Mr Paul Jenkins, Managing Director of Thamesdown, updated the forum on planned changes to bus services as of May 2015. This communication has now been retrieved from the SOPF archives.

Presentation by Paul Jenkins to the Management Committee
on 20 Jan 2015

    Planned Changes to Thamesdown services
    as of May 2015

    Please ensure to submit your feedback before 31 MAY 2015

    As part of our on-going review process, we will be making changes to a number of services from 31 May 2015. The proposed changes are as follows:

    Service 1/1A

  1. To be extended through to Covingham and Nythe to offer cross town links once more. Morning peak journeys in West Swindon will be given extra time to address punctuality problems. Evening service enhanced to a regular half hourly frequency offering better links for the new entertainment facilities at Regent Circus and for the Town Centre.

    Service 2

  2. To be replaced by Service 1/1A offering direct links to West Swindon, including the Designer Outlet and the Link Centre. Daytime frequency on the east side of Swindon will increase to every 10 minutes from the current 12 minute service. Evening service enhanced to a regular half hourly frequency offering better links for the new entertainment facilities at Regent Circus and for the Town Centre.

    Service 12

  3. Minor timing changes to evening peak journeys. Some early morning and evening journeys are extended to and from Blunsdon at the request of Swindon Borough Council.

    Service 13 & 14

  4. Evening journeys from Haydon Wick after 6 pm and all day Sunday, will be diverted to run via Commercial Road to offer direct links for the new entertainment facilities at Regent Circus.

    Service 15

  5. Minor timing changes to some morning and evening peak journeys. The 2356 journey from Middle Wichel will be withdrawn.

    Service 17

  6. Timetable revised to run every ten minutes between Penhill and Park North.

    Service 18

  7. Service revised to run Fleming Way- Park South - Coate Water every 30 minutes. The service will no longer run to or from Penhill. We have looked at the possibility of extending this service to the GWH but cannot achieve this within the timetable.

    Service 20

  8. Unfortunately the numbers of customers using this service are not high enough to sustain the service on a commercial basis. As a consequence this service will be withdrawn with no equivalent replacement. We will be discussing the withdrawal of this service with Swindon Borough Council. Customers from Kingsdown, Stratton and Greenbridge will need to travel into the town centre and change to Service 16/16X; customers from Covingham will need to travel on Service 1/1A and change to Service 16/16X at New College; customers from Eldene and Liden will need to travel on Service 13/14 and change to Service 12 at Coate Water.

    Service 24

  9. Following requests from Swindon Borough Council, a revised timetable will apply.

The Presentation

Overview

At the Management Committee meeting which took place on 20 Jan 2015, Mr Paul Jenkins introduced himself as the Managing Director of Thamesdown and briefed the meeting on five main topics.

General Update

Thamesdown is 100% owned by Swindon B.C. although we operate as a separate commercial business with our own Board of Directors and we are only too pleased to make contact with the Community.
Changes to the economy meant that it has been tough for Thamesdown. At the national level the Government cut spending on quite a lot of areas of activity and in 2012 they reduced our bus service operator’s grant (BSOG) by 20%. The reduction cost us £130,000 in that year and we had to put the fares up as a result.
Furthermore, the Government is providing less money to local authorities and in turn the Borough Council has had some difficult funding decisions to make so since 2010/11 what they have had available to support bus services in Swindon has reduced from  £1.2 million to only just about £0.25 million (80% reduction) and that impact has been mostly felt by Thamesdown because we ran most of those services and we have had to work hard to change the business to cope with that loss of revenue.
Therefore, in 2012 sadly we had to make a number of people redundant. In 2013 our staff had no pay award and the size of the Network had to be reduced.
The reduction to the size of the Network concerned mostly bus services to the Hospital (the GWH) as a result of the ending of £500,000 financial support for these services. That was being paid by the NHS for 10 years since the hospital was built but in 2012 that was ten years old and it came to an end.
What we’ve done, as a result, is to convert some services to commercial. What that means is that they don’t get any form of subsidy. So our revenue comes either from users paying fares or travelling with concessionary free passes for which we would get reimbursed by the Council.
This transition has been taking place over the last few years, some elements have been more stressful than others.

The Number 16 Bus


The number 16 Bus, which travels along Queens Drive to the Hospital is doing fine. We put an intermediate bus stop outside New College, mainly to help us get the students out there but also to bring in more revenue to the Hospital bus and it has achieved that. Indeed, we now actually ran a more frequent service on the number 16 Bus. That replaced the number 3 Bus.
One of the services that we were not able to replace commercially was the number 30 Bus, which ran essentially around the Parks to the Hospital. This one came off, with no replacement, which prompted us to stop the number 16 outside New College, albeit it is a long walk to and from the Parks.

The Number 12 Bus

Bus number 12 runs through Old Town to get to the Hospital, it does not carry a large number of users, but it is doing fine because it is being used for other destinations.

The Number 20 Bus


The final route which we had to take on commercially was the number 20 Bus, which runs around the North-East side of town, that’s Gorse Hill, Kingsdown, Stratton, through Covingham and Liden to get to the Hospital. Unfortunately, this service has not responded terribly well to the doctor’s treatment. The financial performance of this service has been a source of some of concern and the service continues to respond poorly to all attempted corrective measures.
It has been suggested to Mr Jenkins that one of the reasons for the unpopularity of this service is that it has been habitually unreliable, does not run on the hour but runs every 45 minutes instead, which makes it difficult for hospital users. Paul Jenkins agreed that the original 30 minute service was very easy to remember but this had been heavily subsidized and the subsidy accounted for over half of the revenue that the bus was taking on the route. Once the subsidy has disappeared, something had to be done to keep the service going, otherwise it would have been a horrendous loss-maker for Thamesdown. So instead of running three buses, the route is now run by only two buses, which is why they could only run every 45 minutes.
An additional problem has been created by the road works, which is creating delays and making the service unreliable. Unfortunately, due to further road works scheduled in the near future, the frequency of the 20 Bus will have to be reduced in order to keep the service reliable, which means the bus will only run once an hour.
In order to maintain reliability, when a number 20 bus breaks down it would mean that there is a 2-hour gap and to avoid this a bus from another route will have to be diverted. For example, it is better to divert a bus that runs every 10 minutes rather than divert a bus that runs once every hour to resolve this situation.
However, ever since we took on the number 20 bus commercially, its financial performance has been giving us some concern. Initially we reduced the Saturday service to just between the Town and Greenbridge, and even that came off last May. And even now I’m afraid that the service is not doing as well as it should do.

Marketing Strategy

There is no question that the only way is up. The business has to respond to this new environment, one with very little or no subsidy. Therefore, marketing our services is very important and it is about finding a way for getting people to use buses more frequently.

Thamesdown Tweets

With that in mind, we just started a Twitter account to appeal to new users through Twitter and of course our existing users can find out about any delays by following us on Twitter. This summer we will be doing a lot more marketing, trying to tell people where you can get to on the bus and of course the thing that we’ve been waiting for is the new Town Centre cinema to open.

A mobile website for smart phones

For people who have smart phones, we now have a stripped down version of the full website about to launch. It has limited information such as timetable and fares, along with Real time information, which although available already elsewhere it’s not as accessible as one would like. The mobile site will tell you when your next bus is due and give you news about delays, traffic diversions that have just happened and so on. This should be up and ready in a month from now.

The EveningRider and the new cinema in Town Centre

This summer we plan to do a lot more marketing and we’ve been waiting for the new Town Centre cinema to open (due on the 6th February) and we’re already planning some joint marketing with Cineworld  to try get people to go on the bus. To help ourselves in that respect we introduced a new evening ticket called EveningRiderPlus, as opposed to DayRider. Anybody who travels after 7:00 PM (19h00) can purchase a ticket for £2.50 for unlimited travel right up to the last bus.
The prospects for growth of business are there to be had as long as there is somewhere to go. Therefore, the opening of the cinema with the new restaurants and the fact that there is now a Town Centre Morrisons, this is all good news.

Outcome

We have identified year-on-year passenger gains of around half of one per cent growth (0.5%) and we don’t know exactly what it is that have caused that growth, it could be a bit of everything like the evening ticket and more activity in town but I would not call those the ‘green shoots of recovery’, we are still waiting for proper green shoots to shoot up!
We need to fill the empty seats on the buses in order for the business to carry on as a sustainable business. We have made losses for the last couple of years and we just cannot keep on doing that.

3. Present bus network

Re-routing the Number 13 and 14 Buses due to road works

Due to the road works at Bruce Street Bridges, we have re-routed the number 13 and 14 and buses so they run to the Railway station rather than via Farnsby Street and Commercial Road. Although this has not been a popular decision, the diversion has helped us to cope with the delays that we are experiencing.

The Number 13 & 14 Buses

The Sunday buses on 13 & 14 have been starting much earlier in the morning and stopping much later at night for over a year now. On a Sunday this is our busiest route. The first bus leaves at 06:49 from Eldene and at 07:36 from HAYDON WICK and the last bus leaves Eldene at 22:19, departs from Town Centre at 22:45 and arrives at HAYDON WICK at 23:04.
We are hoping that people who want to go to the cinema will use those buses especially since this is an entirely unsubsidized commercial venture and its success or failure will depend on people using it. We are already seeing people using it, whether because they prefer to take the bus instead of a taxi or because they prefer to leave their car at home. We took a risk and ran the buses, and people are using the service. Until you try something you never really know whether there is a market for it.

The Number 15 Bus

When Waitrose opened in April (2014) we extended the number 15 Bus service. So right from day one with the opening of the new Waitrose store, there is a bus every 20 minutes. It comes all the way through from North Swindon, across Town, to Old Town to Waitrose. That’s every 30 minutes on Saturday and at the same time a new Sunday service was introduced and this benefited people in Old Town.

The Number 3 Bus

The Number 3 Bus was replaced by the Number 2 and 16 Buses
In May 2014, the number 3 Bus for students was taken off and instead we increased the frequency on the number 2 route (Covingham) and number 16 route (GWH) so that each  now see five buses an hour instead of four.

The Number 16 and 16X Buses

Since May 2014, we increased the number of buses from four to five, although they keep going at their old frequencies at the weekend because there aren’t so many people travelling.
You may notice that the daytime buses on the number 16 are now called 16X (X for limited stop). We show that to let the people waiting, say, at the Ambulance Station, that the bus will not stop there. The bus does call at New College in each direction.

Services that kept going due to Council Support

The other routes which the Borough Council continues to support are routes 21, 23, 24 and 25. Those have kept going because the Council is supporting them.

Bus services to Blunsdon

That has been the subject of quite a lot of discussion between the Borough Council and the Parish Council and the people who use the bus service to Blunsdon. This is a financially supported service and it is one of the few routes that the Borough Council are actually still supporting. But it is only runs roughly every two hours now and it runs during the off-peak period to ASDA Walmart, which is what most people wanted it to do.

Update on Boxing Day 2014

For many years there were no buses on Boxing Day. We took a chance a few years ago and it has been paying off, and because Stagecoach are not running on Boxing Day we have got the market to ourselves.
The number of users who used the Boxing Day service this year (2014) has not changed from the year before, but it is doing well enough to keep the service going. In fact the Designer Outlet had its busiest day of the entire business Christmas period on Boxing Day. It is not clear that this change was all down to bus passengers, but it does show that retail patterns are changing.
Now we are considering running on New Year’s Day. This occasion is often associated with sport but people do go shopping on New Year’s Day as well, so we will have to think about running a service for New Year Day 2016.

Stability

Apart from the above changes, the bus network has been pretty stable, which is a good thing because making too many changes too frequently would confuse people and they could lose faith and confidence in the system. However, everything is dependent on passenger usage, and that needs to grow.
We need to get those empty seats filled up.

3. Public Consultation before May Review

With that in mind, we are beginning a process of reviewing services for possibly the end of May (2015). So if there is anything you would like to suggest, or ask your members for their views on, if we can have feed-back as soon as possible – we have not started a proper consultation yet but you might as well be the first so if you like to make some comments about your own bus services, or bus services that you think should be provided, or the timetable, please do let us know.
But bear in mind that if your suggested new service or timetable is not likely to be carrying enough people to pay for itself, it will be unlikely for us to be able to do much because there will not be any financial support available from the Council.
Perhaps the only form of support that they still provide are Section 106 Payments for new developments. For example, the Sunday service and late evening service to Waitrose are under a Section 106 Agreement.

Your EU Legal Rights

We are about to publish a new Customer Charter which contains your legal rights under EU legislation. According to a Code of Conduct we must draw attention to people’s legal EU rights. For example, in Malta they had a 2-tier price, one price for visitors and another for locals. This has now been ruled illegal.

Journey Assistance Cards (JAC)

Thamesdown acknowledge that communication with drivers is one of the problems that people are facing and in particular if anybody had any form of disability or mobility issues and they did not want to make a fuss or draw unwarranted attention to themselves. This difficult is caused partly because of the screen between the passenger the driver.
We are therefore introducing Journey Assistance Cards and we hope that by offering this facility it would enable passengers to quietly and discretely just show the JAC to the driver and he will then understand that perhaps they need that little bit of extra consideration.
Thamesdown drivers are given disability awareness training. The drivers have to make an assessment as to whether they can observe any disability and it is a challenge, especially if the passenger has a hidden disability. But the JACs will help because, for example, the driver will know that the passenger is not ignoring him but needs to take time to get money out.
We have no idea what uptake is going to be on these, but we presume it is a helpful thing for the community.

JAC Consultation and Acting on Feedback

Thamesdown JACs will not indicate the type of disability, but they will indicate the required help. On the other hand, if feedback indicates that it would be more helpful to explain a little bit more to the driver about the circumstances then we can act on the feedback, within reason. These cards are now mentioned in the new charter.

Tips for considering what to say on the JAC

Thamesdown JACs will not indicate the type of disability, but they will indicate the required help. On the other hand, if feedback indicates that it would be more helpful to explain a little bit more to the driver about the circumstances then we can act on the feedback, within reason. These cards are now mentioned in the new charter.

Two methods for obtaining JAC

The Journey Assistance Cards will be available in two different ways:

  1. Travel shop: you can have the card(s) of your choice with a little plastic wallet to put it in
  2. Website: you will be able to download them and print-off the ones that you want yourself

Note: Thamesdown will be announcing JACs very shortly but you can see the JACs that are currently used by Stagecoach here

Getting rid of paper on buses

At Thamesdown we are keen to get rid of paper on the buses. We simply use paper tickets to ensure that the transaction had been recorded correctly on the ticket machine. It is perfectly likely that the machine would have recorded your journey correctly without producing paper receipt. And that’s what we want to move on to. You put your card in the machine, the machine beeps and comes up with a message that says: Please remove your smart card.
Thamesdown do not have a date set for ending paper receipts and they are likely to start with the free passes as a pilot.
For Travelpass users the receipts show the expiry date of the card that you bought, so the driver will now have to produce this ticket on demand instead of routinely issuing a paper ticket.
Paper tickets will still be needed for 1 day and for Stagecoach
If you’re buying a one day ticket you will still have to buy a paper ticket, although for longer periods a smart card will replace the paper ticket.
You will also need a paper ticket to travel on Stagecoach, because their machines cannot read Thamesdown smart cards at the moment and the ticket will prove that it is still valid.
The reason for restricting payment methods of weekly travel to cash
The procedure for paying for a weekly pass with the credit on your smartcard was so complex for the drivers that they were issuing the pass without deducting the credit and the customer was travelling free of charge for a week and the credit was never going down. Some of our best drivers were making that mistake so in the end we reluctantly concluded that the process was too complex. Now if you want a weekly pass you have to pay with cash. You can still use your credit or debit card to buy a weekly pass from the Travel Shop. Thamesdown have no plans to change this in the near future.

Migration of Travelpass to a new type of smartcard

In April, we will be gradually phasing out the current smartcards and replace them with new style cards. It looks a little different, but the main change is that it will work on the Stagecoach buses and the Stagecoach smartcard will work on the Thamesdown buses because the cards will be set up to the same common standard (ITSO). There is a small ITSO logo on those cards.
However, it does not mean that all the products that Thamesdown offer can be purchased on Stagecoach services. So it would not be possible to use Stagecoach buses to add credit to your Thamesdown smart card, nor will they be doing the Multi-DayRider, which is 6 days for the price of 5.
Must ask the driver to swipe the card to record the journey
If we do not know that you have made a journey using your free bus pass, we cannot claim your fare back from the Council. The more you get on the bus and the driver does not swipe your card, the more likely we are going to think that the bus route is not being used – but it is simply a case of not getting the correct information through.
So please do tell the driver that you want your journey to be registered. Obviously, if the card is broken the driver can make a manual entry on his machine. But do not let the driver to wave you through without swiping your card or making a manual entry because ultimately it is not in anybody’s interest for that to happen (the service could be withdrawn due to under usage and Thamesdown lose money because they cannot prove that you’ve travelled).

4. Hotlisting of Concessionary Travelpass

From 2nd February 2015, ticket machines on local bus services throughout the South West will indicate if a Concessionary Travel Pass is not valid for travel. This will only affect a small number of pass holders.
This happens when the Council has hotlisted the card. It means that if you lose your card and the Council send you another one and then you find the first one, technically you have then got two cards. Some people might give the first card to a friend, and then the friend gets free travel. Up until now the Council were unable to prevent this from happening. Now the machines on the buses can block unauthorised passes.
We don’t anticipate that many of cards will be hotlisted.

Amnesty Ran Out End Jan 2015

There was an amnesty in place until 1 Feb 2015, whereby if you were using the old card, you should stop using it and use the new card and cut the other one in half or give it back to the council.
After the amnesty
After 1 Feb 2015, if you are still using a hotlisted card, the driver will get the message saying that this is a hotlisted card, and he is then under a new instruction to take the card off you. So he will then give you a form which tells you that your card has been cancelled and that the driver cannot let you travel for free and when requested by the driver the appropriate fare must be paid.
It also explains that your pass has been cancelled for one of three reasons:

  1. because it was reported lost or stolen and is replaced. Do you have the new pass at home. Do you have this in a wallet? Or
  2. because your local council wrote to you about your pass but the letter was returned by the Royal Mail, having changed your address recently, or
  3. because your council wrote to you asking for up-to-date proof of eligibility or asking for you to return your pass. Do you need to confirm your eligibility? (This probably applies to the disabled pass more than anything else).

So we are implementing the rules as we are instructed to implement them by the councils. We are however told not to expect many hotlisted cards therefore we do not give our drivers too many of these leaflets.

Damaged card vs hotlisted card

Damaged cards are not the same as hotlisted cards. Assume that your card got somehow damaged, the machine will say the card is not working but it is not hotlisted. In those circumstances the procedure is that the driver will give you a temporary bus pass and take the card off you, send it to the council, they will send you a new one, and in the meantime you can use the temporary pass on the bus. Thi will show ENCTS (English National Concessionary Travel Scheme), temporary pass, zero fare, valid until – 10 days. We are finding that the 10 days is enough for the council to give you a bus pass. Strictly speaking, this arrangement is only made with Swindon Borough Council. For example, if your pass is issued by Wiltshire Council, they don’t want us to take the pass off you. They want our drivers to make a manual entry on their machine and let you complete your journey. This is completely separate from hotlisting.

5. Fare Rises

Sadly, from 1 Feb 2015, we have to put the fares up – a full list is available here.  Examples include:


Feedback and Suggestions


Feedback and suggestions are to be passed on to the office of Mr Jenkins
Feedback can be made by prepaid postcards available at our Travel Shop, or on the feedback page on our website, or by email to customerservices@thamesdown-transport.co.uk, or you can just write to us at our Barnfield address.



If you wish to provide feedback or make suggestions to Thamesdown through our forum, we would be happy to forward those on your behalf.

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