Competence

Competence is a big word in transport these days. Passenger and Freight service operators have to prove they are competent in order to gain an operators’ licence. Drivers must carry a card of their professional competence to prove they are capable of delivering the service they are employed to do. Yet Bristol City Council apparently don’t require any certification of their competence to organise a bus service, or even understand the fundamentals of providing one.

Metrobus route m1 is the final component in the brown crown of Bristol’s vanity project. It launches officially today and is being operated by HCT, under contract to First. It is by far the biggest part of the project, with m2 and m3 being replacements for already existing routes, whereas m1 is not formally replacing anything although many routes are being revised in South Bristol as a result.

In their specification for route m1, Bristol City Council have demonstrated that they do not understand the principle of providing a limited stop bus service. Service m1 omits several stops in the Hengrove and Inns Court areas of South Bristol which will not be served by any other bus service. They are:

  • Hengrove: Bamfield / Briery Leaze Road
  • Hengrove: Bamfield / Thurlestone (50)
  • Hengrove: Bamfield / Swainswick (50)
  • Inns Court: Creswicke Road / Carisbrooke Road (90)

The most badly affected of these will be the Thurlestone stop, some 350m from an Asda (and other shops) and in the middle of a densely populated area. Asda will now be a 1.05km walk from the nearest m1 stop, having been around 85m from the stop on service 50 it replaces in the area.

When properly planned, limited stop services can be a huge asset to a bus network, particularly at peak times. Aside from services using the limited access roads of the M32 and Portway, the best example in recent history is probably service X67 which operated around the dormitory areas of Oldland and Hanham before running limited stop in to the city centre. Around the suburbs, the service called at every stop before joining the main road which was served by other services (44, 45, 332) and becoming limited stop. Nobody was therefore be left without a service entirely. Metrobus m1 fails the public in this respect and demonstrates a fundamental lack of knowledge and competence in the part of Bristol City Council.

One of the more hilarious aspects of the failure to provide adequate levels of stopping places in the suburbs is that a Bristol City Councillor, Tim Kent has started a petition demanding that Metrobus m1 stops at the now abandoned stops in his ward. There have been a number of occasions where public transport in his area has been cut back (most notably the withdrawal of service 51, later rescued by Wessex) and he’s always there with a placard. Being a Lib Dem, he’s obviously a fan of the Hackney Community Transport (of which party leader Vince Cable is chairman) and won’t hear a word against them, regardless of how hopelessly poor their standards of operation are. Sadly he doesn’t seem to grasp that the council he sits upon is entirely responsible for the loss and poor siting of bus stops in his ward. He also doesn’t seem to grasp that setting up a petition a week before service 50 is replaced by m1 is the political equivalent of closing a stable door once the horse has been shipped abroad and made in to lasagne.

The patterns of stops for the limited stop are bewilderingly complex too. In Bedminster, the northbound bus doesn’t stop at all on West Street, yet heading southbound it stops twice.

Even in North Bristol where the service is better placed to provide faster links, the m1 service will be significantly slower, taking 34% longer than existing route T1 from stops in Bradley Stoke to the city centre[1]. T1 calls at every stop along the route and take cash fares too. I wonder how rigorously the claims splashed all over the side of Metrobus vehicles about their services being “quicker” have been vetted…?

Perhaps the residents of Inns Court would appreciate a T1 service as well. Considering the area is regularly cited as one of the most deprived in the city, yet the council has persisted in removing bus services which accept cash as a form of payment in favour of the Metrobus standard of pre-payment by contactless bank card or smart phone ticketing. This is despite such statements as “Cash is vital in supporting financial inclusion” being made by the chief cashier of the Bank of England, and figures suggesting that 2.7m Britons are reliant upon cash, yet the value of those transactions in reducing. The richer members of society are not those who are unable to access bank accounts, nor do they live in Inns Court.

Metrobus m1 will doubtlessly be hailed as a huge success by Bristol City Council’s creative accountancy department, as any project which has blown huge sums of money on public transport is judged to be. When it is considered how much true, positive improvement could have been made with the sums spent, perhaps those calling for the public sector to have total control over public transport will reconsider their stance? Because I do not believe Bristol City Council  have demonstrated anywhere near the level of competence required for planning and executing such projects.

Reference:
[1] Published journey times from Bradley Stoke, Patchway Brook to Bristol, Centre at midday, Mon-Fri: T1 departs 1204, arrives 1229 (25 mins). m1 departs 1200, arrives 1234 (34 mins). Taken from travelinesw.com.

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