Buses in Bristol, UK Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Buses in Bristol, UK

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In Bristol thousands of people get on buses every day - it is an essential part of life for people living and working in the city. They are regularly packed and are very popular for people getting to the city centre. Indeed, without the buses Bristol would virtually collapse. People complain about it, people shout at each other about it, people write angry letters about it, but the bus service is integral to the structure and economy of Bristol.

A Brief Background

Bristol buses are owned and run by a company under the name of First Group, which has an extensive empire of bus and train services in the UK. They currently operate thirty-eight services throughout the city. What is different about their patch in Bristol is that they have a monopoly on all the bus services running within the city boundaries. That presents a problem for some travellers, as there is no alternative bus company to First buses. There is no competition which means there is no urge to improve services and taxis are highly uneconomical.

The only other plausible alternative people have is to buy a car and to most people travelling on the buses this is either too expensive or out of their reach. The vast majority of people who travel on buses are young people and children, those who can't afford it, those who like a few (or more) drinks, and finally those who do not wish to destroy the environment with exhaust fumes.

The Service Currently

In Bristol there is an extensive network of bus routes so you can get to anywhere you need to. The city centre is the hub for going anywhere in the city and, from Bristol Bus Station, anywhere in the country, especially if your destination's in the south-west of England. However, punctuality can be a problem. The buses can be late, really late. Some people have waited hours for buses that are supposed to arrive every 15 to 20 minutes. You will probably also want to know that buses run less frequently at weekends and public holidays, so check the times before you go. You might want to bring a few bits to read or play with while you wait - or better yet, walk if you're in a rush. There are many reasons for buses being late, the most likely reason being traffic congestion. Congestion in Bristol is a big problem, a problem that the local government is trying to solve, but with little success. You may spot some buses left idle in the city centre, and because of congestion, some drivers find it difficult to get to their shifts on time.

Complaints are not uncommon - large chunks of the local newspaper, The Evening Post have been devoted to the subject in the past. If you've got nothing better to do, which is highly unlikely in a place like Bristol, you too can complain if you like. An essential item you will need if you want to complain to the bus company accurately about their punctuality is a stopwatch. Check the timetables at the stops and if it goes over by more than 30 minutes, there is a reasonable excuse to complain. Be careful about when and where you complain, as bus drivers get this all the time and the time you use on the bus to complain makes the bus even more late than it was. It's best to complain to the company by post, or even to the Evening Post, but the subject has been done to death in the newspaper so there's very little chance of it getting printed.

Standard tickets

You can get a single ticket that'll take you one way to a destination on the bus route, with an average adult price of around two quid1 at the time of writing. Returns that take you to and from a destination are more expensive, with an average adult price of around three quid, and slightly more at peak time, which is from the first morning bus until 9am. If you're in Bristol on a day trip you'll get more value for money if you get a Day ticket. These allow you unlimited travel all day. Also, if you're travelling with your family (to the bus company that means up to two adults and three children) you can get a Family day ticket.

Travel Cards and Season Tickets

If you're planning to stay in Bristol for one or two weeks then you will want to buy a Week ticket, which offers unlimited travel for a week, two weeks or more. These are sold by area - you can get them for what's known as Zone 1, which covers the area around the city centre and some of beyond, or Zone 2 which covers the rest of the city. Yet there is a problem with this - some people living in the areas around the borders are disputing the exact borders between Zone 1 and 2, and have caused many an argument between bus drivers and passengers. For the tourist, however, using the listings and signs the bus company provides should be fine. This is not for everyone, though. You can purchase a ticket that covers the whole of the city, which is far easier to use.

Bus Drivers

Bus drivers in Bristol are, despite a lot of impressions to the contrary, good people. Most of them speak in the Bristolian dialect of English - sadly an unbiased description of is not currently available on h2g2, but there is a full dictionary of it on That be Bristle. Some bus drivers can seem quite grumpy, partly because of certain rude teenagers who aren't nice to drivers, make loud noises and throw things at buses for some reason. Reports of some being assaulted have lowered their morale, causing many of them to adopt an almost 'jobsworthy' state of mind. Be nice to them - they have a hard job, in a career that's increasingly difficult to recruit for because of bad press. So be sympathetic if there are problems, and you might want to suggest a hobby to those who do make life a misery for drivers by complaining too much.

1 A quid is colloquial term for a British pound

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