Why Do Bus Users Have To Suffer?


All bus journeys begin and end at bus stops. There are gaps between buses and sometimes late running. Shouldn’t the stops where people wait for the buses be fit for purpose? It matters to those who have to use buses (many do not have cars), it matters to those who might use buses if the services and stops were better, but it also matters to those who never use buses. If more people did use buses, there would be far less congestion and pollution.

North Devon Public Transport Users (NDPTU) has surveyed a sample of bus stops in northern Devon to examine how well they serve the needs of current bus users and whether their current condition would persuade others to switch to buses, even occasionally. These were then compared with a sample of bus stops elsewhere.

Why was the survey important? It is widely acknowledged that there is chronic congestion in the Barnstaple area. The bus service is generally viewed as a last resort by those who have any alternative, understandably so when there are so often shortcomings: overcrowding, unreliability, poor or no coverage of some urban estates and rural areas — and buses slowed by traffic congestion. If bus stops are equally unsatisfactory, who will be persuaded to use buses?

A local programme of bus stop renewal is underway. Is it succeeding in improving matters or is it repeating old problems? Such questions are answered frankly. Shouldn’t all bus stops be fit for purpose?


A close survey was made of two busy bus stops: the Bickington Garage stop, used to reach Barnstaple, and the main stop in Boutport Street, used by large numbers to travel home again — to Bickington and further afield to Fremington, Instow, Bideford and beyond. Specific times and examples are quoted, but could apply at almost any time. The survey attempted to reveal not just whether the stops were fit for purpose, but also the personal experience of individuals.

Did these stops prove satisfactory and, if not, why not? Were these stops a fair sample, were they typical of other stops in the area, and what improvements could be made?

Getting into Barnstaple from Bickington Garage stop

Bickington Garage bus stop

Bus stop at Bickington Garage, Barnstaple direction


A wet morning. The wind — from the south­west again — is driving the rain into the bus shelter. Four adults huddle at the back, trying to keep dry. One has a child in a pushchair. The only seating is outside the shelter.

An advertisement hoarding covers the Bideford end of the shelter, blocking the view of approaching buses. A man cranes his head around it, hoping to spot one. There is none yet. He retreats into the shelter.

The 0916 bus from Westward Ho! approaches, running late. Downstairs, it’s already almost full. Three people stand near the stairs. There’s a pushchair in the space just ahead of the seats for people with impaired mobility. A mother tries to distract her child.

The driver approaches the stop cautiously, unable to see whether anyone is waiting. He stops just beyond the shelter, close by the seat, so that the bus is right into the bus bay and doesn’t impede other traffic.

The waiting passengers emerge from the shelter into the rain. The person with the pushchair is the first to board the bus. She searches for coins for the fare. Until she has her ticket and moves further into the bus, the others must wait on the pavement, getting wetter.

There is just enough space for this extra pushchair, but it has to be manoeuvred into it. The standing passengers try to make room. Two people remain outside, still waiting to board. The rain is still falling.

Getting back from Barnstaple

Boutport Street bus stop Boutport Street bus stop sign

Bus stop in Boutport Street, by bank

* In January 2018 it was noted that ‘Post Office’ has been changed to ‘Barclays Bank’.


Pannier Market day. Half the morning is already past. Shoppers make for home. In Boutport Street, half a dozen wait at the stop by the bank (still labelled as the ‘Post Office’ stop, although the office closed some time ago) for the next Bideford bus. Most appear to be pensioners. Two use walking sticks. One, of similar age to the others, on crutches, has got off the bus from the hospital.

There is seating for six, perches really. Rain drives in beneath the roof, making them thoroughly wet. Today, nobody uses them.

Most stand clutching their shopping bags, some clearly heavy. In the wet, none places them on the pavement, which shows clear signs of the night before. Some huddle at the Braunton end of the stop to shelter as well as they can from the rain. There is not enough room for everyone.

The bus due at 1055 has apparently gone. Another is due at 1110. By this time, more people have joined those waiting. Some try to shelter beneath the frontage of the bank and the former post office next to it. Two jam the bank doorway. Most just stand in the rain. They do not know how much longer they will have to wait, for there is nothing at the stop to tell them. There is still no bus.

More people arrive. Two, apparently visitors to north Devon, want to get to the railway station, but are unsure whether this is the right bus stop. The sign indicating that buses serve the station from this stop is long gone. A post­mounted timetable outside the shelter shows that some do pass the station. The rain makes it illegible.


NDPTU surveyed many further shelters on major bus routes — and continues to do so. The detailed survey of the two stops above and copious observations elsewhere revealed a range of serious faults:

Saunton Sands bus stop Fremington bus stop

Left: Bus stop at Saunton Sands

Right: A particularly unwelcoming bus shelter at Fremington

Such conditions are widespread, and some stops are considerably worse, with litter, weeds, graffiti, filthy glass, peeling paint and poor maintenance. Bus passengers have a raw deal. Those who might use buses are deterred.

Who is responsible for the construction, renewal and maintenance of bus stops? It is far from clear. Local authorities (county, town, parish councils)? Bus companies? Businesses contracted by local authorities or bus companies? A mixture of these? It is surprisingly difficult to find out. Such confusion serves the area poorly.


But the indirect effects of poor provision are much greater. Roads are crowded, traffic jams occur daily, car parking is hard to find and increasingly expensive. Road congestion makes buses slow too, to the extent that they cannot be relied on to get to trains, schools and hospital appointments. Infrequent services only add to the problem. Pollution from traffic is widely recognised as a health hazard.

Many would like to cut their car use, but inadequate buses and poor bus stops, open to North Devon’s frequent wind and rain, do not attract bus use. If people find local public transport unpleasant, unreliable and uncomfortable, they are not going to be tempted to try it.


Of all the problems connected with bus use, the improvements to bus stops should be the easiest to put right. There is a programme of renewal, but is it going far enough, and if not, why not?

One example is the stop at Woodville, on the B3233 between Bideford and Barnstaple, the area’s busiest route. It is probably used by at least 200 people daily, typical for intermediate stops on the route.

Woodville old bus shelter Woodville old bus shelter

Former shelter at Woodville

Before renewal, facilities at the stop were poor, with graffiti, dirty glazing, weeds, litter and vandalised perch­type seating. There was a bus bay so that buses could pull in and not hinder other traffic, and a raised pavement. There was also shelter from the elements on three sides and partial protection on the fourth.

Woodville new bus shelter Woodville new bus shelter Woodville new bus shelter

Replacement shelter

The “improvement” work replaced the old shelter with one of similar size with its limited roof span, but complete glazing on only two sides. On the third is an advertising panel that leaves the top open. Perch­type seating, slightly larger, is again there, but with only half the capacity. But both the old and new shelters share a problem: they are sited many yards from the raised pavement where the buses actually stop, so provide no shelter worth having while waiting or when buses come. The new shelter is at least clean and clear of graffiti and litter, but it actually offers users less shelter than the old one.

Elsewhere, many more lightly used bus stops are receiving attention. In the Instow area, several have recently been provided for the first time with shelters and raised pavements to ease loading and unloading. Both features are to be strongly welcomed, especially where they relate well to each other.

Instow bus shelter

Upgraded bus stop at Instow

But, where seating is provided, it is only of the perch type. More often, there is none. Their capacity is limited. Many offer uncertain protection from the prevailing winds.

Surely, the success of any bus shelter design is not just a matter of the number or even the sum of its parts, but rather their integration into a whole that favours adequate shelter, ease of use and convenience for all who use them.


Below, three examples of what can be done. Two are from outside North Devon.

Exeter High Street bus stop

Above: Exeter High Street

Right: New Bristol Road, Worle (Weston-super-Mare)

Bus stop in New Bristol Road, Worle (Weston-super-Mare)

And one from North Devon. It shows an essential element of contemporary provision: a real­time arrival display panel that answers the most basic questions asked by virtually everyone who wants to travel by bus: what bus do I take to get to where I want to go and how long do I have to wait for the next one?


Right: Bideford Quay real­time bus information panel. Provides:

End destinations could be more usefully identified and key places passed through shown. Nevertheless, this installation is a huge step forward for the area. It shows what can be done if the will is there.

Real-Time Display at Bideford Quay


There are hundreds of bus stops in north Devon, leaving aside the many bus stops where there is no shelter at all. The quality of many falls far short of what bus users might reasonably expect. For those with their own transport, the inadequacies of stops are among the factors which discourage them from even considering bus travel, resulting in more and more traffic congestion and air pollution.

A programme for the improvement of bus stop facilities is urgently required. It should have some basic key features:

It is recognised that raising the standard of all bus stops to a reasonable and appropriate level is a formidable task. So a clear programme of priorities for action, related to current and anticipated usage, is essential. NDPTU intends to continue monitoring and providing suggestions. As a start, the heavily used stops on both sides of Boutport Street surely demand priority in upgrading.

You can read a fuller version of this article here.

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