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Catch the Bus Week

Have you caught a bus yet this week?  If you’re not a bus user, this is definitely the week to dip your toe in the water.  And if you are … then maybe take one extra journey!  National Catch the Bus Week is in full swing.  It’s organised by Greener Journeys, a campaign to encourage fewer car journeys and more trips by bus, stimulating economic growth, reducing congestion and CO2 emissions, and enabling access to jobs, retail, leisure and vital services.

We’re playing our part by staging five themed days, each of them underlining one reason for travelling (more) by bus:

Monday was Environment Day – promoting the positive role bus travel plays in improving the environment.  As a company, we’ve invested heavily in reducing emissions and our carbon footprint.  And we’re strong supporters of local green initiatives. To mark this, Desna and I took part in the local Beach Clean-up, and we had free bus passes to give out to fellow volunteers for their homeward journeys too.

Tuesday is Get Bus(y) Day – we’re celebrating what an amazing city this is, with wonderful things to do and places to go on our doorstep, and a great network of bus services that helps people enjoy life to the full – day and night. Members of our Customer Services Team are out on North Street today, marking the end of the council’s recent works to improve the pedestrian experience there, and giving out hundreds of complimentary journeys, plus coffee vouchers and bagels.  They’re also handing out copies of our Improvement Agenda, detailing some of the initiatives we’re working on to improve the smooth-running of our network.

Wednesday is Community Day.  We’ll be talking about how the company gets involved in various community activities, supporting and promoting good causes and community events, and encouraging staff fundraising and volunteering . For example, for this weekend’s Paddle Round the Pier – the annual beach and watersports weekend festival – we’re sponsoring the access beach for the second time, and providing volunteers to staff an entrance.  Here’s a video about our various community buses.  On Wednesday there’ll be the chance to win an annual bus pass too via our social media.

Thursday is our first Accessibility Day.  Our Accessibility and Communities Officer Victoria Garcia will be at Churchill Square with a bus all day, inviting disabled people to come on board to try out the experience and discuss their challenges, apply for one of our Helping Hand cards, and find out what other help is on offer.  Scooters and wheelchairs can be assessed for travelling on board, and the Mayor will be launching six brand new Shopmobility scooters that can be used on board the bus.  The bus itself is our new “loop bus” – a pilot project trialling an onboard loop system for hearing aid users.  There is a programme for the day here.

Friday is Active Travel day.  We’ll be helping the council to promote its new campaign encouraging locals to get more active.  We’re sponsoring brochures and posters, and carrying publicity about activities on our buses.  This is an important campaign for us, because there’s growing evidence that cities where more people walk, cycle and take public transport have stronger economies and stronger social connections – and that active, less car-bound populations are not only healthier, they’re happier too.  There’s a link to the council’s Get Active programme here.

So there you have it.  Five good reasons and one national campaign to inspire you to catch the bus more often – starting this week.  Have a good one!

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

An independent life

How does it feel to be truly independent? Chances are, you don’t give it a second thought. Most of us take our independence for granted. And being able to travel? To hop on a train, a bus … a plane, even? Nothing to it.

But for many people, the independent life is hard won. I’m thinking particularly about disabled people. (And yes, I’m saying “disabled people” – not “people with disabilities”. I’ve recently learned from the Fed that the former is preferred – because people are disabled by society and by their environment.)

I’m absolutely determined that our network of services will not be part of that disabling environment – indeed, that our bus network will actively help disabled people to live an independent life. That’s why we’re directing resource and energies into our “Accessible Travel for Our City” programme.

We’re learning all the time but I was particularly pleased recently to read this blogpost by independent access auditor Brian Seaman, who says he was “bowled over by the enthusiasm and a genuine desire to meet the needs of their more vulnerable passengers” when he audited us earlier this year for the national Access for All Scheme run by VisitEngland, delivered locally by VisitBrighton.

That’s in great part thanks to our 2-person team dedicated 100% to improving access, and passionate about their mission. These access champions are gaining national recognition for their dedication, creativity and innovation. There is more about their work – such as the Helping Hand cards, Taxi Guarantee, Talking Buses, and Safe Havens – here.

But importantly accessibility is not in a silo – it reaches across the organisation. All our Driver Trainers are Level 1 My Guides, and are now training to Level 3. More than 350 of our staff are Dementia Friends – and that number is growing fast. All drivers and everyone in customer services have accessibility training. Our popular Practical Training Days – when staff work with organisations such as Friends of the Elderly, Guide Dogs and RNIB – include trying to board a bus, buy a ticket and find a seat while wearing a blindfold, or ankle weights, weighted gloves, cataract goggles etc. This is having a huge impact on customer service, as empathy grows.

One initiative from our programme is Drama on the Bus. With the Grace Eyre Foundation, we provide buses and drivers for role-playing sessions for adults with learning difficulties – resolving fears and building confidence through acting out scenarios such as a lost ticket, a missed stop or an encounter with a bully. We have just extended this to younger people (12-16 year olds), when last week we took Drama on the Bus to three special schools in the city.

Partnership with expert organisations is essential, so I’ll leave the final word for now to Geraldine Des Moulins, Chief Officer of the Fed Centre for Independent Living: “Brighton & Hove Bus Company have demonstrated an open and responsive approach to the needs of disabled people in Brighton and Hove … They are proactive in their quest to make their fleet of buses as accessible as possible, by recognizing that disabled people are not limited by their health condition but by the world around them. They seem to genuinely want to change this as a company, which is what makes them so pleasing to work with.” Thank you Geraldine!

If you have any comments or suggestions, please do get in touch @citybusnews.

Active city, happy city

It’s hard to believe that some people in our city want to turn the clock back 20 years or more. Back to a time when private cars had unfettered access to our city-centre streets and shoppers on foot were penned in behind barriers at the Clocktower and other busy road junctions, waiting for traffic lights that never seemed to change in their favour. Back to a time when there was no priority for buses or taxis, and no cycle paths or car clubs either.

Unpicking the city’s progress since then seems like madness to me. “Well of course …” you may well say “… he would say that, wouldn’t he?”

But you don’t need to listen to me, with my obvious vested interest in a free-flowing public transport system of buses, taxis and park & ride, in people choosing to leave the car at home and make some of their journeys by Shanks’s pony or bike, in people choosing car clubs over car ownership.

There’s a growing body of evidence to show that cities with an active, less car-bound population are not only more healthy, they’re more “resilient” too – to physical, social and economic challenges.

A new study by the University of California – commissioned by Sustrans and Nike, and published this week for the Active Cities Summit in Bristol – draws on research from 17 countries and concludes that cities have an economic imperative to promote walking, cycling and public transport. It describes how cities in which residents are physically active have better economic productivity, higher property values and improved school performance, as well as healthier populations.

Other recent research draws a clear link between an active lifestyle, well-being and happiness.

Charles Montgomery, who wrote “Happy City”, contrasts “auto-dependent communities” – where he says people are less likely to trust neighbours, do community activities, volunteer or even vote – with safer, more walkable environments that nurture social connections. Happy cities are those that draw us together, and bring out the best in us, because “the systems and forms of our cities influence how we feel and treat each other … they are the emotional infrastructure”.

If our city – and the Greater Brighton City Region – is to compete, thrive and be happy in the 21st century, we need to become an Active City. As a company, we’ll be looking for ways to support the city to do this – and I know we’re not alone.

Do let me know what you think @citybusnews.