Two new managers have just taken charge of the area’s buses and they are promising to listen to what passengers are saying and make sure services are as reliable as possible.
The new Area Managing Director for Arriva in Kent and Surrey, Oliver Monahan (below) told Southborough News: “We want to reset the relationship with customers and engage with people. We want to be embedded in the community and grow the market. We have been too remote and we want to change that.”
Mr Monahan promised to look again at timings of some services in Southborough, which have been criticised by users for their poor frequency at peak times. Arriva says reliability was improved after a major review was completed in April and Mr Monahan says the emphasis now is: “to drive performance and look to become a part of the communities that we serve”. Mr Monahan has just arrived from Transport For London.
Meanwhile, Adrian Tullett (below) is also just settling into his new role as the Area General Manager for Tunbridge Wells. Mr Tullett previously drove buses in the area in the late 1980s, went onto manage services around southern England, did a stint in Singapore before most recently managing buses in Brighton.
Having been shown the evidence of the scarcity of buses in Southborough at peak times, Mr Tullett says they are now actively looking for solutions. Mr Tullett says he has asked the timetable experts in Arriva’s commercial department “to thrash out some ideas and options to improve the corridor.”
There may be a rethink when the opening of the dualled A21 later this year reduces some journey times and creates more capacity. Another major development will be when the ageing bus depot in St John’s (shown below) closes in the next few months.
As clearly advertised outside, it will be demolished and replaced by housing.
Mr Monahan says Arriva are “investing heavily” in the area. It plans to build a brand new bus depot in North Farm industrial estate.
Mr Monahan questioned a recent decision to remove a section of the bus lane next to Southborough cricket ground to create a short cycle lane. He thinks removing bus lanes will “create more congestion and drive that viscous circle of slower buses, fewer customers and higher fares.”
Mr Monahan points out that bus operators like Arriva are not allowed by law to run routes at a loss, so lower revenues often have to be dealt with by higher fares, which then creates this viscous circle of reduced passenger numbers and yet higher fares.
Bus travel overall is on the decline in Britain, which has angered many campaigners as most experts say bus travel should actually be increasing as it leads to reduced congestion and pollution, amid the widely accepted need to tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions from cars. A double decker bus can take up to 76 vehicles off the road.
Mr Monahan said: “Arriva’s fleet uses very clean diesel engines and we now have a UK wide policy of only buying the latest Euro 6 engines which are actually cleaner than most hybrids in the level of NOx particles they generate. “
High fares and the move to online shopping have been blamed for falling passenger use. Even older passengers seem to be ordering more online and so apparently feel the need to go to the shops less often.
Mr Monahan says he wants to recast the industry with experimental new innovations such as ArrivaClick which was launched this year in Sittingbourne. Passengers can call wi-fi enabled mini-buses when they need them using their phones. ArrivaClick fares are much lower than the cost of taxis.
Mr Monahan said: “I am actively looking to launch ArrivaClick into those semi-urban areas which do not warrant a huge (but so often empty) bus but which instead can operate on demand – people want to travel when they want to and not when not when I decide for them a few months or even years before in a bus they don’t even want most of the time! This is demand responsive travel and is set to revolutionise bus travel in those areas where this model works – the iPhone of buses!”
Since a new timetable started last April, Arriva says that reliability has been improved. But on some services on days with low to average congestion, passengers are finding their buses are sitting at bus stops for many minutes waiting for the journey to slow down to the timetable.
Southborough News has highlighted three major problems with the current services:
(1) Long waits for the peak weekday morning service northwards from Southborough to Tonbridge. This is now:
0605, 0631, 0645, 0650
0714, 0725, 0731, 0739h, 0753
0810, 0835, 0905
This suggests long scheduled gaps of:
25 mins from 0650 to 0714,
22 mins from 0731 to 0753 (if Hugh Christie school bus not running),
23 mins from 0753 to 0810
25 mins from 0810 to 0835
30 mins from 0835 to 0905
(2) Long waits for the peak weekday morning service southwards from Southborough to Tunbridge Wells. This is now:
0600, 0615, 0630, 0645
0700, 0724, 0740, 0754b
0805b, 0808b, 0815, 0844, 0907
This suggests long scheduled gaps of:
24 mins from 0700 to 0724
35 mins on non-school days from 0740 to 0815
29 mins from 0815 to 0844
23 mins from 0844 to 0907
(3) After 8pm, the evening service from Tonbridge station returning to Southborough leaves long gaps for commuters. Some services are poorly spaced. This is the service from Tonbridge Quarry Hill to Southborough from Monday.
1702, 1724, 1727, 1744, 1758,
1803, 1812, 1821, 1839, 1857,
1902, 1918, 1929, 1938, 1956, 1959
(BOLD is 7 to and from Maidstone, Regular type is 402 Dunton Green service
h – Hugh Christie bus only runs during school days
b – Bennett Memorial and other services to TW on school days only)
Some 402 services ended last Friday when the hourly Arriva buses heading for Bromley were discontinued. Another operator is starting a partial replacement starting at Sevenoaks and operating 4 times a day.