In February of this year, Devon Live ran an article on how the deteriorating bus service had reached crisis level. The service in and around Exeter, had become so bad and people so angry, a Facebook group was established for people to share their experiences and developments.
Sharon Pavey, a 49-year-old mum from Beacon Heath who appeared in February’s article said of the Facebook group, The Exeter Area Bus Action Group (TEABAG): “The general complaints are buses not turning up, being late, buses being removed from the timetable without people knowing and the app not working.” She continues saying: “There are other issues, but these are the critical ones stopping people from getting to work, college and school, hospital appointments and job interviews!”
After the first covid lockdown was lifted back in 2020, many bus routes were changed to what can only be described as impractical or poorly planned. For example, the H and D used to alternate from the H going via the hospital, a longer route into town from Digby and Sowton retail park, while the D took a much shorter route via the popular area of Heavitree, but the D was removed and replaced with two H buses taking similar long routes into town.
Kerry Greenwood, a 55-year-old mum who works in retail, also from Beacon Heath, describes how the E bus used to pick up from the top of Beacon Heath on Lancelot Road – going directly into town and the length of the high street. However, she says: “When the E changed to the F1 the first obvious change was the buses were cut by 50% and took an incomprehensible roundabout route, not even stopping in the High Street or Fore Street. This meant I had to start walking from Sidwell Street all the way down to Fore Street to get to work. At the end of the working day instead of catching an E bus at the top of Fore Street directly to Beacon Heath I had to either wait for another bus to take me to Sidwell Street to catch the F1 or walk the entire length of the City Centre, which isn’t possible when carrying heavy food shopping. I would finish work at 5.30pm in the winter months when it was dark and cold, struggle up to Sidwell Street only to wait up to an hour and a half for an F1 to finally turn up. Sometimes I wouldn’t get home till 8pm or even later and my two boys would be waiting for me worried and hungry.”
Coupled with posts on the TEABAG Facebook group, Greenwood also spoke to large groups of people waiting at the bus stop – many of whom were essential workers, elderly frail people trying to get to or from hospital appointments. A guy on the Facebook group had to walk home in the cold with a dodgy hip, because the bus didn’t turn up – everyone had a story.
“I spoke to a young woman one morning who was in tears of despair because she was about to lose her job if she was late again, I’m sure she’s not the only one.” Greenwood said. Ms. Greenwood also reports, despite the appalling service, the price of her weekly ticket has risen – how can bus operator, Stagecoach, condone putting up bus fares with services is such chaos? Many are being forced to take taxis or their cars in place of the bus. Women are often left waiting for no-show or late buses after dark, leaving them vulnerable to street drinkers or thugs.
Greenwood points out, since Stagecoach have discontinued their customer helpline, passengers direct their communications to drivers. “Some drivers have told me that the problems result from a shortage of drivers, because Stagecoach is a terrible employer, and no one wants to stay.” With both drivers and passengers getting a raw deal, it has resulted in fraught relations. One driver when asked why the bus was an hour late simply replied: “I don’t have to take this abuse.” and threatened to not let us on the bus, Greenwood says. In the February piece, Ms. Pavey stressed solidarity with drivers, however, adds drivers also feel criticised by the public.
The original article also quotes a Stagecoach spokesperson saying, 90 percent of services had been restored as with other sectors, after the pandemic and as much notice as possible was being given to routes which were changed, yet this is in direct contrast to complaints by passengers, both online and on the street. The spokesperson emphasised local bus networks were helping to reach the environmental goal of net zero, but this too is contrary to increased congestion. Clearly there is volumes to be answered for, but after several attempts for follow-up input, Stagecoach did not respond.
Pavey says: “Some councillors started to act but now it’s gone very quiet again.” How can anyone believe local or central government are serious about cutting emissions? Surely, encouragement to get off the road and opt for public transport, must start at local level, but as services breakdown and congestion worsens, what we are witnessing is lip service and no since of urgency toward the climate crisis. With a vital public service in private hands, profit clearly comes before customer wellbeing or value-for-money –including decent pay and conditions for drivers.
While the bus is for anyone who can pay or produce a pass, the bulk of passengers are on low incomes, elderly or have additional needs so they do not always have the option of walking or cycling – much less the means for a taxi. Therefore, it will inevitably be the most disadvantaged passengers worst affected by poor bus services.
Editor’s note: How are the buses running in your area and are they as bad as the above example in Exeter? If you have a local issue you would like to raise which will affect disadvantaged or marginalised communities, please pitch to: email@example.com
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