The Managing Director at First West of England, James Freeman, has tonight offered an apology to customers in an open letter addressing recent bus service disruptions and traffic congestion in the Bristol area.
In it he describes recent delays as “appalling” and says delays on the Ring Road mean a journey on the m3 metrobus service between Emersons Green and the city centre has taken an hour longer than the 35 minutes it should take.
He says: “£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… somehow the way has to be found to make these metrobuses able to run through these areas of increasingly chronic congestion.”
Tonight Tim Bowles, the Metro Mayor who is responsible for transport in the West of England, said that metrobus is a brand new system with more than 70,000 people a week using it. He said he understood the difficulties at peak times: “We have a big challenge now; it will mean working with our councils, who own and manage the roads, and our bus operators to build those new networks to make sure we can continue providing new services.”
Here is Mr Freeman’s letter in full:
“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. 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.
“Last Monday we introduced a fleet of eight brand new bio-methane fuelled double-decker gas-buses, replacing diesel buses, on the m3 metrobus service between Emersons Green and the city centre. This is an investment of £2.4m in the buses alone. By Tuesday, these splendid new vehicles were utterly gummed up in appalling delays on the A4174 Ring Road. A journey that normally takes about 35 minutes was taking an hour and 35 minutes!
“Not only is that frustrating for those on board, arriving at work late, in all probability, but it also means that the buses weren’t getting back to Emersons Green to operate their next trips. So, the bus to operate the 0815 departure from Emersons Green was actually only getting back there after 0900! Thus, the 0815 journey only ran when we found another bus and driver (over and above the eight that we bought).
“Then the buses were actually proceeding so slowly that they were picking up more passengers at each stop, so that there was no space left for people wanting to board at places like Hambrook – those people finding themselves left behind.
“Turn now to the m1 metrobus, which is the major south to north cross-conurbation route that celebrated its first birthday this week. We introduced a carefully-planned change to the peak-time timetable last Monday. This was designed to re-assign some capacity to cope with the extra people that we have attracted to metrobus in the Bradley Stoke and Stoke Gifford areas. The new arrangement provides a 7/8 minute peak time frequency between Bradley Stoke and the city centre – increasing the number of seats per hour from 450 to 600 over this section.
“But on Tuesday South Glos Council started long-term road works at the Great Stoke roundabout on Bradley Stoke Way. The resulting congestion has delayed buses by up to 40 minutes on each journey at the key morning peak times. This has totally disrupted the rest of the service straight through the morning, all the way to the very south of the city. So not only did this mean that the many people who have adapted their lives to picking up the bus at Begbrook near the new bridge over the M32, but even worse it meant that buses didn’t turn up on time at stops all across the route in south Bristol. For these people, the delays and disruption are completely inexplicable to them. You can forgive them for thinking we’re useless.
“Of course, when the buses have been turning up at Begbrook, 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 successive fully-loaded buses. No wonder these people were angry!
“From last Thursday we have been able to mobilise extra buses to operate additionally to deal with some of these problems (luckily, we have some new 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. 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. In the meantime, we must offer our riders, not just on metrobus but on the many other routes that are affected, especially from Thornbury and Bradley Stoke, Yate and Emersons Green, a most sincere and heartfelt apology if you have been affected this week. My fear is that, despite our attempts at mitigation, these problems will repeat next week and the week after and on until half term.”