Suspending routes – tell passengers about the alternatives!

21 April 2020

During lockdown, it is sensible to scale back the frequency of buses and trains – while making sure the service still meets passengers’ needs. But completely withdrawing a service with no alternative provision? Is that a step too far? Are there really no essential journeys to be catered for?

In many instances bus routes have been rationalised so that, even if not every street or stop has a service, it’s still possible to get close to where you need to be. And on the railway a particular route may not be running, or is curtailed, but there are other trains stopping at the missed-out stations.

But there are some rail lines where trains are suspended and no replacement buses are being provided. Is that reasonable? Well, it might be if there are adequate alternatives for those who must travel – and if passengers have clear information about those alternatives. It’s the latter where, unfortunately, parts of the railway let passengers – and themselves – down.

Take the line between Bedford and Bletchley, known as Marston Vale. Trains are suspended and no buses are being provided. The train company tells us that taxis are being provided for key workers, but that’s not clear in any information we’ve found – and of course it’s not just key workers who make essential journeys. Particularly frustrating is that the railway makes no reference to the scheduled bus services that are still running from the places it has stopped serving. And coronavirus is not even mentioned by National Rail Enquiries as a possible reason why a journey can’t be made.

The message to train companies? Suspending trains and not running a replacement bus might be OK in exceptional circumstances if there are suitable alternatives. But only if the options for passengers are clear – and that includes being joined up between different modes of transport. If you have suspended a route, re-read our principles for amending transport timetables and look at what you are telling passengers about the alternatives. Marston Vale may not be the only example.

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