The role of the bus station Lorna Sewell Nov '23
I have had the pleasure of working up and down the country, supporting multidisciplinary teams in the preparation of masterplans, development/regeneration frameworks for our numerous fantastic towns and cities. Many of these feature bus stations, some old, some new. What these bus stations have in common is in being, at best, sub-optimal responses to the challenge of getting people onto their local bus services. This is something I’m desperate to change, as a keen advocate and supporter of bus travel in providing convenient, inclusive, and realistic alternatives to car use for short-medium length journeys.
What is a bus station?
As opposed to a bus garage or depot where buses may be stored, layover, or maintained, a bus station is purpose-built building with passenger waiting facilities, information, bus driver facilities, bus stops and bus stands. They come in many different shapes, sizes and designs.
…so what’s my problem with them?
Too often bus stations tend to be in inconvenient locations for passengers and often, occupy scarce town centre real estate. The bus stations often prove difficult for buses to enter/leave and manoeuvre, further impacting on surrounding spaces, passengers and passers-by. Very often too, bus stations are nowhere near town centre rail stations.
They are often ugly and/or ungainly buildings and spaces with ambiguous shared area for buses to navigate and interact with their passengers. They can also be intimidating spaces, particularly when out of peak times and during the nighttime, encouraging anti-social behaviour and further discouraging bus use.
Bus stations can also result in an unbalanced provision of services in specific areas, with large sections of the community lacking access to a bus service. Invariably, due to historic road networks, bus stations can also contribute to further significant delays to bus movements in our towns through circumnavigating one-way streets, gyratories and assorted traffic management access restrictions.
So, what’s the answer?
Happily, I’ve also seen a few great examples of bus facilities too, and recently I had the pleasure of visiting Stockon-on-Tees recently. Here, in the heart of the town centre, you can see exactly where to pick up your bus, with the facilities are all on-street and highly visible, supported with great public realm, safe shelters, seating and information. There is even an active travel hub in close proximity (https://thehubstockton.com/)
However, much more needs to be done to ensure buses are part of the future of town centres, and particularly I think we need to pay more attention to the masterplanning of bus services, that is, not just thinking about existing issues and short-term fixes but ensuring that there is a longer-term future for bus routes and services in our towns and cities. Ensuring that they are fully legible, on-street and servicing our communities reliably not tucked away in dark and desolate buildings on the edge of town.