Fat Sparrows

One of my pet hates is the gravitas with which clueless commentators upon our industry are given. Sometimes self proclaimed campaigners, sometimes community groups, sometimes structured organisations; give them the opportunity to get a nonsensical press release to the local newsrag and the local media finds it irresistible. Compare this to the disinterest they will show press releases by bus operators (unless they’re buying advertising space) and the resulting situation is depressingly hard work to get reasonable messages out there.

One of the ideas which is often proposed, particularly in rural areas is a “round robin” service. I’ve come across three such proposals over recent times, one being proposed by a market manager. The only problem was that almost every local village had a bus service to the town at least every two hours. I pointed this out, but the manager simply wasn’t listening. I then attempted to illustrate how any bus running a circular route would be significantly slower than the existing direct services to the town, but again these facts fell upon dead ears.

The second incident of Robin proposal occurred as part of a Total Transport initiative, spearheaded by Bath & North Somerset Council. Dozens of parish council people and representatives of various community organisations turned up to a workshop session at a local village hall. One gentleman, with an apparent deep love of the sound of his own voice but completely without any hint of irony, complained that the existing bus service was too slow and it should be replaced with a minibus which went around all the villages before transferring passengers on to a “more frequent” bus service. He was completely dismissive of the fact that such an arrangement would be no quicker and considerably more expensive than the existing bus service. Barely anybody at the workshop session ever used public transport, and clearly had little intention of doing so. The quality of the ideas being raised reflected this.

Finally, a local chamber of commerce proposed applying for funding from the DfT’s Community Minibus Fund for two vehicles to provide their own Round Robin minibus to “connect with express buses to Bristol (which call at every stop on the A37), Bath (which don’t exist), Keynsham (ditto) or “other local routes”. Given that the “other local route” is already carrying all the passengers that their Fat Sparrow… sorry, Round Robin route would do, i can’t help but think this would be a dead duck.

Expecting passengers to use connecting services requires a number of factors to be met in order to be sustainable – willingness of passengers to change buses, totally solid service reliability and through ticketing are all essential. The number of situations where such services are a sensible way of delivering coverage are fairly small and looking unlikely to increase with current funding challenges. Round Robin and connecting services really aren’t a viable solution to replacing scheduled bus services, especially at peak times where commuters don’t like their travel habits being disrupted.

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