First Bus transforming Park & Ride for Offshore Europe

A look at Park & Ride in Aberdeen

Aberdeen currently has two Park & Ride sites, at Bridge of Don (600 spaces) and Kingswells (950 spaces) with a bus service – First Aberdeen No. 40 – running between both via the city centre. These schemes are designed to reduce traffic congestion in the city centre and improve air quality by reducing the number of vehicles travelling all the way to the city centre. Initially, the service cost something like £1.40 return for up to five occupants of a car, representing a good incentive for car sharing.  The fares rose then the ticketing was changed to operate on a per person basis with £2.20 return fare in operation until July 2011 when First Aberdeen imposed an inflation-busting 27% fare increase bringing the fare to its current level of £2.80 per adult passenger.

This brutal fare rise prompted Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart (then also chairman of NESTRANS) to write to First Aberdeen : “I am extremely disappointed by the fare increases that First Aberdeen have decided to implement, and I find some of the pricing bizarre and perverse. For example: to raise the cost of a Park & Ride Day Return by a whopping 27.2% and a four-weekly Park & Ride pass by 6.8% seems daft at a time when we should all be actively trying to encourage people out of their cars and on to public transport. I realise that patronage of the service has been falling, but it seems that First’s solution is to drive even more customers away, and one wonders whether they want to continue with it or intend to go cap-in-hand to the Council to try and get a subsidy. This coupled with a 14.3% increase on a student four-weekly and a 16.6% hike on an academic term ticket is absolutely galling.”

The Park & Ride sites feature heated waiting rooms with toilets but in May 2010 Aberdeen City Council made all Park & Ride site staff redundant and the waiting rooms were soon shut. At Bridge of Don this meant there was no shelter at all for waiting passengers – and it sometimes rains in Aberdeen.

The waiting room eventually reopened in 2011, to the relief of the long-suffering passengers, though the service remained plagued by late running and operated by a rag-tag fleet of buses which didn’t do much to inspire confidence in the service.

The NESTRANS Park & Ride Operations Study (available here – large pdf download) highlights many of the challenges P&R faces in Aberdeen and presents traffic statistics up to 2008, which show that from peak patronage of just under 300,000 in 2000, passenger figures at Bridge of Don had plunged by 45% by 2008.  Interestingly they state “no clear reason for this has been identified” – they evidently didn’t look too hard – poor service reliability coupled with soaring costs surely play a part.

Aberdeen City Council even considered stopping the entire Park & Ride operation in 2010 (EPI_PSD06 makes interesting reading) but “This Option was rejected at the Corporate Roundtable as non-viable. Kingswells site could not be sold as anything other than a P&R, under terms of original compulsory purchase order. If the Park & Rides at AECC (Bridge of Don (BOD)) and Kingswells stopped operating it would also halt the delivery of future A96, A90 sites & the replacement of the AECC Park and Ride development, with associated decapitalisation of costs already incurred. This option would also include stopping any temporary Park & Rides for specific events“.

Interesting to note the perceived risks of canning the service – “Acceptance of this option would mean that the ACSEF would be unable to deliver on its Economic Manifesto including the Enegetica initiative. The Local and Regional transport strategies, Air Quality Action Plan, Climate Change requirements; Structure plan, Local Plan would also be unable to be delivered. There would also be a risk of a challenge to be able to gain a capiltal receipt for Kingswells as it was procured under CP. This option also makes ther AWPR; 3rd Don Crossing; Haudagain and Park& Ride new sites undeliverable.”

So, the whole Park & Ride concept is pretty much on its knees – certainly from the North of the City – and after all why would the avaricious Grabbit City Council want people to park on the edge of the city and take a bus to town when those self-same cars could be parking in council owned car parks and raising revenue for the struggling council (and remember this is the same Council that annexed the Royal British Legion’s Charity Car Park in Golden Square in 2010).

Offshore Europe 2011

Every two years, Aberdeen’s already creaking transport infrastructure grinds to a complete halt when the Offshore Europe trade show takes place at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre.  So it was a surprise to see STV News report on the 22nd August under the headline Park-and-ride to shut for oil week  – “Customers will not be able to leave their cars at the Bridge of Don park-and-ride site from September 5-10 as the area is being used as an overspill car park for the events taking place at the AECC. Service 40 will instead operate from Ellon Road (The Parkway). Alternative car parking will be available at Seaton Park for the week and customers will have to walk to King Street to connect with service 40. To aid this connection, an alternative stop will be provided outside Lidl for journeys to the city”.

What a kick in the teeth for the long-suffering commuters who endure Service 40 for the other 51 weeks of the year! There’s a three-day exhibition on so you can’t use the site … the bus is still running, just no parking available … kind of makes a mockery of Park & Ride … but not to worry First Bus suggest some alternatives …

Alternative Car Parking will be available at Seaton Park for the week” – OK, that would mean rather than reaching the Park & Ride via the dedicated access lane of the A90, drivers would have to travel south and across the already congested Bridge of Don, turn right across the flow of traffic heading for the AECC and park at Seaton Park.  Seaton Park has about 50 car parking spaces (Bridge of Don has 600) and these are actually used by visitors to the park.  Will there be additional parking on the grass? After the rain we’ve had it could be rather boggy. I doubt very many folk will bother going to Seaton Park then walk back to the main road, cross the road then catch the bus. If successful, this option will surely just generate additional traffic through the Bridge of Don chokepoint and further hinder traffic flow to and from the exhibition at the AECC.

Another great suggestion from First is that customers might be “able to arrange other options such as drop-offs at Ellon Road” – OK, so do First not get what a Park & Ride is? Someone drives to a site, parks their car then gets on the bus to town … so how many can get a drop-off at Ellon Road?

Then we see the greatest gem of all – “For those customers in possession of a 4-week Park and Ride season ticket, we will allow travel on services 1 and 2 for the duration of this week to provide a further option for customers to make the trip to and from the city centre“. So First sold people Park & Ride tickets with 4-week validity which cover this period when they decide to remove the service for a week and now they make the great concession of letting the passengers use the normal service buses, on Routes 1 & 2! What a joke, First should extend the 4-weekly tickets by a week to cover the period when they aren’t providing the service.

It all looks like a mess and a recipe for disaster … and it wont help generate much confidence in the Park & Ride service.

Lets go back and consider what Kevin Stewart MSP said on his website about the July fare hikes :

I suppose First feel that they can do what they like, as they have very little competition. How I wish that would change. ...

… When the management buy-out of Grampian Regional Transport led to the creation of the First Group, the bosses proclaimed to Aberdonians that “We Bought It For You”. However, in my opinion, there will be very few citizens of this city nowadays who would believe that’s the case.

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This entry was posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, ACSEF, Green, Transport, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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