2016 has been a difficult year for buses almost everywhere in the UK, even in London where roadworks and traffic congestion have increased journey times.
Here in North Herts the problem is more fundamental, with bus services disappearing at an alarming rate as the Council cuts funding and withdraws supported services, and commercial operators increasingly restrict themselves to daytime services on the few most profitable routes.

Among many supported services to go was the 391 service between Stotfold and Stevenage; reduced to a level of non-viability and then axed altogether leaving Weston without a bus service. The amount of money saved is insignificant compared to Hertfordshire County Council’s budget, but the ‘cost per passenger mile’ was apparently too high. It raises the question of whether this is a suitable criteria for assessing viability. Surely, even if usage is low, more consideration should be given to the needs of those who use a service out of necessity.
Uno and Centrebus have pulled out of Letchworth leaving it at the mercy of Arriva, who now plan to axe the 98 service between Letchworth and Baldock, leaving Baldock with no commercial bus services at all. With taxi fares amongst the highest in the UK those not able to drive face a bleak future in North Herts.

On a brighter note the Government seemed to eventually wake up to the fact that the current arrangements for buses outside London, i.e. a cartel of ‘deregulated’ commercial services creaming off a few profitable routes, leaving cash strapped Council’s to do what they can to fill the gaps, is not working.
The decline in bus provision is totally at odds with stated objectives of reducing traffic congestion and pollution, and also is detrimental to the local economy, with job seekers unable to get to employers and older people and the disabled unable to access essential services.
The Buses bill, currently awaiting a second reading in Parliament, gives powers to areas with elected mayors to take control of transport in their area and set up partnerships and franchises with agreed service levels, similar to those operating on trains, and for buses in London. There is a campaign to extend the Bill to cover all areas, which would seem sensible. Councils could then integrate commercial and supported services to provide the service levels we should expect.
NHBUG has written to Sir Oliver Heald MP asking him to support the Bill and the proposed amendment, and has suggested bus users in other areas
contact their MP.
For further information on the Bill’s progress see:

As well as supporting the Buses Bill, NHBUG has continued to campaign on both national and local issues concerning bus users. We have contributed to the recent Herts CC Transport Consultation, and have used social media e.g. our Twitter account @NorthHertsBug to support campaigns in other areas of the country and continued to campaign to oppose and mitigate cuts and improve services locally. We have campaigned, so far without success, for real time information from Arriva, to be available at bus stops in North Herts, a good example of a service improvement the Buses Bill could deliver.
Our bi-monthly afternoon meetings have been well attended considering the restrictions on timings; these often due to infrequent bus services! Representatives from local councils and bus operators have often been present, allowing two way feedback on the various issues raised. As a result of these discussions the timetable for the 91 service has been improved, even if it has not been possible to satisfy everyone with the resource available. The service is also now being run by a new operator with smart new buses.

The years ahead look like being at least as challenging for buses so it is important to keep campaigning. Bus users currently seem to lack the clout of pressure groups for train users and cyclists but hopefully politicians at all levels are waking up to the fact that buses are not only socially necessary but are also an economically efficient form of transport.

Finally, a vote of thanks to all those who have given up their time to attend meetings, raise issues, propose solutions and generally show interest. Special mention goes to Guy Brigden and his team at Herts. CC, and the District and County Councillors who attended many of our meetings and gave support; in particular Derrick Ashley, Fiona Hill, and Tony Hunter. Thanks also to Peter Ellingworth who has vigorously campaigned on transport issues in Hatfield and comes to our meetings to give us the benefit of his experience when work and transport permit. Not forgetting of course our members, without whom we would not be here at all.

Our first meeting of 2017 will be at Baldock Community Centre at 2pm on 30th March.

Happy New Year.
North Herts Bus User Group
Twitter @NorthHertsBUG

Updated January 2017