Stagecoach struggles to take the strain

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There are fears that Lancaster’s bus service is rapidly becoming insufficient for the town’s booming student population. Students and lecturers alike have been affected by the overcrowding, which has disrupted the bus timetable and caused large queues, lateness and other inconveniences.

Lancaster University student Caitlin Hunter told SCAN that she had waited on Bowerham Road for “half an hour while six full double decker buses passed by.” She said that she this caused her to be late for her 9am seminar, continuing “my lecturers have also been late since they rely on the service too. I feel sympathy for the locals who are late to work because of the strain the students put on the buses.”

Upon witnessing the growing frustration felt by customers of the service, SCAN decided to contact Fraser Smith, Stagecoach’s Cumbria and North Lancashire Commercial Manager about the problems. In a lengthy email, Smith ensured SCAN that “Stagecoach work closely with Lancaster University, in particular with the Estates and Transport team and with LUSU to ensure that the services we are supplying continue to be relevant to the number of passengers using our buses.”

“Each year demand is particularly high from October to December as students settle into their new schedule and we experience some very pronounced peaks and troughs in travel patterns throughout the day. In order to cope with the increased demand at certain times of day in the early part of the academic year Stagecoach run a number of duplicate services during this period where additional buses and staff are provided at the times of day that are most affected.”

Last year Stagecoach invested in 18 new Double Deckers for service 2/2A in an effort to improve the vehicle quality and capacity of their services to Lancaster University. 12 single deck vehicles were also purchased in 2009 for the 3/4 services. In total these investments represent in excess of £4.5 million and is according to Smith “in line with our commitment to the University services and the need to keep adding to the number of available seats.”

There has been some anger amongst locals who believe that whilst the University is lifeblood to their community, Stagecoach could be doing more for local people. Sarah Howells, a shop assistant in the St. Nicolas Arcade told SCAN that she thinks the “bus service is good and pretty regular but I’m not always guaranteed a seat and for the length of the journey, its quite expensive.”

For students the cost of an annual pass comes in at £340, working out at just less that a pound a day for unlimited bus travel around the local area. For non-students the price is significantly more expensive at £616 a year. The savings made from buying this annual ticket aren’t particularly high – a customer making one return journey per day, five days a week saves a meagre £8 a year.

For students however the price is a lot more reasonable. Smith commented that “our UniRider tickets offer a large discount on the standard cost of travel and we set our UniRider prices for each academic year in advance. This means that not only does the purchase of a UniRider offer great value for money but it also protects you against any increase in the normal commercial fares for the duration of your academic year.”

Whilst most students may take solace in the UniRider price freeze and Smith’s assurances of decreasing demand as we progress through the academic year, some may still have questions about the future of the service in light of the Vice-Chancellor’s year-on-year push for an increase in student numbers.

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