Saturday, 2 March 2013


Good to see some new night services popping up in bus land!
London and some other selected Cities may have had 24 hour routes into the wee-small hours for a long time, but as we increasingly move (for better or worse) towards a 24-hour economy, public transport has a vital role to play.
In Bristol, route 75 between Hengrove and Cribbs Causeway sees round the clock services from 24th March. I'm also pleased to see First are the operator here. I'm convinced there are good times ahead for this giant in the industry under the direction of Giles Fearnley and Jerone Weimar after what I felt were many years in the wilderness, albeit as the country's largest operator! Local transport operators should thrive and be an integral part of their local communities, and, coupled with the fares review in Bristol, shows maybe a new willingness to listen and engage on a more local level.
In Birmingham, the 97 gains an all-nighter also from 24th March, which sees it extended from Chelmsley Wood to the Airport in what appears to be another breakout of localism - a partnership between National Express West Midlands and Birmingham Airport.
For what is England's supposed second-largest City (I'll have the Mancunians on my back now!), Birmingham has struggled for years with all night bus services. Indeed, until the 97 kicks in, we haven't got any at all! Incredible for a City and economy of our size. I hear that NXWM are looking at other options for night services, and this can only be welcome.
Let's hope that it doesn't follow the disaster that was Wolverhampton's night bus network in the 90s. These were based on special route numbers in the 9xx series that bore no resemblance to their daytime equivalents, rarely displayed anything other than a route number, and left people scratching heads as to what it was!
Operating late night and overnight services has its challenges - not least from those who can't handle their alcohol intake - but for shift workers and other users, they bring more options to get from A to B. And with two-thirds of jobseekers having no access to a car or cannot drive, a night bus may open up opportunities to a new job that might otherwise be difficult or impossible to get to.
Let's hope these new services are successful parts of the public transport offer.


  1. Edinburgh has had night buses for always - and all main operators do it. Could it be in part that the city does have a population used to living without owning a car? Late buses have also remained common for large towns like Stirling to get you home after a night out.

    An example of the late network (which rail operators should wake up to) has rescued me from broken connections, when a rail replacement coach arrives in Edinburgh almost 2 hours later than the train it replaced, and a Citylink coach was there to provide my connection to Glasgow, (at 01.30) AND an onward connection (X77) to Kilmarnock and Prestwick at 03.00! A pity though that inbound coaches don't work for the Ryanair flights that arrive late at night or depart early from Prestwick.

    First in Glasgow went 24hour about 10 years ago it seems, largely to link the outer schemes delivered by the folly of demolishing vast numbers of tenements, with established shops and pubs and moving the residents out to blighted locations with nowhere near the same facilities atop the most windswept hills that could have been chosen. As a result the mass of staff needed to work in call centres and other 24hr jobs need buses to get to & from their shifts. Hence the selection of the key 24hr services.

    Thus Birmingham is at last catching up with cities which have been doing this for decades. maybe there are other key routes connecting the factories with intensive shift working, and the dormitory areas chosen by their workforce. The NEC/Airport is an obvious starting point - but the service should run through to Coventry - and integrate with bikes - since the selection of places served directly won't be that large.

  2. Birmingham is years behind other major cities, and I'm not sure if that reflects badly on TWM, Centro, the City Council, its residents or all. In the mid 90s TWM had a reasonable night network, on Friday/Saturday nights, along key corridors. For whatever reason in the late 90s this passed to Pete's Travel who had departures on the hour from Colmore Row, and my experience on the 104N was that they were well loaded and quick, with a £2 flat fare.

    Looking north to Manchester, the other candidate for second city, the night bus network [seems to be] phenomenally successful with multi-operator competition on some routes (if we take competition as the utopian bus service ideal).
    In that respect Birmingham is far from the second city, with examples already quoted from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Bristol.

    Looking at the first city, the night bus network in London consists over over 800 buses running over 100 routes. On a weekend the N29 operates 18 buses an hour, and anecdotally are jammed full (I have never felt the need to go to Camden at 3am, but clearly some poeple do!). There are many more routes that operate every 5-10 minutes. Of course there is no competition: London is limited by kerb space and road capacity. It is notable there is reduction in frequenct around 3-4am either.

    Back to route is a good start and the 97 seems a good place to start. Overnight access to Birmingham Airport for staff has been an issue for a long long time, the last attempt, 'Buster Werkenbek' didn't last too long. I hope that Birmingham Airport does the right thing with its staff and those of its suppliers to encourage bus use, and TWM endeavours to remain reliable (rather, as one suspects will happen, run early). Both NXWM and Centro need to wake up to the appalling late night public transport provision in the rest of the conurbation, and particularly if you marginally cost operation, relaise there is money to be made as well as providieng a long overdue service. This doesn't just include buses, but last train and tram times need to be heading towards 0100 not 2330, particularly at weekends.

    Why do I care so much? I am currently reviewing the operating hours of London Underground, and have spent a lot of time recently talking to other operators around the world who do operate all night.