Using the Bus

I very rarely use the bus, even though there are many occasions on which it would be useful to do so. I live in Bournemouth on the South Coast of England, and this is an urban area which stretches from Christchurch in the East to Poole in the West. There is a single bus company which operates the buses in this area

If I were to catch the bus it would most likely be to travel in to Christchurch (for a trip to the pub or a restaurant) or into central Bournemouth, for a concert, the theatre, maybe ice skating or a trip to the Oceanarium. It would certainly not be for shopping (see Shopping and the Death of the High Street). On many of these occasions it would be nice to have an alcoholic drink, so the reasons for wanting to take the bus are clear.

But I do not take the bus, and there is only one reason for this. I simply can’t stand waiting around at a bus stop not knowing when (or if) a bus is going to turn up. There is a bus schedule, of course, but it bears little resemblance to the times when the buses do actually turn up. I know it is a cliché to say this, but it is absolutely true that 2 or 3 buses have a tendency to come along at once, even though they are supposed to be spread out by 15 minute intervals (on my route at least). I can see the buses going by from the window of my office, so I know this to be the case.

This is frustrating, because there is a bus stop for the two routes that I have mentioned that I would use, a mere 200 yards from my front door. If the bus schedule were more reliable, it would be quite convenient for me to use.

Not so long ago I had arranged with some friends to go out for a meal, and because I was likely to be having a few drinks I decided to break my self-imposed no bus rule. I went to the bus stop 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time, and proceeded to stand there for the next 35 minutes. No bus! Irritated I returned home and got in the car. Even if the bus had turned up it would by now have made me late (the car journey is significantly quicker). I vowed that I was never again going to trust the bus.

I should mention at this point that I am not directing any blame in this matter on the bus drivers, who are excellent. They have a lot to contend with, sometimes having to deal with awkward, drunk and possibly abusive passengers. Sometimes there may be fare dodgers. The drivers also have to have the patience to help passengers who may not know the bus routes and foreign visitors who do not speak English. They also have to deal with naughty children. Sometimes they need to assist the elderly and infirm. All in all it is a difficult and responsible job and I have every respect for the drivers of these buses. The fact that the buses do not keep to the schedule cannot be blamed on the drivers. It is purely down to the traffic conditions and the timetable. The bus schedule is fixed (15 minute intervals on most routes throughout the day) but does not take any account of busy periods (both in terms of traffic and use of the bus). In busy periods it would require more frequent buses to avoid these situations where there is a long interval between services.

But hopefully things are about to change. These buses are already equipped with GPS tracking systems that relay their real-time position back to the control centre. At the main bus stops there are LCD indicator boards that receive this data and display the anticipated arrival time of the next bus. Unfortunately my local bus stop is not one of those equipped with one of these indicator boards.

Frustratingly this real-time information is already available on the internet and via an app on your smartphone, but ONLY while the bus is travelling through the Poole district. You can simply click on any bus stop in the Poole area and see what time the next 1C (the bus I need) is going to arrive based on the real-time tracking. But as soon as the bus crosses the boundary into the Bournemouth district, the real-time information disappears and only scheduled arrival times are published. I assume that this is related to an agreement between Poole council and the firm that provides the data on the internet. Presumably no such agreement exists with Bournemouth council.

I am sure that this will change before much longer. The data is already available, it is simply a case of making it available online as already happens in the Poole area. And when this happens it will be a game-changer for me. I will now be able to sit in the comfort of my own home until a few minutes before the bus is going to arrive. And for the return leg of the journey I will no doubt be able to time very accurately when I need to finish that last pint.

Also here is a suggestion to the developers of the apps that relay the data to your Smartphone. How about a feature where you set the approximate time you want to travel and of course specify the bus route you need? An alarm could be set which is triggered when the bus is 5 minutes (or perhaps an interval of your choice) away from your chosen stop. Then you wouldn’t even need to keep an eye on your phone. When the alarm goes off it’s home time.

So come on Bournemouth council, get your act together. Let’s have the online bus information and then I, and others like me, can leave the car at home. The irony of this is that the resulting drop in congestion on the roads is likely to mean that the bus can run according to the schedule after all!


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