Joined-up thinking needed, says Stagecoach South East MD

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Stagecoach South East Managing Director Joel Mitchell. STAGECOACH SOUTH EAST

Managing Director of Stagecoach South East Joel Mitchell has called for more joined up thinking when it comes to planning roadworks. In a blog for the company’s website, he voiced his frustrations at roadworks that are causing bus users long delays: “Multiple road closures and temporary traffic controls – the list of disruptions across Kent’s road network is endless. Having started my career in the rail sector, I knew the world of buses would be profoundly different – but I wasn’t prepared for the horror show that has beset Kent’s roads in recent months.

“When I made the switch to bus and joined Stagecoach South East in 2019, we did some research into what people really want from their local bus service. The overwhelming response was ‘being on time and reliable.’ It’s not rocket science, you would think; and we’ve made great strides. We’ve set up a service delivery support team to help plan around scheduled works and improve engagement with stakeholders, so that the needs of bus passengers are heard and recognised in the arrangements made. The team also works closely with our local depots to support, monitor and measure our day-to-day performance – and we started to make real gains. But despite this, what we thought was going to be hard, is getting harder.

“Of course, as a bus operator we have experience of dealing with day-to-day problems that can affect our schedules – but what we’re seeing recently in Kent is off the scale,” he said. Joel cited as an example recent long-term roadworks in the Whitstable area where multiple road closures by a number of utility companies were approved to occur concurrently, he said, with little regard for bus users who were left without access to a major supermarket. “This on top of a litany of road closures and traffic control measures in and around Canterbury – not only affecting vital local services, but damaging the frequency of inter-urban bus links,” he wrote. “I miss the joined-up thinking and teamwork in the rail industry; where the infrastructure owner and train operators talk together in advance of planned disruption and think about the customer – both the service they will receive and the information they will need.

“Our timetables are our promise to our customers, and if we can’t deliver on them, people will lose faith in bus travel as a service they can trust. And it’s bigger than that; poorly co-ordinated, short-notice and badly planned works are frustrating communities – undermining the long-term sustainability of public transport in the county and choking our local economy. We urgently need change from a highways free-for-all culture that generates cost and disruption in our lives, to a joined-up, regulated and properly controlled process in which all stakeholders participate to find solutions.

“We don’t have to look far to see this happening in practice. The ongoing works at Boughton and Dunkirk for example, where a compromise solution, discussed and agreed upon in advance, meant that the villages were able to continue to benefit from an uninterrupted bus service. A similar outcome was achieved last year when the A257 was closed and a shuttle bus provided a link for communities at Littlebourne and Wingham. More recently, peak-time buses were given passage through a closure between Broad Oak and Herne Common, following dialogue and agreement with the contractor.

“With these accommodations, the day people thought was going to be tough, is far less so. Come on Kent – we can do so much better,” concluded Joel.