Passengers get a better deal says bus boss

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THE managing director at one of Wigan’s biggest bus operators says the borough’s travellers are getting a better deal on public transport.

Christopher Bowles, MD at Stagecoach Wigan which took over around 100 buses on 30 routes from First Bus 15 months ago, said the company had invested around £4.2m on the bus network to improve services.

The company has replaced around 60 buses and slashed fares, and hopes the increased passenger numbers will bring more job opportunities in Wigan in the future.

However, Mr Bowles warned Wigan still faces challenges if it is to become a more bus-friendly place, with concerns over congestion and a more general drift in public policy which has seen bus lanes across the North West removed.

Mr Bowles said: “Our first priority when we took over was to invest to encourage people to travel by bus or make more journeys if they were already passengers.

“We immediately halved weekly travel prices from £18 to £9, and although they’ve gone back up to £11 people are still paying much less than before, and we brought the cost of day travel down.

“We also replaced more than half our fleet, with 30 of them new single-decker vehicles. We want to make bus travel more attractive to people in Wigan, and our surveys so far suggest the response from customers has been very positive.”

The company has seen the number of weekly customers travelling on the bus in Wigan each week rise by around 20 per cent, with Stagecoach carrying 13 per cent more passengers than 12 months ago.

Mr Bowles says the company’s next priority is a comprehensive review of the routes in Wigan, including the network of journeys around the borough, school runs and services travelling to destinations such as Manchester and Bolton.

Stagecoach is also looking at ways to make the bus network easier for Wiganers to understand, with research suggesting the different routes and operators across the borough can sometimes be confusing.

He said: “We would like to simplify the network and are talking to Transport for Greater Manchester and Wigan Council about how we might be able to do that.

“So far we have been running services almost unchanged, so we need to see if it actually meets passengers’ needs. We are going to look at when more people are turning up than can be accommodated at certain times and if there are too many services when people don’t want to use the bus.

“There’s also been an increase in bus commuters, which is good, and services heading to Bolton and Manchester are close to capacity at peak periods in the morning.”

However, the picture is not uniformly rosy, with traffic congestion and bottlenecks in certain parts of the borough hindering bus services from running on time, which Mr Bowles suggests is one of the main reasons people become dissatisfied with public transport.

Stagecoach is also concerned about policies in the North West to remove bus lanes to benefit car drivers, with Wigan getting rid of priority lanes around the Saddle junction and Wigan Pier and Liverpool controversially trialling the complete removal of all bus lanes.

Mr Bowles said: “Congestion is our biggest challenge, and the conditions in Wigan are not always ideal for free-flowing traffic.

“This makes it hard for us to run the punctual service every day which we would like. Bus lanes are one of the best ways of ensuring journey times are predictable and services are reliable, and they are a valuable asset.

“Just running the services on time costs us around £6m each year, which is a lot of money.”