In the past few weeks either myself, or people I know well have had the following experiences with the Outer Link bus:
- Waiting 50 minutes for a bus between 5.05pm and 5.55pm from the city
- Turning up at the Outer Link bus stop and seeing the “real time” sign say the bus is 10 minutes away, ducking quickly into the nearby dairy for something and coming out two minutes later to see the bus driving past
- Persistent late buses and bunching of buses
- Getting kicked off one bus and onto another at Victoria Park when the bus you’re on is full
- Seeing regular driver changes being made in the middle of the evening peak period (once again at Victoria Park, one of the busiest sections of the route)
- Did I mention late buses? And the bunching of buses?
- Having buses turn up at the bus stop 10 minutes late only to say they’re actually a “special” service and won’t be picking up passengers, only to change their mind 5 minutes later after sitting there doing nothing.
Ultimately, I think the route is broken beyond repair. While in theory the idea of a huge loop is great and everyone can see how it’s a good idea, operationally it seems as though the Outer Link is an absolute nightmare. The buses bunch, there are rage-inducing waits at seemingly every second stop, you regularly get turfed off one bus and onto another, the buses are late, they’re unreliable, they’re often jam-packed. It’s just hopeless.
Fundamentally this all comes back to it being a loop route. With a loop route there are no “dead times” at each end of a bus service so no time to act as a buffer in case a service is running late. Instead we see the problems compound over and over and over and over again. But the worst thing is that measures to alleviate these problems are actually almost worse than the problems in the first place – you get giant waits at timed “hold points” so that the timetable can catch up to the bus. You get turfed off one bus and onto another regularly. In short, you get treated like absolute crap.
So there’s no easy fix to this – which means that fundamentally the Outer Link needs to go. Or at least it needs to go in an operational sense. So here’s my proposal:
- Effectively split the route into an inner and outer section and run them operationally independent of each other.
- Ensure that transfers between buses at key locations (say St Lukes and Newmarket) are co-ordinated so people just need to hop off one bus and onto the other – and they expect to have to change buses here.
- Ramp up the frequency a bit on the inner section due to its higher loadings.
- Find the areas where there are significant delays and put some bloody bus lanes in.
As noted above, I’d probably split the service at St Lukes and Newmarket – on the basis that relatively few people are likely to be travelling “through” these locations rather than “to” them. So something like this:
Oh and the route also needs some simplification, desperately.