First under fire for planned Glasgow bus changes

BUS bosses today came under fire for giving passengers just two weeks to respond to the most dramatic network changes in a generation.

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Critics have hit out at two-week consultation period
Critics have hit out at two-week consultation period

First Glasgow launched a consultation on the revamp yesterday, after The Evening Times revealed it would both boost frequency on key corridors and slash minor routes.

The company has admitted the changes will represent a cutback of about 1% in its overall network, but insisted most passengers will enjoy better services.

But Glasgow Green MSP Patrick Harvie hit out at the two-week consultation period, saying passengers and communities would need more time to work out how the changes would affect them.

First Glasgow launched a consultation on the revamp yesterday, after The Evening Times revealed it would both boost frequency on key corridors and slash minor routes.

The company has admitted the changes will represent a cutback of about 1% in its overall network, but insisted most passengers will enjoy better services.

But Glasgow Green MSP Patrick Harvie hit out at the two-week consultation period, saying passengers and communities would need more time to work out how the changes would affect them.

He said: "More frequent buses on key routes will be a welcome improvement but First must not use this reorganisation as cover for cutting yet more peripheral bus routes.

"Glasgow suffered this time last year when First cut or reduced dozens of services.

"We need a public service that really serves all parts of our city."

Mr Harvie – a self-confessed public transport nerd – added: "It's clear from this latest decree that all the power is in the hands of the bus company, and very little is held by bus users.

"Two weeks of consultation is a worryingly short period for passengers to find out about these changes and make their views known."

The Evening Times published a full list of proposed changes on our website www.eveningtimes.co.uk yesterday but many passengers have still to figure out how the new network will affect them.

Click here for the new First Bus timetable

City councillor Malcolm Balfour believes, like Mr Harvie, this means people should get more time.

Mr Balfour, the SNP's Glasgow transport spokesman, was a First driver until four years ago, so he knows the city bus network better than most.

He said: "First are saying they are simplifying things but I think they are making them more complicated.

"For starters, why have the same numbers for buses that are going to different places?

"That can really confuses people. Imagine you are an elderly person waiting to get one of the three buses labelled "The One" that goes to Drumchapel, Balloch and Helensburgh from Glasgow?

"The new system also effectively has two No 19 routes and two No 60s. That is not too clever for people whose eyesight is not so good."

"In my book the best system is when you have local drivers who do the same route every day and know their passengers. That helps to sort out confusion."

Transport expert Calum McCallum also worries about buses with the same number going to different destinations.

He used to work for Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) and is now on the board of public transport campaign group, Transform Scotland.

Mr McCallum said: "I don't think there is simplicity in using the same numbers for different routes. I think it is confusing.

"Just changing a 44 to a four, for example, seems to me to be change for change's sake.

"People have been used to the same numbers for years, not least the older people who make up a fair share of the travelling public."

First is under no obligation to consult with passengers on the changes –although it must get approval from its watchdog, the Traffic Commissioner, for changes.

Company chiefs insist they will be ready to tweak their plans – even after the current consultation ends on March 1 – if passengers can suggest improvements.

Ronnie Park, managing director of First Glasgow, said: "Following the public consultation we will enter a two-week period of discussion with SPT before submitting our final plans to the Traffic Commissioner.

"This represents one of the most comprehensive consultations into bus services that the city has ever seen.

"It is important to stress that at all stages of the process we are able to make changes to our plans. Therefore if something were to emerge following the conclusion of the public consultation then we have plenty of scope to amend our plans.

"We'd encourage anyone interested in bus services in Glasgow to get in touch with us."

First bosses yesterday made it clear they were aiming to try to boost frequencies on main routes in and out of the city centre – often by amalgamating services to ensure regular "headways" – gaps – between buses.

Mr McCallum praises this as a "good idea" but does have fears over the future of smaller, secondary routes, where frequencies have been slipping in recent years.

The new scheme focuses firmly on efficient, fast, frequent services on corridor routes and First is boasting of new buses, with bubblegum pink handrails and free wi-fi.

First previously refocused its network on major routes during its last big revamp. Then, in 1999, the new system was called "Overground" rather than "Simplicity".

l See Patrick Harvie's column - Page 17

Ronnie Park, Managing Director of First Glasgow says he wants to know your views.

He said: "Our proposals will significantly improve and simplify bus services.

"We are excited by these plans, however it's important to stress that they are not set in stone. We want everyone interested in bus services in Glasgow to send us their comments by email to: glasgow@firstgroup.com or by post to: Service Review, First, 197 Victoria Road, Glasgow, G42 7AD."

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