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Your Interview: Brighton and Hove Buses boss Roger French
8:20am Saturday 13th October 2012 in News
In our new weekly feature your Interview, we give you, our readers, the chance to ask key figures across Sussex the questions you want answered. This week managing director of Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company Roger French answers your questions
Dawn Barnett: “How will snow affect the running of buses in the centre if your depot moves to Hollingbury?
“This is one of the first places in the city to be cut off during snowy weather and buses often have to terminate at the bottom of Carden Avenue.
“How will you ensure that your bus drivers will be able to get to work and that buses will be able to run into the city and back up to Hollingbury?”
Roger French: We don’t envisage problems as Newsquest used to keep their print lorries and distribution vans rolling as Asda do with their articulated delivery lorries while other businesses located in Crowhurst Road, including the fruit and veg wholesale market, keep operating as well as Sussex Police’s custody suite.
The city council’s gritters already give the area high priority because of this. I am confident we will be able to access the A27 even if the Carden Avenue approach is dicey.
We will also continue to have our garages in Lewes Road and Whitehawk available. Our move to Hollingbury offers a brilliant opportunity to have modern environmentally sound bus garage facilities and free up our Conway Street site along with neighbours for an exciting development for that part of Hove.
Jo Goddard, Ovingdean: “Please can I ask how we can get the new companies running the rural services such as 52, 57 and 47 etc to join your electronic ticketing system so we can use the Key card all over the city? It’s so handy and such good value.
Users of council funded services have had to go back to the old fashioned paper scratch off tickets which aren’t easy to buy and work out more than Savers on the Key. Couldn’t you just loan or rent them some terminals?”
RF: I was disappointed that the investment we have made in smartcard technology (and also real time information) was not taken into account when the new contracts for these routes were awarded but understand the pressure the city council faced in having to accept lower bids to match the reduced funding they had available for these routes, which are not commercially viable, to operate.
It is for the city council who control the routes you mention to determine what ticketing requirements apply for passengers travelling on the routes.
We have made available stocks of our old style paper tickets for passengers who want to use these routes in addition to our commercially provided network. Ironically we missed out on winning the tenders due to our costs being higher, which is in part due to our investment in smartcard and real time technologies!
firstname.lastname@example.org: “When will BH Buses start offering night buses to other areas of town? Some people other than students do use buses at night. Seems that BH Buses are again pandering to students.
RF: Route N7 between Brighton Marina and Hove was our very first night bus route introduced in 2004 and continues to run seven nights a week.
The N25 was introduced in 2006 between Falmer and Portslade and has proved hugely popular such that it now runs at a frequency of every 10 minutes right through until 4.30am before reducing to half hourly until the daytime timetable begins.
It’s not a question of “pandering to students” – we are meeting the demand for large volumes of people wanting to travel.
Last month we extended the N12 and N14 night bus routes along the coast road to Peacehaven, Newhaven, Seaford and Eastbourne to run six nights a week and earlier in the year we revamped our night bus network which runs Thursday through Saturday nights so that areas such as Whitehawk, Hollingbury, Patcham, Hangleton, Downs Park, Shoreham, Steyning and Worthing are all now served.
We also run the N29 to Lewes and Uckfield and the N40 to Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath and our colleagues at Metrobus run the N73 to Crawley, probably one of the most comprehensive night bus networks provided commercially anywhere in the UK outside of the metropolitan areas.
Adam Campbell, chair of Western and Church Road Traders: “Is it acceptable for Mr French to dictate transport policy in the town to the detriment of other businesses?
RF: It’s the first I’ve heard I “dictate transport policy” any more than Mr Campbell dictates retail policy for the city. But it’s an intriguing thought that I could dictate transport policy, so here goes... just for starters... I’d build a Park and Ride car park for 1,000 cars at Braypool for visitors using the A23 and A27 and from where I’d run buses every few minutes non-stop to the city centre and serve the major hotels.
I’d install a similar facility in the area alongside Saltdean Lido for motorists coming in from the east along the A259. I’d extend the restrictions on loading and unloading and otherwise restrict access to buses, taxis and cyclists to Western Road, Hove as applies to Western Road, Brighton.
Heike Golightly: “I went to an annual event called Apple Day in Stanmer Park on Sunday September 30. It is very popular but most people drive because the hourly service of the no 78 was not only inadequate for the numbers of people using public transport, it was also more than 30 minutes late each way.
Why for events such as this (as well as home games of the Albion) can there not be an adequate, efficient bus services that caters for the size of the event?
It is very short sighted as it would be an opportunity to make lots of money.
RF: The buses provided for the Albion home games are run under contract to them by a number of bus companies, which we help coordinate.
The Albion transport team work closely with us to try and ensure there is enough capacity to clear the ground after a match within an hour, and this is being regularly achieved.
It’s a logistical operation of Olympic proportions for every game and is a remarkable success.
The bus route to Stanmer Park, route 78, is run for the city council, with funding from a number of partners as it doesn’t prove commercially viable.
Unfortunately there is a problem of disorganised car parking in the park at busy times, which the council is working hard to crack, particularly as this does cause delays to the bus, which gets stuck within the grounds on its circular route.
Heike Golightly: “Why do prices keep getting more expensive? This does not encourage people onto the buses. And why do you punish poor people, those who are not able to use online pre-payment (the key) for whichever reasons?
These discount prices should be available to all, not just to those who have internet access and a bank account. Would you call this fair pricing?”
RF: The cost of fuel has rocketed over the last few years and we have also faced a fuel tax hike of 20% earlier this year in addition to the normal fuel duty increases every motorist faces. Ask any motorist how much it costs to fill a tank compared to a couple of years ago and they’ll also relate how expensive it now is.
We have to fill our tanks to the tune of 2 million litres of diesel a year and we have had to pass this increased cost on to our customers.
Our range of pay-in advance SAVER tickets offer excellent value and our investment in smartcard technology has meant we can sell tickets online with no additional infrastructure costs or human intervention and pass these savings on.
We are no different to other commercial business and retailers who are able to pass on savings through internet shopping to customers and we also sell SAVER tickets from our 1 Stop Travel shops and a range of local shops and post offices at reduced prices, albeit not as cheap as online.
We are also currently evaluating a new method of purchasing SAVER tickets via smartphones, which we hope to roll out in due course.
Marguerite Marsh, 85, Hove: “Why doesn’t every bus have its number on the back? It makes it difficult for old people to see which bus to catch.
RF: They do.
Marguerite Marsh, 85, Hove: “Why don’t the drivers tell people to sit down when there are spare seats rather than standing up and blocking the gangway?
RF: Drivers will do this when they can along with their other duties, particularly if it is causing problems for other passengers. We would also ask for the co-operation and goodwill of everyone using our buses not to stand in people’s way and use seats when they are available.
Philip Evans, 64, Hove: “Why doesn’t Brighton and Hove Buses run a service along the seafront?”
RF: Because we can’t see it as a commercially viable proposition. Interestingly Stagecoach, who run a bus route into the city along the coast from the west, operate via Grand Avenue and along Western Road and I guess they also think the same, as they could continue the route to serve the seafront if they saw this as more viable.
Perhaps if ever the Brighton Centre gets rebuilt and Churchill Square is extended down to the seafront with a lovely John Lewis store there (in our dreams!) as well as the i360, there might be a more commercial proposition for buses to be there, but currently there is not a consistent regular flow of people demanding a bus there.
Until a few years ago the city council funded a half hourly bus route from Hove Town Hall to the Thistle Hotel, which was available for members of the public to use as well as their staff, but very few people ever used it.
Patricia Hawes: “Nearly all last week the No 46 bus due at 9 in Downsway never turned up and the driver just said it was because of the school run, which I don’t understand.
The timetable schedules a bus every 20 minutes during the day not 40! I very nearly missed my train.
RF: I’m really sorry about this. The previous journey operated by this bus runs to Cottesmore School, which has been busier than we expected since the start of the school term and the bus has become late, having a knock on effect on timekeeping of this next journey on route 46.
From Monday of last week we’ve rescheduled the school journey to another bus and we expect this will resolve this problem. My apologies for the inconvenience and the frustrations caused.
Matthew Hook: “At peak times some seafront buses run full to capacity because of very large numbers of foreign English Language students using them.
This means they often have to drive past potential passengers waiting at stops meaning hard working Brighton and Hove commuters cannot use the service.
Yesterday I counted over 40 students getting on at one stop, the bus was then unable to collect further passengers. Does he think that this situation is acceptable, and does he think it might be time to run special student buses during the study months, to free up buses for regular users?”
RF: Our bus network is open to all passengers and where there are peak flows – currently the coast road from the east and the Lewes Road to Falmer are extremely busy – we are scheduling additional buses and aiming to improve the frequency of service even further in the future.
Since 2008 when the A259 bus lanes were introduced we have invested in a 50% increase of peak hour buses with 17 buses now arriving in the morning peak instead of 11 and we are looking to increase this still further as it becomes even more successful.
On the Lewes Road, with the recent introduction of more Bendy Buses and an increased frequency, we have doubled the capacity on this route in the peak but it still needs further buses which we are working on.
Bill Wood said: “With the increase in the use of the bus pass and it’s rising cost to the taxpayer would a charge of 50p for every journey and restrictions on their use only to the area of the issuing local authority make sense?”
RF: The introduction of free concessionary travel for those over 60 or with defined disabilities in each local area in 2006 and extended England wide in 2008 was a political decision and it’s best for that question to be directed at politicians, albeit the funding is being capped as the qualifying age gradually rises to 66.
My personal observation is that in the longer term the scheme is probably financially unsustainable, which is sad as I was looking forward to a retirement riding round on buses all over England without paying any fares!
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