Tackling unplanned disruptions: Rail vs Bus

Modern 21st century public transport should be inter-modal and inter-cooperative. It should not be down to a lottery as to who your local operators are and who they do or do not cooperate with, with you being stranded when things go awry.

What is needed is for active agreements to be in place between rail operators (in our case Southern and SouthEastern) and local scheduled bus operators (Arriva, Stagecoach, Brighton & Hove, Metrobus etc) whereby the latter will accept the former’s valid tickets, for an agreed time period, so that passengers can continue their journeys rather than be stranded.

In reviewing this article it is important to appreciate the significance of the word ‘unplanned’ – unexpected occurrences that disrupt the network such as signal failures, train failures, human failures, weather- associated incidents.

We have to be honest with ourselves. To lengthen and re-word a popular saying: ‘unhelpful things can happen at any moment’. It is how the rail industry reacts to or plans for these occurrences that creates the challenges and concerns and thus affects our impression of their performance.

The key issue is how to keep people moving and disrupt their schedules for the minimum period.

It is acceptable for you to be stuck at a station, be told that replacement buses are on their way, and then be expected to wait 2hrs for them (or maybe it) to turn up? No.

Is it acceptable that an operator tells you a train is running (usually via a ‘live’ info system) only for the service to be cancelled at 0 mins notice, when the operator has had 90mins pre-warning? No.

Should you be able to make an informed decision (or just go for it!) and try and find a local alternative transport method for part of the journey? Yes.

That agreement should work both ways (eg if the A259 is blocked then the rail operator should accept bus tickets between stations).

Nobody is suggesting scheduled bus routes should suddenly be able to move hundreds of people long distances.  But shorter moves (Hastings > Eastbourne, Bexhill or Rye; Battle > Tunbridge Wells; Eastbourne > Hampden Park or Polegate; Folkestone > Dover, as examples) should be achievable and within accommodation restrictions.

There are SOME agreements. Southern has one with and Brighton & Hove Buses, Metrobus and Stagecoach route 700. SouthEastern has an agreement with Arriva (but we have challenged whether this was activated between T/Wells and Tonbridge on 7th June!).

However there are large parts of East Sussex and East Kent that do not have agreements, although investigative discussions have been going on for several months. This week we have asked both rail operators for updates on these.

Maybe local / regional councils and national government should take more of an interest in these failings. Perhaps the contracts of scheduled bus operators should have such agreements put into their contract licenses by default.