As bus operators, we can be faced with questions regarding the consequences of our actions. When services are changed, something i am always acutely aware of is the unforeseen loss of links or connections which may appear trivial, but can have a significant impact. As somebody responsible for the consequences of the actions of my business, i’d like to think that others behave in a similar manner, but i’m often disappointed.
A Chewy Problem
Having dragged myself back to work on Thursday 2nd January 2020, i was alerted to a forthcoming roadclosure by a colleague around lunchtime. Signage in the village was warning that Wales & West Utilities were proposing to close a short stretch of the B3114 at Chew Stoke for four days, starting at 8am on Monday 6th January. Online research confirmed this to be correct.
This work scheduling is poor for a number of reasons. Firstly, Chew Stoke is a main artery for commuters from the Mendips to Bristol and also to Chew Valley School, located less than a kilometre away from the closure site. This creates a number of headaches as the route is used by at least nine coaches, buses and minibuses on their way to the school, as well as those returning to their depots having dropped off. Scheduling works to start at 8am on the first day of a new school term doesn’t give us any opportunity to make alternative arrangements with the students.
Bath and North East Somerset Council’s proposed diversion for this closure was also poorly considered. I sent an email on Thursday to the Street Works department asking if there would be any additional parking or traffic control through the nearby village of Chew Magna, which would be taking the brunt of the additional traffic and already suffers from heavy congestion.
On Friday, i received the following reply from a Technical Officer in the Street Works team: “Having checked the diversion plan for the road closure on Bristol Road, Chew Stoke, the diversion route has been put in place to allow larger vehicles to use it, so parking restrictions will not be required as it is an A Road.”
Chew Magna is neither an A classed road nor suitable for around twenty extra bus and coach movements through it each morning. I replied in this manner to the member of staff at B&NES and received no reply.
The nature of the area is that this stretch of road is something of a cornerstone. There are no sensible diversions for it, especially for larger vehicles. Any traffic from the villages to the south will be attempting to travel through Chew Magna, in addition to the normal traffic which often blocks it solidly.
At the same time as i had contacted Street Works, i also sent a message to my usual contact for road closure matters in the Public Transport team at B&NES, only to discover that he had left shortly before Christmas. I was beginning to not like 2020.
As it was becoming clear there was going to be no assistance from the council, i contacted Wales & West Utilities on Twitter to be told in a patronising manner by somebody called Lewis that it really does take four days to install a pipe and we will do everything we can to keep disruption to a minimum. I drafted several replies to this, but thought better of all of them before pressing send…
I contacted the Home to School Transport department at B&NES with the outline of a plan for keeping our school services running. Unsurprisingly, nobody had told them about the closure. They agreed to the alterations, including picking up both of our runs some 20 minutes earlier than normal in an effort to try and provide a reasonable arrival time. I also made arrangements for the Tuesday and Thursday bus services which operate between school movements (including with CT Coaches, with whom we connect at Blagdon on a Tuesday). I also prepared notices for both affected vehicles detailing arrangements for both school travel and bus services and shared these on the company social media.
I went home on Friday feeling trepidatious, but hoping that our preparations would prevent the week being a total disaster. I then spent time over the weekend answering messages through the company social media mainly regarding other operator’s home to school routes. (As an aside, it never ceases to amaze me how little some parents know about their children’s home to school transport arrangements.)
The plan for Monday morning was to pick up at the normal times and hope for the best. As we had not had the opportunity to confirm that every student was aware of the arrangements, it would have been unreasonable to have done anything else.
At the last pickup on my school journey, i gave the students a quick update on what was going on and directed them to the notices. There were even paper copies available to take away (I’ve found this works well to dispel disagreements over information provision later on).
Then we got to Chew Stoke and although i hadn’t been through there since before Christmas, it look like there had been at least two new trenches dug, serviced and filled in in the interim. The road was very much open.
We arrived at the school and i had a chat with a member of school staff and a driver from another local operator who knew what was supposed to be going on, but didn’t know whether it was. I travelled back to the yard, again through the ominously still open road and busied myself with other jobs for a couple of hours.
Approaching lunch time, i decided i’d have another visit to Chew Stoke to see what (if anything) was going on. GoogleMaps was showing the road as still being open and traffic freely flowing in the area. Two members of W&WU staff were on the site, working in a small hole on the pavement, adjacent to one of the fresh looking trenches. I asked if they were planning to shut the road and they confirmed they wouldn’t be needing to.
On arrival back at the yard, a friend who works at the Airport was in for a social call. The road had apparently been closed on the Sunday and the whole four days worth of work done during daylight hours. The Elgin/One Network database of roadworks had not been updated and on the following Thursday was still showing the closure as being active.
All sorted then?
Well, not really. Having done all the ground work in preparing for the closure, i had to spend the rest of Monday undoing it, all because Wales & West Utilities couldn’t be bothered to properly schedule the work they were intending to do and inform everyone accordingly. Perhaps next time i should go for the ignorance and hope approach because it would have created me a whole lot less work…