Today (Tuesday 6th April 2021) saw the launch of another four North Somerset Council supported bus services. Service 56 (Clevedon – Walton Bay) had been supposed to start last Thursday, but belatedly made it’s debut today after somebody copied and pasted the wrong bit of supporting text to Facebook.
But anyway, this post is to look in a little more depth at service 51 (Stagecoach) and connecting services 991 and 992 (Weston Community Transport). Service 51 was procured in a mad panic less than a week before it’s original commencement date as an undisclosed commercial operator had allegedly withdrawn from the process at a late stage. Given North Somerset’s onerous contract conditions, this could be a costly mistake. The council’s contract reads “If this Contract is terminated for cause such termination shall be at no loss or cost to the Council and the Contractor hereby indemnifies the Council against any such losses or costs which the Council may suffer as a result of any such termination for cause.” This translates from Procurementese as “If the operator terminates a contract early, the operator pays for any increase in costs of the replacement.” (Section 43.3, Consequences of Termination)
Anyway, new service 51 appears to be little more than a glorified Churchill School bus with daytime journeys added in. The provision twixt Winscombe and Churchill is to address another folly of the Integrated Transport Unit – the withdrawal of Home to School transport between the two locations on account of there being some paths across fields that students at the school could use instead. This solution unsurprisingly proved unpopular.
The published timetable for service 51 is somewhat different to that which the council was seeking bids for as there is no longer any mention of serving the Locking Parklands estate and considerably reduced running time at the Weston end of the route. The previous timetable, as procured is being displayed on the Churchill Academy website.
Nein, Nein, Nein
Now, talking of the Churchill Academy website, this font of public transport knowledge also appears to be the only place that one can find at a timetable for the mysterious 991 and 992 services. Aside from some Home to School provision (numbered 991s), the connections to service 51 are bewildering.
As no official timetable for 991/992 seems to be available, i’ve collated my own to try and understand the connections.
It would appear that the new connecting minibus does an astounding job of serving nobody well. Passengers from Wrington have a slow if reasonable 25 minute wait at Lower Langford on journeys towards Weston (although the 20 minute running time from Wrington to Lower Langford wouldn’t challenge a asthmatic cyclist – all other recent bus services over the route have been scheduled for seven to eight minutes). Passengers from Blagdon to Weston have to wait almost an hour and a half for their connection.
On the return journey, the inverse is true. Passengers for Blagdon get the 25 minute wait, whilst those for Wrington are left pondering the sights of Lower Langford for almost an hour and a half. Wrington to Weston for a shopping trip is unusable – leave home at 10am, arrive in Weston 82 minutes later. To get back to Wrington, you either have to leave 23 minutes later or stay for another five hours.
The problem with you Andy, is that you’re always finding problems. You’re not a solutions man.
Well, here’s a solution. Perhaps if one route was providing connections for both villages (which isn’t impossible and has precendents), you’d have a much better timed service for them. By routing the Wrington service to run beyond Wrington via Havyatt Green and Ashey Lane to Rickford and Blagdon. It uses no more vehicles and probably reduces mileage overall. It could easily be adapted to serve Burrington as well if that is a political hot potato. Everybody gets a sensible connection and usable shopping journey whilst maintaining vehicle availability for all the school journeys proposed on the Churchill website.
Meanwhile, there is another alternative. There is nothing to stop the Stagecoach 51 service continuing up to Wrington via Redhill and back via Blackmoor, much as the old short journeys on the 121 service did many years ago. This would then leave the minibus to provide connections to Blagdon.
When we have North Somerset’s councillors telling us that these services are being procured on an emergency basis, the question has to be raised over the Blagdon service – Why? Blagdon hasn’t had a daily service to Weston since the 4C (another Citistar innovation) was commercially provided in 2017/18. There haven’t been multiple daily services to Weston since deregulation. There is no tangible emergency demand which suddenly exists, aside from rival Councillors not wanting somebody else to get a shiny new bus service when they’re not getting one.
I don’t normally publish my ideas for solutions because, frankly i’m not running a free consultancy for the public sector. However, my door always remains open (in public or private) if anybody wants to discuss matters about anything i raise on this blog. I appreciate this blog can be provocative, but it is because i care about the industry i’m working in and i think it is worth making the effort to get things right. It is painfully obvious when relevant local or sector specific knowledge is ignored, so perhaps this phrase “in partnership with” which NSC are fond of using on their publicity should start actually meaning that, rather than meaning “under a faulty, airtight contract for”.
When i told some of my Blagdon passengers from service 134 today that they could have a trip to Weston on their new bus service, which would take almost two and a half hours, most of which would be spent sat in Lower Langford, you can probably guess what their response was. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that they’d have to come back 23 minutes later because the last service of the day which provides a connection to Blagdon is 11:45, unless they want to wait another two and a half hours at Langford…