HOW TO IMPROVE PUBLIC BUS SERVICES IN BATH

Introduced by Brian Noton, Director & General Manager, Badgerline, on 21 April 1998

Bath was built for pedestrians and sedan chairs but car owners expect to be able to drive in the city. It is generally agreed that increased public transport facilities are the only chance of persuading drivers not to do so and in the short term buses are the best form of public transport. They involve no public expenditure and have flexible route patterns which can be adjusted incrementally to suit building developments.
British cities have more buses than any European or American city; Badgerline and Streamline use 180 in the Bath area providing 85% of the services. The other 15% are arranged by B&NES to ‘plug gaps’ where a commercial service is not profitable and are subsidised by them.
The public require reliability of service above all; convenience & frequency, courtesy, cleanliness & presentation come next and reasonable fares last.
The problems caused by traffic congestion, especially (surprisingly) between 2.30 and 6 pm are the main reasons for unreliability. This congestion is caused by short cross-city journeys by cars and the exit from business car parks at the end of the working day. The proposed bus gates at Orange Grove, Pulteney Bridge and Westgate Buildings will prevent cross-city car journeys and improve the bus service considerably. It will be possible to introduce cross-city through bus routes. Other desirable measures would be more bus lanes, special pre-sign traffic lights to allow buses to move from the bus lane into the outer lane before traffic lights (e.g. on the London Rd at Cleveland Place), and a contra-flow bus lane on Broad St. when the bus gates are in operation.
The Southgate re-development proposals for a new bus station are unacceptable. Buses have to reverse into the path of pedestrians and car park entrances with barrier entry systems would cause queues which would block the approach to the bus station. Pay & Display systems within the car park are much better in this respect. In addition, the street bus stops in Dorchester St have been reduced in number.
Access to buses for wheelchairs is being introduced but cuts the number of seats by six at the front, which means less mobile elderly passengers have to move further down the vehicle.
A survey by Badgerline has found that 79% 0f the 300,000 passengers on Open Top tourist buses would not have walked around the sights of the city and that only 18 in every 1000 vehicles going up Broad St are tour buses.
Only 2% of passengers on trains to Bath Spa station transfer to buses but combined train-bus tickets are now available to rail passengers
A lively discussion followed; one person came with 15 questions! One of them requested traffic lights to allow buses to exit from Twerton into the Lower Bristol Road during rush-hours. Later opening of Park & Ride sites might be provided, if it was profitable, if the service was commercial rather than run under contract to B&NES. Easy entrance for wheelchairs to low-floor buses require adjustments to kerb heights and is being discussed. The service to the R.U.H. now provides through tickets from outside Bath; a bus stop at the entrance door is being arranged and publicity for the 721/421 route from the R.U.H. to St Martin's Hospital will be increased. Halving the fare on a route only increases the number of passengers by 15-20% and is not economic; a proposal for cross-subsidy from car park charges to bus fares was an interesting idea. A city centre bus station was only required for long-distance buses for which passengers turned up early; local frequent bus services could use street bus stops.
It was unfortunate that this discussion coincided with a meeting of the Sustainable Transport Forum, which meant some interested people had to miss this meeting, but a reporter from the Bath Chronicle and a Public Transport Planner from B&NES were in the audience along with more than 20 members and visitors.