First asked to rethink Bristol changes

Bristol City Council has asked First to rethink some of the changes it proposes to implement to the city’s bus network on 1 September 2013. The operator has already asked the Traffic Commissioner for permission to make the amendments to its services. The local authority is asking the company to work with it on making changes, which it believes will support the city’s overall transport plan. It fears that some of the current proposals put forward by FirstGroup will cause confusion for bus users and turn people off using public transport in some areas. The routes in question are all commercially run, so the Council has no final say over the plans.
Bristol City Council’s request for a rethink was made in a letter from Bristol’s Assistant Mayor for Transport, Planning, Strategic Housing and Regeneration, Cllr Mark Bradshaw, addressed to First Bus Interim MD for Bristol, Paul Matthews. In the letter, he said the Council welcomes many of the changes, such as more frequent services, extra early morning buses and the extension of daytime journeys on Service 20 to Charlton Road. He also acknowledges that much good work has been done between the council and First Group on the Greater Bristol Bus Network, which saw more frequent buses in some areas and a recommitment to night journeys in others. However, he added, ‘I do have a major concern that bus service changes are taking place in an ad hoc manner and not as part of a wider network strategy to significantly increase bus passenger numbers and improve citywide connectivity.’
One of the proposed changes the Council would like reviewing is the renaming of Services 352/353 to Service 1 to align with the operator’s existing X1 service. The council feels that two ‘1’ services operating in the same city and sometimes stopping in the same places could confuse passengers. The council does not want to see Service 40 between Downleaze and Julian Road in Stoke Bishop lost. It has offered to look again at parking restrictions and enforcement in the area if it would help persuade First to keep operating the route. It is also asking for the service to terminate somewhere other than Union Street in the city centre as this is already congested. The council feels that the proposed withdrawal of the direct link from the south of the city to the BRI (Service 20) is a backwards step, which it believes could harm already disadvantaged communities. It is calling for First to consider a suitable replacement.
Cllr Mark Bradshaw said, ‘We have a good working relationship with FirstGroup which has seen many improvements to bus services. There is much to welcome in their proposals but we would like to see further changes which would make a big difference to local people. We also think it’s wise to work more closely together so that any changes can contribute to the big picture. For our part we’re doing plenty of work to improve parking arrangements and traffic management in areas where First have told us there are problems, and we’re open to doing more if it helps keep valued bus services in place. I’m sure our constructive criticism will be well received by First Group and I look forward to having some positive discussions with them in coming weeks. Above all, the desire for a connected and accessible city is not best served by piecemeal changes to bus routes and increasing the risk of creating isolated communities and individuals.’
Talking about the changes last week, Commercial Manager for First in West of England, Simon Ford, said, ‘The changes we are making to the network are, on the whole, overwhelmingly positive. We are adding in extra late night services connecting key destinations for instance Bristol and Bath, and are improving the frequency of a number of other routes too. To make these changes though we have had to adjust some of the under-used services and so while the vast majority of the news is positive customers should note that there are some route changes in some places. We are also taking steps to split one route to address long standing issues we have faced and to hopefully ensure it remains commercially sustainable. We would strongly urge those people who use local bus services to familiarise themselves with the changes that are being made. New timetable information will be made available online from 20 August and will be available to pick up from travel shops from the following week.’

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Zero tolerance from First

ImageFirst has launched a new advertising campaign to deter antisocial behaviour and vandalism. New adverts are being fitted to the interior of its buses in Greater Glasgow to deter vandals. It has been designed to assure passengers that the company adopts a zero tolerance approach to any form of antisocial behaviour. The initiative follows a court order in the bus company’s favour, banning a teen vandal from travelling on its buses throughout Scotland for life after he caused damage to 26 windows. Nathan Chlosta (17 years old) was given a 200 hour community payback order and the company was awarded £10,000 damages. The operator has invested £25m in new vehicles since November 2012.

Security Manager at First Glasgow, Alan Pert, said, ‘We take pride in our fleet and in delivering excellent customer service. The safety and security of our customers is our number one priority and we have a zero tolerance approach to any kind of antisocial behaviour affecting our customers and staff. We have a close working relationship with Police Scotland and we will prosecute anyone found damaging our vehicles. Given the scope of First Glasgow’s bus operations (a fleet of 950 buses, 114m passenger journeys each year and 41m miles covered annually), crime on First buses is extremely low.’

Pic: Alan Pert.

First’s ‘experimental’ fares

First has introduced an ‘experimental’ set of bus fares in Taunton. Fares have been simplified and new tickets introduced in a bid to make travel easier and more attractive. The experiment will be used to help develop a larger review of ticket prices across a much wider part of Somerset. The operator has also introduced a new network of bus services in the town. The experimental fares are available across routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, as well as parallel sections of other routes that run to and from Taunton. Within the town, there will be a flat £3 day return, which will include journeys where a change of bus is needed. The equivalent single fare is now £2. For the majority of existing customers, the change represents a cut in the price of travel. Children between five and 15 years of age have seen all their fares reduced, fixed at half of the equivalent adult fare. The Taunton Weekly Passes have been reduced to £15. There will be no differential for peak and off peak travel. The current £4.30 FirstDay ticket will be replaced by the ‘Anywhere to Anywhere’ £3 return that includes changes of bus.

Director for First in the South West, Alex Carter, said, ‘We’re committed to reviewing our whole operation in Somerset, improving each aspect of the offer to our customers and potential new customers. We’ve taken on board feedback from customers about the lack of some ticket types, the complicated nature of fares, and restrictions on some tickets. We’re taking the opportunity of delivering a new set of fares and tickets alongside the new network of Taunton bus routes, which have been designed to encourage growth in bus usage. We’ll be keeping a close watch on the results of the changes to see how they work in the town, to help deliver improvements both in Taunton and more widely in Somerset later in the year.’

First partners with Guide Dogs

ImageFirstBus claims it will become the first company in the bus industry to provide its drivers with specific training designed to help people who are blind or partially sighted to confidently use the bus. The operator will begin this training for each of its 17,000 UK drivers from September. To provide this tuition, it has been working closely with Guide Dogs, which provides the My Guide sighted guiding scheme. First drivers will be encouraged to either verbally guide or physically assist customers that may have sight problems to their seats and urged to alert these customers when their stop is approaching. During this training, drivers will spend some time blindfolded so they can play the role of a blind passenger and therefore better understand the needs and concerns of such customers.

Customer Service and Communications Director for FirstBus, Barbara Bedford, said, ‘We are setting new standards of customer service across our operations in the UK. By improving our customer proposition we will encourage more people to travel by bus and to travel by bus more often. As part of our commitment to improve customer service we will be working with a number of disability groups to understand how the company can provide better services. We’ve already taken steps to make life a little easier for customers with disabilities. All our new buses have been designed with extra space at the front of the bus and fitted with more grab rails, which should provide customers who are blind or partially sighted with a little bit more support and reassurance.’

Pic: Training & Development Manager for First UK Bus, Keith Sheard, helps blind customer, Stewart Heppleston.

Zero tolerance pays off for First

First Glasgow’s zero tolerance approach to combating vandalism has produced some ‘dramatic improvements’. Broken windows have been reduced from 8,000 ten years ago to just 750 for last year. According to the operator, forging close relationships with the police, the introduction of CCTV to the majority of the fleet, running anti-vandalism programmes and better engaging with local communities have been key reasons for the better results. First has also pledged to prosecute anyone found damaging its vehicles. Indeed the company recently made legal history by winning a civil court case banning a vandal (Nathan Chlosta) from its fleet for life after damaging 26 First Glasgow buses in the space of three months. First was also awarded £10,000 damages. The vandal, who damaged windows on 26 buses, was given a 200 hour community payback order.

Managing Director of First Glasgow, Ronnie Park, said: ‘Our responsibility is to our customers – to give them a pleasant, safe experience when travelling on our buses. We adopt this zero tolerance approach to make bus travel safer and more pleasant for all our customers. In addition, as a commercial bus operator, we would much rather invest the revenue we receive from customers in improving our services, and not replacing windows or cleaning graffiti. Given our scale of operations (114m passenger trips a year; 950 buses; 41m miles covered annually) crime on our buses is extremely low. However, our approach to reducing instances of vandalism will remain relentless – we will continue to do everything we can to further improve on our good record.’

First rolls out more Wi-Fi

ImageFollowing First Scotland East’s £1.5m January investment in ten new ADL Enviro300s for service X95 (Edinburgh – Carlisle), it has now fitted complementary Wi-Fi to a further six buses on the route. This means each of the 16 vehicles that run on the X95 are now fitted with Wi-Fi. Additionally, the interior of each vehicle has been modified to allow greater flexibility for both buggies and wheelchairs, whilst providing additional grab rails for all passengers whether seated or standing.

Operations Director of First Scotland East, John Gorman, said, ‘The new buses have proved very popular with customers – the fresh new feel, extra room at the front of the bus and leather seats have all been welcomed. However, it is the complementary Wi-Fi that has undoubtedly been most popular. Therefore, it was an easy decision to equip our entire Service X95 fleet with Wi-Fi. Our investment in new buses and the additional Wi-Fi reflects our determination to improve services for our customers and our commitment to encourage more people to use our buses and to use them more often.’

Enviro300s for Bolton

ImageA new £2m fleet of 12 ADL Enviro300s have been put into service by First in Bolton. All fitted with Wi-Fi, they are working the 501 route (Chorley Old Road to Farnworth via Bolton Hospital). The vehicles previously used on the 501 will be moved to other routes in Bolton, replacing older buses and ensuring the operator’s fleet in the town is 100% low floor. The E300s are the first of a series of new buses to be launched in Greater Manchester over the next few weeks. A further First investment in the region has seen £1m spent on equipping its fleet with GPS technology to provide real time information and improve punctuality. In April, the company lowered its day and week fares by up to 30% in an effort to offer greater value for money.

Depot Manager for First in Bolton, Matt Rawlinson, said, ‘This £2m investment in new customer friendly buses is a major boost for Bolton and demonstrates our commitment to improving services for our customers by working closely with all our partners. These vehicles are the latest in terms of being efficient, environmentally-friendly and comfortable for passengers and are another example of how we are placing Bolton at the forefront of our Greater Manchester operations. They provide a credible alternative to car journeys, offering people choice when they are travelling around Bolton.’