Councillor rings the bell on bus nightmares in Preston

A councillor is calling for urgent action to rev up Preston's bus services after claims passengers are being left stranded by unreliable timetables.

By Brian Ellis
Thursday, 21st April 2022, 8:40 am

Driver shortages following the pandemic have badly hit the city's public transport system, leaving some commuters regularly late for work, school or college.

Now Coun Jonathan Saksena wants bus operators to meet with Town Hall chiefs to explain the problems and how they intend to return services to pre-Covid levels.

He has tabled a Notice of Motion to be debated by the full council at its meeting today (Thursday).

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Buses in Preston have been cut back due to staff shortages.

"I just want to draw attention to this because there’s a lot of concern about the city's bus services at present," he said.

"It's not all the operators' fault, but timetables are not being maintained, people are not getting to work on time, they are missing their connections, or they are getting home late.

"I'm trying to be constructive, so I want the council to invite the bus operators to meet our overview and scrutiny committee to tell us what their problems are and perhaps get something done to improve things."

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Coun Jonathan Saksena wants bus companies and council to meet over 'unreliable' services.

The Notice of Motion says: "The main bus operators are struggling to maintain their advertised timetables despite frequent alterations."

It adds: "Many residents in Preston who depend on the bus services are finding it increasingly difficult to travel to work, let alone arrive on time.

"Many residents are finding themselves stranded at awkward times of the day. Revised timetables are often inconvenient and even unrealistic for people's working hours."

Coun Saksena wants the authority to write to the city's MPs - Sir Mark Hendrick and Ben Wallace - about the situation. And he feels Lancashire County Council's Public Transport team should be urged to "take action to alleviate the problems."

Staff shortages have affected services since the pandemic.

Preston Bus, which operates a fleet of around 100 buses under the ownership of Rotala plc, accepts its services are still short of what they were pre-Covid.

But commercial manager Thomas Calderbank says the company is working hard to return timetables to what they were, hopefully by the summer.

"When the first lockdowns happened we reduced our service levels and a number of drivers went on furlough.

"As time has gone on we’ve noticed a lot of drivers have, whilst on furlough, had time to reflect on their lifestyle and decided they don't want to continue in the industry.

Thomas Calderbank says Preston Bus is trying to recruit more drivers to address shortages.

"So we have lost a lot of drivers through retirement, or early retirement, or moving to other industries where they’re not working anti-social hours.

"Over the months since we came out of lockdown, more people have left than have started and so we have a general shortage.

"We have looked at the numbers we have and the services we can reliably run with that number of drivers.

"The plan is to continue to recruit until we can put services back to where they used to be.

"We‘ve been advertising online and on vehicles to attract drivers. We’re looking at family-friendly rotas where drivers can work the hours that suit them.

"In terms of comments that we are not running services as reliably as we should I would accept that. But it is a temporary thing.

"I think that within the next couple of months, certainly by the summer, we will return to being in a fully-staffed situation.”