A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.

1 11 2010

It’s an interesting sign of how advanced the green agenda is, that we can barely imagine a modern mainstream British Political Party Leader uttering the sentence above. It’s attributed to Maggie some 30 years ago.

A couple of confessions:

a. I’m beyond the age of 26.

b. I find myself on a bus almost every week day

c. I don’t consider myself a failure.

Like a large minority of people in Bristol I try to make do without a car. For a lot of people the hassle, fuss and cost of finding somewhere to park in the centre of town where I go to work puts me off getting one. I’ve made an informed choice and I live in an area well served by public transport with both the Severn beach line and a bus route within 2 minutes walk and my place of work in about 30 minutes walk away.

We as a city should be doing all we can to help citizens make informed choices about transport, all with a view to encouraging them to use public transport where its appropriate. Unfortunately First Buses Website plainly fails to do this.

My partner Kat and I are hoping to buy a house together next year and having found a couple of areas that were affordable and pleasant I took a look at the First Buses website to see how easy it would be to get to work.

When you arrive on the website you notice a handy search function. Try it. Unless the street you type in is specifically mentioned in the timetable you get no results.

If you click on the section marked Timetables “Plan your Journey with ease” You find that you need a detailed knowledge of what service number you actually need to use before using this section. So it’s not easy at all.

When you click on “View our map network” and then on Bristol and South Gloucestershire you finally feel like you are getting somewhere.

A colour coded map of all Bristol shows service numbers which all flows into the city centre.

Finally you think you will get to see where you get on and off. So you navigate to the city centre map and you get this.

I can’t work this out easily. Can you?

This website is abysmal and whoever designed it should be exiled to Steepholm.

Compare this to the Transport for London website. In a City with a fantastically complicated public transport system it seems that local government provide a clever joined up website where you can even search for your post code or a vague street name and find a bus, underground, overground or even a wombling free walking route!

Does it matter? Is this just a grumpy Monday morning rant. Yes. On both counts (I haven’t had my coffee yet).

If we actually want people to get out of their cars we need to make public transport cheaper, more regular but first and foremost we need to let people know that they can use it to get to where they want to go! At the moment we have a system which is as far from user friendly as we can get.

If you agree with me, why not use the clunky First Buses feed back system and let me know by commenting on this blog if you get a response.

But more importantly Gary Hopkins is the person responsible for our Public Transport System in Bristol. Why not email him about how poor our information system is and demand that he actually does something about it. You can email him on gary.hopkins@bristol.gov.uk

Good morning and have a good week.




13 responses

1 11 2010

My spies who use buses inform me that the timetables appearing on First Bus’ website bear scant relation to those displayed at bus stops.

1 11 2010
Mark Bradshaw


This is another example of doing more to make public transport more attractive and easier to use. I’m writing to First and BCC asking them to devise a simple travel map/planner for Bristol. Will let you know the response!


2 11 2010

Thank you for you speedy reply Mark.

I’ve emailed Cllr Hopkins and have yet to have the courtesy of a reply!

2 11 2010

Having moved to Bristol from London I can only be appalled at what is laughingly called public transport in this City! The buses cost a fortune, don’t go anywhere other than the center and run whenever they feel like it (never ever try to use the 36) and heaven forbids you want to travel on a Sunday.

Yes, a clear map, timetable and journey planner would be a good start but there is a lot more than that to be done here.

2 11 2010


6 11 2010

The First website has always been shit and unfit for purpose (even back when Bristol had a Labour administration, fact fans). Shoddy search engine, reliance on PDFs, counter-intuitive navigation, poorly-labelled options, etc.

To actually find out which bus you need to get from A to B by X o’ clock, I would recommend Transport Direct, a free website that works across the whole UK, and provides comprehensive public transport information and route planning, with journey estimators, mapping etc.

To declare an interest, I am an ex-employee of First. It was the worst paid job I ever had (bar getting ripped off on a building site once). At the time some of the drivers were barely paid above the minimum wage.

6 11 2010

Thanks for the link.

Pretty good website! Worked well when I tested it out

6 11 2010

Also as an ex-employee of First are you in some kind of recovery programme?

Think its the double whammy of low pay and First not hiring enough drivers/running enough buses so the public get angry and its the driver that get’s it.

8 11 2010

In contrast to Mark Bradshaw I’ve not heard from Gary Hopkins yet. Does he think this is an important issue? Does he read emails? I don’t know

Here’s my correspondence with him.

Subject: Fwd: First Great Western Website
From: Darren Lewis
Date: 8 November 2010 08:14:08 GMT
To: gary.hopkins@bristol.gov.uk

Dear Cllr Hopkins

I’ve yet to have the courtesy of an acknowledgement of receipt in relation to my email below (sent some 8 days ago). I’m unaware how quickly you normally deal with requests or whether it is being processed.

Could you please let me know when I may hear from you on this topic?

Best wishes

Darren Lewis

Begin forwarded message:

From: Darren Lewis
Date: 1 November 2010 08:58:56 GMT
To: gary.hopkins@bristol.gov.uk
Subject: First Great Western Website

Hello Gary.

I’ve blogged on how First Great Western’s website discourages people from making informed transport choices. I’m calling on people to ask for a more user friendly model.

I’ve already secured the commitment of Mark Bradshaw to lobby First. Will you publicly commit to doing the same please?

You can read the blog post here


Best wishes

Darren Lewis

9 11 2010

Finally heard back from Gary:

Dear Mr Lewis
Have been rather busy dealing with some transport issues.
I will happily speak to first as we do on a number of matters affecting customer experience. I will be interested to hear of Mark’s experience and concrete achievements.

Gary H

10 11 2010
Alex Woodman

For useful maps of bus routes, try http://bristolstreets.co.uk.

10 11 2010

Thanks Alex. Can you remind Gary to chase First in sorting out their site. Most people will check there.


10 11 2010
Alex Woodman

I’ll certainly mention it when I see him later this evening. Though I have no doubt he’s already ‘on the case’, so to speak. It’s also a subject which is frequently brought up at the SD&T Scrutiny Commission, so I know that there is cross-party unhappiness about it. However, First is a private company and, ultimately, BCC doesn’t have any power to tell them what to do!

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