Time to put the Quality into Quality Bus Partnerships

posted 4 Feb 2013, 09:29 by Roy McDonald   [ updated 11 May 2014, 03:02 ]

In a previous life, I spent a number of years specifying and tendering for bus services who’s primary purpose was to put a line on an otherwise empty area of map – services which didn’t take the people where they wanted to go, or followed such circuitous routes to avoid abstracting from commercial services that they became torture to use and to operate!

With that background, I am an advocate of Quality Bus Partnerships (QBPs), and firmly believe that it is right for operators and local authorities to be speaking the same language and sharing the same objectives.

However, QBPs are tending to focus primarily on the high frequency, urban corridors. Nothing wrong with that in that they will reach the highest volumes of passengers.
I have recently had course to use the services on some of the QBP corridors in my home area on Merseyside. As a result, this has raised a number of questions in my mind:

·         Do “Quality Bus Partnerships” actually mean anything to the passengers?

·         Have the QBPs yet done anything to improve the quality of the service?

·         Have they delivered anything which makes them stand out to the non-regular user as different (or better) and worthy of further investigation?

True, the QBPs have eradicated some of the ticketing and timetable anomalies which have been a source of irritation to regular travellers, but in so doing have also led to the withdrawal of the Magicbus operation, whose low fares were greatly valued by travellers in the deprived neighbourhood it served.

On one corridor I travelled the public timetables do not show the times of buses at several of the key intermediate district centres or at a major acute hospital. To the casual user, this can cast doubts in the mind - Does the bus go there?

On another corridor, where the two operators are timetabled to provide a six minute frequency each, the bunching of buses into convoys of 3 or 4 is commonplace.

On a third, the saw-tooth design of an intermediate stop serving a major acute hospital  makes it virtually impossible for drivers to align the bus parallel to the kerb, which coupled with severe ponding during wet weather means passengers boarding and alighting risk very wet feet and a large step up or down.

On too many occasions I found buses stewn with discarded free newspapers and discarded concessionary travel receipts, food and drink cartons – and a number of buses would definitely benefit from the “Febreeze experiment”!

On many of the corridors the ride quality in he bus lanes was extremely poor, as buses crashed over sunken manholes and poorly reinstated roadworks.
I recognise that Partnerships can not address everything at once, but my recent travelling experiences have suggested that much more needs to be done – and be seen to be done, jointly, to look at bus operation, as outsiders will see it, and address the deficiencies, if we are to be truly able to define our principal bus services as a “Quality” product.

Then we might be able to sell that product to a sceptical public?