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'We're up against it' - Bus boss blames delays on roadworks

PUBLISHED: 06:30 10 February 2020

Charles Sanders, managing director of Sanders Coaches. Picture: Mark Bullimore.

Charles Sanders, managing director of Sanders Coaches. Picture: Mark Bullimore.

Archant

Buses in Norfolk suffer more delays than the national average - but the boss of one local company has said it is a "miracle" so many of the county's services do run on time.

Eight buses backed up behind the accident on the junction of Fishergate and Wensum Street, Norwich between a Sanders Coach and Peugot 106.
For : EDP
Photo : Steve Adams
Copyright Archant NorfolkEight buses backed up behind the accident on the junction of Fishergate and Wensum Street, Norwich between a Sanders Coach and Peugot 106. For : EDP Photo : Steve Adams Copyright Archant Norfolk

Figures published by the Department of Transport reveal the percentage of the county's buses that ran on schedule each year, with 78pc managing to stick to the timetable in 2018/19.

This compares to an average of 83.6pc for services across all non-metropolitan areas in England over the same period.

The worst year for delays in the county was 2005/06 - the year records began - when only 72.5pc of buses ran on time.

But punctuality has improved since then, never dipping below 75pc, and the best year for passengers on the county's bus network was 2011/12 when 87pc of buses were reliable.

And while 22pc of buses were late in Norfolk in 2018/19 - more than one in five - the fact that 78pc ran on time is a "miracle", according to the managing director of Sanders Coaches.

Charles Sanders said: "I think the figures are very good considering the amount of roadworks going on in the county."

He said a recent journey dragged one of his company's buses through seven sets of temporary lights.

"There is a lot of building going on, broadband going in, always digging up the roads at some place or another," he said.

In a room at the company's head office in Holt, a whiteboard displays a list of all the ongoing roadworks in the county.

"We had to put another one up, we couldn't put all the closures on one board," Mr Sanders said.

According to the director, compared to in rural areas delays are less inconvenient in the city where bus stops are fitted with digital information displays showing updates on arrival times for buses.

"But in the countryside, when somebody is standing at the side of the road there is nothing to tell you your bus is coming or is going to be late."

First Norwich buses general manager Chris Speed. First buses are making improvements to their service, including the bus colours, interior seating and routes. The Red Line bus. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYFirst Norwich buses general manager Chris Speed. First buses are making improvements to their service, including the bus colours, interior seating and routes. The Red Line bus. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norfolk County Council notifies the company of upcoming roadworks and closures.

"We have regular meetings of them. We have to work together," Mr Sanders said.

"At the same time we get castigated for not being punctual and reliable, which is impossible, but we do our best."

He said that 78pc is "very good".

Carol Evans, 61, from Southtown in Great Yarmouth, take the bus every day. Picture: Daniel Hickey.Carol Evans, 61, from Southtown in Great Yarmouth, take the bus every day. Picture: Daniel Hickey.

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"There has been no abatement in the volume of traffic. If it rains in Norfolk tomorrow morning, every parent will drive their kids to school instead of walk, and everything gets gridlocked."

He said 95pc of the company's customers are understanding.

"I think given what we're up against it is higher than I expected," Mr Sanders said.

His sentiments were echoed by Chris Speed, head of operations at First Eastern Counties.

He said: " We work hard to deliver our services on time and as published in our timetables, but there are obviously factors that can influence reliability such as congestion, especially at peak times of the day, and roadworks, when emergency measures are required to put circumstances right when things go wrong.

"However, over the last six months we have run 95pc of journeys on time from departure points in the town and from terminal points on route.

"We still have some work to do to achieve that 100pc number, but through working with Norfolk County Council and other partners on initiatives to reduce congestion and improve bus priority, we can get closer to achieving that goal."

At Great Yarmouth Market Gates bus station on Saturday (February 8) the consensus among passengers was that 78pc was "pretty good".

Alan Vaudin, 66, said: "I don't think it'll be 100pc because of the road system. 78pc is good enough for the conditions we've got".

Aaron Barnes, 44, said the bus companies cannot be held responsible for roadworks.

And Carol Evans, 61, who takes buses every day, said: "I have no problem with buses, just the roadworks."

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