Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Bus Station to Re-open after early completion of refurbishment works.

Lancaster bus station will re-open fully from start of service on Friday, 18th August and all services will revert to their normal routes in the city centre, much to the relief of passengers who have been enduring the "summer" weather at the unprotected stops in Dalton Square for the last few weeks!

The refurbishment works were originally due to last up until the beginning of September, but have been completed ahead of schedule by the City Council and its contractors.

Work will continue for a short while to make Stand 1 more accessible to passengers in wheelchairs, following a campaign by Cameron Redpath - a Bus Users' Group member and passenger on the Ridge bus, so both this stand and adjacent stand 2 will remain closed. Stagecoach staff will be on hand to direct passengers to the alternative departure stands.

The Bus Users' Group has been observing the part-closure and the alternative arrangements and will be compiling a report on the exercise in the hope of avoiding some of the problems that have occurred should it become necessary to relocate buses away from the bus station for any reason in the future, but in the meantime our Congratulations and thanks are due to the Council and the Contractors as well as to Stagecoach for managing the process.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Minor Changes to Stagecoach Services in September

From Stagecoach's website:

Changes to timetables in Lancaster from 4 September 2017
From Monday 4 September we will be introducing some changes to services in Lancaster. The below is a summary of the changes and timetables will be available shortly.
Service 2/2A/N2 – We have re-timed some Monday to Friday journeys to improve reliability and this service will no longer stop at China Street in the city centre.
Service 5 – The Monday to Friday 0740 journey from Morecambe and the 0815 from Carnforth have been retimed to run 10 minutes earlier to improve reliability.
Service 55 – The Monday to Friday 1522 journey from Carnforth has been re-timed slightly to improve reliability.
Service 40/40A/41 – The 1640 40A School journey from Preston College has been re-timed to run 15 minutes later. Monday – Saturday evenings journeys and Sunday journeys have also been re-timed to improve reliability.
Services 500, 501, 502, 504 and Service 935– Minor timetable changes to improve punctuality.
The Bus Users' Group will post the new timetables as soon as they are available.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

County Council to Increase Spending on Buses

Service 81 was one of the services affected by the April 2016 cutbacks.
Lancashire County Council's Lead Member for Buses, Andrew Snowdon has begun a "cross-party consultation" within the council on the prospect of increasing the council's spend on bus service contracts by £1M per annum - a 50% rise in the existing budget. The move follows a change of control in the running of the council, from Labour to Conservative, in May.

County Councillors are being consulted on three "key priorities" for improving services and are being asked to put forward their own ideas.

Cllr Snowden said: “I’m keen to ensure passengers benefit from the improvements to bus services we promised as soon as possible, I have already been working with officers on some draft proposals for how we could best meet the needs of communities with the new funding. “However, I also want to ensure that county councillors have the opportunity to input into work on behalf of the communities they represent and raise any issues they are aware of which will help to make sure the proposals we eventually bring forward have a real impact and provide the best possible value for money. A good public transport network is vital to support our economy, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to access work and education.

The key priorities are:

To restore lost links between communities, particularly in rural areas where people who don’t drive or own a car rely most on public transport.

To increase the frequency of services on routes where there is more demand

And to stabilise the network to support routes which might otherwise disappear. 

The council’s new administration has committed to make an extra £1m available to support bus services, increasing the budget from £2m to £3m. Final proposals will be put before the council's cabinet on 14th September

It appears that at this stage consultation is restricted to elected councillors, so the Bus Users' Group will be putting our ideas to  local councillors so as to ensure that the Lancaster District gets its fair share of the pot.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Bus Station to get £150k Makeover

UPDATE:  For temporary departure stand arrangements during the work click here.

Opened in 2001, Lancaster's bus station is now set for a much-needed refurbishment.with the City Council investing £147,000 to bring the facility up to the standard local bus passengers deserve.

The work consists of cleaning all the external metalwork such as the entrance columns and the removal of any corrosion. These areas will then be redecorated.

The roof will also be treated - both internally and externally to include the removal of the vegetation!

The matting at the entrance will be replaced and extended to reduce the amount of moisture brought into the building on people's feet, hopefully reducing cleaning costs.

Lastly, the external balustrade and railings will be given a new coat of paint.

Works will start on 24 July and continue for six weeks, being timed to co-incide with school and University holidays. During the work each side of the bus station will close in turn for a three-week period, with bus departures being relocated. It is hoped to accommodate all services within the bus station but some use may have to be made of Dalton Square.  The internal work - such as the matting and work on the internal roof - will be done at night to minimise disruption. Whilst not part of the refurbishment project, it is hoped that work can also be done to improve access for disabled passengers to the smaller  buses used on some city services.

Lancaster is fortunate to have a modern, undercover bus station, complete with toilets, refreshments and an enquiry office - something not enjoyed by towns such as Kendal, Barrow or Blackpool - and the Bus Users' Group is pleased to see that the City Council is prepared to invest in this asset.

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.