Bus/rail interchanges – the campaign continues

Local bus passes Lawrence Hill train station, December 2022. This would be an ideal location for a bus/rail interchange.

Earlier in 2022 FoSBR held an event in Filton and Lawrence Hill as part of a campaign to draw attention to poor quality bus/rail interchanges. As a result of this we met with an officer from the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) in June. This was a useful meeting where we had the opportunity to make our concerns known. We were pleased to be told that WECA was conducting a survey of local stations, which our comments would be fed into.

Recently, following correspondence between Martin Garrett (TfGB and FoSBR member) and Metro Mayor Dan Norris, he and I were invited to meet with the officer leading the study, which has now been completed.

Types of bus/rail interchange

We were pleased that WECA’s well-informed officer had visited all our region’s stations and found out and highlighted the issues in a thorough study.

We agreed that there are different types of interchange. Some, like Bristol Parkway have a collection of bus stops immediately outside (like a semi- bus station) where passengers can change between train and bus relatively easily. Others like Lawrence Hill or Nailsea and Backwell are next to a road where buses can help them continue their journey. Other stations like Clifton Down or Severn Beach are close to bus stops.

At some stations the bus stops may be less convenient than they could be but could be re-sited to be closer. FoSBR consider Stapleton Road to be an example of this. The key phrase of course is “could be”…

In all these cases, currently the infrastructure prevents the station from being an effective interchange but we consider the stations could have have great potential if such actions were taken.

There are other stations may involve a significant, often lengthy walk that most people are not likely to be prepared to make, such as from Filton Abbey Wood or Patchway. While some of these are unlikely to ever be interchanges, there are some (like Abbey Wood) where stops could be moved closer to Nutfield Grove on Filton Avenue to reduce the distance, or better still (turn away now if offended by blue sky thinking) the wide path at the end of Nutfield Grove could be made into a bus gate to allow buses to go between Filton Avenue, the station car park and Station Road.

Other stations have bus stops nearby that are unused (Abbey Wood again!) or even an interchange facility where no buses call, like at Worle where there are stops on both sides of the station. There is a lack of information on the ground so it is not clear that these are unused. Additionally the National Rail website states that buses from Worle should be caught from those locations.

What is and what should be

The WECA officer’s comprehensive study was focused on the present infrastructure and whether this means that stations currently have potential for being effective interchanges.

We completely agree that some stations could not currently be used as interchanges, as their infrastructure is currently inadequate.

However we believe our local decision makers at WECA and the local authorities should be considering things not as they are, but as they could be.

We should expect a firm commitment from them to the principal of interchanges. They should build on this report by considering what would be required at each station in order to connect with buses, and then identify whether this is desirable and realistic.

At the same time, as we have identified and the report has shown, there are stations and their stops that could be prioritised where easy and cheaper changes can be made. Action should be taken at these.

We believe all stations with bus routes within 500 metres should have signage to direct passengers between the two and information about buses should be at the station and about trains at the stop. This should be combined with maps, including of the locality and of the network showing interchange opportunities. Like with London Transport, Transport for Greater Manchester and other transport authorities, there should a standard style of signage. A legible network, if you will, fits with the idea of Bristol as a “legible city”.

A great first step

WECA have told us that real time information systems are relatively easy and cheap to install, so that would be a great first step.

Another important initial action could and should be publicity.

Many people – whether on a bus, at a stop, or in a locality, do not know that they can catch a train (direct or changing) to Clifton, Filton or Cardiff from Lawrence Hill or Stapleton Road. We salute GWR’s train announcements telling passengers to change at the next station for buses to wherever. However these things should not be left to operators. Timetables or real time information should be at bus stops and station platforms.

Distinction between operations and infrastructure

One of the issues that has arisen is the distinction between infrastructure (provided by WECA or local authorities) and operations (provided by rail and bus companies). WECA and the authorities state that while they can provide bus stops or bus lanes they cannot ensure that bus companies provide routes that serve a particular place or use these facilities.

This doesn’t have to be the case. In London, Manchester and many other cities, the Transport Authority (which is WECA in our area) commission and oversee services. WECA and our local authorities could have these powers and ensure public transport serves the places they consider important. However they have made a choice not to do this.

Political will for bus/rail interchanges

Not for the first time in relation to transport, we consider that what is often holding back stations as potential bus/rail interchanges is a lack of political commitment to consider what they could be. The geography on the ground is not the main problem. The main issues are the lack of clear policy direction and political authority, and the refusal to take the bus and/or rail powers that our authorities can assume.

In our view this is something we have to consider: how to raise the ambition at the political level, to ensure that such studies do not get put on the shelf and ignored.

So where we do we go from here?

Over the next few months we’ll be continuing with our bus/rail interchanges campaign. We will continue to lobby the Metro Mayor, Dan Norris. We’ll be making statements at WECA meetings. We also be lobbying key local decision makers such as councillors with responsibility for transport and our MPs. And finally, and importantly, we’ll be continuing to draw attention to the situation on the ground, how it affects passengers and how it could easily be improved.

WECA, we’re watching! We look forward to initial steps to effective interchanges.