‘Ghost buses’ leave passengers stranded

STRANDED passengers reported more than 100 cases of “ghost buses” in Bristol in March as part of a new citizen science project.

Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West, is collecting evidence from constituents to test promises made by bus bosses on improving reliability.

The project is asking bus passengers whose journeys start in the Bristol North West constituency to tell the MP if their journeys were on time, delayed, or if a service appears on an app or digital screen in a bus stop but never turns up — known as a ghost bus.

First, the city’s largest operator, promised that many services would become more reliable from the start of April. Several main routes — including the 70, 73, 73, 75 and 76 — should now see buses running more frequently, but the results of this remain to be seen.

Mr Jones said: “For as long as I can remember, problems with bus services have been one of the biggest local concerns for people. But looking at the data in black and white that is rolling in, even I’m astounded at how badly Bristol’s bus network is blighted by ghost buses. How can we expect people to leave their cars at home if they can’t trust that the bus they are waiting for actually exists?”

In March the MP received 109 reports of ghost buses. The project is continuing throughout April and May, and passengers are encouraged to log their bus journeys on the website: darren-jones.co.uk/bus

Mr Jones added: “I need the public’s help to gather the data that will show if the bus companies need to be held to account — and it’s not too late for passengers to start logging bus journeys from today. Nothing would make me happier than to discover that the reliability of our buses is moving in the right direction. But let’s see what the data reveals.”

Earlier this year, Doug Claringbold, managing director of First in the West of England, said that services and reliability will improve from April. The company is running a huge recruitment campaign amid a dire shortage of drivers, and said that issues such as congestion can cause bus cancellations which are outside the company’s control.

A spokesperson for First West of England said: “New timetables have been introduced across Bristol from April 2 — including more frequent buses on a number of services — using specialist scheduling software which we are confident will improve reliability. We saw significant improvements when we did the same earlier this year on Metrobus services, so we anticipate similar success across our Bristol network.

“Cancellations can occur for a variety of reasons due to issues on the road network we cannot control. We continue to do all we can to manage updates for our customers in dynamically changing situations and enable timely information to appear on our app and the Real Time Information (RTI) displays at bus stops.

“We are working closely with the [West of England] Combined Authority to explore improvements to how the RTI displays are refreshed with the latest details of all the services on our network.”

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service