When a commercial bus operator decides to drastically change or cease operating a route, they do so based on the business case for their shareholders, rather than out of consideration for existing regular passengers or the effect on the area served or other operators. They just need to give legal notice of about 50 days to the traffic commissioner. Although there may be rumours about what's going to happen, and the logic may be clear, the process of change is usually kept a secret as late as possible so that services being pulled keep bringing in as much revenue to the withdrawing operator right until the end, and to ensure that any amended services designed to compete with another operator aren't undone straight away by changed that other operator makes.
Over the years, we've seen buses on competing routes retimed during the day so that they run just ahead of the other company - thus picking up most of the passengers to the detriment of the second operator - and also to the detriment of passengers on the flow, who would be far better served by a half hourly bus than by two buses a few minutes apart then a massive gap. I'm not pointing at any individual company here - on our routes, they both do it through some are more subtle than others.
But it's when a service is withdrawn - one of the operators throws in the towel - you see the greatest hardship. Let me quote the x34 / 234 as an example.
x34, run by Faresaver, runs from Chippenham to Frome via Melksham and Trowbridge. Until August 2015, it ran Monday to Friday only, and daytime only. During the late morning and early afternoon, buses were every half hour, with longer gaps later in the day - final buses at 16:20 and 17:35 (only as far as Trowbridge) from Chippenham
234, run by First, also ran from Chippenham to Frome via Melksham and Trowbridge. Until August 2015, it ran Monday to Saturday, from early morning until late evening. An hourly service during the day, with reduced frequency after the 18:35 bus from Chippenham. Typically, during the operating hours of the Faresaver x34, an x34 service ran a few minutes ahead of a 234.
The 234 ran for the last time on 1st August 2015. Gaps left were services through Leap Gate in Trowbridge, along Horse Road in Trowbridge, and along the whole route after 17:30 and on Saturdays. Leap Gate is a significant developing housing area in Trowbridge and the provision of a bus service there at early occupancy time will have an effect on the metrics of the area for years to come. And significant holes are left for returning commuters via Chippenham for whom a last bus at 17:35 is too early (the 18:35 used to load to about 20 passengers), and during the evening - right up to the last bus there were people every day (5 to 15 on my counts) who used it as their final leg home. The eveing buses met a real need!
With just 6 weeks to fix, and having to do so under "emergency powers" because the registration window had passed, some amendments were made to the x34. An hourly Saturday daytime service was introduced as an experiment (delighted to see lots of people on those buses), and some services diverted to run via Leap Gate - with (it should be noted) additional support cost offered and granted by Wiltshire Council. An extra early morning run, before a vehicle is needed for school runs, also helps fill a "get to work" gap that was previously filled by a First service.
Gaps have been left in the service in the early evening (which was commercial) - if you finish work in Swindon at 17:00, it's mo longer possible to get home by public transport to Notton, Lacock, Beanacre, Semington or Hilperton by public transport. Finishing in Chippenham at 17:30 and you'll have to be very sharp to catch the last bus to those places too. And (personal note, I admit) the absence of the later buses from Chippenham to Melksham is a real issue - these days, I have to drive all the way to distant appointments where I would have taken public transport, or pay [c2]ã20 per taxi ride for the final six miles where I would have taken the 22:26 bus. I'm not alone in this - I picked up a taxi the other week, late at night at Chippenham station and asked for Melksham ... "Just come back from there" says the cabbie ... "we get a lot of evening runs to Melksham these days" ...
There is sense in planning transport services to avoid the need for panic, quick fixes. Especially where those fixes require unbudgetted support which results in cuts elsewhere, or where those fixes come in very expensive / too expensive to afford because the operators have the council over a barrel, or don't naturally fit into the planned business so will cost a lot to provide. And there's a distinct lack of consultation / discussion with passengers / passenger groups about what's needed for the future - there's simply not the time. And some of these funding decisions are made with limited data available, in the final instance, to the Wiltshire Cabinet who - I understand - were the final arbitters in deciding whether to support an evening x34 / 234 into the future. Not a very clever way to plan a bus service for future years, is it?
Since last August, bus frequency through Notton has decreased (that's a council supported part of the route) and services through Leap Gate are at a lower level than previously, even allowing for the new subsidy there. Last departure from Chippenham is 17:35 rather than 22:26 (4 runs have been lost). I can't tell you officially what's happened to the passenger who used to use them; I've met a few in my travels - some no longer travel [as much], others use taxis or drive. But I can't tell you officially as (it seems) there's been no follow up by either the public transport or strategic transport groups at Wiltshire Council to find out.
Prices increased on x34 in January - with a 50p increase on a [c2]ã1.50 fare for schoolchildren being the steepest in percentage terms. I'm told by the operator that fares had been depressed on the route / held down below an economic rate. I'm told by some parents that the rise came as a surprise, and that some children who were just given their fare money each day were denied travel the day it came in. I do have sympathy on both sides here ...
Why am I raking over the past? Because it looks like it might be the future too
. Rumours and inital evidence suggests that one of the operators on the Chippenham - Corsham - Rudloe - Box - Bath route is about to withdraw (24th April 2016). And an uncanny resemblance to last year on 234 x x34 - this time 231 v x31. People of Corsham, Rudloe and Box - please note ... we were promised that an evening replacement service was planned but it never happened. You in Corsham have the advantage that one of the councillors who's ward the bus passes through sits on cabinet ...
See Option 247 for the way I think buses should be in the future ... and there's a consultation open there for you. (written 2016-03-02)
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articlesZ950 - Purely Personal 
A year of changes for Lisa and Graham Ellis, and Well House - (2017-05-27) 
Revisiting - should I stand for Melksham Without Parish Council in May? - (2017-02-24) 
Thoughts on the new Blackmore Ward of Melksham Without Parish - (2017-02-22) 
Visiting Los Alamitos Bay Yacht Club - (2016-11-23) 
The technical article feed continues - personal updates more proactive on Facebook now! - (2016-10-30) 
Lisa writes - on the referendum vote today - (2016-06-23) 
Buses - how did we get into the situation we are in? - (2016-04-02) 
Rumours of bus changes by First in Wiltshire - what we know and suspect - (2016-03-01) 
Where does Wiltshire bus subsidy money come from? - (2016-01-19) 
A big change in August - (2015-12-25) 
Election results - what if we had a party list system? - (2015-05-08) 
Misusing statistics? - the seedy side of election campaigning - (2015-05-04) 
Upcoming election - Chippenham Constituency - the major candidates compared - (2015-04-29) 
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Reaction in Radstock to new First bus prices - (2014-07-12) 
A different vision for the future - (2014-07-09) 
Eurpoean Elections, and other elections ahead. Some thoughts on campaigns and policies - (2014-05-08) 
Sharing my personal best of 2013 - (2013-12-31) 
Celebration of the fruits of LSTF, and of the people who have helped and are helping - (2013-12-15) 
Looking to the future at Melksham Station - (2013-10-26) 
Not treading water, but not risking the ship for a 0.5th of tar either - (2013-10-06) 
Improving travel advise information in Wiltshire - (2013-09-06) 
Wedding Photos - Kim Ellis to Kyle Londors, 22nd August 2013 - (2013-08-23) 
Zigzag bus - forward for the future, or decaying service? - (2013-06-09) 
How should we choose our Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner? - (2012-10-27) 
Kiss - (2012-04-28) 
Emerging proposals for land to the east of Spa Road, Melksham - (2012-02-03) 
Initial thoughts - response to GW Rail Franchise Consultation for Wiltshire - (2011-12-31) 
Aeryn at 1 - (2011-12-19) 
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A threat in the post? Poor marketing practise from Smiletrain? - (2011-09-19) 
If its Sunday, must it be Weymouth? - (2011-08-30) 
Quiet Monday in - (2011-05-23) 
The juggler - (2011-05-08) 
Melksham Town Council - vacancy in the Spa Ward - (2011-04-10) 
Melksham Campus - a win / win opportunity, but a severely lacking decision process - (2011-03-31) 
My First Christmas - (2010-12-26) 
Zyliana Kyrei Cox - (2010-11-16) 
Looking back and forward personally - 6 years each way - (2010-11-08) 
Birth Notice - Aeryn Cassandra Ellis - (2010-11-07) 
Travel, Transport and Tourism - A vision for Melksham, 2026 - (2010-10-03) 
Congratulations, Kimberly - (2010-07-25) 
Ruth Davis, 1916 - 2010 - (2010-03-28) 
The great thing about snow .... - (2009-12-23) 
A two day gap - first time in five years? - (2009-05-24) 
Too busy to blog it - but it's great (mostly) - (2007-01-24) 
Christmas Season Piccies - (2006-12-30)Z407 - Option 24/7 - the way forward for Wiltshire buses 
What do people use the bus for in Wiltshire - survey interim results. - (2016-07-11) 
Supported Bus Services in Wiltshire - analysis of written-in comments - (2016-06-11) 
Wiltshire supported bus service consultation, early 2016 - interim results published - (2016-06-09) 
How are bus support payments currently calculated? - (2016-06-07) 
Real life PHP application using our course training MVC example - (2016-06-05) 
Buses in Wiltshire - potential changes and where we stand at the moment - (2016-05-30) 
Wiltshire Supported Bus consultation - final few days - (2016-03-30) 
What is happening on the 231 bus? What are you going to do about it? - (2016-03-04) 
Getting to the Royal United Hospital - the Hopper and the alternatives - (2016-02-24) 
Why is bus funding a much hotter topic than a new set of traffic lights? - (2016-02-16) 
Rail user groups worried about what is happening on the buses - (2016-01-31) 
What would the Wiltshire Council bus cuts mean for Melksham? - (2016-01-25) 
The story behind the bus cuts, and what they could mean - (2016-01-24) 
Campaigning for a sensible bus solution and not against anyone! - (2016-01-17) 
The power of scripting - (2016-01-12) 
Buses - not about the buses, but about the people who use the buses - (2016-01-10)
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