With passenger capacity on buses significantly reduced due to social distancing measures, First West of England is trialling an online system that allows customers to reserve space on specific journeys, thereby eliminating the risk of being unable to board because the bus is full.
The new function can now be used on peak-time journeys on the popular T1 express service that passes along Bradley Stoke Way, Great Stoke Way and the Stoke Gifford By-Pass on its way between Thornbury and Bristol city centre.
This route was chosen as one of the first trials as it is a busy inter-urban route that offers customers a significantly reduced travel time when the M32 is busy.
Journeys on which the function is available have been renumbered as T1b to denote it is a bookable bus.
The innovative new facility comes as First continues to find ways to use technology to improve the travelling experience for its customers. It follows recent changes to First’s smartphone app, which now enables customers to track the location and seat availability of their bus. Along with social distancing measures on its buses and an enhanced cleaning regime, it forms a package of measures to ensure customers can make informed and safe journeys on First’s buses at a time when the government has changed its advice to make it clear that anybody can use public transport.
The ‘Book my bus ride’ initiative is being pioneered by First West of England in partnership with the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) and is believed to be the first system of its kind operating on regular, scheduled bus services in the UK.
Bookings can be made up to seven days in advance of the journey, with the flexibility of being able to reserve a space, subject to availability, right up to 15 minutes before departure. Customers will have the option of buying a ticket with their reservation or booking at no extra cost if they already have a pre-paid First Bus ticket or are a concessionary card holder travelling after 9am.
Reservations will secure a space on the chosen bus rather than a specific seat.
Bookings are made on a new, dedicated website, www.bookmybusride.com, with customers receiving an email booking confirmation that needs to be shown to the driver with an existing ticket/concessionary card if payment has not been made at the time of booking.
Bookings are possible for all peak time Monday to Friday journeys on the T1b service with just under 50 percent of the socially distanced capacity being bookable and the remaining seats left available for customers to board and pay as normal without a booking.
Chris Hanson, First West of England head of operations, said:
“Here in the West of England we are pioneering new ways of travelling by bus to make it the smartest way to move around the region.”
“The ‘Book my bus ride’ initiative is in its early stages and, if successful, we hope to integrate the advanced booking technology into the First Bus mobile app, as well as the onboard ticketing software, to revolutionise both the customer and driver experience.”
West of England mayor Tim Bowles said:
“This is a terrific new service which will help people know they can rely on the bus and give them more reasons to leave their car at home. I’m determined to keep our region moving and make sure the West of England leads the country on using technology to improve our public transport – giving people greater choice and flexibility in how they travel.”
South Gloucestershire Council’s Cabinet member for transport, Cllr Steve Reade, said:
“I’m very pleased to see First pilot this new booking system in our area. It is particularly welcome currently as it will help reassure people that they will be able to safely catch the bus whilst adhering to social distancing measures. It will also add to users’ confidence that a bus will be available and help to increase patronage, so reducing the numbers of cars on the roads.”
For customers who are not able to make an online booking, a dedicated phone line is also being trialled and is available on 07866 977586, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm (excluding public holidays).
Confirmation of all phone bookings will be sent in the post and First recommends making phone bookings seven days in advance of your journey to allow time for this delivery.
City-bound T1b journeys run approximately every 30 minutes and call at the Willow Brook southbound stop between 06:34 and 09:09.
Return journeys leave the city centre between 15:15 and 18:45, also with a 30-minute frequency.
This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on pages 12 & 13). The magazine is delivered FREE, nine times a year, to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
Note: The times and frequencies given in the final two sentences of the article have been updated following the introduction of new timetables on 6th September 2020.
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