"BRISTOL HAS A PUBLIC TRANSPORT HUB!"
A submission to the Sustainable Transport Theme Group of the Bristol City Council (BCC) Best Value Review of Integrated Transport.
By Stephen Petter, October 8th 2004. (Rev 11/10/04)
While our Group were visiting various transport facilities in Bristol, I mentioned my concern that Bristol needs a public transport hub or central interchange. A senior manager of First Bus responded that Marborough Street, Rupert Street and Lewins Mead area (which for brevity I will call the MRLA) served as Bristol’s transport hub. My immediate reaction was that this area was not satisfactory in this respect, as my limited experience as a user had been very unsatisfactory (see Appendix 1).
I therefore decided to look more closely and I hope objectively into the First Bus manager’s assertion. In late September and early October this year I spent about 10 hours observing and noting the facilities and interviewing about 10 PT users. I shall append my notes taken during this research as Appendix 2.
Discussing the project with local public transport users it seemed to me that they regarded the area called The Centre rather than MRLA as the main public transport interchange, so I included this in my review.
Both THE CENTRE and MRLA
I walked around THE CENTRE and MRLA inspecting most of the bus stops and informally interviewing a variety of users. I took notes which form Appendix 2.
Many of the stops did not have shelters. In some cases there was also no other shelter such as a doorway. Some had no bus stop identification, either none on the stop sign (flag) nor written on the shelter or neither.
The signage at the stops themselves was inconsistent and sometimes obscured. Much of the lettering was small and/or worn. Important notices were obscured by more recent temporary notices. Most but not all had "Local Bus Information", notices showing some route information and, usually, timetables for each route served from that stop. Maps were rare except on some of the Park N Ride stops. A very few had real time arrival indicators, though one was slightly faulty.
Signage other than on bus stops was virtually non-existent, i.e. there is no help available other than trying to read the information at each stop about the buses which use that stop. Not all stops had raised pavements, and some of these were thoughtlessly located, in my view.
Of the people I interviewed a good few were broadly satisfied with the service, their only complaint being cost. These seemed to be those living close to the centre, e.g. Bedminster or on Gloucester Road. However, as many people seemed very dissatisfied, their main complaints being unreliability and low frequency. One said buses frequently rushed past their local stop. Several said they had difficulty finding out about the bus service.
I was surprised at the high proportion who were using the local services, or a particular route, for the first time. However this bears out my personal experience (Apx 1) that a great many of passengers are unfamiliar with their journeys, and need good signage and information services.
All the bus stops’ names (i.e. the location names written on the shelters) in this area are called "THE CENTRE". Their bus stop id codes which appear on the stops and on the bus map are all prefixed "C". They lie on an oval one-way traffic system about three quarters of which carries heavy traffic, the other being bus-only. Inside this oval is an open pedestrian area. Overall The Centre is about 330 yards long. If one walks around it, visiting every bus stop, one has to cross 10 roads, about half of which are minor side roads but others of which are busy and two are clearly dangerous. One of them is well known as an accident black spot. The busier crossings have pedestrian controlled lights but these are set greatly to favour traffic. The whole area is on one level.
In THE CENTRE some of the stops do not have shelters and in some of these cases there is no shelter such as nearby doorways. At one pair of stops a large puddle extended 30 yards along the road. It was three or four metres at its widest, extending onto the pavement, and was three inches deep a foot or two from the kerb. I saw a bus draw up in such a position that the passengers had to step into the deep water.
The biggest drawback at THE CENTRE is the wide spacing of the bus stops, and hence the great distances between some of them. This is exacerbated by poor pedestrian facilities particularly at road crossings. Why this wastage of acreage? It is not that the number of buses is so great as to need a lot of stopping space. Looking across THE CENTRE one sees few buses at stops at any one time. In other cities (and in MRLA) more buses stop per unit road length.
The bus stops in the MRLA are situated on each side of a busy dual carriageway. The stop identifiers are not all the same. On the bus map they are all prefixed "R" or "H". However these identifiers are also used on stops much further away. The MRLA is about 350 metres long if one excludes these outposts. It has two pedestrian actuated crossings and a pedestrian subway. There are steps, which can be bypassed by wheelchair users and passengers with wheeled cases by use of dingy ramps.
Part of the Broadmead Shopping Area, bus stop identifier "B" is adjacent to the MRLA. I did not investigate this area. Perhaps is should be regarded as part of the claimed Transport Hub. Some information about it is included in Apx 1.
The MRLA includes the Bus Station which is also mainly a coach station. It is being renovated but is clearly too small to serve as the city’s transport hub.
In general the facilities in the bus station are quite good, but on three occasions when I have sought assistance I have been dissatisfied. During this recent investigation throughout the 45 minutes I was there in mid morning the "Help Desk" was not attended. More details in Apx 2.
In the area there are many temporary notices, which I found difficult to understand and confusing, about the station closures. For instance one notice some way from the station, located near some cafes, said that further details were available outside the cafe. It meant the cafe in the bus station! A hand-written additional notice was more helpful; it said in effect that there were no closures during weekdays, only in the evenings and weekends. I found two people who had experienced problems. One was waiting unnecessarily at a temporary stop for the London bus, and had wasted 10 minutes there. The other had expected a change from normal but had telephoned and established that it was normal service at that time.
I noted two kerb ramps blocked needlessly due to the works, one by a parked truck and the other by a redundant length of fencing. I witnessed a near accident as people got out of a minibus-type taxi into the centre of a service road.
Signage. This needs to be greatly improved. Management needs to realise it is a skill requiring educated staff. It is very difficult to word an unambiguous notice This applies especially to temporary contingency notices.
Local Bus Information: Notices at bus stops giving information about the buses which stop there. They state briefly the route and usually the bus times. Usually quite good but they need to be kept up to date. Passengers also need a map and information about other buses. These could be combined. Many towns display local bus maps that shown all routes.
Flag information (i.e. the route numbers traditionally on a sign on a pole). These need to be clearer like the single one in Haymarket (eastbound). Placing them on the roof of a bus shelter means they cannot be seen from close up. Small and worn lettering means they can’t be seen from a distance.
Bus stop names. As written on the side of bus shelters. These are very useful, there needs to be an alternative where there is no shelter.
Information stands. There are too few, virtually none. There needs to be many notices to help people work out which buses they can use for their trip.
Street signs. There needs to be many street signs to the place names used on the bus stops, or at worse to the bus stop id codes.
The bus map. The current map is a joke. It is too big, not sufficiently robust, far too complex, and requires the user to have excellent colour vision. Many key roads that are continually referred to in notices (and on the bus timetables) are not identified, even though there is space, e.g. St Augustine’s Parade, Colston Avenue, Rupert St, Lewins Mead, The Haymarket. The map is virtually incomprehensible though very pretty. Why design such a unique work of art instead of copying the design conventions of other bus operators such as London Transport?
Information centre. The staff need to be selected or motivated such that they are less unhelpful. And they need not to be absent for long periods.
Telephone enquiries. This should not be a national rate call. The operators should have local knowledge so as to be able to give sensible information, not just be slaves of a computer.
Real time info about bus arrival times. This can be very helpful and re-assuring. But presumably the system is expensive and would be less needed if services were more reliable. In The Netherlands one can set one’s watch by the arrival time of one’s bus or tram. They work exactly to the schedule, which is clearly displayed.
Raised pavements. A nice idea but implementation leaves much to be desired, and would hardly be needed if more buses could ‘kneel’ to lower platform. They are of course worse than normal kerbs if the bus does not stop near them, as is often the case. They should be located minding that people ideally should queue facing the oncoming bus and with the head of the queue at the stop sign, or the end of the shelter nearest the direction from which the bus comes.
Overall. If these central areas are to be regarded as a "Hub" they need to be integrated particularly as regards signage and accessibility. BCC should obtain the co-operation of the bus operators, and hire a design and information consultant to produce a comprehensive, simple, coherent information system, preferably based on conventions used in continental Europe. The system would include all the elements I have mentioned and may require better methods of identifying bus stops.
If the authorities balk at hiring an appropriate consultancy they should identify a suitable official and require her or him to study public transport information provision in countries such as the Netherlands.
There needs to be an arrangement whereby these systems and pedestrian facilities are monitored and rectified frequently.
Dissatisfaction with the bus services is very high, exceptions: elderly passengers (concessions) living near the centre (frequent services).
BCC might consider more and better shelters, and some covered walkways between bus stops. Also a cycle park in The Centre, covered by CCTV. BCC could encourage cycle hire businesses.
I saw no low-pollution buses, and a few emit black clouds.
1. My experience using what was claimed to be our Transpport Hub
Appendix 1. My experience using what was claimed to be our Transpport Hub
My interest in public transport had been rekindled when I arrived at the Marlborough Street coach station in 2002 from London Heathrow and had experienced difficulty in finding my way by bus to Totterdown, which I knew to be a short way past the main railway station at Temple Meads. I was eventually directed to a bus stop in nearby Broadmead to get a bus to the railway station, where I changed to one to Totterdown. The journey was very slow as the bus competed with heavy traffic as it wound round the shops, and there is no free transfer.
I broke off from writing this to telephone First Bus local transport information to ascertain if I had needed to go into Broadmead. Dialing the number published on one of their timetables a recording informed me I needed to dial a national rate number, which I did. I was then informed that to get from Marlborough Street I should get the bus 376 from Lewins Mead, which was half hourly. The 1100 would get me to Totterdown at 1108. There was no mention of any other service.
I then decided to use the bus map to identify if any other bus route would have done. The map is large, very colourful (with subtle shades as the only reference from the map to the explanations), and in my view so complex as to be almost incomprehensible. However, it seems that there is indeed no other service from what was claimed to be Bristol’s Transsport Hub to the main railway station and the Bristol and Bath roads which serve the entire south and souteastern parts of the city!
All other times that I have used coach services I have accessed the coach station by private car or as a motor-bike pillion passenger.
More examples of bus service being inconvenient and out of touch.
Took child to school, tried using bus (usually walk). Driver cross as I didn't know destination stop name I just said two stops from here. Price £1.20. Nice to get free "Metro". Found that bus stop is called "Brecknock Road" silly as that is some way off, nearer are two other roads one called School Road, better name for the stop as it's near the school. Found that my (no name visible) local stop is called Three Lamps tho 175 yds from them and much nearer Cambridge Street. Another stop not far from Three Lamps is called Totterdown Bridge tho few know of or use that bridge. Found (no name visible) stop known as The Bush is called Bushy Park a name otherwise unknown in this area. Some buses do not stop at "Three Lamps" stop and next stop is approx half mile (750 m) beyond. Even further from "Totterdown Bridge".
Interviewed young man walking into town - long list of angry comments especially re fares very high and varying at different times of the day.
Friend asked me re bus to UWE from "Three Lamps". Took me 10 minutes establishing routes and times using bus map and complete set of timetables (which info office had been very reluctant to give me). Scheduled time c 45 minutes; but friend prefers to go by car, taking bike for last part as he knows parking restricted at UWE.
Appendix 2. Notes taken when investigating "The Hub".
The Centre, east side.
Walking from one stop to another, starting nr St Stephen’s St, Un-named Bus Stop (BS), except re Night Flyers. Non-First bus parked in bay, driver resting.
30 yds on, AdShel, Local Bus Information (LBI), additional notice re BS alteration (would need good local knowledge to understand it), no stop name, no stop id
10 yd on, id: CP, AdShel, LBI, 9 routes, seems all out of town buses so why is it called ‘Local Bus Information’?
Interview, mid age woman: not a convenient interchange, people are always stopping me for information, often say they’ve been looking all over, often mis-charged, she and others often complain, today left Brislington 8.40, arrived C Centre 9.30. At Hicks Gate (?) drivers often dont stop (X39 route).
Observe pedestrian traffic conflict at Balwin Street. Peds get green 20 sec, traffic 60 sec though much of that time no cars, peds take the plunge. At end of red phases I counted 12 cars waiting, 20 plus Peds waiting.
BS id CO, Adshal, 9 routes, LBI mentions another route, temp sign re BS alteration, real time display faulty: 9 looks like a 5. Bewildered shopper (late mid age woman, lugging heavy bags) worried about which BS, been waiting here, hurries elsewhere.
20 yds, Adshel, LBI 4 routes, no BS id.
Interview: elderly couple, Service not bad normally but disaster this am, one bus didnt stop for us, next drove like a madman, sent everyone flying, glad to get off. Price OK: £1.40 all day anywhere [first I’d heard of this]. But prefer Southampton –free bus from station to shops.
Interview: young woman, Service fine, fares OK. But I use taxi in evenings, too many dodgy people on bus.
Bus stop with huge puddle. (See my main text). Following a downpour, but puddle did not recede noticeably in half hour. Measured 3 inches deep c 2 ft from kerb. Driver made old man step in it to get on bus, I asked why not pull up to kerb, he abusive, then said/indicated didnt want bus wheels to push more water onto pavement. (Watched other drivers take bus up to pavement.)
Lewins Mead east-bound. BS id Hn. No shelter. Some LBI 4 routes evening Sundays and BHs.
Rupert St West bound, id CU !!, (is this an error) Rte 902, No shelter, good info on P&R, map, fares,
BS CP, X39 stopped here tho no indication on BS that it should. Similarly 178 stops at nearby BS tho not suggested by information.
THE CENTRE eastbound just W of Denmark St
BS id: CJ, No shelter, LBI map mostly obscured by handwritten notice BS alteration.
100yds, BS id CG, Shelter, BS flag says Rte 90 and 490 but no info in LBI.
20 yd, BS id CF, Adshel,
BS id CD Shelter, Flag says 13 routes, LBI gives info on all except N3, and 3 routes have route only not times.
30 yd CC Adshel, 6 routes (very small writing) LBI seems to omit info, cant see because very narrow pavement.
Lewins Mead: BS He, Adshel, No routes on flag
Haymarket eastbound, Shelter named Broadmead, No BS id, Routes inc London flyer listed on flag not all same as routes listed in LBI. Two temporary notices (both saying same but one uses 12 hr clock, other 24).
Few yds, BS id Ri (tho it looks more like Bi, and according to map should be Rj) route numbers very small on flag, shelter, LBI very many routes
Few yds (i.e. about 20 from ‘Broadmead’) BS id RJ, BS named Haymarket, very good flag on own pole 6 routes nice and clear. But LBI omits mention two of them.
Interview posh man going to London. Was it (this stop) easy to find? Yes, friend brought me in car. Finds coach to London quite good but unreliable. Came in by car as No 54 too unreliable. Been waiting 10 mins at this stop (I suggest he checks; later see him in coach station).
Interview young man: Buses OK to Glos Road, fares very high, usually walks.
Interview woman with baby and push chair: Got car but uses bus (574) to town frequently due to scary traffric also parking fees. Buses themselves no good, only one vehicle on my route is OK for pushchair, price is OK as I get tokens as daughter disabled
Interview young couple: First time using this bus/area, usually use car, come from Wells, getting coach to London, local buses horrible.
Walk into Bus Station: Steps (later discover obscure ramps), study notices about closures located near cafe, notice says see details outside cafe, thinks do they mean this cafe, these details? Hard to understand, far too much detail, dates way into the future. Watch Px alight from taxi in middle of service road, another taxi near miss; notice kerb ramps blocked, one needlessly (plenty of space) by parked truck, other by spare crush barrier section.
Enter station, can’t see info room, see empty "Help Desk", conversation with posh man, seems unperturbed re wasted time as he has not missed the bus, but he had been told he had to get it outside "Bristol Packet" pub. Had always thought this Bus Station was called "Broadmead B.S." Says it shouild be called "Central B.S.".
Interview elderly couple: No problems, very happy, hadn’t heard anything about any closures.
Interview another elderly couple. Had been told station closed, would have to wait outside "Bristol Fashion" pub. Phoned to ask where it was and was told no closures at this time. Had come from Chipping Sodbury, bus expensive and unreliable so got early one hence long wait here.
Interview young man: Uses 358 frequently. Bad service, Unreliable, late, often smelly, very expensive, definitely not satisfied.
End of Appendix 2.
Return to Politics/Environment Index
Return to Blog Home Page