch, Fortrose, Rosemarkie. Basically anything within a 10 miles radius I consider a suburb of Inverness. Regular and affordable Buses should be a real transport option, even cycling ( assisted or not) should be possible.
However out with that alternatives to the car become less viable.
As for Cromarty perhaps new jobs at Nigg and the opening of Asda in Tain will allow more choice to travel less.
|I think real-time updates of bus arrival times are appearing on bus stops in Inverness (one of the more advanced cities in the world?), not sure about the app business, but I guess if the bus can communicate with a bus stop, it should be easier for it to speak to a phone? And the Aberdeen - Inverness bus service has wi-fi, with a very significant increase in use. |
There is a possibility of fitting bike racks on buses - it's been done as an experiment in Orkney. I believe the cost is about £200 - £300 per bus, so if we can demonstrate a demand, it shouldn't be out of the question to raise the money. I think the key is, to make sure there really is a demand, and then promote the bike racks so they are actually used - otherwise it's just another waste of resources and reinforces the idea that buses and cycling are for other people.
And there's a bit of a campaign brewing for a car club in Muir of Ord, if anyone's interested, send me a message (use the "PM" button underneath this post). The general feeling seems to be, as David suggests, that car clubs work well when there's a good public transport system for commuting - so the car only gets used for one-off trips.
|A few points I see as relevant about the Park and Ride concept based on our recent experiences living near Cambridge - just about the same size as Inverness - which supports six Park and Ride sites surrounding the city. |
The services are an outstanding success with commuters and shoppers alike.
You may prepay your fare from a machine before boarding (although you can pay more to the driver - few do) so that the boarding is quick.
The service with double-decker buses has buses every 10 minutes for the majority of the day. They can be completely full.
The service is definitely a City Centre service. There are no stops en-route, although when first instituted there were. This ensures a fast journey to town. With six Park and Ride centres there were three routes. The town centre was the middle stop of the bus routes. This meant that buses accumulated when timetabling went wrong at the P&R centres and not in the middle of town. Thus upgrading the Centre of town bus facilities was not necessary.
What can be learned from Cambridge?
First there was a real problem that the bus operator (also Stagecoach) was tied into a performance deal for the P&R so that there was every incentive in running the service to time. That is good for the P&R, but bad for other local bus services that were not strictly controlled. Bus crew would be switched to P&R services when there were shortfalls and the local buses would not run due to staff shortages. It seemed ironic that local services declined because the investment was in making the P&R work effectively.
Second, there was a rather unnecessary overstipulating the needs at the P&R sites. Some were designed to outshine what you might have expected in a City Centre. The costs expended in the construction of a "Waiting Room" were over the top. In wet weather motorists would often sit in their cars until a bus showed up rather than use the expensive facilities. The sites had toilets (of course) and also covered individual bicycle storage space that could be rented, in addition to a general bike parking area. Interestingly some motorists used the P&R site to transfer from their car to their bike rather than take the bus from the P&R.
I understood that the City Council did subsidize the running of the P&R which is why they insisted on a high level of performance. The main problems of the P&R were traffic congestion and accidents in town that also affected motorists.
At last count, a day return from a P&R site to Centre Cambridge was £2.30 prepaid or £2.50 on the bus.
From my perspective P&R works very well, but needs finance and strict performance targets, needs facilities for bikes, cars and travellers that are fit for purpose rather than some architect's ambitious dream, and needs to be run on the assurance that it does not take staff and reliability out of the other local bus services. For the bottom line is why should a car owner have a better bus service than someone who chooses to use "feeder services".
The P&R facilities were
|A quick point - I've been corrected about the plans for a P&R at Tore - in fact, there are no plans for either a temporary or permanent scheme. It seems there were discussions about whether Transport Scotland would finance a temporary scheme to ease congestion during the bridge works, in which case Highland Council would have considered continuing it as a permanent scheme. But Transport Scotland were unwilling to include the temporary P&R in the costs of the bridge works. (It may be Transport Scotland have a different version of this!).|
glacio - 5/7/2012 11:33
Interestingly some motorists used the P&R site to transfer from their car to their bike rather than take the bus from the P&R.
I have heard unconfirmed reports that this is happening around the North Kessock area.
Perhaps as a result of last years coverage of congestion on the Kessock Bridge or maybe just increased congestion in the City.
If this is already happening, not providing a park and ride during the bridge works is very shortsighted.
Tore could become overrun with parked cars as commuters create their own park and ride.
|I've just read this thread for the first time and learned a great deal from you all about options for the future. I have a very specific suggestion for the Million Miles Project to consider and I have also put in a few personal observations. |
Specific suggestion - there is no question from hard evidence that Stagecoach has improved its service, both here in Culbokie and elsewhere. The crucial challenge now is for Stagecoach to embed this very good performance throughout its fleet and to sustain that performance so that after, say a year, no one questions any more the reliability of our buses. The Million Miles Project could play a vital role here by reviewing every month, with Stagecoach, punctuality performance. This, I believe, is about to become very much easier with the introduction of GPS-enabled buses. If TBI then becomes convinced of the service, that conviction could then be passed on to all our residents through various channels.
Having secured the foundation of our current bus service, then what? I agree with Martin's point that with the improved punctuality, there has not been a large increase in usage, and frankly, we never expected an instant increase. There isn't an unsatisfied pent-up demand out there. If I were to make a bold generalisation about the demographics of the Black Isle, we are a group of relatively well off residents who are fortunate to be able to afford cars and their fuel. If that is correct, then we will only change behaviour according to economic theory because of incentives.
Speaking personally now, myself and my wife would seem to have every incentive to use the buses but find it very difficult to change behaviour. As 'older people'. bus travel is free but it has taken us 12 months to convince ourselves about the realiability to dare to use the bus to connect with a train journey south. Even then it adds over an hour to the over all journey because of the poor connecting time. Another example was I tried to make an appointment with a Dingwall doctor that would connect with the bus service and it couldn't be done without adding over two hours for the visit. So my point here is that the incentives to major change are not yet there.
So do we give up? Certainly not because big perturbations like the closure of parts of the Kessock Bridge, fuel price hikes and increased traffic congestion will come along to increase our incentives to change.
I think my ramble here is leading to a suggestion for the Million Miles Project that it focuses on a variety of small community schemes that engage the very specific and varied nature of improving personal incentives rather than any grand scheme for the southern side of the Black Isle. My feeling is that that would engage more residents and provide valuable experience of a range of options from which the fittest will survive.
|Some observations on Bruce's comments: |
146 households have responded to our question "how interested are you in reducing your car mileage?". Of these, exactly half are very interested and another 21% quite interested - so, rather surprisingly, I think there IS actually an unsatisfied pent-up demand! (Also interesting to note that for 45% of respondents the main reason is reducing the cost of travel, but for 35% the main reason is concern about climate change, so economic theory may only tell part of the story here.) But the barriers that stop people using buses are still too high. Some of the barriers are real, some imagined, and it was interesting that "Better public transport information" was one of the things people identified as needed - so at least people recognise that their ignorance is a bit of an issue!
And I think the strategic thinking for the Million Miles Project should be to get the most change for the least effort. I think a park-and-ride scheme at Tore could make a big difference, and it seems there is still quite a lot of interest in it, from residents, politicians and Stagecoach - in which case it may be a bit like a football someone's left at the top of a hill - give it a nudge, and off it goes. But we certainly shouldn't take our eye off the local issues, which as Bruce says, will vary from village to village.
Finally, I'm not sure how close we are to GPS providing punctuality data, but even if it's still some way off, I think we should be able to gather data the old-fashioned way, assisted by Stagecoach.
|Just a quick one one on the last point on GPS and timetabling. The information on position of buses is taken from a GPS receiver (which by definition has a very accurate clock recording he time at each location). The information on position at any time is obviously being compared with a route (map based network) to give a time to destination. |
All the info is recorded - it is not rocket science to extratc and compare with the timetable.....
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