Monday 6th December 2021
Fareham and Gosport’s much heralded 3.4 km busway, opened in April 2012, has just got a kilometre longer following yesterday’s opening of a southern extension taking it further down the former railway alignment between the towns.
Costing around £11 million it gives First Hampshire and Dorset’s Eclipse branded buses on routes E1 and E2 shorter journey times and improved punctuality by avoiding short sections of twisty residential roads in favour of a straight trajectory on the busway.
Three minutes have been shaved off the southbound end to end journey time – reducing from 38 minutes to 35 minutes, with just one minute saved northbound (38 to 37 minutes). It might not sound much but that’s not to be sniffed at making for an 8% southbound improvement and an overall 4% for a return journey. It all adds up on every journey, each and every day to a lot of time saved. After all, that’s how many road junction improvements used by motorists are justified, so why not a busway too.
Importantly the perception for passengers is of a much quicker ride.
The extension received approval for £7 million funding from the Government’s ‘National Productivity Investment Fund’ towards the overall cost in October 2017 helped by the undoubted success of the original section reportedly carrying 60% more passengers on the smart liveried buses dedicated to the service than had used the former routes which struggled on the parallel congested A32.
In November 2018 plans for the extension were significantly amended to avoid demolition of the bridge carrying Rowner Road over the old railway alignment where the extended busway now ends. Instead of a three-way junction at level, a successful bid to the Government’s ‘Transforming Cities Fund’ helped finance an alternative scheme which has kept the bridge in place. This has enabled the existing well used underpass for pedestrians and cyclists south of the newly extended busway to be retained without them needing to cross a busy road junction.
The following sequence of photographs looking south at the end of the newly extended busway shows the retained bridge (right) and the new slip road that’s been constructed to allow buses to access the busway…..
The following photographs show the busway in its final stages of construction a few weeks ago during a sneak preview of the extension I had thanks to an exclusive trip as part of the Young Bus Managers conference kindly organised by First Bus with Hampshire County Council in October.
It certainly looked and felt impressive as we glided along the very smooth newly surfaced road but as we journeyed south I did wonder how convenient the two new bus stops on the extended section of busway would be for residents living in the adjacent residential areas either side of the busway at that time being served by either the E1 or the E2, but not both, right by their front doors, as can be seen on the map below.
So I took a ride on the newly extended busway’s first afternoon yesterday to see how the new set up looks from a passenger perspective.
Spoiler alert. It looks excellent.
I got off and on at both the two new stops at Oakdene and the leisure centre and took a wander into the nearby housing areas. I also spoke to a few passengers getting on and off and all were pleased with the new extension. Combining both routes together making for a doubling of the frequency previously experienced more than makes up for a slightly longer walk to the stop.
The new bus stops have been kitted out to a similar style to the original ones with a shelter covering a bench seat, a real time information sign, a static departure list and a map showing the immediate neighbourhood with walking times – which I found to be very pessimistic, but then I didn’t dawdle as I walked around.
I noticed bus stops on the original section of busway sported a three seater outside the shelter as well as a totem pole showing a map of the adjacent area and an eclipse logo, but I guess the need for financial prudence meant these were not included in the new spec. I don’t think either will be missed.
Here’s one of the now disused bus stops previously served by route E2 and suitably annotated explaining the new arrangements from yesterday….
And here’s a view taken from that bus stop showing the short distance to the Busway and the Oakdene bus stop…
Here’s the next stop along the old route heading south, just a couple of minutes walk from the first, and you can see the leisure centre in the background, on the right, behind the trees. So, it’s not far at all.
First Bus have a fleet of new buses in build for delivery in 2022 to further update Eclipse and improve the quality of journey but the current buses are more than satisfactory with a smartly designed interior…
… although I did wonder if, in view of that upcoming investment, whether the route maps displayed on the cove panels will be updated to include the new Busway extension.
I hope so, as it was impressive to see the ‘next stop displays’ and audio commentary had been updated to include the new stops.
The combined daytime frequency offered by routes E1 and E2 is every twelve minutes even on a Sunday. That’s great for busway originating passengers but every 24 minutes is not so good for passengers on the sections of route further south served by one or the other of the two routes. Hopefully as passenger levels improve the frequency can be increased. Weekday peaks already see an improved ten minute combined frequency with 20 minutely one each route.
I was impressed with the numbers I saw travelling yesterday afternoon, with eight or nine on each journey.
The Fareham and Gosport busway is a great example of what can be done to give buses priority and provide an excellent alternative to the car. It’s refreshing to see it hasn’t bothered with fancy guide wheels which some busways have unnecessarily complicated things with, and the infrastructure is still looking good nine years on, now joined by this much welcome extension.
Well done to everyone involved in its delivery.
Next blog: Wednesday 8th December 2021