The Sussex student campaign Late Again B&H continues to protest the unreliability of Brighton & Hove buses services to and from University.
Between the universities of Brighton and Sussex, student numbers in the city increase year-on-year, currently sitting at over 38,000 students (and 4,900 staff).
A spokesperson for B&H Buses told The Badger: “We anticipate a certain amount of growth in student numbers every year but nobody – including the universities – can tell us how the extra student intake will translate into the number of students catching buses or at what times.”
“Nevertheless, we do work with the universities and we’ve increased the frequency of our buses to both universities almost every year.”, they added.
Martin Harris, Managing Director of Brighton & Hove Buses’, said: “There are buses every two minutes at the morning peak (between 8 am and 9 am) along Lewes Road, going up to the universities and our bendy buses take 140 people. This is the most frequent service there has ever been to the universities. There is barely the physical space to run buses any more frequently.
“The first two weeks of this term our services were under pressure, we recognise that and we apologise for it. At the start of the academic year tens of thousands of students were travelling to university at the same time. Once timetables had settled down, the situation did too.
“We mobilised every spare bus possible to run relief services to the universities and sent our colleagues out to monitor the situation on the ground when we became aware that this year was producing an unusually high spike in in[sic] the numbers travelling”.
He added that “Bus punctuality must be seen in the context of traffic conditions, construction work in the city and on the university campus, and general traffic congestion in the city.
“Congestion is getting worse by 2% every year, which means we have to buy four buses a year (at around £1 million) and employ extra drivers just to maintain the same level of service. Nevertheless, punctuality is at 85% of journeys on time.
“We’re already starting to look at September 2019 and we’ll be continuing our policy of increasing bus frequencies to the universities on a regular basis. We’re keen to hold further meetings with the universities and we’ve already agreed to meet both student unions so we keep improving bus services and are responsive to student needs.”.
According to B&H Buses, in total, a very low percentage of buses from each route has been late in the period from September 2018 to November 2018; standing at around 9% of Route 23 and 25 and 13.3% of Route 25X buses.
They added that the frequency of the night bus, the N25, has been increased from six to eight journeys per hour.
With regards to the Sussex Late Again B&H campaign, Martin Harris said: “Campaign or no campaign, we work really hard to achieve a good level [of] service for students year-round. We have very high volumes of buses and drivers serving the universities.
“We’ve increased buses to both universities most years but we always want to do better. Working with both universities, student unions and the council will help make that possible.”, he added.
Frida Gustafsson, President of the Students’ Union, has been an active member of the campaign, helping to get these particular students’ voices heard.
One of Frida’s major manifesto proposals was to improve the campus bus services and make it cheaper for students. Another of her policy proposals was to establish a Lemon Bus Route like the one to Brighton University, which allows students to travel to campus for free.
She additionally encourages cycling to campus, as the most environmentally friendly and cheapest option, hoping to increase the bike servicing facilities on campus.
On November 7, Frida’s SU President Instagram account read: “Getting ready for our first bus campaign action” adding that she would be spending the week collecting students’ stories about bus services.
One student complaint expressed the lack of morning buses, making it particularly difficult to get to 9 am classes on time. The student lives on the 50U bus route, and its earliest bus to campus arrives after 9 am. This student claims their only other option is to walk 15 minutes to the nearest 25 bus in Moulsecoomb.
Another student highlighted the limitations of current routes. In Lewes, where they live, the only buses passing campus are the 28, 29 and 29B. They say that these buses often don’t follow the timetables, which aren’t easy to find and updates are unclear.
B&H Buses tweeted in response to a student’s complaint: “I appreciate your frustration, but we do advise to plan journeys via the printed timetable time, ensuring to be waiting at the stop 2-3 minutes before. The Live Times are a guideline only where the information can disappear, reappear and change based on a number of things”.
Part of the Students’ Union involvement in the campaign involved the collection of 400 postcards, which they then distributed to students and long-term residents of Brighton.
They then wrote their own stories of the bus services on these cards, which the campaign plans to deliver to the B&H office as a way to pressure for improvement. Upcoming Late Again B&H protests include one at Falmer on November 30.