‘Ghost buses’ problem is getting worse – MP

BRISTOL North West MP Darren Jones says buses are less reliable in Bristol since First promised improvements in April. 

The city’s largest bus operator said services would become more reliable, but the results of a study led by Mr Jones suggest the opposite has actually happened.

The MP collected evidence from constituents to test promises made by bus bosses on improving reliability. He wrote an open letter to Doug Claringbold, the managing director of First Bus West of England with the project results.

The project asked 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.

In the letter, Mr Jones said: “The data reveals that bus reliability has got worse: in March, passengers were unable to get on the bus they had been waiting for 39 per cent of the time, and this rose to 64 per cent in April and May. This includes cancellations, buses being too full to stop, passengers tiring of waiting for delayed services, and ‘ghost buses’.

“Of the First Bus services that did arrive, seven per cent were delayed by 15 minutes or more in March, and this figure rose to 13 cent in April and May. The campaign also revealed just how prevalent the problem of ‘ghost buses’ is. About one in four of all First Bus journeys logged in March revealed a ghost bus, rising to about one in three journeys logged in April and May.”

From March to May, passengers logged 751 experiences of using the bus in the MP’s survey. 643 of those journeys were logged for First Bus services. Responding to the findings, First said reliability had “significantly improved” since April, with buses now more punctual.

First Bus, the city’s largest operator, promised many services would become more reliable from April. Several main routes — including the 70, 73, 73, 75 and 76 — should now see buses running more frequently.

A spokesman for First said: “Like the rest of the bus industry, at the beginning of this year we were experiencing a driver shortage, which put pressure on the reliability and punctuality of our services. 

“Following a successful driver recruitment campaign, we’ve significantly improved the situation in Bristol since we launched our latest timetables in April, with 1,500 daily journeys reinstated, a reduction of two thirds in journeys not operating some or all of their route due to reasons within our control, and nearly a 10 per cent increase in punctuality. We have also been able to increase the frequency of buses on several routes.

“We know more needs to be done to build on these improvements. We’re working with local councils and transport authorities to improve conditions on our roads for buses; we’re continuing to invest in our teams, services and technology; and we’re committed to providing passengers with the most up-to-date information to make planning and making journeys as simple as possible.”

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service