Changes to First Bus routes sparks backlash

Changes to services accessing Heslington East have been met with particular criticism [Image: Chris Owen]

Changes to the bus routes 66 and 66A run by First Bus have sparked a backlash by students. In a survey conducted by Nouse, which had 94 respondents, 62.8 per cent said that they were unhappy about the changes to the routes, while 66 per cent said they felt they weren’t adequately informed about the changes, and 54.3 per cent said that the changes will be an inconvenience to them.

From Sunday 20 May, routes 66 and 66A have essentially swapped, with the 66 now travelling along Field Lane from Heslington West to the Heslington East interchange, while the 66A now travels down Lakeside Way alongside the Hes East departments and colleges. The 66 allegedly runs every seven or eight minutes Monday-Friday, while the 66A runs every 15 minutes. This means that for students wanting to travel home from academic departments on Hes East, their waiting time has essentially been doubled.

Nouse has received various complaints about the changes, with one student commenting that the changes “will make it harder for students who study on Hes East to get to their courses on time, as the 66, which is twice as regular as the 66A, will no longer stop next to the departments, and will instead stop halfway across campus”, while various complainants lament the inconvenience of the change, with one Constantine student complaining that they feared being late for their exams due to the changes occurring during the assessment period. Other students, however, were pleased with the changes, with one student stating they “take into consideration people living in Badger Hill”.

The changes have been made because of the condition of Lakeside Way, which is becoming malformed and sinking into the ground due to Hes East being built on ex-marshland, causing damage to the undercarriage of the buses and covering them with mud and dirt.

YUSU President Alex Urquhart expressed his concerns with the changes publicly on social media, stating that they will significantly extend travel time to “almost every facility” on Hes East, while condemning what he saw as an access risk due to the new routes forcing students to walk down “steep and poorly-lit” areas of campus.

Another key concern raised is the restriction of access to York Sport Village (YSV) as the less frequent 66A now provides access to YSV, with 81.7 per cent of Nouse survey respondents stating that the route changes will make them less likely to visit YSV, with York Sport President Laura Carruthers speaking of the “significant barriers this change will impose on students accessing [YSV]”.

The first 66A arrives at YSV 1hr 22 mins after opening while the last 66A leaves 2hr 5mins before closure Monday-Fri-day, with this problem exacerbated at the weekend, with the first and last 66As arriving/leaving YSV 3hrs 25mins after/before opening/closure.

Multiple YSV employees have told Nouse that the changes make it hard for them to either show up to work on time or have increased their travel time, while a UYWAFC member complained that the changes pose a “serious barrier for our players to access training” due to the lack of a bus service from the 3G pitch at YSV when training finishes at 9pm. One further complaint even alleged that the changes were “dangerous”.

Marc Bichtemann, managing director of First York, told Nouse that “These service changes were driven by a need to make our buses run more punctual and reliable and reduce the use of Lakeside Way.

“Faced with [the issues with Lakeside Way] and in partnership with the University, we decided to make some changes, which resulted in more buses running between the University of York and the City Centre, increasing capacity with an additional hundred seats per hour on what’s effectively the busiest part of the route. We have also introduced faster journeys from York Railway Station to the University during the morning rush hour.

“We are aware of the feedback already received, and are planning to improve connections to York Sports Village in time for the start of the next academic year.”

The backlash to the changes comes amid a general lack of satisfaction of students with First, with poor timekeeping being a long time complaint which Nouse reported on as far back as January 2016. Buses have a tendency to bunch up, with one student complaining “66 is 7-8 min? Piss off. Two buses are coming together after 20 min”. A lack of buses running the routes leading to overcrowding has also been noted, with drivers allegedly skipping stops due to having full buses.

A University spokesperson commented: “The University works in collaboration with First Bus York, along with the YUSU and the GSA to champion the interests of our staff and students who make use of the service.

“In a meeting between the University, YUSU, GSA, and First Bus, it was agreed that in response to concerns from First Bus about the road surface on Lakeside Way, that the number of journeys along this route would be reduced.”

On the condition of Lakeside Way, the spokesperson further commented that “Repairs to Lakeside Way will take place during the summer months, to limit disruption to staff and students, and further meetings will be scheduled with First Bus to discuss the future possibilities for this travel route.”

Urquhart noted: “The University must now invest in maintaining the road to the appropriate standard and … I am confident that the University and First are working hard to minimise the impact on students, but it feels – with adequate construction – this is a problem that could have been avoided.”

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