Making the connection

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‘Full House’ at Chichester. Where does the next arrival find a stand? JACK IZATT

Jack Izatt shares his thoughts on bus stations after making use of about 20 of them in

Gatwick Airport – don’t you love it! On a recent visit it seemed even more of an ordeal than I had remembered. For a variety of reasons, my use of public transport has soared in the last year, giving me a variety of experience from excellent to awful. Air transport has lost the fun it used to have and just has to be endured. By contrast, the railways have improved out of all recognition since privatisation. Smooth, quiet (especially the electric services) and clean – my experience even of the much maligned Southern Railways has been good.

However, the bulk of my journeys have been by bus and I am delighted to say that the experience, almost without exception, has also been good. Nevertheless, I have come to realise that there is more to bus travel than clean new buses and helpful staff. Bus stations are just as important to the bus traveller.[wlm_nonmember][…]

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Take Spalding in Lincolnshire, for example. One description might be a wasteland with a few bus shelters and minimal information. Much better is Chichester in West Sussex, my current home town. A product of the sixties, the bus station has survived remarkably well but appears to be under pressure due to the large number of frequent services. The space for passengers is nearly always very crowded and buses sometimes leave from the wrong stand because of pressure on space. Indeed, on one nail-biting occasion when I was trying to catch a specific train, the bus stopped in the road outside the bus station unable to discharge its passengers and unable to find a stand because they were all occupied. Three minutes felt like 30.

Another bus station which has survived in the same location for decades is Kirkcaldy in Fife, Scotland. It has new shelters and an impressive modern building with an enclosed waiting room which is a delight to use. Leven bus station just along the coast is smaller but of similar design and my impression is that the users respond to the better environment by not abusing the space. Aberdeen further up the Northeast of Scotland coast is also a new facility with new bus shelters and ought to have the same feeling as Kirkcaldy.

To my eyes, on a grey morning, the space felt like an afterthought squeezed into the middle of a modern development. I suspect the very high buildings surrounding the station are the problem.

Location is probably the single most important factor in a good bus station. I can remember a time when the bus termini in Aberdeen were scattered all over the city. Collecting them all in one place is an essential first step even for small towns. Another essential is to be as close as possible to the main shopping area and being near the railway station is very desirable. Aberdeen scores well on both counts, as does Spalding giving a better experience than you might expect. Peterborough, in other respects well designed, is too far from the station and the route between the two is not well signposted so I made an unnecessary detour.

Plymouth in Devon made me wonder about the whole concept of bus stations. I found all I needed at the two rows of bus shelters on Royal Parade at the bottom of Armada Way. I had some difficulty knowing where buses went but that is a topic for another day. That location was very convenient for me and it looked as if the same was true for a very large number of bus users. It is not just in big cities that such an arrangement can work well; I realise that stops at the cathedral in Chichester provide a similar function.

For smaller towns, a bus station may be overkill, but similar services need to be provided: bus routes all meeting at one place, shelter for passengers and information on routes. In Stonehaven, just south of Aberdeen and where I grew up, I remember the bus station as consisting of a shed to house six buses, bus stops in adjacent streets and a tiny office for enquiries and parcels. Waiting passengers stood in the rain and food provision was a fish and chip shop across the road. Gourmet readers will no doubt be interested to know that the great Scottish delicacy, Deep Fried Mars Bar, was first created there. Now, the chip shop has moved, the shed is a supermarket and the ‘Barclay Street Interchange,’ as it known, consists of two bus shelters and a real-time electronic display. Apart from the pavement being a little cramped at times, I can assure you that this is a much, much better arrangement.

Where I was least happy with a bus station, it was usually when the space in and behind a shelter was small. Fighting your way through the crowd behind several stands is no joke — particularly if you are trying to read the timetables to see if your destination is featured. King’s Lynn, when I visited it, suffered in this respect. Kirkcaldy (you can see I liked it) had widely spaced stands and wide paving behind. However, we need to realise that space comes at a price – literally. The ideal spot for a bus station is right next to a shopping centre. That costs money, lots of it, but of course no bus station means no shoppers — an interesting conundrum for the planners and developers. In practice, each site is different and I find the different solutions fascinating.

To sum up, there is no doubt in my mind that bus stations and interchange points are the essential glue which holds the bus system together and their design and maintenance are significant factors in the passengers’ experience. Neglect them at your peril.[/wlm_ismember]