Bristol bus boss warns that flagship service risks being ‘entirely discredited’ if services are bogged down in ‘areas of increasingly chronic congestion’

 
The northern section of the m1 route

 
It is marketed as “a modern public transport system for the greater Bristol area”, but users of the flagship Metrobus network are facing “appalling disruption” on a daily basis.

In an open letter to customers, the managing director of the system’s main operator, First Bus West of England, blames ongoing roadworks, as well as a lack of capacity on the roads.

James Freeman  wrote the letter on January 14 after his company was heavily criticised on social media for delays as a way of acknowledging and addressing those complaints. He sympathised wholeheartedly with customers, but defended his company and its drivers.

Here we are at the start of a new decade and no more than a week into it we are confronting appalling disruption to our lives as a result of traffic congestion particularly in the northern fringe of the conurbation

“Here we are at the start of a new decade and no more than a week into it we are confronting appalling disruption to our lives as a result of traffic congestion particularly in the northern fringe of the conurbation,” wrote Freeman. “While this affects many people, it particularly impacts people who have made the lifestyle choice to use public transport to travel, particularly to their work.”

The first Metrobus service (m3, between Emersons Green and the city centre) was launched in May 2018. Two further routes, the m1 and m2, have subsequently been added. At the beginning of this month First introduced a £2.4m fleet of eight brand new bio-methane fuelled double decker buses, on the m3, replacing diesel buses. But these new vehicles were soon “utterly gummed up in appalling delays” on the A4174, a major ring road along the northern and eastern edge of Bristol. A journey that normally takes about 35 minutes was taking an hour and 35 minutes.

There were also problems on the m1 service, a major south to north cross-conurbation route that celebrated its first birthday this month. First recently introduced a change to the peak-time timetable on this service to cope with the extra people that have been attracted to Metrobus in Bradley Stoke and Stoke Gifford in South Gloucestershire. This new arrangement provides a 7/8-minute peak time frequency between the town of Bradley Stoke and Bristol city centre – increasing the number of seats per hour from 450 to 600 over this section.

However, South Gloucestershire Council commenced long term road works at the Great Stoke roundabout on Bradley Stoke Way this month. The resulting congestion has delayed buses by up to 40 minutes on each journey at the key morning peak times. This has disrupted the rest of the service straight through the morning, all the way to the very south of the city. “For these people [in south Bristol], the delays and disruption are completely inexplicable to them,” Freeman explained. “You can forgive them for thinking we’re useless.”

He continued: “When the buses have been turning up at Begbrooke [near the new bridge over the M32], they are so delayed that they have picked up extra people and are therefore unable to collect any of the people waiting. The m3 buses, similarly if not worse delayed on the A4174, are also full when they reach this point.

“Small wonder then, that social media was full of angry entries last week – the one that caught my eye was from a customer who waited more than an hour to get onto any bus – long gaps being followed by successive fully-loaded buses. No wonder these people were angry!”

First Bus has mobilised extra buses to deal with some of these problems, using new vehicle deliveries not yet deployed and managers who are willing to drive on short notice “but this is a sticking-plaster approach and very expensive as well”.

£230m of public money was spent on creating Metrobus, on top of which the operators have invested £10.5m on top-of-the-range buses. It’s largely wasted if we can’t run the service properly or at all.

Freeman concluded: “£230m of public money was spent on creating Metrobus, on top of which the operators have invested £10.5m on top-of-the-range buses. It’s largely wasted if we can’t run the service properly or at all.

“Not only that, if our much-vaunted Metrobus system, by which so much store has been set, is not to be entirely discredited as an alternative to driving cars, then somehow the way has to be found to make these Metrobuses able to run through these areas of increasingly chronic congestion.

“This approach has started to be recognised in Bristol but Metrobus can’t work if we don’t realise that we must take urgent action.”

 
This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport

DON’T MISS OUT – GET YOUR COPY! – click here to subscribe!