There are also signs in some other town and city centres that shopkeepers are increasingly aware of the value of buses. Rhodri Clark reports

 

newport_busesNewport Transport has returned to the High Street

 

Buses are returning to a pedestrianised area of Newport, South Wales, in response to campaigning by local traders. There are also signs in some other town and city centres that shopkeepers are increasingly aware of the value of buses, but a large retailer is said to have asked for exclusion of buses from Oxford city centre.

Buses called at stops in Newport’s High Street during construction of a new shopping centre and main bus station. After the street reverted to its fully pedestrianised status in December, traders complained that the area had become “deserted” and launched a petition, which attracted thousands of signatures, for buses to use the street again.

On March 29 municipal operator Newport Transport diverted two of its routes to operate via High Street inbound, to set down passengers. Outbound services omit High Street. Now independent operator New Adventure Travel has agreed to operate three of its routes via High Street, from May 9.

Scott Pearson, managing director of Newport Transport, said: “Newport Transport have responded to feedback from customers that they would like to see some services back on the High Street, so we’re trialling it for six months to see if that will benefit customers and the company.” The buses would be removed from the street if customers reacted negatively.

Kevyn Jones, NAT’s managing director, said the route diversion followed customer requests. “On this basis, I would hope for it to result in more passengers using the services. We will be setting down and picking up from High Street, the same as any other bus stop. We would however expect more people alighting there than boarding.

“In terms of other such initiatives, I believe that local authorities need to incorporate buses better into their town or city development plans to allow passengers easy access to the main shopping areas.”

In recent years, traders in Stoke-on-Trent and Wrexham have complained about reduced custom after buses were diverted from certain streets. In February last year Stagecoach responded to retailers by diverting its Hop12 buses back into the centre of Torquay. Buses had been diverted away from the town centre during roadworks, which were not due to finish until March 2015.

Soon after the Hop12’s return, local jeweller David Rowe said: “During a meeting with traders, councillors and Stagecoach South West, we made it absolutely clear the damage done and the disadvantages of taking away buses from the High Street, particularly to the elderly. The impact to retailing was immense. I’m glad to see the positive impact the return of the Hop12 has had on trading.”

In Oxford, full pedestrianisation of Queen Street has been discussed for more than five years but buses continue to use it as a thoroughfare. There is also one bus stop in the street. Now a new shopping centre is being built in the vicinity.

Phil Southall, managing director of the Oxford Bus Company, said: “The anchor store, John Lewis, has expressed a strong wish for Queen Street to be fully pedestrianised.” The company was working with the local authority on how buses would turn around if this were to happen. Some infrastructure investment would be needed, journey times would increase and some shoppers would have to walk more than 400 metres to or from bus stops, the maximum distance in government guidelines, said Southall.

He expected local traders to oppose the changes once they realised the implications. “On weekdays, 55% of people in the city centre have got there by bus. That rises to 65% on weekends because of the tourists etc. It’s not like it’s a small problem if you’re pushing those customers away. John Lewis don’t get that Oxford is unique in that regard. That’s the educational journey we’re on at the moment.”

He said the local authority would hold a public consultation on proposed changes to bus routes, and Queen Street would close to buses temporarily from June to November to facilitate construction of the shopping centre.

In the last few years many chambers of trade, particularly in tourism areas, have expressed concerns about the impact on business of reductions in bus subsidies and services. Hay Tourism Group, representing traders in Hay-on-Wye, was so concerned when Herefordshire council withdrew funding for Sunday buses between Hay and Hereford in 2014 that it took the revenue risk to continue the services under a new contract.

 

This story appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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