Report: Halifax Bus Station accessibility workshop

Meeting date: 30 September 2021
Time: 10:00am – 12:00pm
Location: Microsoft Teams Meeting

Project team attendees
• Mark Auger – West Yorkshire Combined Authority
• Erica Ward – West Yorkshire Combined Authority
• Andrew Bradley – West Yorkshire Combined Authority
• Steve Smith – Calderdale Council
• Tom Jones – Calderdale Council
• Joanna van der Veen – AECOM (workshop facilitator)
• Daniel Rafferty – AECOM (workshop note-taker)
Workshop attendees
• Alison – Accessibility Calderdale Disability Access Forum (ACDAF)
• Brian Sutcliffe – Disability Partnership Calderdale / Calderdale Forum 50+
• Graham Hale – ACDAF
• Joan Tillerson – ACDAF
• Julie Stott – Disability Partnership Calderdale / Calderdale Forum 50+
• Katherine Bland – Calderdale Council Sensory Team
• Lorraine Beiley – ACDAF
• Valerie Northcott – Calderdale Council Specialist Inclusions Team / Sensory Team
• Michelle Gerrard – Calderdale Council Sensory Team

The purpose of the workshop was to update accessibility groups in the Halifax area on the progress of the construction of the new bus station in the town, as well as ensuring discussions could take place on a number of key topics, including communications and bus stop accessibility. The structure of the workshop included an update on the progress of the project, and then discussion sections focussing on the two aforementioned key areas: communications and bus stop accessibility.

This meeting note summarises both the presentation given by the project team, and the points raised by attendees in the discussions which followed. It follows the same order as the agenda of the workshop. The majority of time in the workshop was dedicated to the discussion about bus stop accessibility, with the temporary stops on Market Street having been identified as areas that required particular attention.

Project update
The workshop began with each attendee introducing themselves, and attendees were also advised of the format of the workshop itself, including the main areas of discussion.

The project update began with an acknowledgement that the project has been going on for a long time, but that planning permission has now been secured and construction has begun. In particular, the construction methodology adopted means that two-thirds of bus services have been moved out of the bus station and onto on-road bus stops around Halifax.

Construction has been split into four phases, and Phase 1 has just completed. Looking ahead to future phases of development, the project team confirmed that when Phase 2 ends, the contractor will remove the existing Travel Centre, and temporary facilities to replace the Travel Centre will be provided in Phase 3. This is scheduled to be the longest of all phases, because it will involve the actual construction of the new bus station.

It was acknowledged that the build process was relatively long and complex, but had been especially designed to keep some buses on site throughout the build process and minimise disruption to journeys.

A timeline, detailing engagement which has taken place to date, was also provided. The timeline listed the following milestones.
• September 2020 – planning permission granted.
• October 2020 – accessibility workshop on detailed design and temporary bus stop arrangements.
• April 2021 – ACDAF transport group meeting – Market Street issues discussed.
• June 2021 – accessibility audit by an independent consultant.
• July 2021 – ACDAF meeting on accessibility audit.
• August 2021 – targeted engagement with accessibility groups.
• September 2021 – email to accessibility groups with posters and leaflets, meeting with Halifax Blind Society, feedback on start on site and this workshop.

Area of focus topic 1 – communications
The first area of focus, communications, included an overview of the communications channels which have been used to date. These are:
• press release;
• social media;
• poster in advance;
• targeted, early engagement with businesses;
• targeted, early engagement with accessibility groups;
• posters (at the bus station and on-street);
• leaflets (distributed on-street, at the Travel Centre and on buses, via local organisations);
• staff on site (at the bus station and on-street); and
• online information (Combined Authority and Calderdale Council).

The project team then shared a number of improvements to communications, which are already being made on the basis of feedback received about work on site to date. These changes are:
• larger posters;
• ‘easy read’ leaflets and audio information;
• zoomable images on websites;
• replacement of timetables and QR codes at all stops; and
• Real Time Information (RTI) at more town centre stops.

The ensuing discussion focussed on whether there were any additional changes that could be made, and whether there were additional communications issues for which the project team ought to seek a solution. Each of the primary discussion points have been listed and numbered below, in bold text.

The subsequent responses are outlined beneath each point.
1. Information about the temporary changes should be shared with schools, for distribution to students. Information which children receive at school can then be passed onto their families. It may also be worthwhile to engage with other education providers, including colleges and universities (e.g. Huddersfield University). In response, it was explained that local colleges have received information, as well as Independent Travel Training. The project team welcomed the suggestion and committed to exploring greater information sharing with schools, colleges and universities in future.

2. Clearer information on which buses serve which stops is required. It should also be made clearer for bus users which stops are drop-off and pick-up only. It was noted that the absence of timetable information and QR codes at some stops was part of this problem, and the project team advised that as of 2 October 2021, timetables and QR codes would be added to all stops. Additionally, there are some stops without Real Time Information (RTI) displays, and these would be installed at additional stops to help mitigate the issue, though timescales for provision these would be longer.

It was also noted that information on where buses stop along their route can often be difficult to present in a way that is easy to read and accessible. This is further compounded by the fact that bus stops and routes can often change at short notice, so printed materials may not stay relevant and up to date for long. The project team nevertheless acknowledged that addressing this point is vital, and that the updated maps (including larger ones) would go some way to doing this. These maps would be made available online on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s website from the day after the meeting (1 October 2021), and any additional feedback would be welcomed from attendees.

The project team also committed to exploring whether future printed materials could make clear that the information included is correct as of the printing date, to ensure that readers are aware of the potential for information to be out-of-date. Close engagement with bus operators would also be continued, to ensure last-minute changes to services are avoided as far as possible, and that consistent messaging is deployed when this does happen.

3. An attendee explained a recent experience of being at a bus stop (waiting for the 532 to Illingworth), where there were around 50 people at the stop unsure of what was going on. This was noted as being due to a lack of both signage and staff in the area. As part of this discussion, it was also noted that alternative signage locations should also be considered. It was acknowledged that most signage to date had been restricted to bus stops, and that additional signage locations could be explored. It was also noted that there was an issue with signage being removed from stops, and that an enhanced maintenance regime could be put in place to help with this. This would include more regular checks of signage across all bus stops, in order to ensure signage is still in place in as many locations as possible. This would also go some way to counteracting other known issues, including signage about bus stop changes that contradict other information sources.

Alternative locations for information were suggested, including poster and leaflets in banks, and the market hall, and information to universities and local media outlets (e.g. the Halifax Courier) were also discussed. It was also noted that information could be sent to the Disability Partnership prior to Thursdays, which would enable it to be shared with the wider community through the partnership’s newsletter, website or social media channels. The Lower Valley Blog was also suggested as a potential source of information for travellers, and therefore that information could be shared with the blog managers.  Later discussion also noted that signage should be placed at a range of heights, making sure wheelchair users could also read it easily.

4. The maps produced to date have been confusing, as they rely on knowledge of road names – it would be useful to add local landmarks to help people orient themselves. Maps were acknowledged by the team as having been an issue for some people, as not everyone knows street names, and members of the team had experienced this themselves when providing directions whilst in the town. A more accessible map, including landmarks, will therefore be considered in future. User-testing of future maps would also be considered.

5. The council’s website was noted as confusing when searching for information on a specific consultation or topic. Often, hyperlinks sent by the council will not link to a webpage on the consultation/topic itself, but instead to the council’s website homepage. The team accepted that not providing a link to a specific web page would be a lost opportunity for engagement. Wherever possible, more intelligent use of hyperlinks would be implemented.

Area of focus topic 2 – bus stop accessibility
This section of the workshop began with a summary of the issues with bus stop accessibility raised to date, in particular on Market Street. In summary, they are:
• kerb heights being below best practice on bus stops at Market Street (stops 13 to 16);
• the slope of the road;
• very busy bus stops; and
• the use of ramps and ‘kneeling’ by bus drivers.

After outlining these issues, the project team then shared a list of the options already considered to alleviate some of these issues. These options that have been considered but that are not being progressed are:
• keeping buses in the bus station throughout construction;
• creating other bus stops on Commercial Street;
• implementing bus ‘boarders’;
• using a voluntary minibus; and
• using Access Bus.
Reasons for discounting these options were outlined.

A number of ‘quick wins’, which are currently being progressed by the project team to improve accessibility around bus stops, were then outlined. They are:
• encouraging drivers to deploy ramps and kneel their buses;
• improving enforcement of traffic restrictions on Market Street;
• continuing dialogue with ACDAF and Calderdale Highway Officers; and
• having additional town centre stops for some services.

Longer-term solutions, which would require further consideration, were then presented to the group.
These are:
• other locations for bus stops on Market Street;
• a new ‘super stop’ on Market Street;
• temporary colour contrast being added onto kerbs;
• communications materials to indicate most accessible stops;
• taxi vouchers to be distributed; and
• the installation and/or trialling of a ‘BusPad’.

The ensuing discussion allowed attendees to share their views on the options being implemented and those being considered, as well as to share any new ideas or information about additional challenges that needed to be considered. Each of the primary discussion points have been listed and numbered below, in bold text. The subsequent responses are outlined beneath each point.

1. Not all signage can be viewed by wheelchair users, as it’s too high up on the bus stop to read. It’s also not completely clear which stop names relate to which location, and the bus jargon being used is not understandable for the everyday user of a bus.

A number of issues including map sizes, timetable displays, and certain bus stops lacking full information, as well as bus operators failing to put up their own passenger information, were noted by the team on a visit to the town centre earlier in the week, and it was acknowledged that all of these issues needed to be addressed and that plans were already in place to update timetables, QR codes and RTI information at stops. Signage and maps were also due to be refreshed, as noted in the previous area of focus. Furthermore, it was accepted by the project team that placement of maps, flyers and other information needed to be made more accessible for all bus users. In order to ensure this change takes place, future audits regarding the distribution of such assets will prioritise those concerns. With regards to the use of jargon, this was acknowledged as a problem that was wider that the Halifax Bus Station scheme, and one WYCA would consider further.

2. The frequency of buses on Market Street is also an issue, with some stops having a lot of services stopping at them, and others having far fewer services. Additionally, the stops with more frequent services tend to be the more inaccessible stops.

Although changes to bus routes and services cannot be directly controlled by WYCA or Calderdale Council, the project team committed to engaging with bus operators to see whether the stops being used on Market Street could be rationalised, with a wider range of services stopping at the stops that have been noted as more accessible.

3. It was suggested that a ‘bus-only’ area, as is used at Kings Cross, could be looked into. If Market Street remains too difficult to access for wheelchair users, then increased use of Commercial Street could also be investigated.

Almost all services stopping on Market Street will also use Commercial Street. There are therefore very few services which only make one stop in the town centre. On the subject of a ‘bus-only’ area in the town centre, there are other planned works to reorientate the centre of Halifax, being led by Calderdale Council. Bus-only areas may form part of this, but these proposals are still in development and will take some time to implement.

4. Sometimes you can only get off buses, and not onto them, which is a particularly confusing issue for bus users to deal with.

Referring to earlier discussions around improved communications, the team agreed that it should be made clearer for bus users as to which stops can be used for boarding or getting off a bus. This could include better demarcation on maps, or having the same information easily accessible online.

5. Regarding the height of kerbs, stops 13 and 14 were noted as the main issues. The state of the road at these stops is also an issue, as there is a large pothole that causes disruption. Furthermore, the bus station would have been an appropriate area for buses travelling along major routes, to places such as Huddersfield, Bradford and Leeds.

The issues with kerb heights (and the added complication of the slope of the road) were noted, and views were sought on potential solutions (such as the ‘BusPad’) for this issue. Attendees welcomed the possibility of the BusPad, but noted it would need to be tested at the stops in question to see how effective it was. It was suggested that the loading bay area which is in between stops 13 and 14 may be more accessible for wheelchair users. It was also agreed that separate conversations would take place after the meeting about bus stops on Waterhouse Street, where a number of bus drivers are unaware of bus stops along the street. The project team also explained that the limited capacity within the bus station has been prioritised for bus services that enter Halifax over North Bridge, as they have few other places to stop.

6. A BusPad might need a bright colour around it, in order to ensure that people, including those with visual impairments, don’t trip over it whilst walking on the pavement.

While the images on screen during the presentation showed a darkly coloured BusPad, members of the project team pointed out that it would be possible to add in a luminous ‘strip’ around the pad to make it easier to see.

7. The feasibility of a ‘super stop’ was discussed, including how it would operate, and whether such a system was in place anywhere else across the country.

Stops of a similar nature to ‘super stops’ have been implemented been implemented in various other places across the country, including in Leicester and London. The team explained that while such stops have worked successfully elsewhere, it is difficult to make sure they are completely appropriate for all users, including routes to the stop. However, it was again noted that stop 14, outside of Heron Foods, was a stop which experiences far fewer issues, and could be considered for this purpose.

8. The real time information in place in the bus station was noted as useful, and it was questioned whether anything similar could be added to the temporary bus stops as well.

The project team acknowledged that at present two shelters and six stops in the town centre don’t have real time information. Of those six, one has a lamp stand, which means there is no way to provide a real time display at that particular stop. The project team advised that the new teal time displays at the five stops will be battery powered displays that also have an audio button which reads out the real time information.

Additional feedback and questions
Some additional feedback was received in the week following the workshop, and is summarised below.

Bus station facilities (current and in the new bus station)
• Deaf people need to know about the fire alarm system in the bus station and in the toilets – they can’t hear an audible alarm and need a flashing alarm to alert them.

• Not everyone was aware that the bus station was closing and buses were moving to on-street; they haven’t seen any information about it.
• People knew what times their bus set off from the bus station, but now that services have moved, they are not sure if services run at the same times.
• Someone recently waited an hour for a bus at one of the town centre stops and it had been cancelled, but they had no way of knowing that. Delays were noted in various locations in Halifax.
• Deaf people don’t know who to complain to or how to complain when things go wrong or they have problems.
• Information should be shared with the Deaf Association via email, and hard copy leaflets should also be provided.

Summary of actions to take following meeting
The below bullet points summarise the key suggestions to be explored and actions to take following the workshop.
• The project team will investigate opportunities for greater information sharing with schools, colleges and universities in future.
• The project team will ensure that future printed materials make clear that the information included is correct as of the printing date, so that readers are aware of the potential for information to be out-of-date.
• Explore implementation of an enhanced maintenance regime to stop signage relating to bus stops being removed and changed. This would include more regular checks of signage across all bus stops.
• Consider alternative locations for signage and new publicity mechanisms, including banks, universities and the Halifax Courier. Share information with the Disability Partnership and considering contacting the Lower Valley Blog.
• Consider including local landmarks on new maps, and user-testing any new maps produced for the scheme.
• Avoid the use of jargon on communications materials as far as possible, and make it clear which stops can be used for boarding or getting off a bus.
• Engage with bus operators to see whether the stops being used on Market Street could be rationalised, with a wider range of services stopping at the stops that have been noted as more accessible. As part of this, explore using stop 15 an alternative stop for services currently serving stops 13 and 14, as the height of the kerb there does meet best practice.
• Further explore the use of BusPads, including options for visual demarcation and testing at Halifax stops.
• Share information with the Deaf Association.