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Monday, 29 December 2014

Special Guest Post - Norwich: a parallel universe?

Today we welcome Kieran Smith to the blog who will be writing two special guest features looking at the relations between the London and Norwich bus scene. Kieran already runs his own blog for his local area, Norwichbuses Blog. To head over and check it out, follow this link.

Norwich – A parallel Universe?

I never have been a regular visitor to London, however, this year I found myself the area twice within one month. From this, I realised how different the London bus scene is to the comparably mundane happenings here in Norwich.
Norwich is served by three of the “big groups”, with Stagecoach’s Norfolk Green running in and out of Norwich up to every 30 minutes, First holding the dominance in the city and Go-Ahead’s Anglianbus and Konectbus subsidiaries holding a network of both city and county services. Along with this, independent Sanders Coaches hold a strong network out to North Norfolk with smaller independents running once a week and once a day services in to Norwich.  All in all there are just under 90 different services operating throughout the week. Most services run every twenty to thirty minutes, with a few fifteen minute frequencies. The most high profile route is First’s Blue Line 25 and 26 services, operating with a combined frequency of 8 minutes. To me, this sounds quite hectic; at least I thought that until my visits to London.

Is out of date an understatement?
With buses running up to every 3 minutes across a network of well over 1,000 services I was baffled at how not one person seemed lost and was struggling to find their bus. In Norwich, you couldn't count on your hands how many people there are wandering along Castle Meadow (One of the main bus boarding points in the city) attempting to find their bus, yet in London everybody seems to know what they are doing. I soon began to realise the reason behind this is how organised the bus infrastructure and information is; timetables in every stand, clear maps available and well organised and labelled stops. A number of stops in the Norwich suburbs have no or very out of date stop information, yet on an incomparably larger network decent information is somehow achieved. At a stop on a popular retail park a few miles east of the city centre, the stop information is now five years out of date, showing two services which now have not operated since the evening of September 2012.
Are revolutionary ideas such as NB4L tempting people
onto buses?
One of the busy stopping points for Norwich buses
The quality of the buses in London is also so much better than here in Norwich. In London, the Borismaster, Wright Gemini range and Optare products constantly being sourced for operators are clearly tempting passengers onto the buses, yet in Norwich, First (Norwich’s dominant operator) other than six new Wright Streetlite 10.8m DF buses new this month, the operator has seen no new vehicles since summer 2011 being delivered to the Norwich depots. So are Londoner’s tempted onto the buses as a result of their revolutionary technology and modern look? This point made me again realise just how different London’s attitude to bus travel is. In Norwich there is a pretty poor look onto the buses, their cleanliness and reliability. People hate them. Yet when speaking to somebody who recently moved to Norwich from East London, they could not have spoken more positively about the buses there. She told me she was shocked at how frequent her local service in Norwich operated and how old the bus operating it was; this particular route runs every 20 minutes and is operated by 2001-2002 registered Plaxton President bodied Dennis Tridents and Volvo B7TLs cascaded from London.
At the beginning of this year, the local authorities launched an Oyster style travel top up card called “Holdall”. The intention was to roll it out across all Norwich operators, yet with no operators wanting to jump on board it is only now used as a pre-pay method on council contracted Park and Ride services. On the subject of park and ride, nine of the buses owned by the council operating from three of the six sites are former London Transbus Presidents. If their attitude was to source newer buses for the services, would more people be willing to use the services – hence reducing congestion and pollution in the city centre streets?
All in all, the point of this article is to show how London’s excellent attitude towards the bus system has lead to such a positive and well organised structure. If we had this same attitude towards public transport in Norwich, would we have higher patronage?

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