Bus Services, a simple change for @Translink_NI, a big help for @NISP_Connect and @ECIT_QUB

Andrew Bolster

Senior R&D Manager (Data Science) at Synopsys Software Integrity Group and Treasurer @ Bsides Belfast and NI OpenGovernment Network

UPDATE 7/3/13 : See Bottom

So I was ranting at @Translink_NI earlier and they helpfully responded with their service complaint submission system

This was my hopefully helpful response

Why does the #26 service stop so rarely at the NISP when compared to the stops just 2 minutes down the road at the BMC?

While this is a 2 minute bus journey (ok 5 if you could there, back and turning time…), it’s a 10 min walk.

Surely there’s no good reason why the 26B (Serving the science park once an hour),  and 26C (serving the BMC every 10-15 mins) services couldn’t be merged?

Afterwards, I wanted to check out my facts, and they were surprisingly accurate. Queen’s Road (Science Park) stop is serviced 19 times a day outbound, between 0754 and 1725, by the 26 straight through service 6 times and the ‘custom’ 26B service 13 times. Using either route means that you can get to the island every half hour.

However, Belfast Met, just a minute down the road is services outbound a total of 37 times per day between the same time in the morning and 1800 at night, meaning a service pretty much every 15 minutes.

So, that extra 24 times? That’s a service (26B) that goes from the city centre to BMC, and turns right back around again.

“What’s the difference” you may rightly ask. Well, I checked, and for a bus to go up as far as Innovation Avenue and turn around right there, it’s a round trip journey of a massive 3 minutes (and if they go all the way up to the roundabout, just to be safe, it’s 4 minutes). Now, compare that to the journey time of a pedestrian, abandoned in the wasteland that is the Titanic Quarter, at the end of the line, BMC. It’s the guts of 15 minutes. In that amount of time, the guys at BMC are getting on the next bus back and you’re only just making it to the office.

Translink, what gives?


Translink got back to me and over two weeks of exchanges, I thought it was time to update as to the conversation. This has been edited for brevity but not for content.

Hello Andrew

Thanks for your recent feedback.

Your comments have been passed to our Schedules Department, who have advised that the majority of passengers are travelling to BMC (quite significant numbers) and there is little traffic beyond on the Queen’s Road, especially during the day. The Science Park previously had only the 26 Metro service, which operated once an hour and actually gained a second bus per hour when the College opened.

Additional running time would be required to extend the journeys on the 26C route and whilst this may appear only minimal for each run, it would still require additional drivers and vehicles to operate all current 26C services to the Science Park. Unfortunately at present we do not have these resources available to us.

As well as operational issues for not extending the 26C service, we are currently restricted by licensing regulations. However, as the area continues to develop public transport provision will be constantly reviewed.

When the planned Rapid Transit route becomes operational with Translink as the operator, circa 2017/18 it will go as far as the Science Park.

Thank you for contacting Translink regarding this matter.

“Translink - 21 Feb”

Thank you for your clear and cogent response. Public transport often has a chicken-and-egg relationship with regional development, and while I believe that TL should be providing the links that people then use to develop and enhance high growth areas such as TQ, rather than just serving areas of past growth, I can understand in these austere times why that may not be a popular viewpoint.

One question though, what licensing restrictions are halting the expansion of the C route? “Bolster - 27 Feb”

There are licensing restrictions as other private operators have also been granted licenses to operate within this area. These are mostly utilised for private hire purposes. “Translink - 28 Feb”

Sorry to bother you like this but if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that one of the contributing reasons to Translink’s lack of expansion in this area is that they do not have license to operate at the science park in certain license conditions imposed by other private hire companies?

I’d be very interested to see the details of those licenses if this is indeed the case. “Bolster - 28 Feb”

Sorry for the delay in coming back to you again, however our Fleet Control office has just reverted to me now on this matter.

They have advised that there is another operator (Dial-a-bus) who operates from Elmwood Avenue along the route to NISP. This operator must be consulted on any changes we make to our services as they might well impact negatively on their operation (and vice versa) and therefore they have a right of objection under the Transport Act legislation and DVA Guidelines. Without going into all the “nitty gritty” this can, and often does, limit what we can do with any given service in terms of frequency, destination, and route etc. This is intended to ensure fair competition. “Translink- 6 Mar”

Thanks very much for the reply. I get the feeling that this is another one of those ‘if only these people were locked in a room for 3 hours and told to work it out!’ situations…

I’d like to ask you permission to publish this correspondence so the others can some to the same understanding I have over this contentious issue? “Bolster - 6 Mar”

And the rest is discussion over where and how the conversation was to be posted, and they agreed.

It’s very interesting to see the hidden politics over what should be a public service. I’ve used both the Dial-a-bus and Translink services to TQ and they half-cater to very different needs; basically if Translink got their act together and could provide a solid service to the area, then Dial-a-bus may go bust. On the other hand Dial-a-bus (from off the record conversations with their staff) can’t run more services to TQ because Translink block them from stopping at their stops at BMC, which is obviously a high demand location.

Basically, Because Translink didn’t provide services to Upper Titanic Quarter (NISP/ECIT/CSIT/SAP/Citi/Pumphouse/etc) because it was the middle of nowhere at the time (some would argue it still is), NISP had to organise a charter bus through Dial-a-bus to try and accommodate the hundreds of people who work in the area. In the intervening time, Lower TQ (BMC, Odyssey, Titanic Experience, T13) has had a boom of growth, attracting Translink to serve the area. But because Dial-a-bus is in Upper, they can’t expand, and because Translink is in Lower, dial-a-bus can’t expand… and stuck in the middle are (potential) customers.

Sometimes this country drives me mad…

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