Leighton Buzzard’s bus makeover and it’s free till Christmas

Saturday 13th May 2023

I thought it would be nice to report on a positive Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) development so took a trip to Leighton Buzzard on Thursday to sample Arriva’s brand new bus network introduced on Tuesday in partnership with Central Bedfordshire Council.

Central Beds got awarded £3.7 million for its BSIP; not a huge sum by comparison with some other authorities but, if used wisely, enough to make an impact on a mid sized towns in the Borough such as Leighton Buzzard with a 37,500 population.

The town is expanding rapidly, as I found on my visit, with large swathes of land on the town’s east side given over to house building.

I reckon every national house builder has staked a claim with many new estates already complete and other developments well advanced

Which is good news for buses, particularly if newly moved in residents can be tempted to travel on the new route network and in more good news the Council is using BSIP funds to give free travel for everyone throughout the town right through until Christmas.

The new bus network

The good news continues with Arriva displaying a colourful map and timetables for the new network on its website a fortnight before introduction (if you knew where to look) …

A nicely laid out new timetable for the L1

… as well as social media teases featuring an attractive printed leaflet with details of the new arrangements.

The new network is much simplified compared to the old arrangements with five new routes – mostly one direction circulars – numbered L1 to L5 with an L6 variant for three odd ball journeys on the L5 route.

The former timetables were displayed in a most confusing way and it’s a wonder anyone could understand them….

High Street is closed on a Tuesday for the market hence the dual listings.

… and it’s amazing how much a nice colourful map helps too. The previous network was more disjointed and not really fit to serve the newly expanding residential areas. The frequency of the old route D1 was half hourly whereas the new L1 that’s taken over the route is hourly but other parts of the town have gained a better bus service, or one for the first time.

The old network

Further positive coverage could be found on social media on Tuesday’s launch day showing the five smart Enviro 200s and drivers at Arriva’s base in Milton Keynes ready for the new era.

Having picked up all this enthusiasm I arrived at Leighton Buzzard station on Thursday morning to give the new network a try out full of anticipation and buzz.

The pre launch publicity explained new hourly routes L1 and L2 have been timed to provide convenient connections with fast London trains at the station which is located 0.6 miles from the main shopping area.

My train arrived at 10:55 and I planned to catch the 11:05 route L1 to kick off the itinerary. There’s a real time sign in the bus shelter and large size departure lists produced by Central Bedfordshire.

It’s a shame a new network map wasn’t displayed as it would certainly help passengers become familiar with the new arrangements as well as assist visitors unfamiliar with the geography.

The bus arrived with no-one on board at 11:12 and after picking me and another passenger up left a minute later arriving into the High Street after a few minutes. It’s quite a slow journey from the station to the High Street due to traffic queues and perhaps this is something Central Bedfordshire could usefully look at.

The High Street itself has bus only access at the western end where there are stops on opposite sides of the road for all the town’s bus departures including inter-urban routes, making for quite a busy area.

The other passenger who’d boarded with me at the station alighted and we picked up six shoppers returning home. At the next stop three young adults boarded one of whom was amazed to hear the town’s buses are now free to use until the end of the year. “Sod driving”, she exclaimed loudly to everyone on board, “I’m not doing my driving test now” which was a very welcome commitment to hear on a bus.

But after all that positivity it then all started to go wrong. The driver took two wrong turnings necessitating finding roundabouts to turn and get back on track (it turned out it was his first day in service) as passengers were getting increasingly exasperated, but thankfully the man sitting in front of me shouted out helpful directions at every junction from then on.

But there was then total confusion as the driver continued along what should be the correct route through the new Roman Gate residential development but passengers on board thought was subject to a temporary diversion, which looking at notices displayed at bus stops we stopped at, seemed to confirm.

Continuing on we ended up at what looked like a closed section of road so made a reverse turn into a side road and retraced our route back to follow what I assumed was the intended diversion.

By now we were running 19 minutes late which inevitably led to more lateness as confused passengers boarded asking about the new timings.

It all felt a bit chaotic. We finally arrived back in High Street at 11:55 instead of the scheduled 11:28 as the novice driver headed off to the station where he’d change to an L4.

Meanwhile I saw an L3 on the stop opposite due to leave at 12:00 and hopped aboard after reassuring a woman waiting for the 11:45 L4 that it would be along soon as it had just gone to the station (as an L1) before returning.

The hourly L3 does a complete anti-clockwise circle to the east of the town taking in many of the new residential developments and those still under construction.

As you can see from the map shown earlier, the hourly L2 and L4 provide equivalent clockwise routes (one for the northern half and the other the southern). It was a quieter journey with only two passengers – both also confused by the new arrangements. One asked the driver if there was a leaflet and he told her that a councillor had told him there was supposed to have been a house-to-house leaflet drop but the leaflets have been delayed. The other passenger said she didn’t have a computer and had been unable to find anything out about the new times and routes.

However, on leaflets, Matt King from Arriva’s commercial team let me know via Twitter on Thursday “there was so much interest on day one that we ran out of copies! More are arriving tomorrow”.

On my next journey, a late running L5 I noticed some colour photocopied A4 timetables for the L3 and L4 (back-to-back) in the luggage pen which one or two passengers picked up but were then confused as to why there wasn’t one for the L5. This was the busiest journey with the route taking in some traditional ‘bus territory’ on the former 32/33 route attracting 18 adults and two children on board making for congestion as passengers tried to board through a melee of pushchair and shopping trolley in the front half of the bus.

It took almost five minutes to get everyone on board and the pushchair folded as it became obvious passengers couldn’t pass by due to others wanting to sit in the forward section.

There was much discussion as we continued around the twists and turns on the route about where the bus was actually going – confusion reigned once again – and as we were nearly 20 minutes late there was a lot of talk about what times the buses were supposed to run. Pertinently no-one was consulting smartphones to find the information.

I noticed two elderly passengers (sitting at the rear nearside of the forward section in the above photo), both with a walking stick and who’d boarded in High Street were still on the bus as we approached the town centre again. The wife approached the driver asking if he was going to her road to which he explained he’d now completed that circuit and they needed an L4 rather than an L5. They’d been on the bus for half an hour – we’d lost a further 10 minutes during the journey with all the confusion and were now half an hour late – and I noticed that they’d just missed an L4 by 10 minutes – assuming it ran on time – and would therefore have another 50 minutes to wait for the next one. My heart went out to them.

I wondered if anyone was overseeing the running of the network operationally and would step in to manage the late running, particularly as the L1, L2 and L4 all interwork so the lateness was spreading from one route to another. I didn’t see any evidence of such control.

A passenger asks the new driver where he’s going. I’m not sure he knew.

The most often heard comment from passengers was “I’m sure we’ll all get used to it” along with “it’ll settle down” demonstrating the remarkable resilience of Leighton Buzzard’s bus passengers. I also am sure it will settle down and it’s most unfortunate only a one day supply of leaflets has been made available to kick start what looks like a positive development for a bus network that was in need of a shake up.

I can see much thought has gone into devising the new routes and utilising the resources in an efficient and cost effective way. But when you’re changing route numbers, the routes themselves and introducing brand new timetables it’s absolutely essential information, publicity and promotion of the new arrangements are top notch to say nothing of also promoting the fact it’s all free for the next seven months. I didn’t see any reference to such a revolutionary price deal at all during my visit and it was obvious some passengers were unaware. Concessionary pass holders were still expected to present their passes on the ticket machine so there was no obvious speeding up of boarding.

I suspect the purdah period leading up to Thursday’s local elections five days before the new network began on Tuesday had a lot to do with the low key nature of the start up from the Council’s perspective, which suggests it might have been better for the to have postponed introduction to later in the month and thereby also ensured the house-to-house leaflet drop had been achieved.

It would also have helped to have deployed some smart eye catching branding for the new network with copies of the route map posted everywhere around the town so no-one could have missed which route now goes where.

Adding to the confusion and lack of information is the fact the new timetables don’t appear on Arriva’s online database yet. I checked last night and entering L1 into the timetable look up brought back a “no options” response…

,,, and using the Journey Planner didn’t work either as, for example, the major retail destination on the L1, Grovebury Retail Park wasn’t recognised by the database.

To access the map and timetables you have to know to click on News – Latest News – and click on the tenth entry which on my computer screen appears on page two – where there’s an item about the new services which can be clicked to bring some introductory words which can be clicked to bring you to a list of the new routes and a link to the map. It’s quite an effort.

Finally, Arriva’s ’72 plate’ buses being used on the new network have been transferred in from Gillingham and some could do with a thorough wash. They inevitably carry the plain Arriva livery with arrivabus.co.uk fleet names….

… and it’s a shame a localised Leighton Buzzard identity wasn’t used which would have given a sense of ownership of their bright new bus network to the local community.

I’m sure it will all settle in soon once the teething problems of unfamiliarity dissipate and information and publicity becomes available in both printed copy and online.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

49 thoughts on “Leighton Buzzard’s bus makeover and it’s free till Christmas

Add yours

  1. This should be a good news story. However it sounds like Arrive could have really benefitted from having an on street inspector controlling the service and managing the late running. Then, in an industry struggling to recruit and retain drivers, sending out an undertrained new employee to do their best but not knowing the routes is hardly inspiring. It sounds like even experienced drivers were struggling to keep to time.

    The large BSIP investment is great, but the system is based on winners and losers. New buses and free fares are great, but when large swathes of the country are seeing services cut, creating pockets of time limited improvements hasa very limited chance of making a long term difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Route learning has certainly been a challenge, with a short lead time from confirmation of the finalised network to service commencement and the added complication of roadworks diversions from day one. The failure of Taylor Wimpey to complete the Grovebury Road bus gate as promised also hasn’t helped.

      Like any new network there will be a period of bedding in before things normalise, and we can then start using some tracking data to refine the timetables with the LTA.


  2. I agree with pretty much everything in the post!

    Only thing that is missing is the local outrage over some roads not being served (it is a 5 minute walk at most to the closest served stop)

    The bus gate on the L1 route should have opened half a decade ago when the D1 was improved, so it’s amazing it’s still not done.

    There is an outstation in Leighton Buzzard so I assume the buses don’t have to go to MK every evening.

    The traffic in Leighton Buzzard is the biggest risk for this whole scheme, it is terrible with a poorly designed junction halfway between the station and town meaning it is almost impossible to get from the station to town at peak times.
    Ironically if all of these people were on the bus…

    Fingers crossed it isn’t something that disintegrates once the free travel and BSIP funding dries up.


  3. Most interesting! – as you say, encouraging in one aspect, but predictably depressing in others. Why is it that bus management – even when German owned – can almost be guaranteed not to plan or prepare? Yes, there should have been someone from Arriva sorting teething troubles; there also should have been people from the DfT’s BSIP section seeing how their money was being spent, and getting their noses well and truly rubbed in the consequences of cutting local council funding to the bone!

    It occurs to me that, following last week’s elections, there will now be many local authorities who should be very open to the kind of deal that you pioneered so successfully in Brighton and Hove (between council and bus operator). You have said you don’t want to report on Brighton area bus matters, but I think it would be most appropriate at the moment if you could offer some helpful hints on how to get such schemes moving – what worked well in Brighton, what the council found most tempting, what generated most new use, etc..


    1. Actually Rick, “bus management” did a lot to plan and prepare, mobilising the new network in just 9 weeks. We were out in force from 0622 Tuesday morning sorting out teething troubles and talking to customers, with our partners at the LTA doing the same through the week as our eyes and ears while we worked through the observations they were feeding through and put actions in place where appropriate.

      For clarification the network is funded through a combination of S106 and the LTA’s own bus budget; it’s free fares on the interurban commercial services passing through LB that’s being BSIP funded, as well as (hopefully) infrastructure improvements at the Rail Station. DfT will no doubt be invited to the ribbon cutting event once the new Council forms it’s Cabinet.


    2. I’m amused by the “even if German owned” comment.
      If you ask Germans their opinion of Deutsche Bahn, you’ll find they’re viewed as being significantly more incompetent than their British equivalents. It’s a long time since DB was “Die Bahn” and viewed with pride by Germans!


  4. The Central Bedfordshire tender had a requirement to operate electric buses after two years, from a purpose built depot/outstation being provided by a developer near Leighton Buzzard. I think these services are funded by existing subsidy from the town routes, S106 payments, and the ‘free to Xmas’ bit is the BSIP funding, so it all might last longer than three years. I’ve not seen any CBeds press release to know if the electric bus bit has been dropped.


    1. There aren’t currently any EVs on the market that are compact enough to navigate the town’s road network and deliver the daily range needed, which is why the LTA went back out to market for a Euro VI solution.

      However we’re already in early discussion with two manufacturers bringing new models to market next year, and hope to trial both vehicle types on the network.


      1. Also there are opportunity charging ebuses, which allow for smaller batteries and thus lower unladen weight. Indeed Arriva know about this as they ran some Streetlights in a trial in Milton Keynes.


  5. Why are bus companies and councils so rubbish at getting the basics right? You’d think given that this (presumably) accounts for a big chunk of their £3.7m that for the first week it would be all hands on board with local Arriva management and the Council’s public transport team all down there.

    Plus given that they are spending a small fortune on free fares, would it too much to stick a spare bus on for the first week to prevent any delay’s spreading from one route to another? They could always have shortened the free period by a week to cover the costs.

    I can’t say I’m suprised at all the passenger confusion either. When you first linked to the map I took one look at the L2/L3/L4 overlapping loops and thought “that looks too clever by half”. And I hadn’t even realised that they were cross linked to other routes.


    1. Even if you are familiar with Arriva Web site doing battle with it to find information is a nightmare. The average passenger probably has little chance of finding the information

      Their web site has been a mess for a long time but has never been fixed
      You have to wonder what the Arriva management do ?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome to come and spend a week with us Bo, happy for you to shadow me so you’ve no need to wonder what we do.

        The limitations of our web platform are well known but aren’t something I’m able to solve overnight, which is why we set up a dedicated landing page arrivabus.co.uk/leightonsbuses with all the info on the new network and promoted this link locally.


    2. I simply fail to understand why a but network is not monitored centrally. It is not rocket science to do. Having someone out in the street trying to do it is not very effective as you simply do not know where every bus is.

      With central control you know where every bus is on the network. Its route number and direction it is going and where it is relative to the timetable. You then have all the information to effectively control the network


  6. Impressions count and getting it wrong on Day 1 is not good

    There is no real excuse for running out of leaflets, The more you print the cheaper they get and surely if they ran out they could have gone to a local print shop and have some more printed.. Not the cheapest option but quick

    Failing to get our prior publicity is anther issue which should not have happened. Were there no posters on the old routes and bus stops informing passengers of the changes ?

    Failing to train the drivers on the routes seems to be another issue. The odd driver error you might expect but this seems to be more than that. Almost certainly not the drivers fault it is more than likely they were not properly trained on the routes
    Are the timetables robust enough? With all the issues that arose on the day we probably do not know at present

    Surely with GPS and computers the network could be monitored centrally to keep routes on time, In fact with decent software the control could be automated although in some unusual distances manual intervention would be necessary

    The low frequency is not going to be particularly attractive so I would not expect the routes to gain many new passengers. I would say for local town services a 30 minute frequency is really the minimum needed

    Could they not have put a leaflet holder on the bus rather than just thrown them on the luggage rack ?

    Still it does appear to be an improvement on the current services which is a rarity nowadays when cuts are the order of the day and thankfully they have not gone for DRT and amazingly they have actually integrated with the rail service another unusual thing

    Many of the things seem to be management failings. Could also be communication failings between the bus company and council over who is responsible for what

    Frequently there is confusion over who is responsible for information at the bus stops. Some times it is the Local Council some times the bus company and sometime no one seems to know


    1. Yes Bob, of course there were posters on the buses on the old routes advising customers of the changes. There were also posters at the small number of stops not served by the new network directing customers around the corner to the new stops as appropriate.

      Running out of leaflets was really disappointing. I’ve never seen anything like it, it was like a sea of concessionaires waiting at bus stops on Tuesday morning wanting to get on the bus, pick up a leaflet, and get back off again without travelling! That’s why somebody *did* get some more timetables printed off ‘quick and dirty’ and made sure they were on the buses for the rest of the week until more stock arrived three days later.

      The intention was to mailshot all 17,500 homes in LB with the leaflet in the week before the new network launched, so we didn’t have huge numbers of leaflets to give out on the day. Sadly a variety of factors including purdah and bank holidays conspired against us, and the mailshot won’t go out until next week – which probably explains the above!

      If you head over to LB yourself you’ll find there *is* a leaflet holder on every bus, it’s just that the ‘homemade’ A4 timetables we printed off in a hurry don’t fit in the DL rack which is why Roger spotted them in the luggage pen. You’ll also find leaflets in the Rail Station, Town Council offices, Library, shopping centre, and various community focused locations including selected hairdressers and chip shops!

      As you say, it’s a big improvement on the previous services (one of which had seen three different operators in the past year) and it’s great that we’ve been able to coordinate more services with rail departures over and above our former D1 service which already did this.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you Roger for highlighting the initial problems. I need to be in Leighton Buzzard in 10 days by which time, hopefully, it will have settled down. Regrettably, this seems to be typical of Arriva in not getting their act together and not getting the information prominently displayed on their poor website. Leaflets should have been available a week before launch on local shops post offices, libraries and pubs. The big groups mostly don’t understand this. Door to door deliveries can help but many look on leaflets as junk mail and bin them


    1. I think we understand far more than you give us credit for John; it’s easy to make sweeping statements about a big business but remember that there’s a local team of passionate individuals who care very much about making things better and getting things right.

      Information on the new network is prominently displayed on our website at arrivabus.co.uk/leightonsbuses and this is the address that’s been promoted locally, as we know the challenges of our current web platform.

      Door to door deliveries were delayed due to a combination of factors including purdah and bank holidays which conspired against us, but will go out next week. Leaflets are also available in the Rail Station, Town Council, Shopping Centre, Library, and a variety of local shops – hopefully you can pick one up when you visit 🙂


      1. In most companies you would have a project go or no go decision. It is clear that the project was not ready to go and should have been delayed until it was


        1. And what, leave Leighton Buzzard with no buses? Bearing in mind that it was more than Arriva affected, with another contracted route ending (36 to be replaced by the L5)


  8. Hmm, excellent that service is timed to connect with trains (revolutionary for the UK, every day occurrence in Switzerland or The Netherlands).

    BUT, what fiasco regarding lack of advance publicity, and supervision. I really feel for the new driver bring dropped in it like that. Imagine the stress they were under! All this is down to inadequate managers (Arriva and the Council) who can’t even do the basics.


    1. The previous D1 service (the constituent of the former network that was broadly commercial pre-pandemic with some S106 funded enhancements) was already coordinated with fast trains to/from London, and had been for many years.

      One of the challenges bus operators tend to find is getting sight of changes to rail timetables far enough in advance that they can flex the bus timetable if necessary. Certainly over the past three years this has been virtually impossible, so hopefully this will settle down now.

      Something Switzerland and The Netherlands also benefit from is integrated ticketing, which we’d dearly love in the UK but which is effectively stymied by the mess which is rail ticketing. Getting a proper solution to this is key to unlocking multi-modal potential.


  9. Thanks for your feedback Roger – think this assessment will help concentrate our continued efforts in improving Leighton’s buses.

    Your comments regarding the standard of publicity and the simpler network offering are much appreciated, and reflect the collaborative efforts between Arriva and Central Bedfordshire Council within such a short timeframe. There was only nine weeks between contract award and timetable go-live; a monumental challenge to refine the network design, triple the driver establishment, complete route learning for the new drivers on a wholly new network, create and post publicity, set up RTPI – to name but a few of the asks.

    It was disappointing that you didn’t spot our double-royal sized wayfinding posters at the three entrance points in Leighton Buzzard railway station – all headlined with “free buses to town centre” with a network map and timetable for each of the services. There’s still some work to do here, and the main shelter fits with our collective ambitions to refresh this interchange point to a higher standard.

    Central Bedfordshire Council are actively pursuing the housing developer to complete the bus-only road at Roman Gate, which should be completed very soon. With the comments regarding route learning, all have already been picked up through journey tracking and addressed immediately.

    These sorts of teething problems are to be expected, as one commenter has already mentioned. Equally, as the network beds-in and, as I was surprised to see on launch day where customers were boarding a bus, taking a leaflet and then immediately leaving the vehicle, should be more punctual as dwell time reduces. As observed, the popularity of the new services can lead to longer-than-expected boarding times, in some cases. We’ve already penciled in a review date of runtimes to ensure the timetables are robust, but these first introductory weeks are probably not best suited to benchmark. We’ll continue to look at this in absolute detail in the coming weeks and months.

    In terms of better publicity, absolutely agree – purdah did have a minor effect on publicity and we’re continuing to use all of the available space to our best ability. DL leaflet holders are on every bus, which had a fresh batch of timetable leaflets delivered and restocked on Friday 12 May. The A4 printed copies weren’t ideal, but provided *something* in the absence in hindsight of the more-than-expected demand for leaflets.

    17.5k copies of the leaflets will also be distributed to every household in Leighton Buzzard with a supporting letter from CBC. One commenter has mentioned that “many look on leaflets as junk mail and bin them” – we can’t necessarily control that behaviour, but the letter and attractive design might avoid this from happening. These leaflets are now at local community centres, Libraries, sports centres and even the local chippy.

    In terms of local identity – we’ve broken the mould with “Leighton’s buses” and will continue to develop this brand. Again, the short timeframe of introducing the network meant that our priorities are on service delivery and mobilisation. The community ownership of the buses are crucially important to us, and we’re in the advanced stages of how this can be developed further, including on how that identity can be enhanced.

    The issues regarding the website are with our Technical team and agree that this is far from ideal. This’ll be resolved as soon as possible.

    Finally, it’s unfortunate to read some of the comments describing “inadequate Managers” who “cannot do the basics”. This is, in my view, an unfair assessment or commentary from those who’ve neither played an active role in mobilising this network neither do they have the full understanding of the monumental efforts of all parties, from Arriva and Central Bedfordshire Council, to be operational in such a short time frame.

    The driver route-learning issue is a good example where it’s been unfortunate that it was observed, on this trip, that there was a miscommunication of roadworks that are outside of our control which is resolved; this is an absolute minority in a backdrop of our Operations team successfully route learning new-to-Leighton Buzzard drivers on a brand new network, of which the vast majority have been a success. Let’s not jump to unnecessary conclusions based on one observation.

    This doesn’t mean that we’re ignoring any of the teething problems – not at all, and I absolutely recognise that there’s still a lot of work to do to keep raising the bar. We’ll continue to strive to pick up on the constructive points made and, I trust, that if Bus and Train User or those who’ve commented are visiting in the near-future, will see us continually making Leighton’s buses better.

    Let’s hope that more new bus users take a similar attitude to the conversation you heard regarding driving – we can certainly support that!

    Thanks again Roger, some really insightful points that we’ll itemise and action when back in the office.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well said Matt and Toby in his replies; and thanks both for commenting. As I observed a couple of times – i’m sure it will settle down. Maybe one learning point for the local authority is to ensure realistic lead times for operators to complete an organised mobilisation for a new network’s introduction.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. There’s fair criticism in Roger’s report, but I think it is a rare and welcome occasion where Toby and Matt have responded to the points and are clearly open to making this initiative work in Leighton Buzzard.
    If only members of staff/management would respond to Roger’s reports in other parts of the country. We could all feel encouraged that positive change is just around the corner.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Rail timetables unlike bus timetables do not change at the drop of a hat. There is a very long lead time more than adequate for a bus company to change the timetables. Rail timetables normally change twice a year and even the public are given several weeks notice something that bus companies do not do

    The next Rail timetable changes start on the 21st May


    1. Yes and Arriva is also a rail operator so it has the corporate knowledge about how the rail timetable process works and be able to advise its bus divisions.


      1. The timetables are produced by Network Rail working in close collaboration with the TOC;s in fact the simplest. way to find timetables is ion the Network Rail Web site

        If you are interested the working timetables are on there as well


    2. Happy to confirm that Leighton’s Buses will continue to meet the new rail times when they change on 21 May, as this was something factored in when planning the new network.

      The challenge bus operators have is getting sight of changes to rail timetables ahead of the general public, which isn’t always possible. Bus timetables need to factor in many different and conflicting passenger movements, and it’s generally the biggest drivers of demand on a route-by-route basis that effectively set the timetable rather than being built specifically around rail services that often have irregular frequencies.

      Bus timetables tend not to change at the drop of a hat, it takes 70 days to introduce a new timetable and that’s after the hard work’s been done on drawing it together in the first place.

      We give four weeks’ notice to the public of changes to the commercial bus network in my area, as getting the information out as early as possible is really important.


    3. Nope – here at Oxfordshire we had no advance sight of Chiltern Railways’ timetable changes which have messed up various connections at Bicester Village and Princes Risborough.


  12. Up until the changes Leighton Buzzard was very “old school” as an outstation. It was a small team of drivers operating a route network which fundamentally hadn’t changed for many years. The drivers knew many of the passengers and vice versa. Some of the network had changed little in the past 20 or so years. New drivers have also joined the existing team and all of the changes at once have taken some of the regular users out of their comfort zone. It will take some getting used to, but as people do I think it will be received very well. Some of the existing areas that were served actually have better connections across town in the new network.

    Cross-town workings have always been a challenge in Leighton Buzzard due to the respective locations of the Rail Station and Town Centre along with the main road that links them. That is another challenge to somehow overcome to keep the new route network reliable and effective.


  13. Whilst Bob may believe that there is a long lead in time on the rail timetables, the new times only actually became available to the bus operator and the LTA 6 weeks before the implementation of the new bus network.


  14. Thank you Toby and Matt for your detailled feedback. My “sweeping statement” refers particularly to the general non existence of both information offices and printed timetables on the part of Arriva, First and Stagecoach. The only Arriva offices in the North West home counties of which I am aware are Victoria Green Line and Luton Green Line. The offices at Aylesbury, Hemel Hempstead and possibly High Wycombe have all closed. Apart from the publicity for this Leighton Buzzard project, the only printed timetables I have recently seen are for the 724 and 757. In Hertfordshire we have an “Intalink” van visiting various town centres during the month to dispense local travel timetables. There is no Arriva publicity on it although the most frequent question is, “have you a timetable for ‘x’ route”. This comment on offices or printed timetables also applies to most units of First and Stagecoach.
    I did find PDFs of the new L B operation a couple of weeks ago but have just gone ‘blind ‘ search onto the Arriva website and searched for L1 and L4 and was given the response ” no option”.
    Hopefully, the big players all follow Roger’s blogs and will take notice of the points raised and will act on them. If not, I can see severe bus cuts coming after June and more people forced into cars or left isolated. Our bus network is an important weapon against our carbon footprint.
    Good luck Leighton Buzzare.

    This initiative between council and operator is to be praised and I wish it every success.


  15. I was in Leighton Buzzard last week and discovered there was a new network when I saw a route number I didn’t recognise, but totally failed to notice that it’s free; don’t know if that’s my fault or the publicity! Still not convinced I’ll bother using it to get the slightly awkward distance from the station to the town centre thanks to that slow moving traffic, in fact at a brisk walk it’s sometimes possible to catch up a bus I’ve just missed if I’m going further across town.

    That market day change of stop was indeed clumsy on the old timetables (why not a simple asterisk and a footnote saying that buses serve West Street on Tuesdays?) but now seems to be glossed over completely with just a vague and unhelpful reference to the town centre. At the other extreme, the Bucks-funded (so not free!) route 162 serves various small villages unfortunate enough to be snuggled in an outcrop of Bucks between Milton Keynes and Central Beds, and the timetable on the Bucks website manages to make what is already a complicated and inconsistent route even more confusing.


  16. Since my previous comment I have taken the opportunity to search out the timetables. Traveline shows the West Street variant alongside the normal route but gives no differentiation thus suggesting that every weekday lourney is duplicated. Bustimes.org., usually reliable, shows the variants but all finishing by 6th May leaving one to presume that the L routes have finished before they even started. They suggest the withdrawn D1 as a possible alternative. Fortunately they don’t show the D1 timetable. Their map of the L1 is just meaningless scribble.
    Central Bedfordshire Council used to provide a set of excellent local timetable booklets both in printed and online format. One of these was for Leighton Buzzard. What a missed opportunity in not reintroducing this item to cover all local buses including the new local network. Now timetable information is directed to Traveline, see above. I looked at Bucks timetable for Star Travel 162 and agree that the timetable is confusing but at least proper codes qualifying the different operating days are given unlike Arriva’s use of miniscule numbers.
    Buses always used to serve the High Street on market days where adequate seating is provided by the bus stops. Minimal seating is provided at the West Street stops which, for the unwary, appear to be nowhere near the shopping centre. The council should take the initiative and move the market stalls back to where they used to be. This would benefit both bus passengers and market traders alike. Come on council; how about applying some common sense and eliminating the confusion as to where to board buses on market days.


  17. And what happens when the magic word “FREE” finally reaches all ears, the network has hopefully settled down and is then swamped with over-loading and unable to cope? As happened in London when “nice Mr Livingstone” introduced free travel c1980 without introducing a single extra bus and the system virtually broke down under the strain! Does the £largesse from the DfT also expand?


    1. The £2 fare scheme seems to have made little difference to passenger numbers so fares appear to be not the real reason people will not use buses

      I suspect the real reason is inadequate service. People now led busy lives and a bus every hour does not fit in with that. Frequently places people want to get to such s out of town shopping centres Industrial parks and business centres are unserved as are many hospitals and medical centres and rail stations

      Most bus service still follower century old route patterns with the routes centred on a high street or market town. This places have much less importance now

      The other big issue is high levels of cancellations and poor timekeeping


      1. Bob – what makes you think the scheme has made little difference? Managers I know say they’ve seen an uptick, helped by greater reliability as some of the worst effects of the driver shortage are now beginning to ease.


    2. I don’t believe Ken Livingstone ever introduced free travel in London – and I was there! Fares were reduced until Bromley Borough Council, not satisfied with an improved and cheaper bus service and the huge subsidy that went to BR commuter services, took the GLC to court and won. This led to a doubling of fares overnight which is impossible if there are no fares to start with. It’s the only time I’ve ever been on strike I was so disgusted.


      1. I was also there as a Bromley Conductor, having to cope with OAP free travel and as stated, the total lack of extra buses with which to cope. Originally, fares for OAPs had been reduced to 2p and 3p, but Livingstone then introduced totally free travel for this class, albeit with a pre-0900/post-1530 restriction. The afternoon restriction was later abolished which caused massive problems for Commuters on services such as the 119. Full buses were unable to cope on arrival at Bromley South and East Croydon stations, a story repeated at other outer London locations.

        The entire outer bus zone 4-6 had a 25p flat fare, but still graduated fares north of Lewisham on our 47 service, but this reverted to an ordinary fare scale after Bromley Council won the case.


  18. Here’s an interesting example of a well planned opportunity charging ebus project in the Swiss city of Schaffhausen, coupled with a well planned network. Switch on auto translate to get the jist.

    Basically you have a city centre in a valley, with the suburbs spreading up the valley sides. All services serve the central station, connect with the trains on a pulse system, and take their top up charge when doing so. Regenerative braking on downhilll inbound journeys also helps. Power comes from the hydro electric power station, the charging substation is located in the basement of the post office.


    1. That’s really interesting Peter, you’ve just added Schaffhausen to my list of places to visit! Regenerative breaking in the inbound journey is something that might work in places like High Wycombe in the future.


  19. Seems a very efficient use of subsidy compared to the many “bus on demand” schemes you’ve look at!


  20. Reply to Toby – very many thanks for taking the trouble to reply to me and to the many other commenters: I speak only as a sometimes frustrated bus user – this has been an amazing blog, taken in conjunction with your and other people’s comments! I gladly retract my criticism, and congratulate you and your team on the work you’ve done to try and sort out the service problems. You must have looked enviously at the funding which enabled the Elizabeth Line to be pre-tested so thoroughly (even though, as Roger has pointed out, that didn’t extend to getting proper publicity for connecting buses at Abbey Wood). At least the passengers on your buses who were on guinea-pig duty got free travel! By the way, I assume that the free travel will reduce time wasted by paying fares: hopefully you may be able to quantify this and release the data for the public good!

    I do hope that Leighton Buzzard’s new bus system has the success it deserves. I particularly like the clear and straightforward map, the rail connections, and the large publicity signs you mention. May I suggest a couple of ideas for your consideration:

    1 – please evaluate the scheme as a whole and not just route by route. Ignoring the benefits of a network will mean missing out on growth in journeys involving changing bus (your free travel offer will encourage that). We know networks generate travel – the London Underground has done this for over a century – with just a clear map, frequent services, and good signage at interchanges.
    2 – troubles are mentioned due to (a) roadworks and (b) congestion due to schoolchildren. Both of these could be solved politically, after pressure from Arriva and the other big bus groups and interests such as the AA and RAC all acting in concert:
    (a) large fees should be paid by companies who dig up roads, to pay for extra publicity (get cars out of the way/inform bus passengers) and for extra buses (to keep schedules nearly normal);
    (b) stagger school hours, plus bus services every 15 minutes on all routes – benefits would include less crowded buses for all; more pleasant bus journeys for children (I know some who have been put off buses for life); discouraging family car travel to school (different age children will have different hours); giving children experience using a bus network; enabling after-school activities; better on-bus behaviour (children are better on a bus with a mixture of adults they don’t know)

    Thanks again to you – and to Roger!


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