Alastair Dalton: Bus travel must be user friendly

A bus stop in Antonshill, Larbert. Picture: Johnston Press
A bus stop in Antonshill, Larbert. Picture: Johnston Press
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FOR regular customers bus travel is just the ticket. But what about the rest of us, asks Alastair Dalton.

It is by far Scotland’s most popular form of public of transport – but also its least user-friendly.

You often have to pay the exact amount, as some bus stops make clear – but they don’t show any ticket prices.

Buses have vastly improved since the days of a meaningless single destination on the front and the upper deck being off limits to all but the lung cancer ward.

Nearly five times as many people travel by bus as by train, but their numbers are falling while rail is booming.

The problem, from my perspective, is that buses in some areas appear to be still largely run for the benefit of regulars – with occasional travellers finding it a bewildering and frustrating experience.

My impression of bus travel has been: “If you don’t know the ropes, tough. You’ll just have to accept the service on our terms.”

But some of those terms are absurd.

There are bus stops without timetables, lighting at others not aligned with timetables so they are indecipherable in the dark, and no map at others to show bus routes.

In some areas, looking online isn’t much help, with routes listing only around a dozen stopping points in a 90-minute journey.

Then there’s fares. How much? You often have to pay the exact amount, as some bus stops make clear – but they don’t show any ticket prices.

Then you board the bus and find the fare is an absurd figure like £1.95. Did you remember the right change?

That’ll be a lot of extra 5p for the bus company.

It gets worse. You ring the buzzer to signal to the driver to stop, wait till the bus stops so you don’t get hurled down the stairs, only to find it has moved off again before you reach the door. The driver didn’t see you on the CCTV -–because it doesn’t cover the stairs.

You think you’ve got off at the right stop but the bus shelter is no help at all. It has the name of the road on it in big letters, but it’s a very long road and there are dozens of identical signs showing the same road name on every stop along it.

These are all episodes from my personal experience, albeit not in Edinburgh.

I can’t be alone.

The point is, it’s all very well catering for existing passengers, but bus operators must do far more to make the occasional traveller feel welcome so they enjoy the experience and consider using the bus again.

Like a commuter who has dropped their car in for a service, or someone popping into town because their spouse is using the family wheels.

A bus industry chief told a tourism conference in Glasgow last week that improving information to passengers was a priority.

Now let’s see it happen.

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