The 7 versus the 600

I could almost have some sympathy for longstanding residents of Okus. Once upon a time, a large part of Okus was occupied by the Princess Margaret Hospital. As a major — and indeed first — large general hospital built by the NHS, bus services to it were plentiful. Then, in 2002, the hospital closed, replaced by a new PFI upstart at Commonhead. Bus services were reduced to once every half hour, subsidised by Swindon Borough Council.

Now, with the council’s coffers empty, the service has been reduced to hourly. In response, a couple have started a petition. It already has 600 signatures… in support of a service that Thamesdown Transport claim carried on average 7 passengers each journey.

How many of those 600 might be passengers on the partially withdrawn service 23? The bus ran every half hour for eleven hours a day, six days a week. That’s a total of 22 return journeys each day, 132 a week. Even if every passenger only made one return journey per week, taking the Thamesdown average of 7 only gives a total of 792 people. Unless Ms Matthews has been extremely thorough in extracting signatures from former passengers, the likelihood is that most of the signatures on her petition are from people that did not use the service — maybe do not even use any bus services at all.

Even if one were cynical and thought that the bus company was underestimating the number of passengers, the figures are still very low, and in reality an average of 7 corresponds to a few buses in the rush hour carrying many more passengers, and most of the rest carrying far fewer. On the few occasions I’ve observed a number 23 bus in Okus, it never had more than three passengers — less than a taxi-full.

If people were as willing to use bus services as they are to sign petitions complaining of their demise, public transport in this country would be in a far better state.