In my recent Letter from Westminster for the Bucks Free Press, I wrote about my forthcoming meeting with representatives from Arriva to discuss their bus services in our area. On Friday 28th July, I had a very useful meeting with Maq Alibhai, Area Managing Director South at Arriva, along with High Wycombe Operations Manager Renata Hale and Aylesbury and Wycombe Engineering Manager Russell Cato. I also took the opportunity to climb aboard one of the company’s new hi-tech buses which is now operating in Wycombe including on Service 32 between Micklefield and Booker.
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions in advance of my meeting. Arriva have responded as follows:
- What can be done to improve the service to Lane End?/ Why are there no Lane End to Wycombe buses on a Sunday?
Arriva responded that across the Wycombe network, profit margins were low. Arriva’s core services were strong but interurban services were less used and could be financially challenging. When Arriva reviews services, the company looks at detailed ticket sales information. There are fewer subsidies for less-used routes these day and Arriva operate very fine margins on the Lane End service. Arriva stated that they ran the best service they could but services were limited by customer demand and there simply wasn’t the demand to make it commercially viable to run a Sunday service.
- What can be done to improve reliability for Service 30 to Downley?
Arriva responded that fleet issues had affected the reliability of some of their buses in the past. However seven new Euro 6 buses were coming to the Wycombe network and Arriva were working to get more modern buses from other area of Arriva transferred into the local area as a priority when they have received upgrade. Arriva state that these brand new buses and newer models should considerably improve reliability going forward
- Can a regular bus service be introduced between Beaconsfield and Hazlemere/ Penn and Tyler’s Green?
Arriva stated they regularly review their network to determine passenger demand for their services and reshape those services where a demand can be shown and it is commercially viable to do so. The 30 and 31 services have been split to improve punctuality, as previously delays were having a knock-on effect which was inconveniencing passengers.
- Concerns about Service 31 regarding services for school children, service reliability, and diversion of service into new estates to the east of Wycombe.
Arriva stated that the timing of school services was determined by the need to get pupils in to High Wycombe bus station in time to meet a number of connecting services which are then taking them to different schools in time for the start of the school day, maximising their usefulness and convenience to the greatest number of people.
Arriva were not planning to reroute their services into the new estate to the east of High Wycombe and the company regretted the inconvenience to passengers using the 31 services. The service has been affected by disruption caused by gas mains work (which has now been completed) and by the reliability of older vehicles, which should be alleviated by the newer vehicles entering their fleet.
- Can a bus driver hand in a bus pass, if left on the bus? The constituent had to pay for a replacement only for the driver to hand back the original pass to their son when he saw him three weeks later.
Arriva stated that drivers are always supposed to hand in bus passes so the customers can be contracted. This incident is a diversion from their normal procedures and should not have happened and Arriva will remind all drivers of the correct steps to take.
- Concerns about Arriva bus breakdowns in Wycombe
Arriva stated they were currently receiving brand new and newer vehicles which is making their fleet profile younger and should improve reliability. The Wycombe area gives Arriva challenges which are not experienced by the rest of the Arriva Midlands area because of its geography. Arriva needs more powerful vehicles to cope with the hilly areas than other depots in the region, with greater wear and tear on gearboxes and brakes. As a consequences, Arriva’s engineering costs are higher.
In 2016, Arriva received 12 Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses and Arriva are receiving seven new buses in 2017- which are all better suited to Wycombes’ terrain. Overall Arriva operate 45 buses in this area, with seven spares. A commercial bus has an expected operating life of 15 years. Arriva state that the average age profile of their fleet in Aylesbury is 10 years. In Wycombe it was 13 years but the recent introduction of newer vehicles has brought the average down to nine years.
- Concerns about knowledge and understanding of the High Wycombe routes by the Luton Customer Service Centre.
Arriva responded that their customer service operations have been experiencing difficulties as they have expanded it with a number of new recruits, who have had to build up their experience and knowledge. However, Arriva believe that this is now improving and this has allowed Arriva to extend the working hours of the service.
- Concerns about the lack of timetables on the display stands at Eden Bus Station, the need for staff to patrol the waiting areas and quality of destination boards at the Bus Station.
Arriva responded that they were currently looking at way to improve their customer service at Eden bus station and on their buses and will inform customers of this as soon as possible. Arriva are using the latest technology to improve their customer service and passengers are encouraged to use the Arriva app which shows timetables and the progress of their buses in real time.
Arriva stated that their m-ticket app makes buying tickets more convenient and sales using this app are up 30% this year. Arriva are also looking to introduce contactless technology in the next year. Arriva are also introducing a new system which will allow the company to remain in contact with their drivers in their cabs, which will improve communication and improve their response times if there are problems.
- Concerns about the cost of bus fares.
Arriva stated they are a commercial service and their routes have to be commercially viable to allow the company to continue operating and the fares reflect this. However, Arriva does review their fares and a new structure was introduced on 18th June 2017 which saw many fares go down. Arriva do try to reward their customers for loyalty- for instance, by offering reductions when buying return tickets and further reductions when buying weekly tickets. Weekly ticket prices offer better values, and although we travel to work five days a week our weekly tickets last seven days so they can be used for travel outside working hours- the more you travel, the cheaper it becomes.
For more information about Arriva’s services and timetables, either download the free Arriva Bus App via the Apple Store or Google Play, or visit www.arrivabus.co.uk/midlands. Thank you to the Arriva representatives who took the time to meet with me and explore these important issues.