Sunday, 11 August 2013

Buses: Where Do they Go? - 2, Maps

Journey Planners are fine for planning journeys between known points, but they can't give an overview of everything that may be available. Many bus users can afford to be flexible in their journeys - for example if you want to take buses into account when deciding where to leave your boat for a few days - or even moor permanently. With a Journey Planner you'd have to research each possible location as a separate enquiry - with a map the options are all there in front of you.

There is no bus map of the whole of the country. Attempts were made in the 1990s to produce a simplified version, showing only regular services, and I still have a copy.
Part of the Midlands bus network in  1999. See how it all joins up!
The map was linked to a national bus timetable, but the cost of producing that was so great that it couldn't be sold at an economic price and no funding was available to subsidise it.  You can see from the extract above, covering part of the midlands, how buses radiate out from towns and how all the routes join up to form a network that extends across the region and indeed across the country. However, if you look carefully enough you'll also see some places that are only connected indirectly.

Bus companies generally don't produce maps of their services, even in electronic form and certainly not in paper versions. I think it's partly because they don't consider their services as a "network" and that's  because they feel that their passengers never travel further than the end of the route on which they live. Even if bus companies did provide maps they would only show their own services and would therefore be of limited utility. Fortunately, there is an alternative. Local Authorities (County Councils, Unitary Authorities or Integrated Transport Authorities in large conurbations) have a duty to ensure that information on bus services is made available to their residents. They all interpret this duty differently and some are happy to leave everything to the bus companies. Others take a more enlightened approach and produce high quality maps and even timetables.

As ever, the first place to look for these is on the 'net. Councils have web addresses in a format and my experience is that it is usually easy to navigate from the home page to the relevant section dealing with buses. It's usually under "Roads and Transport" but often their is a direct link from the home page under the "most searched for" list or similar.

From there you should be able to view or download a copy of the bus map for that council's area. Most of them will also show summary details of the frequencies of the services somewhere and there will be telephone numbers for more information.  The maps may not display very well on smartphones and won't display at all if you don't have a signal but these maps are usually also available in printed form. I would advise getting these from the council by post before you need them as they are often difficult to find locally. In theory they are available from outlets such as libraries and tourist information centres but I know from my own experience when I used to produce maps for Herefordshire Council that they were often kept under the counter because "if we put them out people would take them all" so if you do need to pick one up from such places don't expect to find them on display.  Not all councils produce such maps but a quick check of authorities in parts of the midlands that might be of interest to boaters shows that  Derbyshire, Cheshire West (not not Cheshire East!) Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and "Network West Midlands" (which covers the former West Midland County Council) all have them on their websites but Staffordshire and Shropshire don't

TIP OF THE DAY: If contacting a council to request a map you may find it more productive to ask to speak to the "Public Transport Section" rather than attempt to deal with the call centre that usually takes calls these days. Someone there may be able to find you a copy even if they have officially "run out".

The maps are usually limited to the area covered by the council, although through routes into neighbouring areas may be shown in full if space allows. For cross-boundary journeys you may need more than one map and, inevitably, they will be of different styles and even, confusingly, may use the same colours and symbols to mean different things!  On the plus side, many of them show rivers and canals, which should make it easy to relate them to where you are, or want to be on the cut.

Unfortunately, even the best maps are unlikely to be detailed enough to help you find out where the bus actually stops and I'll cover this next time.


Halfie said...

Thanks for doing this, Jim. So far, trains are looking a lot easier! But, of course, they don't always go where you want.

I expect you heard about the couple who had a holiday travelling 500 miles across England on free buses with their passes. The story is well written up here:

There's even a mini cruising-style blog in the article.

Neil Corbett said...

Great Jim. Is there going to be an exam at the end? :-)
Kath (nb Herbie)

Christine at said...

Hi Jim,

The website has maps available for the local districts plus a snazzy interactive map.