Transport User Voice – December – Leaning in for bus passengers in Bristol

29 November 2018

Bristol is a dynamic and growing city but had a tough few weeks recently when it comes to transport. So did residents when they tried to move around the city.

The mainline railway between Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads was shut for several weeks in late October/early November as well as over several weekends. At the same time local bus services operator First fell victim to excoriating headlines for poor performance and driver shortages, with congestion presenting an additional challenge to anyone trying to travel around the city. Soon, bus passengers, in particular, took to social media to voice frustration and concerns about the performance of buses, with delays, overcrowding and services stuck in what seemed like never-ending congestion.

Running buses is a complex task in a city that has some challenging highway constraints, especially during periods of significant infrastructure investment such as at Temple Circus. Faced with dire problems, the bus operator held its hands up, with its managing director, James Freeman, even heading out to drive a bus himself to get a greater understanding of the challenges he and his staff were facing.

Despite this problem period, Bristol is one of the few places in the UK actually bucking the trend in terms of bus patronage, with healthy rising numbers – indeed one facet of the recent problem was due to unexpected high demand for services from students, which presented issues to First at the start of term.

The local authority, Bristol City Council, has a good understanding of the issues in play and has just consulted on a new Transport Plan for the city that has some great ambition and some potential devils in the detail. Tackling congestion will be key to helping public transport become the mode of choice alongside the continued growth in walking and cycling.

Linked to that, the city hosted a recent visit from the Transport Select Committee as part of its inquiry investigating the health of the bus market. In support of this, Transport Focus shared the most recent results for Bristol from the Bus Passenger Survey – to make sure the experience of local passengers was clearly heard by MPs.

As the discussion highlighted, working together is the answer. In pursuit of longer-term improvements to the bus network in Bristol, Transport Focus will be working hard with regional stakeholders to protect the interests of transport users over the coming years, given the disruption ahead.

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