Bus services for new developments

Matt Gamble | 21 Mar 2017 | Comments

On my bookshelf is a copy of ‘Bus Operation,’ published in 1947 by L.D. Kitchin. Discussing route planning, he states that “the shape and general layout of a new or rebuilt town is a matter of vital consequence to the bus operator.” While so much has changed in the provision of public transport since 1947, these words would be equally relevant to a 2017 edition of the same book.

On some occasions, residential estates and business parks have been planned and developed without enough consideration of how they will be served by buses. The result is usually a low level of bus service provision, a low level of passenger uptake, and a resultant high level of car dependency. The continued squeeze on local authority revenue budgets makes the provision of bus services in these circumstances even less likely.

An alternative vision for bus services in new developments starts with the principle of prioritising passengers’ time. If buses are to succeed in attracting passengers, residents need to perceive bus services to be quick, punctual and frequent. The design of new developments directly influences all three attributes. Following this, is the principle of maximising the resources used to provide the bus service; since this also drives a quick, punctual and frequent service. Passenger-facing technology such as real-time information builds support for bus services but does not substitute for these basic components.

In principle, the features required to give the bus service a fighting chance are straightforward. Roads should be of suitable width and geometry to allow two large vehicles to pass with ease, with consideration given to controlling kerbside car parking as required.

Bus routes need to maximise the accessibility of bus services by ensuring bus stops are within a reasonable distance, and that the walking routes that serve them are direct and well-lit. Immediately we face a trade-off between bus service density and frequency. In cases where development design has failed to adequately recognise this trade-off, it has led to poor bus service outcomes.

Providing services within a five-minute walk of every resident on a poorly laid-out estate means that resource is spread thinly. This results in low frequencies and high journey times. On the other hand, concentrating that resource onto a simple bus network may require some people to walk further to reach their bus service, but enables frequency to be maximised.

Good master-planning enables the trade-off to be minimised. In other words, it maximises the number of people who live within an acceptable walking distance of a bus route, while reducing the bus journey time. This shorter journey time reduces the length of time passengers have to wait between services, which can in turn generate demand and mode shift.

Well planned bus services can provide a quick, punctual and frequent offering to transport users and residents of new developments. It is evident that higher population densities should be encouraged around bus routes. What’s more evident though, is that the founding principles of bus operations reign supreme.