Following the meltdown of Arriva bus services in December, Stagecoach took over the majority of bus routes to become the main bus provider for Guildford. I cannot speak for all Stagecoach routes, but the 34/35 Guildford to Woking buses have recently declined to a very poor level. In the past week there have been non-appearing buses every day. While this is a serious irritation for me, I would argue it is a major problem for Guildford as a whole.
All political parties in Guildford pay at least lip-service to the concept of reducing the number of vehicles coming into the town centre, to improve air quality and contribute to lowering carbon dioxide emissions. There are only two realistic alternatives to car transport for most people – buses or bikes – and currently neither of these is working well.
For people to use public transport regularly they need to have trust in the service. People need to be confident they will arrive on time – or at least arrive. The ‘countdown’ displayed in some bus shelters are now totally devalued; in the past week I have watched countless ‘countdowns’ up to the words ‘due…’ then… nothing. The bus vanished and the next ‘countdown’ starts.
Even worse, perhaps, is the demise of our Park & Ride services. As I am sure many of you know, a good Park & Ride service is brilliant – who would drive into Bath or Norwich when you can use the stunningly efficient Park & Ride? However, in Guildford, Park & Ride from the Spectrum is currently not operating – “no demand” apparently – and appears unlikely to start again and the Park & Ride at Onslow is also unlikely to reopen. So Guildford Borough Council has effectively closed Park & Ride and replaced it with…. Nothing.
There are so many issues here – how do you get to the Spectrum if you don’t have a car? How will we reduce cars in the town centre if there are no buses? How can Guildford even think about becoming greener if it closes bus schemes that encourage visitors to leave their cars on the edge of town?
I cannot see a vision of a future Guildford that does not have a modern, clean, efficient and effective bus service at its heart, yet Guildford Borough Council is currently going in the opposite direction.
We need a completely new approach to running buses in Guildford. GBC needs to take a much greater say in their running and be prepared to pay for it, while Surrey County Council needs to properly monitor the services which they pay for. Bus providers need to dramatically improve communication with passengers; the current lack of clear information on whether a service is running or not is simply not acceptable. And green schemes like Park & Ride need to be expanded not contracted.
Despite their claims, the Liberal Democrats have failed to provide a decent, green bus service in Guildford as has Tory-run Surrey County Council. Only Labour seems to really understand the importance of public transport – both as a service for residents and as part of a low carbon economy that can improve air quality here in Guildford.