As I was standing in the queue for the U1 back into town last Saturday it was hard to believe that the line backed up all the way to the parade. Only five months prior I had done the same commute and been one of only a handful of people on it, a year ago I’d be sure you’d be the only one. This, of course, was for obvious reasons, with university going online and long journeys being encouraged against. First West, the company the U1/U2 are run by, cut their services to deal with the downfall in foot traffic. Waiting for the U1 that cold Saturday evening for over 50 minutes, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had got the memo that the University was back open.
To blame the pandemic for the shortage would be an unfair assessment. Instead, there seems to be a current shortage of bus drivers and Bath is no exception to this. Another byproduct is the more well-known shortage of HGV drivers, many bus drivers being offered better pay and hours in a post-covid economy. Managing Director of First West of England, Doug Claringbold explained “Due to the current driver shortage we have taken the difficult, but necessary, decision to put in place a temporary service change in Bath while we deal with this”.
Yet, out of the buses affected both the U1 and U2 seem unchanged, whilst the U5 (Bath Spa University) has been reduced to every fifteen minutes down from ten. This of course is still quite an improvement from March in which the buses for Uni only ran once every 30 minutes (U1 and U2) during weekdays, and every 60 minutes for the U5. Stood at the bus stop on Saturday, the March timetable seemed a more truthful representation of the bus times. Reading a recent travel report in Somerset Live, I was not surprised to see that Saturday was not a one off and that this has become quite the issue in recent weeks with queues stretching into other streets around Brougham Hayes, Junction Road and Dorchester Street. In one case, it was reported that five full capacity busses had passed the queues with no room to take any more on. In the mornings it has meant many people have been late for lectures, either having to wake up ridiculously early to get an early bus in, walk it (quite steep from Oldfield) or get a taxi up. With the West and East Car Parks always full, commuting to Uni currently seems quite a hopeless affair.
In the evenings it seems it’s no different, even on a Saturday I still had found the bus service had been less than consistent. Checking the board became a ritual every five minutes, although five minutes in the queue seemed to be only a minute for the departures board. The seven minutes the bus should have taken was by far the longest hour of my life. Whether or not the buses have improved or if they are still as rare as a seat in the library over finals week is hard to tell. It is an improvement in terms of time and capacity since March, but at least in March demand was low and supply was readily available, albeit on a shorter service. Whilst now the foot flow has increased significantly, but with lack of drivers, and self-isolation rules that have affected First West since last month, the supply has not been able to meet demands. This is not to criticise First West though, many of these issues are out of their control, with staff shortages and a global pandemic they are not the only transport service that has been affected. One can only hope that over the next couple of months the service improves, bringing shorter queues in Oldfield and shorter waiting times at the Arrivals Square. But really what would your university experience be without the late buses? Love them or hate them, the U1 being late has always been a classic Bath feature.