The buses still do not know where they are going
Tuesday 19th March 2013, 5:00PM GMT.
LAST week saw the announcement of the latest attempt to get Guernsey on the buses.
CT Plus, with the backing of the Environment Department, unveiled a new route network and fare structure as it looks to combat falling passenger figures.
In doing so, it demonstrated some of the muddled thinking that has plagued the island’s transport strategy.
It is not all the company’s fault – it is left working in a policy vacuum because no one has decided what that strategy should be or how its success should be measured.
So are the buses primarily meant to offer a commuter service focused on Town? Or should the service be designed with the needs of visitors in mind?
Should the network serve more sparsely populated areas? Is it a social service? Is it all about cutting congestion and pollution?
Perhaps the first step with the buses has to be getting back the public’s trust in the operation.
There can be only so many times when a bus does not turn up, or turns up early so you miss it, or goes the wrong way and needs the passengers to direct the driver before patience wears very thin.
Still we see none of the innovations that make bus travel a realistic alternative elsewhere.
Things like Wi-Fi or perhaps, most importantly, real-time tracking of buses so users have a realistic chance of knowing if the bus is coming or has gone.
The proposed new timetable still has some frustrating timings if it is aimed at commuters working 9am to 5pm. What is the point of a bus arriving when you are meant to have started work, or one that leaves as you walk out of the office door?
That is based on the assumption that the buses are meant to be part of the jigsaw of cutting traffic, congestion and pollution.
If they are meant to be a shining beacon for the tourist industry, then the latest moves will dim that light. There’s something hideously parochial about a service that charges people twice as much just because they are not from around these ways.
It is another hit for a sector that government appears to have fallen out of love with.
And it comes at the same time as the aim to emasculate the round-island route.
These new links are meant to be evidence-based, worked out on bus carrying figures as well as information about how long each route realistically takes.
They are also no doubt born of pragmatism with the resources available.
And there is a big positive in the rebirth of the late-night bus service, linking different areas of the island for a realistic price.
New Environment minister Roger Domaille placed the transport strategy as one of the board’s priorities. A political working party has been drawing up plans, but has yet to make any public announcements.
Environment was forced to publish an update on its transport strategy last term.
Its vision report of November 2011 was eventually pulled, but it said then that there has been no meaningful States debate on the long-term future of the public bus service or its infrastructure.
There was, and still is, no dedicated premises in States control for it.
The department at the time appeared to tie itself in knots over the buses. The current fleet is aging, but a like for like replacement would mean bigger buses, it said, rather than the smaller ones the public seem to want.
Smaller buses would cut carrying capacity and reduce disabled access, it said.
At the time it wanted a firm view of the level of bus service needed over the next 20 years.
It also expressed support for a reinvented park and ride scheme operating from Footes Lane – a link seemingly lost from the proposed new network.
And it backed initiatives such as a bus lane between Bulwer Avenue to the Red Lion, a mixed fleet, a fit for purpose bus terminus, more sheltered bus stops and real-time bus information.
That was then, this is now – with a new board may come new thinking.
The bus service is subsidised to the tune of £2.4m. a year, but it still lacks a strategic direction and any way of judging success – or failure.
CampaignsVoice For Victims
Voice for Victims is a campaign aimed at promoting the rights of those affected by child sexual abuse.