One of the main objectives of my tour is to go into ‘listening mode’ and hear the views and opinions of passengers. On my bus tour of the North East region, I wanted to focus on the issues being faced by young people when they travel on buses.
Young people – particularly those from non-car owning households – are very dependent on using buses to get around. Unfortunately, many do not see public transport as being a friendly environment where they are welcomed and their custom valued, even though a number of transport operators have undertaken initiatives to address not only concerns about young people’s behaviour on public transport, but also to promote public transport as an attractive – and safe – mode of travel for them. So I was very keen to go and listen to what they had to say.
When I arrived at Darlington Station I met up with Emily Christer, the Darlington member of the UK Youth Parliament. Emily travelled around with me on buses and briefed me on the latest issues around bus services for young people.
We were due to catch a bus to Darlington College, but couldn’t see any obvious signs to the bus stop. If it was provided, the interchange information wasn’t evident. So we had to ask a taxi driver for directions. When we eventually found the bus stop, there was no real time information, but there was a paper timetable. It was organised by route number rather than by name and it wasn’t easy to determine which bus I needed to catch to get the college.
I noticed that there was a number to text if you wanted bus information, but this only gives you the set timetable, not real time information and there was a charge. I don’t think Darlington is particularly unusual amongst towns of a similar size in not having real time information. However, from April, the Bus Service Operators Grant will include a significant financial incentive for operators to install GPS systems in their buses so real-time information can be made available.
When we boarded the bus I asked the driver if he went to the college. He was very helpful and said he would let us know which stop to get off at. As good as his word, the driver did let us know and even gave directions on where to go next. That is the sort of good customer service that I think passengers have a right to expect on every bus journey. In fact, all the bus drivers I came across in Darlington were very helpful and friendly.
At Darlington College I got the opportunity to meet up with students to discuss their bus experiences. They explained their reasons for using buses as well as not. The young people who lived in Darlington were generally quite happy with the services and the concessionary fares available to them through the Teen Card.
Those who lived further away said that the buses didn’t really meet their needs at all – either in terms of price, frequency of service or convenience. For example, they told me that special college services were OK for getting to and from college at fixed times, but left them stranded if they wanted to stay late. Some of them travelled into Darlington from North Yorkshire and found that cross boundary bus travel was very complicated and fares very expensive.
After the discussion, I took a bus from Darlington College to the town centre. Again, to see how helpful he would be, I made a point of asking the driver to let us know when to get off and he helpfully obliged.
During the day I also met with a group of both younger and older people who had undertaken their own mystery bus travel project and they shared their experiences with me. Although the young mystery shoppers outlined some positive experiences, they also highlighted the negative ones as well.
For example, they told me that drivers sometimes don’t stop for groups of young people. Other drivers weren’t aware of the bus passes available for teenagers in the area (the Teen card). I was really impressed by their mystery traveller project and I liked the way it included both younger and older people.
Many people use bus services to get to and from their work place. For those without access to a car, the bus is the only way they can reach employment opportunities. So for my final bus trip of the day, I walked into the town centre and tried to find out which bus I needed to catch to visit an industrial estate on the edge of town.
I found six bus stops in a row, all clearly marked with bus numbers, but again, there was no information about where each bus goes. Once more I had to rely on the good will of local people to point me in the right direction. It seems that if you need advice on how to get around by bus in Darlington, people are much more helpful than the public transport information services and I thank them here for all their help.
Once I’d found where to stand, a bus came quite quickly and the helpful driver advised me which stop I needed to get off at.
This part of my tour has provided a new perspective on the problems faced by young bus travellers and it seems their needs are not being met fully.
Watch a video of what I found of my bus tour.