Get on Board: An agenda for improving personal security - Case studies

4. St Paul's Bus Station, Walsall in the West Midlands

The development

A new bus station was needed to replace the old shelters with basic street lighting of the former St Paul's bus station in Walsall town centre. The quality of this infrastructure was poor and there was little to address the personal security concerns of waiting passengers.

The new bus station is located in the heart of the town's enhanced shopping centre. It is managed by Centro, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive. The bus station was opened in July 2000. It was developed by Centro in partnership with Walsall Borough Council. It was funded with finance from Centro and Capital Challenge and City Challenge finance. European grants also contributed to the funding package. The Bus Station has been extended with a small satellite section completed in 2001.

The bus station has separate bays accessed by pedestrian crossings which transverse the bus circulatory system. There is perched seating at each of the bays. The facilities include free public toilets, telephones and a travel centre providing information and selling tickets.

At first, Centro (in partnership with the local authority and the police) had to encourage bus operators to use the station. The good security offered by the new bus station was identified as one of its strongest advantages. Centro has subsequently had two review meetings with the bus operators and their response has been favourable. In the interviews with users, however, there were comments about their difficulties in boarding the bus when two or three were loading and unloading passengers at one bay.

About 90 buses an hour use the bus station and an estimated 900 to 1,000 passengers at peak times. Retail traders have estimated that the bus station has helped increase the number of shoppers and turnover in the town centre.

Security features

Design

The design philosophy was for a station that would be open with high visibility to enhance passenger security. The structure was built with clear glazing and no obstructions to maximise visibility. The signage blocks providing service information at each bay are clear and open. The West Midlands police Architectural Liaison Officer and town centre manager were consulted on the design.

In interviews with bus station users, most felt security at the station was not really an issue, because their concerns had been adequately met:

"I've never thought about security, even when I use it of a night-time, so it must be safe. After all, as a young woman, I think a lot about my safety in other places, but here it's fine"[Station user]

"yes, of course it's safe. For us, that's not the point, it's the cold that we're concerned about. Safety is not the issue here because it is safe. Personally, I don't know why you're asking!" [Station user]

However, there was criticism of a cold and draughty waiting environment. A feature of the bus station is its 8 metre high oval shaped roof canopy. This canopy is protected by a 'green roof' system using live foliage. As well as requiring little maintenance, this 'green roof' brings environmental benefits in reducing levels of carbon monoxide, pollution and dust.

However, users commented that the open features in the roof exposed waiting passengers to the rain and contributed to their discomfort. Whilst most acknowledged that the previous arrangement of bus shelters was much less safe and had few features that contributed to personal security, it was felt by some that this arrangement offered more shelter from the elements. However, it was also commented that "all bus stations are cold places, what do you expect? It has to be open for the buses and you don't expect to be here long".

CCTV Surveillance and Public Address System

In total, there are 15 CCTV cameras providing surveillance across the bus station and covering all of the bays and pedestrian crossings. Four additional CCTV cameras provide surveillance at the satellite bays to the rear of the main bus station. An additional camera is also proposed for the nearby public walkway that leads to the main shopping arcades and Walsall train station.

Most users commented that the presence of the cameras "keep us safe". However, not all bus station users were aware of the existence of the CCTV cameras:

"is there CCTV, I don't know...I can't see any cameras as such and I don't think there are any notices about CCTV and what's being done with it - is anyone watching?" [Station user]

The CCTV surveillance system at the bus station provides good quality colour images and still photographs. The lighting within the station has been designed to minimise shadow problems which can affect the quality of the CCTV image. The bus station has a monitor for occasional viewing and 24 hour video recording.

Across four districts in Walsall, there are 90 CCTV surveillance cameras. A control centre is based in the town centre. The CCTV system at the bus station is linked to this main control centre with 24 hour live monitoring and video recording. There is direct radio communication between the control centre and the bus station staff. The police are also linked by radio to the control centre and can be alerted to and asked to respond to incidents. The control centre also has direct radio communication with many of the town centre's retailers.

At present, CCTV at Walsall train station is not linked to the town centre surveillance system, but Centro are keen for this link to be made.

There is a public address system that can be used proactively to provide information and to alert passengers to any potential risk.

Help points

Each of the bus bays is equipped with a Help Point, with one button for access to the Centro information hotline and a second for assistance in an emergency. When activated, a CCTV camera will automatically focus on the Help Point. There were mixed views expressed about the value of the Help Points:

"why would anyone want to use the Help Points? There's so many staff around here, if you need something, you'd just ask them"  [Station user]

"the Help Points are very good, but I didn't realise until you pointed it out that you could use them just for information. I thought you could only use them if you were in trouble" [Station user]

Staff presence

From Monday to Friday, during the daytime, the staff on-site are the bus station Manager, one Customer Service Officer (contract security) and two janitors (contract cleaners). On Saturday, there is one Customer Service Officer and two janitors on site and, on Sunday, there is one Customer Service Officer and one janitor on duty. Frequently, there will also be an inspector on site from the Travel West Midlands bus company.

"Yes, there's a really good staff presence here and with those jackets on, we can easily see them. To be honest, I've never thought about safety when using the station" [Station user]

The Travel and Tourist Information Shop is operated jointly by Walsall MBC and Centro. It is open from 09.00 to 17.00 from Monday to Saturday. There are usually two members of staff on duty. Staff in the shop have radio control with the Customer Service Officer. Very few incidents have occurred in the shop. Staff identified the most problematic time for nuisance could be on a Saturday afternoon and associated with drunkenness.

Customer Service Officers

Although on contract from a security company, all these staff at Centro's bus stations are referred to as Customer Service Officers. It was felt that to refer to them as 'security guards or officers' implied that there was a problem. Also, their remit is much wider than security and includes providing information to passengers and issuing directives for penalty fines, if the bus driver lays by for more than 5 minutes.

It is crucial for traffic safety in the bus station that the buses comply with the 10 mph rule. The Customer Service Officers monitor the speed of the vehicles within the station. At Walsall, a Customer Service Officer also attends town centre management meetings.

As Centro commented, the Customer Service Officers are in a position of trust and responsibility.

"here we are more focused on the customers rather than security. We want to make sure that the passengers are safe and reassured - have a physical and visual presence and information Help Points"

Many of the station users spoke favourably about the visible presence and helpfulness of the Customer Service Officers:

"there's good staff and they have lots of information. You get to know them after a while if, like us, you are regular users of the station. It makes you feel that, if anything happened, there's people here to look after you"  [Station user]

In total, Centro have seventeen full time Customer Service Officers and five on relief duties. At Walsall bus station, a Customer Service Officer is on duty from 07.30 to 23.15 with two shifts. In addition to the two dedicated Customer Service Officers, there is a relief Officer who provides cover at Walsall and other bus stations. The late night presence was especially welcomed by some users:

"I've been here at night and I feel quite safe. There's the guard and always plenty of drivers around. It's the other end that I worry about, when I get off the bus. But I never worry here" [Station user]

The Customer Service Officers at Walsall are dedicated to the bus station and are selected to be customer focused. The Customer Service Officers receive training from Centro on public transport related issues and from their employer's on conflict avoidance and first aid. One of the Officers commented:

"It is important not being just security. If you are just in a security uniform, this can make some people more aggressive. We dress very sober and calm, our whole approach is to talk things down. We are dedicated to this bus station. In time, people know us and we know them - that's important for helping people and to recognise when there may be trouble"

For the first time in 2000, the contract for Customer Service Officers was awarded on Best Value and not, as required previously, at the lowest tendered price. This change was said to have yielded considerable benefits. With the previous contracts awarded on lowest price basis, there had been a high turnover of contract staff. There was evidence that the performance pay scheme, introduced through the successful Best Value contract, had helped considerably in attracting and retaining better quality staff. Not only does the contract provide for an above average rate of pay on recruitment to attract better quality staff, but the rate is increased after three months in post.

The person specification for the post was agreed between Centro and the security company and one that the security industry considers to be an example of best practice. There is a service level agreement in place between Centro and the security company.

Janitors [Cleaning Staff]

Centro have recently added to the cleaning contract for all their bus stations to include evening and overnight staff. As well as the two janitors working daytime at Walsall bus station, there are another two working on site from 22.00 to 06.00 from Monday through to Saturday. These two night-time staff work together and, in common with the daytime janitors, are dedicated to the bus station. The cleaning staff do not receive any training from Centro and do not have radios for communication. These staff felt that being dedicated to one bus station was important for job satisfaction and because:

"people on the station get to know your face and that makes for a good atmosphere"

Any problems and how resolved

Staff, passengers, bus drivers and personnel at the control centre identified the bus station as a secure and safe environment. The incidents were mainly of a minor nature and often arose from disorder on the bus spilling out into the station. In these cases, often involving young people or a person who was drunk, the Customer Service Officer was often there to provide added support to the bus driver. There were said to be few adult disturbances, unless late at night, and then the control centre would contact the police for a response.

Initially, there were more problems from passengers attempting to walk through the glass panels separating the bays, but these have been made more visible and this problem resolved. The Help Points have only been used twice and, on both occasions, this was to seek assistance for a passenger who was ill.

One of the Customer Service Officers commented:

"our biggest problem comes from youngsters - they are lippy, mouthy and like to challenge you. We know most of the ones to look out for, a lot of them are young people younger than 12. The kids riding their bike or skateboarding on the station. I have had to call out the police when there's been problem with drunks, fights or drugs, but it doesn't happen very often and the police response to these situations is usually very good. They know that if we call them, it must be serious"

The cleaners described the bus station as:

"very safe and secure with not a lot of problems. Kids sometimes, but that's all really"

Agencies involved

Key players:  
Centro Design and development

Infrastructure management and staff

Maintenance

Contract compliance
Contractors Security - Customer Service Officers

Cleaners/janitors
Bus operators Consulted on design and review process

Providing bus services

Responsible use of the station
Walsall Borough Council Provides CCTV link to control room and live monitoring
Others:  
Police Consulted on design

Response to incidents
Town Centre Management Involve Customer Service Officers in meetings

Lessons for good practice

  • The bus station generally provides a safe and secure environment through a package of measures including live monitoring of CCTV, Help Points and Customer Service Officers.
  • The bus station CCTV system is linked for live monitoring and recording to the town centre control room. Radio links between the bus station and control room.
  • The bus station's CCTV system is an integral part of the town centre's surveillance system.
  • Help Points for information and assistance at each of the bus bays.
  • Contracted Customer Service Officers dedicated to bus station and with training and higher than average rates of pay used to enhance the quality and retention of staff. Not designated as security and with much wider remit and responsibilities.
  • Service level agreement with security contractor and agreed personal specification for post.
  • Cleaning staff on site all day and overnight to keep the bus station clean and free of litter.
  • Attendance at Town Centre Management meetings.

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