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Not a lot of people know this, but I’ve been fascinated by bus timetables for years.

I think the fact that my dad has worked ‘on the buses’ for my whole life has played a part, but ever since my family got a big guide book to all of West Yorkshire’s bus timetables in January 1988, I’ve been interested in how different routes connect places together, and how their timetables reflect the people who use them and the times we live in.

On eBay a couple of years ago, I picked up a 1979 Bradford bus timetable book. This might sound incredibly nerdy – but to me, it’s fascinating to compare how buses ran then to how they run today in the city I grew up in – and what that shows about the city and its population.

A few observations:-

  • There were a lot more routes back then – buses serving tiny villages; a service stretching in excess of 30 miles to Manchester via the ‘slow route’ through Halifax and Oldham and the villages in-between, and buses put on to take passengers to out-of-the-way hospitals that people have to drive to now. Forget ‘the age of the train’, this looked like ‘the age of the bus’.
  • Conversely, some of the train services for Bradford (also in this book) were less frequent than they are today – only one train per hour to Manchester through most of the daytime, for example.
  • The timetables show that Saturday was by far the most popular day to take the bus. Many of the routes listed ran to a higher frequency on Saturdays, right throught the daytime and evening, and there were special late-night services for Saturday night revellers. Nowadays, Saturday servives tend to run at the same or lower freqency than weekdays, and the convenience of late night buses has long since been lost.

The reasons for these differences to today are pretty obvious – it’s far more common to own a car these days; Internet shopping has reduced the need to trudge around city centres on a Saturday afternoon (as if you’d want to in Bradford these days anyway); if we do want to travel beyond the city boundaries by public transport, the speed of a train is prefereable to a slow bus, which will probably be further impeded by worsening traffic conditions (caused by all those extra cars).

In Bradford today, buses are increasingly focused on profitable core routes that run to high frequencies, with public funding cutbacks meaning that those services to tiny villages are far less frequent, require a change of bus to get to the city centre, or simply don’t exist at all. Even inner city housing estates see fewer buses pass through. Bolton Woods, which saw 6 buses per hour in 1979, now sees 2.

Cutbacks also affect evening running on otherwise well-used parts of the network. Many journeys after 10pm no longer operate. The 607 service to Thornton these days runs hourly in the evenings until last departure at 9.35pm. Back in 1979, passengers enjoyed a 15-minute frequency on the route in the evenings, right up until 11pm.

Yes, bus services and their timetables are trace our social histories. Next time you see an old city bus guide from years gone by in a charity shop or second-hand bookstore – that’s not just some out-of-date piece of public service literature, it’s a historical document.

 

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2 Comments

  • Martin

    Excellent observations, you’re someone who sees the historical significance as well!

    Bus timetables have always reflected social patterns and if you go back further than 1979 I’m sure you’ll find even more to observe. Some things I’ve noticed are:

    1. Vast operations that took people to major industrial areas such as old steelworks in the likes of Sheffield, Corby and South Wales when dozens of special workers buses ran at shift times. These sort of operations were common after the WW2 but petered out in the early 80’s.

    2. Rural routes have always had some common patterns with many catering for specific needs such as market day only journeys, or work/school trips. Over time many rural routes have disappeared but some have seen great improvements in recent years.

    I could go on!

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