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  • Gareth Davies

Bus Service Information. February 2020

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

1. Introduction

Finding out what time the next bus departs may not be as easy as it seems. On the face of it, with modern technology, e.g. mobile phones and the internet, it should be easy to tap into websites such as National Traveline. In the cities and large towns, great; but out in the sticks not so great, with mobile phone and internet reception still quite patchy. And what if the mobile phone network goes down or your battery runs flat or you do not have enough apps on your phone! So a walk to the nearest bus stop with a timetable case and printed display is needed, only to find that when the stop is located the bus has already gone. This may be alright in the city or conurbation where bus service frequencies are good and one is assured that another bus will be along shortly. But how galling in the rural areas when you find the next bus is an hour or often two hours away, or even a couple of days away!

2. The Rural Dilemma

This dilemma is not just confined to persons in the older age range. A report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation into young people’s experience of public transport in rural areas concluded that ‘Young people in the countryside often experience particular difficulties with transport to get to education and work and to maintain a social life.’ The report by the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the Institute of Education reached some hard-hitting conclusions including the facts that ‘High fares and poor publicity about public transport are barriers to young people making use of the limited public services which do exist in rural areas.’ Over 40 per cent of those aged 15 to 16 said that ‘transport issues influence their decisions about post-16 education whilst limited public transport in rural areas means that those entering employment or training are restricted in where and when they work.’

3. The Special Need for Rural Public Transport Information

Let us face it, the move towards one hundred per cent electronic information systems may well suit the urban areas, but to equip every bus stop in a county such as Herefordshire would probably prove financially prohibitive. So what can be done?

The Association of Transport Coordinating Officers produced an interesting report in 2003 setting out the background to local authority responsibility in terms of bus service information. The report stated:

‘The Transport Act 2000 (and corresponding legislation in Scotland) requires each local transport authority to develop a public transport information strategy. The purpose of this paper is to assist local authorities in discharging this duty and to provide advice on how a high standard of printed public transport information might be secured. A public transport information strategy, together with a bus strategy, will form part of the local transport authority’s Local Transport Plan (LTP). Guidance from the DfT on the preparation of full LTPs was issued in March 2000. In short, the guidance encouraged local authorities to develop a strategy for ensuring that appropriate public

transport information is available in their area, through a variety of media, whether produced by Local Authorities, operators or others. The Transport Act 2000 puts LTPs on a statutory basis and creates a duty for local transport authorities (county councils, non-Metropolitan unitary councils and Passenger Transport Authorities) to work with bus operators to ensure the availability of local bus information, if necessary by stepping in to provide it themselves.’

Herefordshire Council Policy LTP PT4 in the Local Transport Plan 2016-2031 concerning – Passenger Transport Information stated:

We will continue to provide and work in partnership with passenger transport operators to disseminate printed and electronic passenger transport information to ensure it remains consistent with best practice. This will be achieved by:

  • Providing printed timetables where display cases are available at bus stops and bus stations, in partnership with bus operators;

  • We will increase the number of bus stops with display cases;

  • We will support the development of electronic timetable information including real-time information, GPS and mobile applications, and ensure a fully integrated rail and bus service timetable;

  • Developing a countywide passenger transport timetable booklet and making it available at a minimal cost through a variety of outlets;

  • Distributing Hereford City Travel Guides;

Since then Council action has gone backwards. The installations of electronic timetable information have moved forward in a long serious of hiccups whilst more importantly the much-valued countywide passenger transport timetable booklet has been abandoned. The Council website now tells the reader to contact National Traveline. The county once, a progressive prize-winning authority for bus information, is now something of an information wilderness. This is one reason why people use the car.

A Report to the House of Commons Transport Committee considered the following:

Research from Transport Focus noted that the “embarrassment factor” of not knowing how to use a bus is a major issue stopping people using buses. To be able to use a bus people need to:

  • have access to tools for journey planning, such as timetables;

  • have access to Real Time Information so they know when their bus will arrive;

  • know the cost of the journey and how they can pay for it; and

  • know how many stops there are to their destination and where the bus stop is located.

Information that is patchy or difficult to find is a significant barrier to bus travel. Linda McCord from Transport Focus told us that providing information to bus users would increase confidence and attract new bus users.’

Clearly there is a long way to go if the new Herefordshire Council is to achieve its objectives of encouraging the use of public transport as an alternative to the car, tackling emissions and deteriorating air quality and providing a better deal for bus passengers of all ages.

A significant move in these directions would be the reinstatement of the county wide public transport booklet which enabled easy planning of journeys by bus, frequencies and travel times, interchange between services, important information on school and college terms and how to contact the bus company if things go wrong or you have left your shopping, glasses or mobile phone on the bus.

Let’s move Herefordshire into the twenty first century in the use of public transport. Bus service information, both hard copy and electronic are an important ingredient of this move.

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