Meeting with Stagecoach in Orchard Park

Notes

  1. This meeting took place before the announcement Stagecoach made about significant cuts to services across Cambridgeshire. There was no indication in this meeting that the cuts to services were coming so no questions were asked about this. There is a link to a petition at the end of this post.
  2. Apologies for any of this which is poorly written I took notes whilst the meeting progressed.  I could spend the next month honing this into a perfect piece of prose which may or may not see the light of day, instead I am going to publish this somewhat rough and ready summary from last week’s meeting. It is written in good faith from detailed notes but there may be some errors.

Meeting with Stagecoach Tuesday 13 September, 18.30-20.00 at the Sports Centre, Orchard Park.

In attendance – County Councillor Ros Hathorn, District Councillor Sunita Hansraj and Community Council Chair Andrew Chan and two members of the public.

  • Darren Roe – Managing Director Stagecoach East
  • David Boden Business Development Director Stagecoach East
  • Dean Owen – Operations Manager Fenstanton

Overview from Stagecoach by Darren Roe

Stagecoach are still suffering in terms of numbers of passengers using the service since Covid destroyed passenger numbers.  Patronage today is down at 75% of pre-covid levels. It is slowly increasing but there is no confidence that it will return to pre-Covid levels any time soon….. or ever.

Patronage by the elderly and other concessions (disabled users) is around 50% of pre-covid usage. Those passengers are paid for by the local authority which provides an amount per passenger. The drop in passenger numbers poses a really big challenge.

On average people used to come in by bus 3.5 times a week to work, that’s dropped to 1.5 times a week.  Bus usage is really unpredictable; buses are full one day then they’re empty the next so it’s really hard to run a business.

Government funding

Across the Stagecoach East region [Google says this is Cambridge, Peterborough, Huntingdon and Bedford areas] there are 300 buses. During lockdown the government supported the continuation of bus services by £1.5million every 4 weeks. That funding has dropped to £427,000 across the region and as of December that stops completely.

The government’s proposed £2 ticket per journey between January and March sounds like a good way to get people using buses but it is woefully short on detail.  Is that all services including long distance ones such as Oxford- Cambridge? How much will the bus operators receive? how will this work? How do you run a business like this or do any future planning?

Stagecoach have tried to be proactive to get passengers back onto buses. They simplified the fares and offer really competitive prices but they didn’t get as many passengers as expected.

Managing bus services is a constant juggle.  Stagecoach track passenger flows by each service.  Not all routes cover their costs and those which are profitable are being used to subsidise the other routes which are no longer making a profit.

One route in Cambridgeshire is subsidised to the tune of £85 per passenger and the Councillor for that village recently voted against proposals to improve bus services. [These details are noticed by Stagecoach].

Young people travelling from Orchard Park pay less than £1. 

A question was asked about services in London.

Darren Roe ran buses in London for 8 years.  London is unlike anywhere else the population density is 20,000 vs 324 per 1km here [presumably in some parts of the Stagecoach region or perhaps an average]. So in London you can put on 24 hour services but even London is cutting back services now. The buses also operate a completely different franchised model coordinated by Transport for London.

Resident question: Why do you use single decker buses at busy times.  

Ideally you’d like double deckers in the peaks and mini buses at low usage times but you’ve got to work with the resources you have.

Also the Busway A service can’t go under the low bridge so the Busway A is always a single decker bus.

Could more of the existing evening buses go through Orchard Park? I realise it wouldn’t work during the day, but in the evening there’s no reason why buses couldn’t do City, Science Park, CRC, Orchard Park, Histon. 

Stagecoach were interested in the idea and will get back to us. [awaiting a response]

Stagecoach noted that they made an offer to sit down with VOI about having a combined scooter and bus ticket [ie you could scoot to Cambridge North and if they re-jigged the routes get the bus home to Orchard Park at night]. Voi never got back to Stagecoach.

Residents question: Why are so many buses being cancelled and the buses so crowded?

They are 15 drivers short at Fenstanton [northern busway] they need 94. It’s hard to recruit bus drivers and there is a minimum 13 weeks training. They think it will get better in October, service changes should improve things.

They currently have 17 drivers in various stages of training but getting drivers through the door is a real challenge.  Darren Roe said that Stagecoach Bus drivers in Cambridge are paid the most and get the most holiday.  The hourly rate is £13.50 an hour.

People are still leaving their jobs as drivers though. Lots of staff were furloughed and they never came back. The job is by nature pretty anti social.  You might work at midnight one day then 7am the next as well as Saturdays and Sundays.  Last week they had 7 people booked in for interview on Friday and only 1 turned up.   Drivers are moving to jobs driving HGVs.  They don’t want to work weekends.  Stagecoach have pushed salaries to the highest limit financially that they can.

That said passenger numbers on the busway are stronger so assuming they can fill anything like the 15 vacancies with some of the 17 in training (there are always dropouts) this will allow increased services.  Stagecoach are not complacent about the recruitment crisis and are working really hard to fill vacancies.  Hopefully service improvements will happen mid October.

The number 8 service however is still only at 60% capacity so the short 8 won’t be returning soon and local changes to the 8 will not happen unless the passenger numbers strengthen.

Pictures of local busway Stagecoach buses at the Commonwealth games have been used to complain about poor service levels Stagecoach won the contract for the Commonwealth games 2 years ago and had absolutely no idea we would be in the position we currently are. So view this as a red herring.

Disabled people were unable to get on 50% of buses pre-covid. There is only one wheelchair space on the buses.

Stagecoach responded that the DIPTAC specification has never really been looked at since the mid 80s, Stagecoach have to buy buses from the manufacturers and they come with one space. Response from Dave Boden [self confessed bus geek].

Stagecoach are very happy for wheelchair users to come and talk to drivers.

Can the availability of the wheelchair space be displayed on the app? Stagecoach will look into this.

Concerns were raised about Covid. 

Stagecoach were keen to point out that there is really good ventilation on the buses, that all windows are permanently open.  That there isn’t a proven link between Covid cases and buses although that perception is harming their business particularly with respect to the vulnerable users. 

Bus cancellations are not clearly communicated and cause people to miss hospital appointments or be late for school or work. Can Stagecoach do better?

RTI (Real Time Information) screens should advise if a bus is not running, but this is not perfect (as the residents pointed out).

If a bus is not running it should update on the app and should be on the RTI screen. 

The  ‘my bus trip’ app tracks the buses and is more accurate than the RTI screens although the RTI screens use chips in the buses The bus is communicating via real time.  Sometimes buses get cancelled on route so that makes the RTI screens look wrong.

Timetables at stops – key stops in the centre of the city have them.   It’s impossible to put a timetable up everywhere with thousands of stops [others may dispute this]. Stagecoach are putting information back into the stops in the city and are looking to operate a community champions system whereby community champions take on the role of putting bus information in bus stops, or possibly working with Parish Councils.  – [Ros has followed up and will chase for more information].

Fully paid for by advertising timetable books used to be deliver to every house they are looking to do that again. 

Services to Medical surgeries.

Stagecoach would like to see information about the medical surgeries communities use ie Orchard Park residents are accepted by two surgeries neither of which are accessible by bus.  Stagecoach have also asked about surgeries prioritising appointments for say Orchard Park residents at a certain time so that they could put on a bus but surgeries are not interested.

Histon and Impington

Can there be a more frequent Citi 8 service?

Not until passenger numbers increase.  

The busway buses will increase in frequency when driver numbers rise.

Cambridge North bus stop (the one at the station)- unlike other guided bus services which all seem to be running well, services from Cambs North still seem to be limited post covid?  And there is no electric bus sign.

The post covid sign is a mistake to be removed, services are back in full swing.  The electronic bus sign is a County Council issue – Ros to follow up.

When Cottenham Road was closed, a few weeks ago, lots of people were left standing at bus stops because there was nothing to indicate that no buses were coming at the bus stops – even the electronic ones were showing bus times when no buses were coming. I don’t know if this is Stagecoach’s responsibility or the council’s but the only way to find the information was on social media, again excluding a lot of people.

Apologies for that it should automatically shut them down with a message ‘please refer to timetable’

Park Lane area has no bus service. From the furthest housing off Park Lane (Pease Way) to the School Hill bus stop is a long walk which many people with walking difficulties cannot manage. So a re routed service would be very welcome. 

This will not be considered until numbers strengthen.

Is there a possibility of a request stop at the west end of Histon along the guided busway? Stagecoach would consider it if safely done [Ros will ask the busway officer at the County Council]

For me the key question is why do they not cater for shift workers. There are no early morning (04.00 on) and no Late night services (up to 02.00). All services cater for shoppers and office staff only.

Stagecoach solved this problem in Peterborough [somewhere?? Apparently]. If you can demonstrate sufficient capacity Stagecoach will look at putting on services. It’s business intelligence.  So if there are group of shift workers coming from one location at a certain time contact Stagecoach directly and they will certainly consider putting a bus on [Ros happy to discuss this and work together on this there may be other bus providers as well who could get involved I can put residents in touch with the Combined Authority].  There is also Corporate ticketing [presumably an agreement with the parent business and Stagecoach].

If you object to the recent cuts to service Stagecoach have made here you can sign this petition.

https://www.cambridgeshirelibdems.org.uk/save_our_bus_services

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