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Melksham to Bath and Zigzag buses - at a turning point?

There are 2 buses every hour from Melksham to Bath, Monday to Saturday daytime - the X72 operated by Faresaver  and the 271 / 272 operated by First.   After an extended series of requests, these two services now have a varied route so providing hourly services from Devizes and beyond, Kingsdown, Bathford and Batheaston (X72) and Melksham Forest, Whitley, Purlpit and Box (271/272) and a service roughly every 30 minutes where they come together - Bowerhill, Melksham and Atworth to Bath.   The 271 / 272 also run some evening and Sunday journeys, extended to Devizes and beyond.     

One of the problems of having 2 operators is getting the services to mesh so that they link optimally for the passenger. 

* We heaved a huge sigh of relief when the "every 30 minutes" actually happened - prior to that, the 2 services had run within a few minutes of each other then leaving a 55 minute gap.  In the short gap / long gap scenario, its probable the that bus running ahead mops up lots more passengers than the bus behind, so it's a natural commercial decision to behave like this - but it causes a significant overall loss of traffic on the combined services from people who will catch a bus if they know there will be one there (and back) when they want it - every half hour.

* A "thank you" is due to both companies at times - something we don't often say.  For example to Faresaver for taking on the daytime Devizes services commercially, and to First for rerouting around Bowerhill and Melksham Forest to provide increased / better links from more parts of Melksham to Bath. I know both were commercial decisions, but never the less - THANK YOU from the passengers.

* We still despair at the lack of ticket interchangeability. If you buy a return ticket on Operator X's services, they're only valid for return on operator X.   Similarly, buy a return on operator Y and they're only valid for return on operator Y.   "The commercial market" you may say... except that it's distorted by 50% of the riders being on taxpayer-paid passes, known as concessions.  And these people can treat the service as half hourly; the resulting distortion means that those who our society feels needs the help of "free" travel are fine, and indeed others who pay get the "vibes" that the buses really aren't intended for them.

There is an exception in to the ticket interchangeability in that the return half of a Faresaver ticket is valid back on the evening buses operated by First.   These buses are subsidised by Wiltshire Council, who insist on the cross ticketing arrangement.   Alas, even that small concession has now been reduced - until recently, it applied to services from Bath at 18:20, 20:00 and 23:20 - after the last Faresaver at 17:40.  But now it has been reduced to the 20:00 and 23:20 services ONLY, and I understand there have been heated arguments at Bath Bus station where a ticket that someone has used for years has become invalid.  Very much a step in the wrong direction, and ironic in light of a meeting I had in August with Wiltshire Council's bus people and a bus operating director, at which they indicated that one of the routes forward on the corridor was to sort out interchangeable fares.   I had hoped they were headed towards cross ticket acceptance, not the other way.

It's a tragedy to see resources that could be having far better use of them being used on this bus route - and on the 234 and x34 routes too - when so much of the talk at TravelWatch SouthWest yesterday was of bus cuts, and of the inability of a route to support even one operator in the light of BSOG cuts, reduced local authority funding, increased capital costs for ever-safer and ever-more-accessible vehicles, and reduced concessionary payments per journey for that 50% that doesn't pay when they take the bus.  It needs active co-operation, and that active co-operation vehicle is available in the form of a Quality Bus Partnership.   That's a mechanism where the operators and local council can co-operate together for the common good of the taxpayer's pocket, the fare paying passengers, and the bus companies without being prevented from doing so by competition law (which in my view doesn't work well for buses because they are in an already distorted market).

I believe that Quality Bus Partnerships can work.   In Manchester and Salford over the last two weeks, I've seen buses with different operators with "Proud to be a member of the quality bus partnership" stickers on them, I've seen combined bus route timetables, and other evidence of co-operation and interchangeability.  Alas - the view from the meeting above, from the bus operator, was "Quality bus partnerships can only work where there is one operator and a local authority involved".   I fear that the two companies are so busy with their fight, and each feels they have the upper hand, so that the zeal to fight to the death drowns the very real good that could be done, the overall larger market that could be service, and the subsidy that could be released to support other services.

One other subject that came up at TravelWatch SouthWest yesterday was consultations, of which we seem to get hundreds.  They have been degraded into "tick the box, we have consulted" exercises much of the time - dragged into disrepute - and I can appreciate that many public inputs are based on emotion and impractical ideas that must frustrate the experts.  However, the suggestion was made that a successful consultation should result in the consultees feel in that their inputs have been listed to and given due consideration, even if the outcome isn't what the respondent requested.

So I'm going to highlight, as an example of a GOOD consultation consideration - and that's the one that relates to the linked issue of the zigzag bus and its future -

There's a summary of the main points raised, with written officer's responses.  There's an analysis of responses.   There's a modified draft timetable to be offered for tender, and indeed an option on offer to both bus companies who run commercial services that parallel much of the route (you can guess which two!) to suggest something that will allow their commercial services to be tuned to take in the overall subsidised and commercial elements with a proper network approach rather that singling out and handling each service as if it's isolated in terms of both vehicles and potential passengers from other very close routes.

I have to say... I applaud Wiltshire Council's to hold the August meeting, and then again to offer the possibility to both companies within the tender.   From the consultation response report...

Quote: A suggestion was received through the consultation for an alternative approach involving the revision of other (commercially operated) bus services in the area so as to replace the south end of the Zig Zag service with a regular service running Trowbridge  •[93] Bradford - Holt  •[93] Melksham  •[93] A350  •[93] Chippenham, and the north end with a regular service running Bath  •[93] Corsham  •[93] Whitley- Melksham  •[93] Bowerhill. This could only be achieved with the agreement and active co-operation of the operators of the commercial services, and although meetings were held, this was not forthcoming. An option will however be included in the Zig Zag tender for operators to propose alternative ways of delivering the proposed Zig Zag service, which could include diverting or amending their commercial services.

I hope that one of the two bus companies who are in a position to do so (having commercial services) will take the view that this is worth doing, rather than the inevitable shrinkage of routes at higher subsidy than is needed.   If one of them does,  we'll try to make sure that they get far far more out of it for their company than just a vote of thanks.   If both do, happy days.   If neither does, then that's confirmation that their interests are their own company's gain dominantly over the interests of the public and passengers.
(written 2013-10-06, updated 2013-10-12)

Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter for individual articles
Z511 - Public Transport - Road
  [4703] What do people use the bus for in Wiltshire - survey interim results. - (2016-07-11)
  [4692] How are bus support payments currently calculated? - (2016-06-07)
  [4690] Buses in Wiltshire - potential changes and where we stand at the moment - (2016-05-30)
  [4683] Saudi Arabia or Weymouth? - (2016-05-22)
  [4670] The end, or the start? - (2016-04-05)
  [4667] Wiltshire Supported Bus consultation - final few days - (2016-03-30)
  [4664] Mallory Place bus stop - services to Bath - (2016-03-25)
  [4660] What is happening on the 231 bus? What are you going to do about it? - (2016-03-04)
  [4654] Getting to the Royal United Hospital - the Hopper and the alternatives - (2016-02-24)
  [4648] Why is bus funding a much hotter topic than a new set of traffic lights? - (2016-02-16)
  [4639] Working out the costs of running a bus service through the day - (2016-02-06)
  [4636] Rail user groups worried about what is happening on the buses - (2016-01-31)
  [4631] What would the Wiltshire Council bus cuts mean for Melksham? - (2016-01-25)
  [4629] Making travel time useful time on public transport - (2016-01-22)
  [4624] Campaigning for a sensible bus solution and not against anyone! - (2016-01-17)
  [4619] Buses - not about the buses, but about the people who use the buses - (2016-01-10)
  [4615] Questions for First (West of England) - (2016-01-05)
  [4592] A comparison of the public transport alternatives to the Royal United Hospital, Bath - from Melksham. - (2015-12-06)
  [4547] RUH Hopper - experience and thoughts forward - (2015-10-20)
  [4546] Is the RUH hopper a limited, duplicate service running unnecessarily and at high cost? - (2015-10-18)
  [4500] The TransWilts Community Intergrated Transport Corridor - (2015-05-29)
  [4425] A Welsh valley - what the transport looks like in 2015 - (2015-02-14)
  [4290] National Express replaced by train and by Megabus from Chippenham to London - (2014-07-16)
  [4286] Reaction in Radstock to new First bus prices - (2014-07-12)
  [4263] Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge, public transport over Easter (2014) - (2014-04-12)
  [4257] Over a pound a kilometre - my bus in Weston-super-mare - (2014-04-06)
  [4247] You wait a long time - then buses come in threes. It's timetabled that way! - (2014-03-09)
  [4240] Melksham Rail Link - (2014-01-27)
  [4228] Mallory Place, The Spa, Wellington Drive, Melksham - a Christmas present for you - (2013-12-26)
  [4194] TransWilts Link - meeting notes from 19th October - (2013-10-20)
  [4192] A positive progress behind the scenes - (2013-10-14)
  [4191] Getting people to and from Melksham Station - not 20 but 700 times a day - (2013-10-12)
  [4190] A radical proposal - a cheap and effective way to provide home to city commuter transport - (2013-10-11)
  [4181] Grumbling about trains? Buses can be far worse! - (2013-09-29)
  [4179] Changing transport and destinations - looking forward to a good future - (2013-09-19)
  [4171] Mapping road accidents in Melksham and elsewhere too - (2013-09-12)
  [4152] Why are bus fares so high? - (2013-08-18)
  [4150] Melksham Regular Public Transport Map - as at August 2013 - (2013-08-09)
  [4149] Bus changes to Bath - good idea, but I despair at information available - (2013-08-08)
  [4143] Bus times - Melksham to Bath from 28th July 2013 - (2013-07-25)
  [4124] Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge bus changes next month - (2013-06-26)
  [4123] New timetables from 28th July - bus routes 271 and 272 - (2013-06-24)
  [4113] Wiltshire and Melksham Transport - what is going on? - (2013-06-09)
  [4111] Zigzag bus - forward for the future, or decaying service? - (2013-06-09)
  [4108] The painful cost of local travel to Melksham - (2013-06-01)
  [4032] Easier public transport from Melksham to Bristol Airport - (2013-03-06)
  [4023] Melksham to Chippenham (Station) bus services - times and routes - (2013-03-01)
  [4022] A request for all of Melksham transport groups to work integrated - (2013-03-01)
  [3951] Christmas Bus Schedule for Melksham - First Bus - (2012-12-14)
  [3938] A long overdue meeting - a steeping stone towards coordinate transport user inputs - (2012-12-02)
  [3937] Agenda for Wiltshire Link Travel groups meeting, Saturday 1st December 2012 - (2012-11-27)
  [3929] Melksham Bus Issues - to be raised at First Bus Customer Panel - (2012-11-21)
  [3904] Want to help us improve transport in Wiltshire? Here is how! - (2012-10-26)
  [3893] Public Transport across Wiltshire - a new map - (2012-10-13)
  [3879] Mixed mode travel - Information systems - (2012-10-03)
  [3877] Public Transport Services - from and to Melksham - (2012-10-01)
  [3866] Celebrate! Buses from Meksham to Bath - (2012-09-18)
  [3850] Bus times - Chippenham Station to Melksham, with London connections - (2012-08-25)
  [3849] New bus times - Melksham to Bath - (2012-08-25)
  [3699] Bristol 50? Bristol 25? - (2012-04-17)
  [3631] Getting around Dublin by public transport - some observations - (2012-03-01)
  [3580] Melksham Area - buses, trains, cycles, and roads. Meeting, 17.1.2012 - (2012-01-15)
  [3579] Transport in Cambridgeshire - seen by an outside observer. What can Wiltshire learn? - (2012-01-15)
  [3564] I wish I was not a special case - (2011-12-29)
  [3523] When competition is not a good idea - Melksham Bus Absurdity - (2011-11-16)
  [3504] Coaches from Trowbridge and Melksham to London - (2011-11-01)
  [3487] Public transport - road and rail - (2011-10-19)
  [3486] How important is public transport to people in the Melksham area? - (2011-10-19)
  [3471] Vintage Bus Running Day in Warminster. An example of good bus practise. - (2011-10-09)
  [3404] Buses on the Cambridge Guided Busway - (2011-08-24)
  [3301] Using public transport - USA style - (2011-05-25)
  [3290] Changes (and no changes) at Melksham bus stops - (2011-05-15)
  [3194] Buses - what they cost and their future direction in the SW and in Wiltshire - (2011-03-06)
  [3126] Car Parking in Melksham - thoughts on the proposed scheme, and wider thoughts too - (2011-01-09)
  [2983] Strong arm tactics in the bus industry? Poor result for the customer! - (2010-10-03)
  [2982] Travel, Transport and Tourism - A vision for Melksham, 2026 - (2010-10-03)
  [2958] What do these road markings mean? Could Confusion Kill? - (2010-09-17)
  [2933] Bath - Melksham - Devizes buses from September - (2010-08-23)
  [2919] London to Calne, Corsham, Melksham, Bradford-on-Avon, Chippenham by public Transport - (2010-08-13)
  [2903] Bath to Devizes bus via Melksham - changing again in September - (2010-08-04)
  [2857] Park and Ride at Batheaston - will it solve Wiltshires Ills? - (2010-07-06)
  [2791] Bath to Melksham buses - times - (2010-06-03)
  [2789] Melksham to London (Heathrow, and Central London) - (2010-06-02)
  [2771] Melksham to Calne by public transport - (2010-05-20)
  [2672] Dear Planners, please provide viable alternatives - (2010-03-11)
  [2662] Is Melksham public transport actually used? - (2010-03-05)
  [2533] Five guests, three groups, one car - (2009-12-11)
  [2522] Integrated public Transport - what could be done for Melksham - (2009-12-01)
  [2515] Why we have two buses an hour - but not a half hourly service - (2009-11-28)
  [2431] Moving busstop! - (2009-09-30)
  [2372] Public Transport from (and to) Melksham on Sundays - (2009-08-23)
  [2328] Melksham - no trains, no southbound buses through the town - (2009-08-08)
  [2268] Westbury Bypass Refused - looking forward - (2009-07-04)
  [2083] Do you support a decent train service? Please sign up! - (2009-03-15)
  [2075] Supporting Parkinsons and Trains - (2009-03-11)
  [1777] The Rise and Rise of First Bus Fares - (2008-08-29)
  [1723] Bath - Melksham - Devizes. Bus route changes, new timetable - (2008-07-26)
  [1668] Talk on TransWilts train service to Green Party - (2008-06-07)
  [1567] Melksham - Swindon. Train v Bus v Car - (2008-03-07)
  [1560] HST Power Car TravelWatch SouthWest - (2008-03-01)
  [1511] Buses from Well House Manor, Melksham, to Bath - (2008-01-18)
  [1428] Travel Across Wiltshire - the game - (2007-11-11)
  [1315] Two years of campaigning for a train service - (2007-08-22)
  [1254] Comparing bus stops - (2007-07-01)
  [1125] Train service - petititon reply - (2007-03-31)
  [1085] Lawrence Webb's Melksham Taxi service - (2007-02-18)
  [818] Heard, yes. Considered, no. The case for the train. - (2006-07-30)
  [764] Journey planning - Xephos v Transport Direct - (2006-06-16)
  [474] Vintage Bus Day - (2005-10-23)
  [459] Kiss and Ride - (2005-10-09)
  [187] a popular bus number - (2005-01-23)
  [119] PHP course. Come by train. - (2004-11-15)

Z408 - TravelWatch SouthWest
  [4424] Looking Forward - TransWilts Community Rail Partnership and TransWilts CIC - (2015-02-12)
  [4397] TransWilts / Press and Publicity report for AGM / 30th January 2015 - (2015-01-17)
  [4188] Extended Weekend - but not a quiet one! - (2013-10-07)
  [4185] TransWilts Trains - running a successful campaign talk - (2013-10-05)
  [4173] Train and Rail Travel - who runs it and where do I ask questions? - (2013-09-13)
  [4040] Report on the last year - Melksham Railway Developement Group for Melksham Without Parish Council - (2013-03-11)
  [3882] Community Transport - Pewsey, Taunton, and the whole picture too - (2012-10-06)
  [3677] Some advise for guest speakers at meetings - (2012-03-31)
  [3221] How long is a speech? - (2011-03-29)
  [2954] Railway meetings, trips and meetups this autumn - (2010-09-12)
  [2748] Monitoring the success and traffic of your web site - (2010-05-01)
  [2666] Random thoughts on Melksham Town Planning and development - (2010-03-08)
  [2664] Oliver Cromwell at Bristol Temple Meads - (2010-03-06)
  [2438] Listening to The Minister - (2009-10-05)
  [1966] Background to the TransWilts Train Fiasco - (2008-12-29)

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Not treading water, but not risking the ship for a 0.5th of tar either
Some other Articles
Who are we - Lisa, Graham, Gypsy and Billy
Not treading water, but not risking the ship for a 0.5th of tar either
Melksham to Bath and Zigzag buses - at a turning point?
A fond memory
Reaching a hotel standard where 99% of guests would return - and maintaining that standard
Welcome to Salford and Oldham
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