Saturday, 7 December 2013


Why is Nottingham's bus service usage now running so far ahead?


CITY Transport's corporate timetable goes back to 1848, when the horses tugging small coaches left steaming souvenirs on the streets of a fast-growing Victorian town.
And there remains something quaint about the company's headquarters.
The operation is run from a warren of little rooms in a huge depot built in 1929 to house Nottingham's first-generation trams.
Don't be fooled by the dated surroundings. On the ground floor, with windows facing Lower Parliament Street, is City Transport's control centre.
Three operators use desktop monitors and a wall-mounted screen to monitor the progress of up to 299 buses – the maximum peak demand on a fleet of 330 vehicles run by a team of 1,100 staff, including 830 drivers.
A colour warning system alerts controllers to potential delays. If the bus symbol turns yellow, it is running up to four minutes late, pink means five to eight minutes late and blue means nine minutes behind schedule.
At 1.40pm yesterday, the only "blue" bus suddenly became one of the few "pink" ones, to the relief of overseers.
This sort of technology, says City Transport, is one of the factors behind Nottingham's emergence as a star performer in the field of public transport.
"Passenger Focus runs a survey of bus passengers and Nottingham and City Transport come out of them with the highest satisfaction ratings," says marketing manager Anthony Carver-Smith. "Last year, it was 92 per cent and the year before it was 91 per cent."
After customer satisfaction, and the industry approval that came with the Transport City of the Year 2012 and Large Bus Operator of the Year 2013 awards, comes an impressive performance in a survey by one of the world's most influential motoring organisations.

The RAC Foundation reports that just 51.5 per cent of Nottingham commuters use cars or vans to get to work. Outside London, it's one of the seven best district figures in England and Wales.
Furthermore, outside London only Manchester can beat Nottingham's proportion of commuters who use buses to get to and from work. It's 20.1 per cent and rising.
To what extent bus usage is down to the excellence of City Transport, and to what extent the frustrations of driving in Nottingham in peak hours, remains a matter for debate.
The foundation, as befits an organisation representing drivers, uses its survey to press for a better deal for motorists rather than a better deal for public transport. Taking a dig at current fuel duty levels, its director, Professor Stephen Glaister, said: "Take London out of the equation and the level of car dependency in England and Wales is huge, not just in rural areas.
"People are still driving despite a decade in which the cost of running a car has outstripped wage inflation.
"The reason for this is that most people have no practical choice – 800,000 of the poorest car-owning households already spend more than a quarter of their disposable income on buying and running a vehicle."
By investing in public transport, Nottingham City Council argues, it is trying to provide the "practical choices" Prof Glaister refers to. Nottingham has closer control of its principal public transport provider than most cities. City Transport was run by the council until 1986 and the privatisation of the industry. Until 2000, the replacement company was solely owned by the council. Although a share was sold to help fund the first tram route, the authority remains the majority shareholder.

"With purely commercial operators, the aim is to deliver a dividend to the Stock Exchange," says Mr Carver-Smith. "Council ownership enables us to do things that other operators can't."
Thanks to the partnership with the council, he added, bus users had been provided with benefits such as real-time digital displays at bus stops.
Investment in the fleet has been stepped up with the intention of bringing the maximum bus age down to 12 years. Forty new Alexander Dennis E400 double-deckers are on the way. Another factor is that the standard single fare has been pegged at £1.70 since 2011.
So is the commuting public impressed?
"Until 2001, there had been a decline in passengers every year for 50 years," said Mr Carver-Smith. "Since then, the figure has been going up every year and in the last financial year, we had 52 million passenger journeys."
It hasn't been plain sailing. Passenger protests were long and vociferous in 2001 when cross-city services were scrapped. The result was that vehicles were freed up for more frequent services – so frequent that you didn't need a timetable on main routes.
Commuters are part of the growth in passenger journeys, says Mr Carver-Smith, who travels to work on the No 27 over Carlton Hill. "It's a myth that all growth in passenger numbers is down to concessionary travel," he said. "The growth we are seeing is in commercial travel."

The above from the Nottingham Post

Focus Transport comment

You only have to spend a short while standing around on a street corner or three to observe how the operation works. Buses are frequent and well patronised. Liveries are bold and bright with a clear message in the respective dedicated route branding.

Above are a couple of the large fleet of Scania OmniDekka that have dominated the double-deck fleet for many years. These are some of the largest and impressive vehicles in the fleet, that is apart maybe from the smaller fleet of bendibuses. With the Omnidekka no longer available, Nottingham have turned their sights in towards the home grown Alexander Dennis Enviro400 for their next fleet of double-decks.

ADL already have a foothold in the fleet with a growing number of Enviro200 single-decks. Some of these have replaced not so old Optare Versas.

Another strength of the company is the operation of two high frequency Park-&-Ride service, one out to the east run with Scania saloons (upper), the other to the south west of the city (lower), with Omnidekkas.

Whilst the modern day image of the fleet is dominated by double-decks, it also features single-decks as illustrated here by a trio of such buses, courtesy of John Moore. From the top a Scania OmniTown, an Optare Solo SR and another Scania, this time an OmniLink. The latter and its small number of sister vehicles have recently been converted to diesel power from running on Ethanol.

And finally a selection of double-decks that dominated the city streets during the 1980s and 1990s. Featured are manufacturers Dennis, Leyland and Scania. 


In the North East Midlands the recently delivered new ADL Enviro200 buses for local services and the Caetano Levante coaches for the far wider National Express work, have all now been placed into service from the Stonegravels base at Chesterfield. Examples can now be viewed here 

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