The Top Secret Consultation

In any other industry, the most important people to ascertain the views of would be the customer. Almost every chain restaurant these days offers you a discount or small freebie at your next visit after you’ve eaten with them in exchange for completing a survey afterwards. In the bus industry, some operators do such things; even First BS&A have adverts in many of their recently published timetables encouraging passenger feedback.

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This advert appears prominently at the front of the January 2018 “Mendip X-Plorer” timetable booklet for services 172-4 between Bath and Wells.

Sadly, some of our friends in local government are rather more behind the times. They would prefer to get the opinions of people who don’t use buses, particularly bus services they’re keen to stop spending money supporting.

Bath and North East Somerset Council recently issued a consultation for a number of services currently provided under contract to them, specifically:

  • Evening services on 2, 6A, 8, 9 and 265 in Bath (First)
  • Outer circle services 20A/20C in Bath (Wessex)
  • Paulton – Radstock Tyning local service 82/82A (Frome Minibuses)
  • Bath – Radstock – Paulton and Bath – Paulton – Radstock evenings 172 and 179 (First) (also 179 Sundays)
  • Bristol – Chew Valley & Blagdon 67 / 672 (Abus / Bugler)
  • Clutton – Bath 768 (CT)
  • Chandag Estate early morning journey on A4 (Bath Bus Co)

It is claimed in the accompanying letter regarding these services that the council is “inviting the views of Councillors, Parish and Town councils, operators, residents, users, and other stakeholders as to the best and most appropriate way to proceed“. This appears to extend to sending letters to councillors, parish and town councils and bus operators, but not bothering to actually advertising this process to passengers who actually use the services, instead relying on them regularly checking the “Consultations” section of the B&NES website.

Whereas the council were falling over themselves a few months ago to promote responses to some Transport Strategy consultations for medium and long term planning, they seem to be less keen on promoting this exercise which may well adversely affect services currently being provided.

Considering that for several of these services (particularly 67, 82, 672 and 768), the council appears to be advocating a widespread massacre of the services in favour of all manner of half-baked idiocy (shared taxis, linking to park and ride sites, withdrawing all bar first and last journeys, diverting other journeys whilst conveniently forgetting about 90% of the service), the public really ought to know what is being proposed for these routes.

B&NES officers demonstrate a chronic lack of understanding when it comes to how many of the more marginal bus services are used in the real world. Take as an example the 672 – whilst B&NES seem keen on destroying the entire daytime service, they miss the fact that many passengers use the service to travel to Bedminster, something which would be restrictively cumbersome to the average pensioner with well loaded shopping bags should the route be diverted to Long Ashton Park & Ride. They also miss the fact that the majority of commuter traffic to/from Bristol uses the 1635 journey back to the Chew Valley rather than the later 1810 trip. Furthermore, they also miss the fact that the commuter journeys are barely used west of Bishop Sutton, with a very heavy bias towards commuters from Stanton Drew, Chew Magna, Chew Stoke and Dundry. Unsurprisingly, these are the villages closest to Bristol. Whilst this sort of data may not be immediately available to the council, perhaps requesting information from the operators (even if a small admin fee were payable) would be better than the apparent current preferred method of guesswork.

It isn’t just 672. The figures for the 768 service are also suspicious, claiming some 38-39 passengers a day. I suspect several of these may be those using the morning 701 journey which overlaps with the 768 in Bath. It wouldn’t take many students being recorded on the wrong journey to make the service look a lot more sustainable.

Having operated 768 for two years from 2014 to 2016 and being acutely aware of which sections are worthwhile and which pointless, B&NES again make it obvious how out of touch they are by suggesting which parts of the 768 may be saved. These are done purely on operational convenience rather than which parts passengers are using. At a time of cost cutting for frugality, suggesting the retention of a peak hour service from Writhlington to Bath is astonishing when a far more realistic option is connections between 179 and 172-4 in Radstock, complete with the availability of First day and season tickets throughout.

But i digress, my original point regarding the consultation remains. Most of these services and particularly those provided by independent operators utilise the same vehicles each day. To publicise a consultation to the passengers would be easy in the form of a few notices or leaflets on board the buses. This would produce a far more realistic view of demand than asking councillors for their hand-wringing responses.

If B&NES is serious about making informed cuts to the services they are supporting, then they need to start looking rather further than the end of their desks in Keynsham. The information needed to reshape the services is available and could be used to propose sensible and practical solutions, but whilst relying on the current strategy of guesswork and repeating strategies which have failed on other routes, the results are unlikely to be as effective.

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