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Getting sorted at Brighton Station

One of the city’s recent success stories has been Queen’s Road. So many of Brighton’s visitors get their first impressions walking from the Station to the sea down this long straight road – yet it’s looked down-at-heel for decades. Now at last it’s on the up and up – with some of the city’s best coffee shops, a handful of interesting and quirky independent businesses, and a new hotel opening in recent months.

Then there’s the council’s work improving the public realm around the Station. The final phase is due for completion by the summer and involves repaving the entire area in front of the station with high-quality stone. There will be new seating and greenery, better bus stops and an expanded bus information office.

So, what about taxis? Well, at times while the works have been under way, there’s been a temporary rank for taxis on Terminus Road – along the western wall of the Station. This might seem like going back to the early part of last century when this is exactly how it was organised, but this 21st century return to the old ways has worked far better than we had expected. The crucial thing is that it’s removed through traffic from across the front of the Station, making things much safer and less congested for bus users, cyclists and pedestrians. As far as I know, the taxis liked it too, as it avoided the ‘taxi gridlock’ that happens around the Station at peak times.

No through traffic through Queens Road also has benefits down at the Clock Tower for pedestrians, cyclists, buses and taxis, improving the capacity of that difficult crucial junction for all of us.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Brighton and Hove’s taxis. If you’ve lived or visited other towns and small cities in Britain, you’ll know that (as well as a fantastic bus network!) our city is blessed with plentiful, high-quality taxis. They’re an integral part of our public transport system, as along with trains and buses they allow so many of our citizens to live car-free lives … leaving the car at home for journeys around the city, or avoiding car-owning altogether.

So if it works for the city’s taxis around the station, chances are it’s going to work for all of us. And I’m going to be backing the idea that a rank up Terminus Road becomes a permanent fixture. Will you join me?

If you’ve any comments, do get in touch @citybusnews.

Beside the seaside (reluctantly)

If you’ve been on a bus travelling west from Brighton’s Old Steine recently, you may well have been treated to an unexpected – and unwelcome – sea view. We’re not too thrilled about it ourselves. Roadworks in North Street – now about half way through their 4 months – mean it’s one-way only for most of our buses from 0800 to 1600 on weekdays and 0900-1200 on Saturdays at the moment.

A few folk might think this change should be permanent – that is, that buses should only ever go east down North Street and west via the seafront and West Street. But it’s clear from the last few weeks of misery for bus users that this means:

• much slower journey times across the centre of the city

• a significantly reduced effective frequency (as excessive delays lead to ‘bunching’ and journey cancellations)

• no convenient bus stops for a significant area of the city centre

• major disadvantages for elderly and disabled people

• increased safety risks in having to cross to the far side of the Old Steine

• buses operating on the wrong side of the heavily congested seafront dual carriageway.

So, anyone thinking this is a viable longer-term option … think again. This can’t go on for much longer. Not least because the Traffic Commissioner will not wear longer journey times permanently without an overhaul of the timetable, which could push operating costs up significantly and have a knock-on impact on frequencies or fares. Slower journeys, less frequent services or higher fares: this is not a recipe for the continuing success of our city’s bus network.

The sooner we get back to two-way bus routes in North Street the better. Roll on the summer!

If you’ve any comments, do get in touch @citybusnews

Click here for further details on the North Street diversion.

In praise of Twitter

At the risk of sounding like that character from the Fast Show, isn’t Twitter brilliant?

I’m only just getting to grips with tweeting (as @citybusnews). You can’t beat meeting someone face-to-face when it comes to understanding different perspectives – but Twitter means I can stay in touch with more people each day. Plus, it’s a great source of news and views.

But it’s our B&H consumer-facing Twitter feed where you can really see the power of social media in action.

Managing services remotely has always been a challenge for public transport operators. Our customers are our eyes and ears across the city. We rely on them to tell us when we get things wrong, so that we can improve things.

Go to @BrightonHoveBus and you can see how Twitter is helping us. Every interaction is handled by our customer services team, complaints and glitches are investigated within minutes, responses are sent, then details fed back to me and my management team, so that we can improve performance wherever possible. (Of course some problems are unavoidable. We’ve got some challenges with roadworks causing delays at the moment – and that’s keeping our Twitter team on its toes.)

We’ve got nearly 300 buses out there at any one time. And we carry more than 50 million passenger journeys a year. We have 91% customer satisfaction: that’s above-average for our industry, but we always strive to do better. Twitter and other social media are helping us to do just that.

Do keep in touch, let me know what you think (and follow me!) @citybusnews.

A brave man

Doug Paulley’s a brave man. He’s the guy who uses a wheelchair and was denied access to a bus in Yorkshire when a passenger with a pushchair refused to make room for him. He’s taken his case through the courts, won a ruling, had it overturned, and is now turning to the Supreme Court.

Why do I say he’s brave? Well first, he’s facing a hostile environment every day – from the perspective of navigating and negotiating his way around his home town and beyond in a wheelchair. And second, he’s navigating and negotiating his way around the legal system. Hats off.

What happens in our city? Well, all Brighton & Hove Bus Company’s buses “kneel” and have ramps. That doesn’t mean to say that every mobility device can fit onto our buses … but most of them can. We have a member of our customer services team who meets one-to-one with people who use wheelchairs to advise on bus travel, and takes them for “dry runs” to practice manoeuvring on and off too.

All our buses have space for wheelchairs. But what happens if those spaces are already full? Busy buses, other customers filling the wheelchair space, or a ramp that’s not working … these are just some of the things that can knock the confidence of a passenger using a wheelchair.

That’s why we’ve introduced our Wheelchair Taxi Guarantee. If a passenger in a wheelchair can’t access the bus, the driver will radio our controllers who will call out an accessible taxi cab, to provide a complimentary journey. We have an arrangement with a taxi company in each of the areas we cover. The bus driver hands the passenger a Wheelchair Taxi Guarantee card and explains the process.

A combination of the goodwill and cooperation of fellow passengers – plus the Wheelchair Taxi Guarantee if there’s an impasse – should provide the reassurance that people who use wheelchairs need, to be confident about travelling by bus around our city and beyond. And that’s our goal.

There’s more about our efforts to make our services accessible here. And if you’ve got any comments – do get in touch with me @citybusnews