Monday, 19 June 2017

Dales Bus Services - Some Background

Lancaster is fortunate this year to have no fewer than three Summer Sunday & Bank Holiday bus services linking the city to the Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland.  The Northern Dalesman runs to Ingleton, Ribblehead, Hawes and Richmond, the Malham Tarn Shuttle links the city with Malham Tarn via Settle and the Bowland Explorer provides a link to  Gisburn Forest, Clitheroe and Slaidburn.

The Northern Dalesman
Many local people use these services, but do they ever stop and wonder where they came from and how they are provided?  The following article, from the Dales Bus website explains and shows how these three services are just part of the bigger picture

Tenth Anniversary Year News from Dales & Bowland CIC

The Dales & Bowland Community Interest Company celebrates its tenth year of managing the Sunday DalesBus network this summer and everyone is invited along for the ride.

The company has responded to cuts in traditional public sector funding for bus services by exploring new fundraising avenues which have kept the buses on the road and created new opportunities for 2017. Two Crowdfunding campaigns have raised over £10,000 whilst a folk music concert in Otley organised by Friends of DalesBus recently generated £670. Many donations have come from people who don’t use the buses but feel strongly that access to the National Park should not be restricted to car users. 
Acorn Stairlifts are welcomed aboard as the new sponsors of the Acorn Wensleydale Flyer from Northallerton to Hawes whilst Northern Powergrid have helped to save the Northern Dalesman from Teesside. The Northern Dalesman from Lancashire via Ribblehead Station (for connections off the Leeds – Settle – Carlisle train) is sponsored once again by the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line and Northern, starting in Preston this year via Lancaster and Kirkby Lonsdale.

Generous support from the 
National Trust means that more buses will be offered between York, Boroughbridge, Ripon and Fountains Abbey whilst a new minibus service will link Fountains Abbey and Brimham Rocks with Pateley Bridge.

Settle Carlisle Railway Development Company and Bentham Line Community Rail Partnership have tapped the new Northern Seed-Corn Fund, established as part of the new rail franchise, to support the Malham Tarn Shuttle and the new Bowland Explorer, linking Lancaster, Bentham Station and Clitheroe Interchange with the Forest of Bowland. Friends of DalesBus continue to support services including a streamlined service 875 from West Yorkshire to Hawes via Wharfedale and Aysgarth.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority remains committed to DalesBus and supports key services from West Yorkshire to the National Park to enable urban residents to maintain their health and wellbeing in the Dales, as well as publishing the popular DalesBus timetable booklet. This year Dewsbury and Bradford will have a through Cravenlink service to Skipton and Malham, connecting at Ilkley with DalesBus 874 running between Wakefield, Leeds, Bolton Abbey, Grassington and Buckden.

DalesBus continues to see passenger numbers grow on key routes but sadly has had to trim back some less popular services in the Eastern Dales.
Full details of the 2017 network are available now.
Paper timetables for the Northern Dalesman and Malham Tarn Shuttle can be obtained from Lancaster and Morecambe libraries, Lancaster and Morecambe Visitor Information Centres and the Stagecoach Travel Shop at Lancaster bus station.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

East Lancaster Circular Off to a Good Start

One of the longest and most hard-fought campaigns of Lancaster Bus Users' Group has been that to restore a regular bus service to the east of the city. At one time Lancashire County Council  paid Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire to provide a half-hourly daytime service on the route that serves Moorlands, Williamson Park, Lancaster Leisure Park, Grab Lane, Lancaster Farms Prison and Quernmore Road. 

New housing development on the route.
The need for an improvement to this service became apparent when planning permission was granted for large-scale residential development on the site of the former Moor Hospital off Quernmore Road and under a planning agreement, the site developers were required to pay £500,000 towards transport improvements, including an enhanced bus service. The money was paid in March 2012 and at the time could have been used to provide evening or Sunday journeys or to enhance the daytime service with more frequent journeys. But nothing was done.

Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire, perhaps hopeful of receiving the developers' money, then decided to
The former KLCH service on Balmoral Road
take the service "commercial"  meaning that it no longer received payment from the council, but didn't risk losing it through someone else submitting a lower tender.  Unfortunately KLCH were unable to make a go of the 18 as a commercial route and the service was reduced from half-hourly to a handful of journeys per day.  The County (or perhaps the City?) Council was still sitting on the £500,000 although by now it was becoming apparent that they had other plans for the money

By this time the county council had changed its policy on supporting bus services and despite the fact that this had previously been a supported service - and despite the £500,000 in the bank - declined to take any action to restore the regular frequency.

Some local city councillors, notably Tim Hamilton-Cox and other Green Party members had been fighting to get the original developers' money released for some time but it was at this stage that Lancaster Bus Users Group got involved.  It now appeared that the county council had plans to use the bulk of the funding to provide a cycleway along Quernmore Road (which was in the planning agreement) and to improve a major road junction near the Royal Grammar School (which wasn't).The Bus Users' Group was told that no action would be taken to improve the bus service until these works had been completed and paid for and the extent of the improvement would depend on what was left over!

This was, of course, unacceptable and as we seemed to be getting nowhere with county council officers it was obviously time to move up a gear.  When the County's then Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, John Fillis, attended a Bus Users Group meeting our member, County Councillor Gina Dowding (Green Party) got him to agree to meet her specifically to discuss the issue and to invite the Bus Users' Group along as well!

The meeting took place at County Hall Preston in December 2016 and those present included not just senior council staff and Councillors Fillis and Dowding but the County Councillor Lizzie Collinge (Labour) in whose division most of the service ran, City Councillor and BUG member Tim Hamilton-Cox and even Cat Smith MP (Labour).  Initially, council officers stuck to the line that the bus service would have to stay at the back of the queue, but faced with such overwhelming opposition, Councillor Fillis instructed them to make "at least £100,000" available immediately and the officers promised that the new service would start in "weeks not months".
BUG Members, local councillors and Stagecoach managers help launch service 18 at Williamson Park
The new timetable, operated by Stagecoach, came into force on 6th March, following an official launch organised by the BUG, whose members also distributed timetable leaflets house-to-house along the route.

So was it worth it?  Well, judge for yourself: Lancashire County Council has told the   Bus Users Group than in the first two months of operation  it has carried 4,500 passengers (88 per day) and that the total revenue, including concessions, was £3,100 (£61 per day).  The service is already carrying more passengers per day than the previous service carried per week and so can be said to have got off to an encouraging start.

But let's not get carried away.  The cost of providing the service is approaching £350 per day (as would be expected for a half-hourly service operating 12 hours a day) so with revenue at £61 the service clearly requires significant support from LCC.  New or improved bus services do take a while to build up the increased patronage needed to justify the cost of providing them. The residents of east Lancaster were left without a decent service for a long time and the residents of the new housing - for whom the funding was intended to provide a good bus service - will no doubt have found other ways to travel and it will take time to get them back on the buses.

Fortunately, Lancaster City Council has earmarked developer contributions from all further housing development in the area to support the bus service and one such sum is believed to have already been received, which is just as well as at the present level of use the initial funding will last just about another 12 months.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Party Manifestos on Buses: We've read them so you don't have to!

Obviously buses won't be the only thing on people's minds when it comes to deciding how to vote on June 8th, but if you want to take the various parties' policies on buses into account here they are.

The on line versions of the manifestos don't have a search facility and the Conservative one came in very small text with no "enlarge" facility so please forgive us if we've missed something.

Labour has quite a lot to say.  Firstly, like the others it promises to keep the free bus pass. There is no mention of this being "for the duration of this parliament" although it is surely not unreasonable to expect that ALL policies put forward in the manifesto should be taken this way. Here's what it says:

Labour also wants to change the way in which bus services are regulated and provided - or at least to provide local authorities with the tools to do so:

The Bus Services Act, rushed through parliament just before the election was called, will give powers to councils with directly-elected mayors to regulate buses and Labour's policy would extend this to all. There are pros and cons to re-regulation and the Bus Users' Group has taken no view on this to date.  If the suggested new municipal bus companies are to be "publicly run for passengers not profit" there may need to be changes to other legislation, such as the Transport Act 1985, to allow this.

Regulations to protect routes of "critical community value"  would need to come with the funding to provide them.

Labour is also interested in lowering emissions from diesel vehicles

The suggestion that "We" (i.e. a Labour government) will retrofit buses with cleaner engines suggests that they (i.e. a Labour government)would meet the cost through grants. If that's not the case it will be the passengers that end up paying through higher fares.

The most interesting of the Lib Dems' policies is that to provide cut-price bus travel for young people.

This will be very welcome to those in the target age group (Stagecoach already offer cheap fares to under-19s and students) but it is essential that the reimbursement to bus operators for providing the concession is adequate. Young people together with Over-60s make up the majority of bus companies' customers and there are already issues surrounding how much bus companies are paid to accept the Elderly and Disabled Passes. If they are not reimbursed adequately for accepting concessionary passes this will only lead to higher fares for other users or the withdrawal of services that may be well-used but which are no longer commercially viable.

Other Liberal Democrat policies on buses are:

The party doesn't say how, exactly, it will halt the decline in bus services" other than by commissioning a review. The Bus Users Group would be happy to undertake that review for no fee and, in fact, is happy to supply the answer now:  Increase the funding for them!

"Principal" local authorities, to which powers to regulate buses would be given, are not defined and may or may not be the same as those with directly-elected mayors that have already gained this right through the Bus Services Act.  Powers to improve ticketing and introduce network-wide ticketing are already in the new Act but unless such powers come with funding and unless the legitimate concerns of commercial bus operators over revenue can me met then they are unlikely to be used.

The Conservatives have the least to say about buses.  Like the others the promise to keep the free buses passes for elderly and disabled people:

Note the "for the duration of this parliament", which can be taken in one of two ways: either that they will not continue beyond 2022 (or whenever the next election happens to be) or that they will definitely continue until 2022 at the very least.  Labour and the Lib Dems make no such stipulation.

The only other mention of buses in the manifesto is a reference to reducing pollution from diesel vehicles:

"Investing" in low-emission buses and "supporting" (much needed) audio-visual displays suggests that some funding will be available to make them happen, although there is no suggestion of making either a requirement for bus operators to provide.  The Conservatives also appear to fallen into the common trap of assuming the "community minibuses" are the answer to the rural public transport problem, something which recent experience in Cumbria and Lancashire shows is not the case.

At the time of posting no other party manifestos were available on line.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Two More Campaign Successes

Early and late buses on service 580 are
being extended to and from Lancaster
Lancaster District Bus Users' Group has been successful in getting two bus operators to revise their services, restoring some of the cuts made following Lancashire County Council's reductions in bus service funding made in April 2016.

From 2nd May Stagecoach will revise the route of service 49 (Lancaster to Warton) via the Highfield Estate area of Carnforth. This will restore an hourly service between the area and Lancaster city centre as well as providing additional buses into Carnforth. 

The change follows a campaign led by members of the Bus Users' Group and Carnforth Town Council.

From the same date Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire will introduce three journeys between Lancaster and Kirkby Lonsdale on services 81 (via Tunstall) and 81A (via Whittington). These journeys are provided by buses that previously ran out-of-service to take up journeys on service 581 / 580 between Kirkby Lonsdale, Settle and Skipton. They will therefore provide guaranteed connections with the Skipton service.  This change follows a suggestion to the company made by local BUG members in the Lune Valley. 

A morning journey from Lancaster at 0745 runs via Whittington and provides a School Holiday and Saturday equivalent to the Stagecoach journey running on schooldays at the same time.  It means that residents of Gressingham, Arkholme and Whittington can get to Kirkby Lonsdale for 0835 six days a week throughout the year.

One journey returns from Kirkby Lonsdale via the same route at 1750 and provides a return service throughout the year for villagers working in Kirkby Lonsdale.   A second journey, at 1820 runs via the other side of the valley through Tunstall and Melling.  Both buses provide later journeys through to Lancaster than Stagecoach's last departure at 1715.

The new services receive no external funding and are being introduced at the commercial risk of the operators.  Despite this, at the time of writing just two weeks before the start of service, the Bus Users' Group has been unable to find any details of the new timetables on-line, either on the sites of the operators concerned, the county councils or Traveline. Both sets of changes were registered with the Traffic Commissioner by 15th March and the Dales & Bowland CIC, organisers of the Dales Bus network of summer Sunday buses have provided us with a timetable for services 81/81 which is available via this link.

Although these improvements are fairly modest (except for those people who will find them useful) they show what can be done by negotiating and working with bus companies and making them aware of possibilities to improve their services to the benefit of the travelling public.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Stagecoach Fares Increase

Image result for old bus tickets
Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs. is increasing its fares from Saturday, 8th April. Single and return fares will rise throughout the company's network, apart from in Carlisle, where the company faces competition from local operator, Reay's Coaches.

No details of these fares, or the level of increase, are yet available on the company's website.

Following the increase in the price of Bay Megariders in January (which rose by up to 32%) Stagecoach has now turned its attention to North West Megarider tickets, which cover the whole of its operating area throughout Cumbria and Lancashire (which to Stagecoach includes Wigan, Bolton, Southport and Liverpool - but not Manchester!)

The 1-day Explorer ticket, used by many Lancaster and Morecambe passengers to reach popular Lake District destinations, rises by just 20p to £11 for Adults (a 1.85% increase) but  by 30p to £8 for children and concessions, (which is 3.9%). "Family" and "Group" versions rise by 12% and 10% respectively to £28 and £33.  (In case you were wondering, a "Family" ticket is valid for up to 5 people, 2 of which may be adults, whereas a "Group" ticket is valid for up to five people ALL of whom may be adults, but is not valid for travel before 09.00 on Mondays to Fridays).

Three-Day Explorers rise from £24.70 to £25 (1.2%) with child versions increasing from £16.50 to £18 ( 9%).

Seven Day  Megarider Gold tickets are up 70p to £28 (2.6%)  with the 28-Day version rising 2% to what is effectively £100, although Stagecoach prefers to call it £99.99!  In a further retreat from discounts for online purchase a 28 Day Megarider Xtra (sic) bought via monthly Direct Debit rises by no less than 17.6% to the same price as the on-bus 28 Day ticket. Of course, with only 12 monthly payments a year this still offers a saving over 13 28-Day tickets at the same price, although potential purchasers using it for travel to and from work or school will need to take holidays into account even more.

The widely-varying percentage rises give no clue as to what to expect when the increases for single and return tickets are revealed. With prices for multi-journey tickets rising by between 1.2% and 17.6% it appears that Stagecoach has been looking very closely at each ticket within its range with a view to maximising revenue without losing too many passengers in the process.  Variations between the increase in adult and child versions of the same tickets may be due partly to "rounding up" but it is hard to see why a child  1-Day explorer should increase by twice as much in percentage terms as an Adult version and a child 3-Day version should rise by a whopping 9% when the Adult equivalent goes up by a mere 1.2%!

There is no mention of any changes to Bay Dayrider or Bay Dayrider Plus tickets and no mention at all on Stagecoach Cumbria & North Lancs website of the Lancashire Dayrider, although the sister site for Merseyside & South Lancs confirms that this will not increase.

Passengers wishing to find out how much their single and return fares will be after 8 April could try using the "Plan a Journey" facility on Stagecoach's website inputting a travel date on or after 8th April, although at the time of writing only current fares were being shown.

The increases to these tickets, and to singles and returns, are the first since March 2015.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

National Express Pulls Out of Morecambe

Busier days at Morecambe coach station
Morecambe is set to lose its last remaining long-distance express coach service when National Express re-routes its Whitehaven to London service 571 away from the town from Monday, 3rd April.  Also losing their connection with the national coach network are Carnforth and Bolton-le-Sands with coaches diverted to run via the M6 between Kendal and Lancaster.

The changes will mean that the morning coach to Birmingham and Lancaster will leave Lancaster bus station ten minutes earlier, at 0950, but due to additional running time being granted south of the city, arrival in London will be 15 minutes later at 1750. On Fridays even more time is added with coaches due to reach Victoria Coach Station at 1805.  The departure times at Lancaster University and Galgate are brought forward by similar amounts.

In the return direction coaches will leave London half-an-hour earlier at 1030, but due to the additonal time allowance, arrival at Lancaster will be only ten minutes earlier, at 1815 (1840 on Fridays, but earlier, at 1750 on Saturdays and Sundays) no doubt refelcting the differing traffic levels throughout the week.

Admittedly, Morecambe is no longer the important seaside resort it once was but it is hard to accept that the town, once a magnet for coaches from all over the north, the midlands and Scotland  is no longer thought worthy of even a single long-distance coach service.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Dales Bus Services for 2017 Announced: and Lancaster Gets Three!

Dales & Bowland CIC has announced details of the summer Sunday and Bank Holiday services for 2017 and the coming year sees a significant expansion of the service from Lancaster and the surrounding area. Additional sponsorship has been obtained from Northern Rail and the two new services offer connections with that company's trains at Bentham and Clitheroe.  The miserly - and possibly illegal - attitude of North Yorkshire and Lancashire County Councils unfortunately means that concessionary bus passes continue to be unavailable on these services but the Concessionary Dales Rover ticket at £7 for passholders  (£12 for adults) continues to allow an affordable day out in the Dales.

THE NORTHERN DALESMAN, which this year is numbered 830 throughout  the route, is diverted to take in Kirkby Lonsdale en-route to Ingleton, Hawes and Richmond and also continues through to Leyburn. This year it will be operated by Preston Bus and will therefore start at Preston, running non-stop via the M6 to Galgate then via Lancaster University (Underpass) calling at all stops along the A6 to Lancaster Bus Station. Although the Dalesman no longer serves Morecambe there will be a connection provided at Lancaster by the new Malham Tarn Shuttle (see below)

The Dalesman won't serve Keld on its outward run this year, but a timed connection will be made at Muker to allow walkers to reach the village.

First of the new services is the BOWLAND EXPLORER. To be known as service 833 and operated by Travellers Choice (although don't be surprised if a Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire bus turns up!)

It starts at Lancaster railway station at 0915 and calls at the bus station (where passengers from Morecambe have a connection (see below), before continuing along the Lune Valley to Hornby, then on to Bentham railway station, where it will connect with a train from Leeds and Skipton. 

From Bentham the Explorer continues to Ingleton and Clapham and  travels over Bowland Knotts, through Gisburn Forest and past Stocks Reservoir to Slaidburn before running over Newton Fells to Waddington and Clitheroe

 After meeting the train from Manchester at Clitheroe Interchange, the Explorer returns to Slaidburn and then travels over the Cross of Greet  Road and Lythe Fell to Bentham station for another train connection and another trip to Gisburn Forest. Return journeys from all points give a wide range of possibilities for walkers and the route is certain to prove attractive for those passengers "just along for the ride".  

Malham, when Pennine Motor Services ran the service.
The third Dales Bus service from Lancaster this year is the MALHAM TARN SHUTTLE, which as service 881 will be operated by Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire. 

The service starts at Morecambe Bus Station at 0835, calling at Lancaster Bus Station at 0855 to provide a connection onto the Northern Dalesman and Bowland Explorer buses for Morecambe passengers. It then runs via Hornby, Wennington, Bentham, Ingleton, Clapham, Giggleswick, Settle, Langcliffe and Streets to Malham Tarn and Malham village. 

There are two return journeys during the day as far as Ingleton (for connections with other Dales Bus services) and a final return journey to Lancaster and Morecambe arriving at 1810.

All three Dales Bus services run on Sundays and Bank Holidays  from 7 May until 24 September 2017 inclusive. 


 Individual single and return fares are available for all journeys, although the best value is likely to be a Dales Rover ticket, bought from the driver, at £12 for adults and £7 for students (with NUS card) or holders of English National Concessionary Bus Passes.  One or two children (aged 16 or under) may travel FREE with each Dales Rover ticket holder.
A new Bowland Explorer ticket will be available from Lancaster as far as Kirkby Lonsdale, Ingleton, Skipton and Clitheroe, priced at £8 for adults and £15 family (any group of up to 2 adults and 3 children).

The Dales & Bowland CIC are to be congratulated for finding the means to continue and expand the Dales Bus service in what have become very challenging times for local bus services, particularly in rural areas. Thanks are due to Northern Rail for supporting the services this year alongside existing sponsors including Settle - Carlisle Railway Development Co. Ltd.   Dales Bus services bring many passengers to Northern's trains - and vice-versa - and the network is an outstanding example of what can be achieved by the public transport industry working together in a spirit of co-operation rather than the unwanted competition that our present legislative framework often forces it into.