Monday, 14 September 2009

Differential Running Times

For its 10-minute Stagecoach Gold 94 Cheltenham-Gloucesters, overall it’s a Good Thing that Stagecoach West operates two whole Monday to Friday timetables, one for term time and the other for school holidays. There are, however, two potential problems with this.

The first is intermediate times. No matter the time of year, though departures are constant from both Cheltenham and Gloucester, intermediate times vary. This could cause confusion. As might the need to get an earlier bus during term times to arrive at work at exactly the same time. Though this is no different for a motorist who might have to get his car out 10 minutes earlier when schools are in, motorists have the sort of flexibility passengers have not.

The Stagecoach Gold livery really does cut a dash on these Scania/ADL deckers. Photo coutesy of 'Dowty Rotol'

The second is trying to define when school holidays start and finish. This might be easier if a passenger has a young family. Otherwise, there will be an element of guesswork involved. Often, school holidays start mid-week and although it may be unwise of an operator to make the change other than on a Monday, will passengers know this? Often, schools in an area, county or even town will have marginally different dates and this is almost inevitable between two large settlements such as Cheltenham & Gloucester. And what about those floating teacher training days often tagged onto holidays? I see no calendar on the Stagecoach Gold timetable defining when schools are in and out.

This means an intermediate passenger might just miss a slightly quicker bus during school holidays. Careful examination of the Stagecoach Gold 94 timetable reveals that although Monday to Friday buses depart every 10 minutes from 0610 ex-Cheltenham, term time differential running times mean the gap between buses is actually every seven, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 minutes for the same intermediate timing point in the same direction. We’ve often wondered why a 10-minute bus service such as the 94 needs real time bus stop information—now we know! Always supposing the system also knows when it’s a school holiday, in case it needs to revert to scheduled times.


A Cumbrian said...

Interestingly, Cumbria County Council is one of few LAs who publish (38 week) term dates excluding teacher training dates, rather than letting schools decide training dates within a 39 week scope. It is often quite hard for users elsewhere to determine the precise start/finish of term time elsewhere.
The saving grace is that on a 10 minute frequency it is not hugely important, especially in the evening peak, when your bus turns up and how long it takes.
The challenge of simple timetable setting vs. accurate timetable setting continues. Do your buses run to the same timetable daytime Saturday? Do they really take the same amount of time in and out bound all day?

Dennis Dash said...

Yes, there are negatives to running different timetables during school holidays, but what about the positives?

The fallback situation is to run the schoolday times throughout the year, possibly with arrival times at the termini marked 'may arrive up to 10 minutes earlier during school holidays' or something similar. You then incur all the labour costs all year round, and run the risk of alienating passengers who generally hate buses having to wait time en route.

I feel that the 94 approach will become more common (I know that it is already used in summer holiday periods by Stagecoach in Manchester), and with constant VOSA monitoring it has to be the way to go. In my view the advantages outweigh the downsides.

Anonymous said...

@Dennis, the blog publisher acknowledges that differential running is overall a good thing but points out some flaws. If there are plenty of middle to end users, these flaws are painful. If most are end to end users, they won't be.

It's just a pity that the industry has to go down this line when the government could so easily have commandeered roadspace for buses, curing the punctuality problem.