Traffic Commissioner alerted over decline in bus reliability in Milton Keynes

Bus services in Milton Keynes are falling so massively short of required standards that the government regulator has been made aware, a committee was told.

Friday, 17th January 2020, 11:17 am
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 9:25 am

Bus users, hospital patients and councillors lined up to fire a multitude of problems at officers and a representative of bus company Arriva at a long meeting on Wednesday.

“The Traffic Commissioner’s Office has been made aware of the reliability issues in Milton Keynes, and council officers recently met with the DVSA who are reviewing a recent spike in complaints about bus service provision in Milton Keynes,” said a report to the strategic placemaking committee.

The Traffic Commissioner has power to fine operators for failures.

An Arriva bus (Shutterstock)

Council officers added: “Of concern is a considerable deterioration of service punctuality and reliability over recent months. A number of operators are struggling to maintain timetables in Milton Keynes and while a couple of the smaller operators maintain good reliability, the issues are widespread and significant.

“Almost no operator is meeting the Traffic Commissioner’s requirement of 95 per cent of services arriving no more than five minutes late.

“Given Arriva’s market dominance, their decline in performance has been particularly concerning with ongoing decline in punctuality during 2019, with council data showing punctuality falling below 70 per cent in October 2019.

“This means that across all routes, less than seven out of 10 buses depart within five minutes of their scheduled departure time.”

“A student told me she walks four miles each way because the buses are so unreliable,” said Cllr Martin Petchey (Lab, Stantonbury) at the strategic placemaking scrutiny committee.

“Somebody else lost their job because the buses are so unreliable. They couldn’t get to the job on time,” he added. “In another case, there was a one hour and 20-minute wait for a bus that is meant to run every 15 minutes.

“They will never be attractive to people if they are not reliable.”

Kieran Lawson, Arriva’s head of operations, claimed that “things have improved” recently as driver vacancies, partly caused by an exodus of Polish drivers over Brext, have been filled. “We have enough staff to run smoothly,” he said.

Mr Lawson also said congestion is “always an issue” because buses cannot easily divert off their timetabled routes. And there are various “pinch points” in the city, such as Station Square, where car congestion causes delays.

Mr Lawson said the company hopes to be able to use data better to create better timetables this year.

The committee agreed to call on the cabinet for a review of Station Square, and to press MK Hospital on making sure that patients did not have to walk so far to get to the entrance.

Council officers say in their report that buses cannot use the new hospital layout, which the hospital denied.

After the meeting, a spokesman for MK Hospital said: “Since the addition of our new bus stop to serve the main entrance, none of the companies which provide buses to Milton Keynes have added this stop to their route despite attempts to attract their services.”