TransWilts CRP, CIC and Melksham RUG
Public and sustainable transport in Wiltshire

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For 2023 - we are now fully retired from IT training.
We have made many, many friends over 25 years of teaching about Python, Tcl, Perl, PHP, Lua, Java, C and C++ - and MySQL, Linux and Solaris/SunOS too. Our training notes are now very much out of date, but due to upward compatability most of our examples remain operational and even relevant ad you are welcome to make us if them "as seen" and at your own risk.

Lisa and I (Graham) now live in what was our training centre in Melksham - happy to meet with former delegates here - but do check ahead before coming round. We are far from inactive - rather, enjoying the times that we are retired but still healthy enough in mind and body to be active!

I am also active in many other area and still look after a lot of web sites - you can find an index ((here))
Why we have two buses an hour - but not a half hourly service

A problem

We have two buses an hour to Bath. But that's not a half hourly service - they run within a few minutes of each other and then leave a gap that's little short of an hour. On the return from Bath, the two buses are scheduled to leave two minutes apart, and most of the day they're just a minute apart when they get back to Melksham.

We have two buses an hour from Chippenham too ... and the same grouping occurs. Departures at 08:57 and 09:00, 09:57 and 10:00, 10:57 and 11:00, 11:57 and 12:00 ... would be far better spread out (as far as I am concerned) to leave at 08:30, 09:00, 09:30, 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30 and 12:00.

Am I a lone voice saying "the current scheduling is not in the best interest of people who want to travel" and also "look - if you run the buses evenly, you'll encourage a rise in passenger numbers using the total service to the benefit of the bus operator's farebox income too"? No - I'm not a lone voice ... the topic's not a new one, and came up again in at the Core Strategy discussions on Thursday evening - in some ways a little off topic, but in others it's an example of some of the crazy situations that really ought to be sorted for the mutual benefit of service providers, service users, and service subsidizers.

Within limits, if you increase the frequency of a public transport service along a major flow, you'll increase the passenger numbers. A very rough rule of thumb says that a service's steepest increase of use is when the service frequency and journey times are about equal - so that enormous traffic gains are to be made when an service with 55 minute gaps is increased to one with 30 minute gaps where typical journey times on the service are 25 to 35 minutes

Update - June 2010 - [Current Bath < --- > Melksham timetable]


Why do we have such an odd situation where the buses are so uneven that the overall service seems designed to suppress use, and where the timetable is both a laughing stock and a frustration to the people who use it or who want to use it? It all appears to come down to the competitions system, the subsidy system, and the apparent desire of the operators to put their profit before passengers.

Bus operators running 'commercial' services are free to run to any schedule they like, subject only to giving six weeks notice of changes.

Both of the "Great Cross" service through Melksham - Chippenham to Trowbridge and beyond, and Bath to Devizes and beyond - ran hourly, provided by Badgerline - for years. The service was taken over by the First group who continue to run the derivate service, at fares which we find steep. Along came Fosseway Coaches, looking at the lucrative market in which the existing service had a monopoly, and decided to compete. So they added services just ahead of the existing service, with a view (it would appear) to "mopping up" early passengers at the bus stops along the way. Fosseway are now Faresaver.

Faresaver's little wheeze appears to work well for them - a high proportion of bus travelers make their journeys free at the point of traveling - on senior citizens passes, for the most part, and such travelers will get onto whatever bus comes along - especially as the second (or First) bus isn't very reliable at present - see [here].

But it's not just simply a question of people getting on one bus or another. Tickets are not interchangeable, which is highly frustrating to the minority who actually pay as they travel and buy return or regular tickets to try to keep the cost per journey down somewhat. On many journeys, Faresaver is actually more expensive. in spite of the name which is, I think, derived from their scheme under which you make 10 journeys at full price and can get the 11th for "free"; I consider this misleading, and my view is shared by others.

Interestingly, travelers who don't pay when they travel (i.e. on bus passes) will get on any bus, and the local taxpayer will later pick up their bill which is a proportion of the regular fare - so it's a valid commercial practice (though you may consider it a sharp one) to hike fares as high as possible and go for the "don't know / care how much it costs the taxpayer" market. And - let's face it - I expect that if you ask the typical bus pass traveler what the regular fare would be, who is actually paying for them, and how much, they probably wouldn't know anyway.

One final piece of information for the jigsaw, before we speculate on solutions. By law, the bus companies are not allowed to arrange things directly between themselves as this would be a cartel and anti-competitive to anyone else who wanted to come into the market. There are / have been solutions to this in the past - with split operations on routes such as X4 / X5 (Bath to Salisbury) which has now been split into two at Warminster, and X49 (Swindon to Trowbridge) which is - I think - now single operator.

Wouldn't it make the most enormous sense for everyone to run a regular - half hourly - service on each route. Passengers would gain. Passengers would be gained. Buses would be more heavily loaded. Income would be greater for both bus companies ... but the problem is "how do we get there from here"

Exploring solutions

And, suddenly, I come to a halt in writing.

I've been able to describe the absurd situation we have. I've been able to describe where we should be. But I'm darned if I can see an easy way to get where we should be from where we are.

Is there a lead that "The County" could take - rather like a a "golden share" - through which they could offer a subsidy of 1p per journey (that's about 400 pounds per year in total) to two operators but specifying more closely the service they wish to buy? Perhaps I should ask County ... ;-)

In fact - perhaps I should offer County the 400 pounds per annum as Sponsorship - "This timetable is sponsored by Well House Manor - the Melksham Business Hotel"

Update - 30th November 2009

I have been copied in on previous correspondence from the Council - and reproduce a reply dated 14th April 2009 from the council leader, with permission:

Dear Mr Xxxxx

Thank you for your email. I have looked into the issues you raise regarding the buses 234 and X34 and unfortunately the uneven spacing of buses on these services is because the two bus companies that run on these routes are in competition with each other and have no interest in operating an evenly spaced timetable. In particular, the Faresaver bus company prefers to time its buses to always run a few minutes in front of the buses operated by First, as it believes it will pick up more passengers that way. Whilst this may seem rather wasteful, it is perfectly legal and regrettably there is nothing that the Council can do to change the situation as we are confined by the Transport Act 1985.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

It strikes me that there may actually be some opportunities, now, to re-address the situation. Up until 1st April 2009, Wiltshire County Council did indeed have no input as it wasn't providing funding for the services and - as stated - was confined.

From that date, the unitary authority took over the District's responsibilities for making payments for "Free" bus passes to the bus operators so in effect it is now the largest paymaster of Faresaver; I wonder whether that gives it any influence.

Finally, I wonder if the new Community Area Partnership, which is an independent body that can do things with out some restrictions, could play a hand in brokering a deal. A lot of it comes down to what carrot (if any) can be offered to sort the situation which isn't good for the passengers out; I would much rather that than any stick, even if I was sure that one is available.

Update - 15th July 2010. Comment from Anon (but known to me)

... On to another subject and following the Government  [82][ac] Ä s recent request for details of laws that could be modified or even abandoned to improve daily life I wrote to Duncan Hames drawing his attention to the duplication of bus services running just minutes apart locally and in other parts of the country and suggested that the logic of the law was correct to bring about competition but now needs to be redrafted to ensure buses run over similar routes by competitors are equally spaced in time interval throughout the journey route to provide a better service to the public. Last Friday morning in Melksham there as a 234 an X34 and a few minutes later an X31 and 231 all following one another nose to tail.
(written 2009-11-28, updated 2010-07-16)

Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter for individual articles
Z511 - Public Transport - Road
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  [187] a popular bus number - (2005-01-23)
  [459] Kiss and Ride - (2005-10-09)
  [474] Vintage Bus Day - (2005-10-23)
  [764] Journey planning - Xephos v Transport Direct - (2006-06-16)
  [818] Heard, yes. Considered, no. The case for the train. - (2006-07-30)
  [1085] Lawrence Webb's Melksham Taxi service - (2007-02-18)
  [1125] Train service - petititon reply - (2007-03-31)
  [1254] Comparing bus stops - (2007-07-01)
  [1315] Two years of campaigning for a train service - (2007-08-22)
  [1428] Travel Across Wiltshire - the game - (2007-11-11)
  [1511] Buses from Well House Manor, Melksham, to Bath - (2008-01-18)
  [1560] HST Power Car TravelWatch SouthWest - (2008-03-01)
  [1567] Melksham - Swindon. Train v Bus v Car - (2008-03-07)
  [1668] Talk on TransWilts train service to Green Party - (2008-06-07)
  [1723] Bath - Melksham - Devizes. Bus route changes, new timetable - (2008-07-26)
  [1777] The Rise and Rise of First Bus Fares - (2008-08-29)
  [2075] Supporting Parkinsons and Trains - (2009-03-11)
  [2083] Do you support a decent train service? Please sign up! - (2009-03-15)
  [2268] Westbury Bypass Refused - looking forward - (2009-07-04)
  [2328] Melksham - no trains, no southbound buses through the town - (2009-08-08)
  [2372] Public Transport from (and to) Melksham on Sundays - (2009-08-23)
  [2431] Moving busstop! - (2009-09-30)
  [2522] Integrated public Transport - what could be done for Melksham - (2009-12-01)
  [2533] Five guests, three groups, one car - (2009-12-11)
  [2662] Is Melksham public transport actually used? - (2010-03-05)
  [2672] Dear Planners, please provide viable alternatives - (2010-03-11)
  [2771] Melksham to Calne by public transport - (2010-05-20)
  [2789] Melksham to London (Heathrow, and Central London) - (2010-06-02)
  [2791] Bath to Melksham buses - times - (2010-06-03)
  [2857] Park and Ride at Batheaston - will it solve Wiltshires Ills? - (2010-07-06)
  [2903] Bath to Devizes bus via Melksham - changing again in September - (2010-08-04)
  [2919] London to Calne, Corsham, Melksham, Bradford-on-Avon, Chippenham by public Transport - (2010-08-13)
  [2933] Bath - Melksham - Devizes buses from September - (2010-08-23)
  [2958] What do these road markings mean? Could Confusion Kill? - (2010-09-17)
  [2982] Travel, Transport and Tourism - A vision for Melksham, 2026 - (2010-10-03)
  [2983] Strong arm tactics in the bus industry? Poor result for the customer! - (2010-10-03)
  [3126] Car Parking in Melksham - thoughts on the proposed scheme, and wider thoughts too - (2011-01-09)
  [3194] Buses - what they cost and their future direction in the SW and in Wiltshire - (2011-03-06)
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  [3301] Using public transport - USA style - (2011-05-25)
  [3404] Buses on the Cambridge Guided Busway - (2011-08-24)
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  [3487] Public transport - road and rail - (2011-10-19)
  [3504] Coaches from Trowbridge and Melksham to London - (2011-11-01)
  [3523] When competition is not a good idea - Melksham Bus Absurdity - (2011-11-16)
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  [3849] New bus times - Melksham to Bath - (2012-08-25)
  [3850] Bus times - Chippenham Station to Melksham, with London connections - (2012-08-25)
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  [3893] Public Transport across Wiltshire - a new map - (2012-10-13)
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  [3937] Agenda for Wiltshire Link Travel groups meeting, Saturday 1st December 2012 - (2012-11-27)
  [3938] A long overdue meeting - a steeping stone towards coordinate transport user inputs - (2012-12-02)
  [3951] Christmas Bus Schedule for Melksham - First Bus - (2012-12-14)
  [4022] A request for all of Melksham transport groups to work integrated - (2013-03-01)
  [4023] Melksham to Chippenham (Station) bus services - times and routes - (2013-03-01)
  [4032] Easier public transport from Melksham to Bristol Airport - (2013-03-06)
  [4108] The painful cost of local travel to Melksham - (2013-06-01)
  [4111] Zigzag bus - forward for the future, or decaying service? - (2013-06-09)
  [4113] Wiltshire and Melksham Transport - what is going on? - (2013-06-09)
  [4123] New timetables from 28th July - bus routes 271 and 272 - (2013-06-24)
  [4124] Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge bus changes next month - (2013-06-26)
  [4143] Bus times - Melksham to Bath from 28th July 2013 - (2013-07-25)
  [4149] Bus changes to Bath - good idea, but I despair at information available - (2013-08-08)
  [4150] Melksham Regular Public Transport Map - as at August 2013 - (2013-08-09)
  [4152] Why are bus fares so high? - (2013-08-18)
  [4171] Mapping road accidents in Melksham and elsewhere too - (2013-09-12)
  [4179] Changing transport and destinations - looking forward to a good future - (2013-09-19)
  [4181] Grumbling about trains? Buses can be far worse! - (2013-09-29)
  [4186] Melksham to Bath and Zigzag buses - at a turning point? - (2013-10-06)
  [4190] A radical proposal - a cheap and effective way to provide home to city commuter transport - (2013-10-11)
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  [4192] A positive progress behind the scenes - (2013-10-14)
  [4194] TransWilts Link - meeting notes from 19th October - (2013-10-20)
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  [4240] Melksham Rail Link - (2014-01-27)
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  [4615] Questions for First (West of England) - (2016-01-05)
  [4619] Buses - not about the buses, but about the people who use the buses - (2016-01-10)
  [4624] Campaigning for a sensible bus solution and not against anyone! - (2016-01-17)
  [4629] Making travel time useful time on public transport - (2016-01-22)
  [4631] What would the Wiltshire Council bus cuts mean for Melksham? - (2016-01-25)
  [4636] Rail user groups worried about what is happening on the buses - (2016-01-31)
  [4639] Working out the costs of running a bus service through the day - (2016-02-06)
  [4648] Why is bus funding a much hotter topic than a new set of traffic lights? - (2016-02-16)
  [4654] Getting to the Royal United Hospital - the Hopper and the alternatives - (2016-02-24)
  [4660] What is happening on the 231 bus? What are you going to do about it? - (2016-03-04)
  [4664] Mallory Place bus stop - services to Bath - (2016-03-25)
  [4667] Wiltshire Supported Bus consultation - final few days - (2016-03-30)
  [4670] The end, or the start? - (2016-04-05)
  [4683] Saudi Arabia or Weymouth? - (2016-05-22)
  [4690] Buses in Wiltshire - potential changes and where we stand at the moment - (2016-05-30)
  [4692] How are bus support payments currently calculated? - (2016-06-07)
  [4703] What do people use the bus for in Wiltshire - survey interim results. - (2016-07-11)

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Some other Articles
Status Page / breaks of service in early December
Through the arches
Blogging accuracy - open invitation for any corrections
Why we have two buses an hour - but not a half hourly service
The road show has been - where now?
Wiltshire Council purchases Melksham Station Land
Kim of the Castle
The story of the railway land at Melksham Station
The music of the stock market
A life lesson from the accuracy of numbers in Excel and Lua
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