Trent Barton’s caused something of a stir because of its plans to terminate its Mickleover to Derby service at Osnabruck Square rather than Derby’s new bus station. Indeed, intense media pressure seems to have forced something of a rethink.
Now, I’ve no idea exactly where Osnabruck Square is. I’m guessing, though, that it’s not in West Germany. But it’s the principle I’m getting at. For I have some sympathy with Trent Barton. And also with its passengers, even though most appear content with their buses terminating short. What we have here illustrates the balance needed in running a high frequency bus service.
The Derby to Mickleover service, left before upgrade, seen when Optare was in favour at Trent Barton. Note the destination refers to the city hospital. The service is the only one that offers a bus there from the bus station and this is partly why some passengers are unhappy with the proposal. Medical use nevertheless accounts, on average, for less than two per cent of patronageIt’s self-evident that if you run a bus service to a point other than where passengers want to go then you are committing commercial suicide. Trent Barton will have thought very carefully about its decision, as it knows a wrong move—in this case, terminating short—could destroy its margins.
Trent Barton cites roadworks and congestion as the reason behind terminating the Derby-Mickleovers short, within about half of a mile of the bus station, in fact. In spite of what the casual observer may thing, unpredictable roadworks affect punctuality and therefore irritate passengers. Perhaps punctuality is less of an issue on a service every 7½ minutes (as is the case here) but irritable passengers are likely to make the minimum number of trips possible.
Sloppy journalism may be the reason why in using this shot to cover the story the local media chose to blur the front of one of Trent Barton’s competitorsWhat does matter is the efficient scheduling of resources. This is the operator’s concern but it should be the passengers’, too. Efficiency means the best possible service at the lowest possible fares. As we are seeing all over England, and have for a while, congestion and unpredictable roadworks make services inefficient. The remedy is costly, in terms of either additional resources or decreases in ridership.
Were the route simply to take the allocated few minutes to run between Osnabruck Square and the bus station, no one would have a problem. But it doesn’t seem to. There are only three methods of treating the problem and the operator will need to weigh them up carefully. Trent Barton’s consulted, too, always a good thing, even though detractors fear Trent Barton hasn’t consulted widely enough.
- Add in additional resources into the service.
- Reduce the service using the same resources.
- Terminating short of the bus station.
It seems to me that Trent Barton operates its Derby-Mickleovers with PVR 8 (plus any branded and leather-seated spares). If congestion and roadworks are as bad as suggested, Trent Barton will need a ninth bus in the cycle. Plus more than one driver, to cover shifts, holidays, sickness, etc. If the service can easily absorb such costs (and how many can?), all well and good. But an investment of over £100,000 p.a. will take considerable time to justify itself. If you’re going to sink this sort of cash, it would be nice to see a return for it, some sort of increase in quality or frequency. Here, though, the investment’s somewhat dead.
2. Reduce the service
Rather than throw money at the service, in this case it’s possible to cut it. This means using the same number of buses and drivers as now, recognising the congestion at the city centre end, and making the scheduled journey time longer to account for it. Not only does this look poor on paper, of necessity it reduces the frequency, from every 7½ to every 10 minutes.
I am one of those who argue that attaining a 10-minute service is something of a “holy grail”. It’s the point at which passengers no longer realistically need a timetable. So, what’s the problem with cutting the service from eight to six buses an hour? For one thing, it’s a cut and cuts are always looked upon suspiciously. Journey time increases and poorer frequencies both have a direct impact on ridership.
The downturn may yet force a reduction from every 7/8 to every 10 minutes but till then it’s in no one’s interest to do this. The lay person might assume there’s little difference between the two but there is, enough to dent perceptions & make it that slightly less attractive. The penalty? Fewer passengers, for there’s an obvious direct correlation between service frequency and ridership. More people will decide to walk rather than hop a few stops. There will be those who use it as an excuse to pull out the car (yes, I know it’s irrational but it happens).
While every 10 minutes remains something of a “holy grail”, it’s only a holy grail if you operate at a lesser frequency and improve to every 10. Reducing from a higher to lower frequency has will not get you this grail affect.
3. Terminate Short
This is less convenient for passengers and will not work where this is on the margins of the city centre (as once proposed, for example, in Oxford). Its success will depend upon (a) whether the new terminus is within the heart of the city and (b) the number of people who wish to interchange with other services at the bus station. Interchange is an important element in travelling by bus but Trent Barton will know that it’s only part of the story.
No one lives in an ideal world. Congestion sees to that. Terminating short is something of a compromise. And it is here that Trent Barton has had to balance the alternatives. In the event, the media have driven Trent Barton to chose Option 1 when it had previously felt Option 3 was the best overall solution for the majority of its passengers. Whether Trent Barton will inject resources or let the Derby-Mickleovers run unpunctually remains to be seen. If the former, someone’s going to have to pay. If the latter, it seems 80 per cent of its Mickleover passengers will suffer.
For the time being, then, the service in question will continue to the bus station. No doubt, most passengers will alight beforehand as now, yet no one likes to see a loss of interchange, which is important to bus services. But many towns don’t actually have easy interchange points. Or sometimes, they have more than one with distance between them. And then there are people from Mickleover who might want to catch the train but will need to walk, whether from the bus station or Osnabruck Square...