Option 24/7 for Wiltshire's buses
Looking forward for Wiltshire's public transport

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The story behind the bus cuts, and what they could mean

I'm going to post this in "purely personal" because I may regret going public and having labels on it at a future date.

The top brass at Wiltshire Council require each department to make a 10% saving in expenditure in the year from April 2017 to March 2018 - that's making cuts that will come in just after the council elections on 4th(?) May 2017 for the most part by the time 2016/17 contracts have run out.

Public Transport has a current bill of around 26 million pounds. The majority of that comes from school transport, then there's social transport for the social care folks, the council's own vehicle fleet which comes under this sector, the cost of running the department, and 5.1 million pounds for public bus subsidies. School and social transport is mandated, clearly council staff need to travel and the whole thing has to be organised, and (so I am told) those sections have already been pared to the bone, so the 2.6 million has to come (almost?) entirely from the public transport subsidy budget. We are reminded that the council is required to consider what subsidy it should offer to public transport, but it's perfectly free to decide after consideration it should offer none at all.

There are various ways of cutting the need for subsidy. You could, for example, help sell and market the services so they make more income. You could alter routes so that they attract more passengers (why doesn't the no. 2 stop at Stonehenge or the X5 at Salisbury Station?). You could alter timings so that buses connect (the old route 270 was split, and now you have a 55 minute wait in Devizes if you want to travel through). You could send alternate buses along different routes and cut out the need for intermediate country buses. You could run early morning and early evening buses so people could use buses to get to work and home (so often one but not the other is available). You could provide stable contracts for operators so that they could invest and develop the services they run, and so that passengers could take up employment relying on buses. Well - you could do these things if you could look at the network as a whole, and if they hadn't been put into the "too difficult" and "we don't have the time / staff / expertise" bucket.

There's a consultation out at the moment - online and available on some of the buses; you can also ask for copies in the library, and in theory by post (but my request was made over 2 week ago and I've not received a form yet). They don't offer any of the above options. They look narrowly at specific service groups - all evening services, all sunday or weekend services, most occasional buses - and suggest complete removal of subsidy. They look at intertown buses, in town buses, and rural buses, and suggest drastic cuts - town buses which in places run 2 times an hour would go down to 2 or 3 a day, for example. By cutting the subsidies, they will be cutting off many people's lifelines. People's journeys to work. They'll be adding to social exclusion. They'll increase the cost of people getting to the doctor and they'll increase the spend other departments need to make to get people who don't have the money to get to appointments. They'll starnd teenagers at home. And they'll put bus driver and mechanics out of work and perhaps drive some operators out of business.

Does it have to be this way? No! Take a look at the suggestions I made in the previous paragraph. Some services will be cut. Others will be combined. Resources will be available to generate fresh income. People will get the bus 'metric' that much better. A simplified fare system, a network that's marketed and ticketed as a network (not a different ticket and price for Mr First and Mr Faresaver along the same road, and no return on the other's bus" ... and I believe you could save that 2.6 million. Well actually I think by the third year you could probably save the whole 5 million pounds. You only need to get 3 more fare passengers per journey to do it ... and considering we had 30 on today's Sunday bus in Melksham, that's not a difficult goal.

Many of the suggestions I make are include in Option 24/7 - so called because it looks at the total 24 hour / 7 day requirement. It's not an easy option. "Chris" is going to have to accept a 5 minute longer journey. "Effie" is going to have to trade off 2 buses an hour (with 45 and 15 minute gaps, though!) for 1 bus an hour, but will retain an evening service. "Maragaret" will have to change buses on the way - though her 3 times a day bus will become an hourly option. "Daniel" will have to run a little later in the evening, with some of his driver doing occasional unsocial hours. But so many will gain - with the connection at the station, with the more frequent (yes, really) service in places. With the ability to get out at the weekend. With an extra choice of how long to spend in town - not just 5 or 245 minutes, but a 125 minute option too. With an ability to get home at night ...

I arrived at Chippenham Station at around 10 p.m. (from working in Cambridge) a couple of weeks ago. Last year, I would have caught the No. 234 bus and travelled with 6 or 7 other passengers, but the last round of cuts 'pulled' the last 4 buses and the last bus is now 17:35 not 22:16. So I got in a taxi as I'm no longer able to drive to / from Cambridge. "Can you take me to Melksham" I asked. "Sure" he says ... "I've just come back from there ... "




Diary note - consultation availability patchy. It seems that there are no forms on Sunday or evening buses, nor on routes which are part subsidised. So voting is likely to be biased in favour of rural and town services and against weekend and Sunday.

Also concerned at labelling on bus stops in Melksham -



Only services 68 and 69 on this list also serve Melksham

In Melksham, bus routes 14, 15, x76, 68, 69 (Zigzag) and 271 are mostly subsidised and under threat. Routes x34, x72, and 272 are mostly commercial. 232 and 555 are primarily school buses.

As a direct result of option 6, if selected, you would likely see Faresaver (x34 and x72) running as they do at present. Buses on 272 from Bath to Melksham at 08:30 and every hour to 17:30, and from Melksham to Bath at 07:30 and every hour to 16:30, Monday to Saturday only. Service 232 and 555 (Melksham to Corsham and Batheaston schools) would continue to run at about 07:30 on school days only, getting back at around 15:30.

Options 4 and 5 taken together (needed to save the money) would see a single vehicle retained for the town bus service 14 and zigzag. It's hard to guess ho wit might be scheduled, but a single run around the town just after dropping off the schoolchildren at "The Oak" at 08:25, a 09:30 round trip to Corsham then to Trowbridge and back to Melksham at 11:40. A gap until 12:25 as driver's break, then a further run around the town. Another zigzag trip to Trowbridge only from 13:30 to 14:30, school work to 15:30, run around the town from 15:35 and finally a round trip to Corsham, back around 18:00 which is just in the limits for a singe driver day.
(written 2016-01-24)

 
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  [4619] Buses - not about the buses, but about the people who use the buses - (2016-01-10)


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