[Brad Johnson | Deputy Editor]
In 2014, we investigated the viewpoints of students in relation to the University’s bus company, University Bus LTD. For the final issue of UniVerse this academic year, UniVerse has conducted further research and secured a one on one interview with UnoBus’ Managing Director, James Thorpe. This interview was one of the first times such a senior member of staff from UnoBus has met directly with a student to discuss student views regarding the bus services around campus and around Hertfordshire.
In our previous article, key themes of timings, customer services and the use of their social media accounts were raised. Since then, Hertfordshire Students’ Union has managed to secure 12 hour manned operation of their twitter account @UNOBUS and started the steps towards achieving many other recommendations.
Yet many issues were still outstanding and therefore UniVerse took on the task of meeting with UnoBus to discuss in more depth students’ views and the impact that these failings have on their student experience and academic life. Many students who commute, including those on academic placements at hospitals and schools, are often late due to bus cancellations and lateness.
UniVerse UNO Questionnaire Results
- 92% of respondents used the Shuttle Bus
- The most popular routes were the 602, 601, 695 and the 614.
- The shuttle bus was said to be late every day by 45% of respondents, every other day by 33% of respondents and no respondents said ‘never’.
- When UniVerse asked what students would improve, the key themes were Timing (67%), Scheduling (25%), Specific Route Issues (13%) and Customer Service (10%).
- In relation to driver customer service, the responses were mixed but there were many cases where customers had experienced rudeness from both shuttle bus and other route drivers.
- 56% of respondents don’t follow @UNOBUS but 13% said they did but didn’t find it useful, and only 3% said they found it useful for updates.
- A staggering 73% of respondents said they had experience speeding or dangerous driving while on a UnoBus.
- 54% of respondents were first years, 15% second years, 26% third or final years and 4% were postgraduates.
- 13% of our respondents were on placement with two thirds of them relying on UnoBus services to get to placement.
After our research and extensive feedback via social media, we decided to take it all to the UnoBus Headquarters behind the de Havilland Campus and share our findings and feedback with the top man at UnoBus, James Thorpe. We managed to secure a thirty minute interview with Thorpe and he answered all the questions we asked both sincerely and honestly.
Is UnoBus funded by the University?
University Bus Ltd, is a wholly owned subsidiary of UH Holdings LTD (owned by the University). While they are a commercial bus company some of the routes aren’t profitable, but are needed by students (such as evening routes, Forum Shuttle, and Park and Ride), and are funded through support from the University.
Why are there discrepancies in waiting times for the Shuttle Bus services in the evening and the weekends?
“All of our buses are tracked in real time so we can see whether a bus has been on time or it has been late and it is measured against the timetable. Without specifics it becomes hard to give a clear answer. In weekends and evenings, there is a reduction in frequency in relation to the demand. Uno tries to match the service provided to demand that is there. The shuttle carries until around 3:30am and all of the late duties tend to be the same drivers who have the same duties week in week out. With specific times, Uno would be able to drill down to the details of why the service was late or there was some issue elsewhere on the network that affected the service,” said Thorpe, and “if somebody has a problem with the bus service, the more detail [we] have, the easier it is to investigate, the more information we get, we are more able to provide a full answer.”
Why are the 614 and 644 services regularly late?
“These routes use the A1 and the route is very busy and encounters traffic congestion in Greater London. They have reviewed the data and have identified there are issues with reliability. From the start of April, there will additional trips available and more buses available on the 614 to compensate for the delays,” said Thorpe. “Any route decision is based on dialogue with the university, dialogue with the students and the general public and sometimes the demand can mean some routes can be cut short.”
Are there reliability issues with the bendy buses – sometimes the replacement buses make it hard to get on and off and often they are overfilled?
“No, there are no issues with the bendy buses. The reason there are hire buses at the moment is because we started a new service (797) and we needed some extra buses for that. The replacement buses are in use just in the short term,” said Thorpe.
He explained that reason the hire buses are used for the Park and Ride is because it doesn’t take fares, meaning there is no ticket machine needed. As the machines are hard wired, the bendy buses are used on other routes, such as those with a large number of passengers or those where a double decker can’t be used.
“They are very reliable and very well engineered buses and I was one of the people that came up with the scheme to use them,” said Thorpe. “The bendy buses are brilliant for high capacity routes due to their capacity and three entrances.”
Thorpe assured us that the intention is to ensure the bendy buses are used on Park and Ride routes all of the time, and that the replacement buses are only for a short period while there is pressure on the system.
Some of the drivers don’t drive safely, is there is a driver monitoring system?
“We have a quite multilayered driver monitoring system,” said Thorpe. “All of our buses are fitted with telematics which monitors speed, braking, acceleration and picks out when there are any unusual events . . . anything like being over the speed limit or harsh braking.”
The tracking system is monitored online, and is assessed with a red-amber-green system. There are safety assessments every month and driver assessors who independently monitor the drivers, for factors such as how smoothly they drive and how they interact with passengers.
How is communication through the Twitter feed run?
A lot of placement students raised concerns over the current Twitter feed, which runs between 7am and 7pm, feeling that they are been left without information out of hours.
“We started the 7 to 7 coverage at the beginning of January 2015 and two people are dedicated to tweeting and updating throughout the day. They sit with our live tracking team and can look, see and respond as quickly as they can,” said Thorpe.
Between 7am and 7pm is when the majority of the fleet are on the road. Uno are currently appraising this and looking at how it could be improved. Thorpe said: “It has been suggested that some managers may take on this out of hours service but it is being looked into.”
Problems with fares and change from on-board cash floats
Good news – this year, you can buy tickets on the Uno Bus buses on your smartphone using the Intalink app. The buses take a lot of cash and at times there can be a lot of cash changed hands. The cash floats are quite large but the mobile ticketing has been in place since the start of the year and it is advised that people use this. Since 1st March there have been reductions for university students of up to 15%.
“We would very much encourage people to use mobile tickets,” said Thorpe. “It is a much quicker and cheaper way of getting bus travel.”
What can you do if there’s a problem?
Thorpe urged that if any one feels that there is an issue they aren’t happy with, if they contact Uno with specific details including the time and place, they can investigate that thoroughly.
You can do this by calling 01707 255764 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.