A Description of Bristol’s Transport Hub.

Opened late in the first decade of the 21st Century.

Last year (2015) I returned to Bristol Temple Meads station – hardly changed in decades except for the new suburban line platforms. I decided to look around. Passengers were pouring off one of the Park and Ride shuttle trains, many heading for the airport-style moving pavement to the city centre. The taxi pickup and drop-down place is now off to the right where there used to be covered car parking. That area also houses an extensive cycle park. There is still some car parking there but only for short stays. Cars, taxis and some buses still use the old approach road, but most buses use the new bus station or PIF (Passenger Interchange Facility) in new-speak, using a bus-only road behind the Commonwealth Museum from the roundabout a few hundred yards away. Buses drop passengers right near the station’s main entrance but do not pick up from there. Instead they swish off onto a new single carriageway bridge towards the PIF close by to the south. I say ‘swish’ because most of the town buses are now electric, only the older ones being powered by LPG.

I went back into the station to use the moving walkway to the PIF. I soon found myself in the Local Transport Information Hall. There are signs to the Coach Station, regional/country buses, the Arena, the car parks, the shopping centre and offices, as well several passageways marked Bay 1, Bay 2, etc sloping down to the bus departure platforms. The Shuttle express bus to the airport, and the shuttle to the City Centre, Hospital and University, have their own bays. In addition to fixed notices about bus routes and times there are illuminated displays about imminent departures and an almost continuous stream of announcements over a PA system. "Bus number 51 to Cribbs Causeway via City Centre, will depart from Bay 4 in two minutes", "Special Bus Number X4 to City Football Ground will depart from Bay 1 in 1 minute", and so on. In the Information Hall there are toilets and several kiosks serving snacks, newspapers, flowers, etc and a local information stand. One kiosk is an office where a controller supervises the flow of the buses and the allocation of bays. Mostly it’s a matter of pressing buttons as the system uses a computer and the announcements are pre-recorded.

There were also passageways signed "Arrivals, No entry" but I went up the slope to see it. As it was a fine day the glass roof was open. Buses disgorge some or all of their passengers here. The passengers then walk down to the Information Hall. The buses go either to a bus parking and crews’ rest area or drive directly down to the low level departure platforms. The entrances and exits used by the buses all have see-through doors which open automatically as the bus approaches.

I was quite impressed by this bus station – a lot of activity in a small space, but the regional or country bus station and the coach station were another 100 yards further off and rather less sophisticated. Still, it’s nice to have it all so convenient and under cover. When they were planning it all some people complained that they preferred the old bus station and the bus stops scattered all around the ‘Centre’. However they soon found that there are plenty of buses from the PIF through the centre. A few routes still terminate there. With the new ticketing system, transfers are free. Many more people are now using the buses and the suburban train services and even the ferry service which is also nearby. The main complaint is that it is funded mostly from congestion charges. But the public transport users like it (and they're by far the majority) and car drivers appreciate the system when they are in a hurry, or really need to go into the centre.

I looked into how all this came about. Up to about 2007 the attitude of the Council was that nothing much could be done to alleviate the congestion, nor to persuade the bus operator to improve their services. The nine corridors with "Showcase Bus" services were expected to cost a lot but it was clear they would hardly improve journey times due to the increase in private traffic that was expected as inevitable. The Broadmead developers had insisted on even more car parking spaces, and the Council did nothing to cut the volume of parking in the centre. So congestion just got worse and worse. The ludicrous, unpopular decision to build 100,000 new homes out in the country didn't help, as anyone could have anticipated. It was not unusual for it to take an hour and a half to get from Whitchurch to Broadmead. Meanwhile global warming affected the climate and that together with all the pollution caused serious health problems. The crunch came when it was realised that all the "integrated transport studies" (there were at least three going on simultaneously in 2004/5!) were producing proposals which though timid were mostly being brushed off by the authorities as impractical. After the asthma epidemic and the Great Gridlock the public finally demanded that the Council take some positive action. The results included the congestion charges, the new suburban rail services, the anti-pollution regulations, the goods depot/delivery system, and the PIF at Temple Meads.

We have to thank the planners and the few courageous politicians who pushed through the necessary measures. Having a few Green Party councillors helped a lot. The motoring lobby continues to whinge, but the fact is that average journey times have been halved, business interests say they're saving £200M a year and the chest wards in the new hospitals have been downsized. I reckon the planners deserved their MBEs!

Stephen Petter




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