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

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12. Community Transport the Nightlink Service, Manchester Mini-Bus Agency

The problem addressed

Partington is a large overspill estate in the rural hinterland of Manchester. It is geographically isolated with road access restricted by the proximity of the Manchester Ship Canal and the nearby petrochemical works. There is high unemployment and low car ownership. During the day, there are quite good bus services, but after 18.30 few services operate within walking distance of the estate. There is no local taxi company on or near Partington and other firms are reluctant to travel out to the estate.

An evening service to Partington was put out to tender by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. However, there were two violent incidents when drivers were attacked and the commercial bus operators withdrew evening services and declined to tender for the contract.

Manchester Mini-Bus Agency is a community transport provider that complies with all PSV regulations and holds a Bus Operator's licence. Although as a charity, the Agency cannot operate as open-access public bus service, it can operate a service that is pre-booked. The Passenger Transport Executive asked the Agency to tender and it began operating a service to and from Partington in 1997.

Developing the initiative

There were a number of issues that Manchester Mini-Bus Agency had to address from the start:

  • the personal security of the bus driver and of the passengers
  • the security of the bus - it follows the same route, at the same time, has a high profile and this all makes it an easy target for vandalism
  • the need to increase local ownership of the service

The Agency explained that it would be willing to provide a service, but residents who wished to use the service must first register with their name, address and a telephone number. Residents were told this would help to ensure the service was 'inclusive' and make it safer for passengers and the driver. Those wanting to travel would have to ring up the Agency and pre-book the service for the date and time they wished to travel. There are currently between 700 and 800 members of the Nightlink Travel Club.

The service

Nightlink runs in the evening to and from Partington to Stretford and Sale. It provides passengers with a connection to Metrolink and Manchester city centre. The service runs from Monday to Saturday and the last bus leaves Partington at 23.30.

Personal security features

There are a number of features of the service which address personal security concerns:

  • the names and addresses of everyone travelling are known to the Agency and this makes it easier to identify any troublemakers who are on the bus
  • passengers feel safer because everyone on the bus is known and a registered user
  • passengers can choose their pick-up and drop-off points along the route and this minimises the walk to and from their destination
  • waiting times are kept to a minimum as passengers know the time when they will be picked up by the bus and, it was observed, that many passengers wait at their home until the bus arrives
  • minor extensions to the route can be made to take or collect passengers from their home and this again minimises the walk to and from their destination
  • the same driver operates the service and is well known and liked. Many feel safer knowing the driver and are aware that he will wait for them, if they are delayed
  • local people take ownership of the Nightlink service

There have been very few incidents since the service started. At the beginning, there were a few incidents with missiles thrown and a shot fired at the bus windows. However, the service carried on and gradually the novelty of the new bus decreased and gradually the incidents stopped. There have been occasional incidents with people attempting to board the bus who are not registered as members of the Travel Club. However, passengers have supported the driver in explaining the rules governing use of the service and most incidents have been resolved amicably.

Observation and passenger views

Passenger views were obtained during a Friday evening travelling on Nightlink from the start to the finish of the service. It was well used, especially by those travelling to and from work and for whom taking a taxi was not a viable option. Men as well as women used the bus and many of the passengers knew each other as frequent travellers on Nightlink. The driver was well known and liked by all Nightlink's passengers and he clearly contributed significantly to their high regard for the Mini-Bus service.

The comments from passengers included:

"as a care assistant, I use the bus five nights a week - he picks me up at my house and drops me off outside work. It's safe, I feel very safe. I'm not happy about waiting at a bus stop at night and not knowing if the bus is going to come or not"

"I use the bus four or five nights a week - it's got lots of benefits for me. I feel very safe with it. The membership is important because we know everyone. I couldn't afford to take a taxi, not in my job. I would have to give it up, if the bus wasn't here"

"I use it once a week. I'm a student and I couldn't get to classes without this bus. There are no buses after 8pm - this bus works, it's reliable and efficient - a Godsend really"

"we use it most days - a lot of us living here couldn't exist without it. I do feel safer with him picking me up at home...it is so important not to have to walk the ten minutes to the bus stop and wait there..."

"it's very reliable and safe, and we all know Arthur...not everyone can get on the bus and that's important"

"I use the bus every night coming home from work. I've been cleaning, got this job for two hours every evening. I've no other way of getting home. I feel very safe on this bus...I've experience of other buses with the troublemakers..."

"...this bus is reliable. It picks me up from my home and drops me off at work. It saves me walking where it's dark and dodgy...it's very good having the same driver, it creates a sense of safety"

"it's so important to have a regular driver that people can relate to. It builds up relationships, it's part of making people feel comfortable"

"because it's a small bus on Nightlink that helps me to feel safer. I don't feel isolated like I do on a 32 seater. The driver is more likely to talk to you and that's all very reassuring"

The future of nightlink

As a pre-booked service, Nightlink is expensive for the PTE and it costs more than three times the normal rate of subsidy to run the service.

With SRB funding, a grant of £312,000 has been made to set up Partington Cooperative Transport (PACT). The grant is for two purposes: to open up public transport in the area to assist people to find employment; and to provide public transport to help improve people's health. Residents from the estate will be shareholders in the Cooperative. PACT will operate a travel club which will give members access to: shared taxis with regular scheduled runs to different destinations; and a minibus service similar to Nightlink but with a wider choice of destinations. The minibus service will have regular drivers and on-bus carers.

Key players:  
Manchester Mini-Bus Agency Establishing the membership and booking system

Providing the Nightlink service

Dedicated bus driver for Nightlink
Greater Manchester PTE Subsidised service on contract
Partington community PACT for developing transport for Partington

Lessons for good practice

  • Flexible response by PTE and community transport provider to local transport problem.
  • Membership system developed local ownership of the service and enhanced personal security of passengers.
  • Issues of personal security over the whole journey addressed through reducing waiting times and walking distances to destinations.
  • Use of a dedicated driver enhanced perceptions of personal security for passengers.

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