Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for July 11th, 2008

A Nottingham bus

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It is probably very dangerous indeed to generalise from one bus ride to an international comparison. But, today’s experience was quite different to what I experience at home.

Pathfinder Optare Nottingham 20080711

This is the bus that my sister uses every day to get to work. She has her own car, and could drive but chooses to use the bus. It takes about 20 minutes door to door from the outer edge of what in Vancouver would be zone 1 to the centre of town and costs £1.50 cash fare (about CAN$3) – less for regular travel. She says with the hassle and cost of parking, it simply isn’t worth driving.

The advertised 20 minute service frequency is off peak – and operates on the clock face principle. So from this bus stop, a bus leaves at 10, 30 and 50 minutes past each hour. Which means that you do not need a schedule. (Buses are, of course, more frequent at the peak but still on a clock face departure time.) The bus stop diplays the correct current time and the time of the next departure. The driver will make change if you do not have the correct fare. The midibus is quiet and comfortable, has leather seats and shows a display of what is on its cctv security cameras interspersed with useful information. The company used to be private but was in competition with the former Nottingham City Transport – and has in fact now been taken over by that operation. It is a curious fact that the theory that small private sector operators are more effcient and effective than municipal operations has been proved wrong here and in many other places.

A bit further down the road, there is a “bus plug”. This allows only buses to pass on what used to be a major arterial road through the village of Burton Joyce. Through traffic now has to use a new by-pass, but local traffic can of course get in from either end. By this simple device, the environment in the village has been vastly improved, since there is no longer the stink and noise from a constant stream of heavy goods vehicles. Or people driving through on their way to somewhere else. The bypass is not a freeway but a simple two lane road, but with no acesses – quite adequate for what is required, so no new traffic is being generated, but buses have a distinct advantage of a direct route, are less hampered by traffic and provide reliable local service.

The original operation of this service was an “intercity” service between Newark and Nottingham, but careful monitoring of how it was used resulted in it being split into two local services – one serving each city. Although now part of NCT it retains a distinct identity and has a dedicated local team of operators. The midsize, single door bus is accessible and lowers at every stop without fuss or delay. People get up and move from the designated seats without being asked – for use by people with mobility limitations of many kinds including using a cane or pushing a stroller. The bus is sparkling clean inside and out with the driver going through at the terminus to tidy it up if needed.

People who use Translink buses would be amazed. Most of what the people of Nottingham and its surrounding area take for granted simply cannot be delivered like this. There is no effective planning of routes or adjustments based on experience here. Schedules and routes here are not determined by customer need and convenience but operational “efficiency” (i.e. what the union will concede). And traffic engineers in the City of Vancouver – and many other cities in the region – would rather have their toenails pulled out with red hot pincers than allow a “bus plug” on an arterial road. As for clock face service it has always been said that it is “too expensive” – but in fact has never been seriously considered.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 11, 2008 at 1:45 pm

Posted in transit