Saturday 16th July 2022
It’s been a busy few weeks for new bus station openings. Joining Stevenage (see Tuesday’s blog) is the city of Leicester which unveiled its all new St Margaret’s Bus Station to the public on Sunday 26th June. I was able to pay a visit last Sunday to check out the new facilities.
Whereas Stevenage was a relocation, St Margaret’s is a rebuild on the site of the old bus station. It follows the same transformation the city performed on its other bus station, Haymarket, six years ago.
There’s no doubt Leicester is one to watch. It has exciting plans to make buses play an important part in city life and the two new bus stations certainly portray a modern attractive image with greatly improved facilities for passengers.
Let’s look at St Margaret’s first, as it’s the most recent development.
The footprint has increased just a smidgeon compared to the old bus station and, like in Stevenage, you really do get the feeling of lots of space – something other new bus stations have definitely lacked in recent times (Northampton and Exeter, I’m looking at you). In fact, at the risk of being corrected in the comments with a shoal of other examples, I’d say St Margaret’s Bus Station offers the most space for passengers of any bus station in Britain. Just take a look at the concourse in the following photograph and tell me where else you’ll find so much space?
As well as space, the city are keen to portray the transformation as one incorporating “high eco-standards of the project” resulting in a “net zero carbon station”.
The official blurb states:
“The building was almost completely demolished and stripped back to its partial steelwork frame that was reused in line with the high eco-standards of the project. By reusing major elements of the previous building and retaining and repairing the existing concrete on the main area for bus arrivals and departures, the ‘embodied’ carbon cost of constructing the new building has been dramatically reduced by an equivalent of over 575 tonnes.”
“The building has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) with the highest possible rating of A+ and will operate as a fully net zero carbon building.”
The rebuild has cost £14.3 million and taken around 18 months to complete.
It’s impressive. As well as lots of space (have I mentioned that yet?), the concourse is fully glazed creating a very welcome bright interior with lots of natural light. There are 24 bays with drive on and reverse off arrangements for 21 of them (the other three are side loaders at both bus station ends) and there’s a large parking area for layover buses behind the bays which buses reverse on to, with humps to let drivers know when to stop.
As in Stevenage there’s an information point, which impressively was manned early last Sunday morning, but, again as in Stevenage, with someone who (complete with high viz wearing) looked more to do with security than a bus company. However, I observed him answer a multitude of enquiries about bus and coach departures as well as queries about where to find facilities in the city centre, and he was doing a great job in helping people. It’s just a pity this isn’t portrayed as a professional and friendly visitor assistance point rather than a rather official looking security dominated outlet.
A sign of the times is there was absolutely no printed information about bus routes and times available for passengers to take, nor any dispensers to hold them. What a greatly missed opportunity.
However, there is a small newsagents incorporated into the concourse which sells magazines and newspapers – even though they’re all available online!
As you can see the concourse is very large with lots of seats including two ‘breakfast bar’ type arrangements ….
….which would have just been topped off nicely if usb points had been incorporated as you get in airport terminals these days.
There’s also space for a café which looked as though it would be opening soon …
…. and very smart it looks too, so hopefully won’t be a downmarket one.
There’s also plenty of tactile flooring throughout the concourse to help those with sight impediments get around more easily.
Each departure bay has eight seats and a wide exit to an automatic door which opens when a vehicle is on the stand.
There are electronic displays showing the next three departures as well as static departure lists at each bay including a route diagram….
…. and there are very clear displays showing buses by destination or route number.
These aren’t just for departures from this bus station, but also show bus stops throughout the city centre, including Haymarket bus station.
Electronic departure displays are liberally displayed around the concourse and there’s clearly going to be more installed in the near future.
Toilet facilities are excellent and I really hope the contractor is able to keep them in the pristine clean condition I found them in on Sunday.
It looks like there’s quite a significant provision been made for Arriva staff, with no less than four doors marked for Arriva staff only which made me concerned for Stagecoach, Skylink, Kinchbus and National Express staff, wondering where they go.
Talking of National Express, they’ve taken over the last five stands (SV to SZ) for their departures as well as having their own sales counter alongside two ticket vending machines.
I was impressed to see so many passengers waiting for coach departures and buying tickets.
Two of the five stands (SY and SZ) at the side end of the bus station are nearside loading making it easy to stow luggage and for any passengers using wheelchairs to board.
The other three stands have a wider boarding area for the same purpose.
But, and it’s a rather big BUT, up at the other end of the concourse, bays SB and SC have other coach companies departing, including Flixbus ….
…. where there are no such facilities.
Goodness knows how luggage is stowed but at least wheelchairs will be able to use the lift if the coach pulls right up to the end of the bay.
Interestingly stand SA for Skylink using standard buses, is another side boarder so could easily accommodate side boarding of coaches. I’m surprised that bay hasn’t been allocated for coaches.
That was the only flaw I found and I’d say overall the £14.3 million has been well spent.
As is the nearby Haymarket bus station which had its transformation back in 2016 at a cost of £13.5 million. Whereas St Margaret’s is the “county” bus station; Haymarket is the “city” bus station which First Bus use as well as Arriva.
It has 23 stands, all drive in and reverse off again….
….. and was obviously designed by the same architects as it has similar departure bay arrangements and impressive clear signs and departure listings.
There’s also a retail unit and an information point, which again, was manned early on Sunday morning with a very friendly man who told me all about the two bus stations.
The public concourse is very long and narrower than St Margaret’s so there’s only room for six seats at each departure stand.
In fact there are hardly any seats at all – I suppose reflecting the higher frequencies of the ‘city’ bus services using it compared to St Margaret’s – but it does seem a shame to have made such little provision for seats and is a stark comparison to its new neighbour. No ‘breakfast bars’ here. Nothing.
I rather liked the huge wall murals with their fantastic nostalgic photographs of the city.
There’s also more clean and well maintained toilets.
As well as a repeat of the helpful which bus to catch and where posters as seen at St Margaret’s I also spotted a local street map with an index of streets showing the square on the grid where they can be found. Very useful for those without Google maps.
There’s a helpful electronic display showing occupancy of bus stands to bus drivers as they approach the bus station although I’m not sure what they’re meant to do if the intended stand is occupied.
All in all, catching buses from Leicester’s bus stations has become a real pleasure. And it doesn’t end there.
Bus stops have also been given a makeover with the new logo evident as well as more helpful static displays in city centre shelters.
It’s all part of the city’s “big bus plan” which you can read more about at leicesterbuses.co.uk. It’s a good read.
As mentioned already, both bus stations are close to each other – no more than a 2-3 minute walk between them – but it’s a pity the railway station is on the south side of the city centre which is a more lengthy walk – more like 15-20 minutes. But there are clear maps on display to show which way to go.
Finally, I noticed First Bus have a facility for their staff close to both bus stations which they call a “control centre” which must reassure passengers there is some local control and a local presence.
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby is quoted as saying “the new St Margaret’s bus station is an important project for Leicester and the completion of this fantastic new building marks the beginning of a revival of this part of the city. This new investment is providing a huge boost for public transport.”