We’ve all heard the old chestnut “the train stops at the train station, the bus stops at the bus station: on my desk I have a work station. ” Funny the first time round but done to death.
But stations, at least bus stations are becoming a thing of the past. Like gas lamps. Trades associated with outdated modes of travel are also obsolescent. When did you last see a bus with a bus conductor? Or a level crossing on a railway line complete with a crossing keeper to see all the barriers were in place at the right time? They are going the way of the lamplighter, the crossing sweeper and the ostler.
On a bus journey today – not a long trip, something under twenty miles – I was aware of the absence of a bus station in the town I visited. (It was not some small market town with only a few visitors; it was a major seaside resort and one that Lancashire boasts as a big tourist attraction. There are railway stations at Blackpool North, Blackpool South, the Pleasure Beach and Squires’ Gate. There are quite a lot of buses and even a lovely new tramway along the prom, but no bus station.
Yes, there was one once, now all that is left is a grim-looking multi-storey car park. If you want to catch a bus in Blackpool you have to find out where it is likely to stop and stand around on a usually draughty and crowded street till it turns up. There may be a tiny bus shelter with if you are lucky a metal bench to sit on – but don’t count on it; there are nearly always more people waiting for a bus than seats for them to sit on.
Why have a bus station at all? I maintain a central place for buses is as necessary as a railway station for trains. A place where most of the routes converge, where the buses can stand for a while between trips, where passengers can find details of times and services, where they can sit and wait in comfort sheltered from the weather. Somewhere that has an information centre, a café, kiosks selling newspapers and sweets and an essential facility for the traveller – public toilets that are readily available so the stranger does not have to search for these in an unfamiliar town and perhaps miss his connection.
Preston Bus Station – often termed “iconic” is hardly a thing of beauty but it does serve its purpose. Easy to find, sheltered from the weather, with places to sit, to eat and to find out which bus goes where. I understand the bus station is to be taken over by Lancashire County Council from Preston Borough Council. I hope they make a good job of it, but alas I have my doubts. Can a council that is cutting the subsidised bus services throughout the county, that switched off the electronic timetable in Lancaster bus station “to save money” and even removed paper timetables from bus stops and told passengers to use their mobile phones to ring a premium rate number to find out the time of the next bus, can such a body be trusted to run Preston Bus Station properly? I fear not. I fear their only concern will be profit. I can imagine them introducing a charge to enter the bus station – remember the old “platform tickets” they had on railway stations in days gone by? You were charged 1 (old) penny to go and stand on the platform and watch the trains, wave someone off or meet someone arriving. I can imagine Preston Bus Station, extensively refurbished and turned into a money-spinner for the County Council. I hope I am wrong.