More people now travelling by bus following changes to Norwich’s road network

The number 25 First bus at Castle Meadow, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The number 25 First bus at Castle Meadow, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

One of the county's largest bus operators believes changes to the city's road network have led to more than 350,000 new passenger journeys.

First Eastern Counties today said it had seen a half-a-million increase in passenger journeys over the past 12 months – 75pc of which were in Norwich.

And the company, which operates 68 services across Norfolk and Suffolk, believes the transport shake-up in the city is partly responsible.

David Jordan, marketing manager for First, said: 'The biggest growth has been in Norwich and with all the changes to the road networks, I think people are now seeing that buses can get right into the city centre where cars can no longer go.

'Also, because we have this network of bus lanes in the city, they are now more reliable.'

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Throughout 2016, car drivers were faced with regular disruption as work got under way to transform parts of Norwich's road network.

But the implementation of several rapid bus transit routes has meant buses have been able to navigate the city much quicker.

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Mr Jordan said the creation of more bus lanes had led to increased punctuality, which has given people more confidence in public transport.

As a result, First increased the frequency of its Pink, Yellow and Purple lines into the city in September to keep up with demand.

His comments come just months after figures released by the Department for Transport showed a huge fall in bus journeys across the county in 2015/16.

Statistics from local operators revealed 27.8m journeys were made in Norfolk that year – a fall of one million from 2014/15.

But First said there had been a turning point, and numbers had started to increase since April.

Mr Jordan believed a rise in passenger journeys was also likely to continue, with the creation of the NDR and thousands of new homes around the city.

He explained: 'Buses are absolutely vital for the growth of Norwich, and in terms of sustainable transport, they are essential.

'And there has to be more demand on buses in years to come, because for every 100 houses built, there will be a percentage of bus users.'

Outside Norwich, First said it had mostly seen an increase in the Great Yarmouth area.

The company now operates more services to the coastal holiday camps, as well as more frequent buses into the city from the town.

It is not the only operator to have seen a boost in passenger journeys over the past year.

Holt-based Sanders Coaches, which operates a number of rural services, has also reported an additional 100,000 passenger journeys.

Owner Charles Sanders said: 'I think the cost of running cars, or even two cars, is causing people to give up on them.

'People are starting to look at where they can make savings, and getting the bus is cost effective. I would like to hope that will continue.'

He said while the bus routes through Norwich had improved, getting to the city was still an issue, with regular delays due to work on the Northern Distributor Road.

Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council's chairman of environment, development and transport committee, said: 'Norwich is a thriving and growing city. With this in mind, one of the principles of the Transport for Norwich strategy is to encourage and cater for the use of more sustainable transport, including public transport.

'Recent changes in the city centre, in particular those on St Stephens Street and Chapel Field North, were to target improvements to bus journey times and reliability, so it's great to see this reflected in the number of people using local services.

'Work to date and future plans for new transport infrastructure is to help prepare the area for an increase in population and to connect new and existing communities to centres of employment. As we look further into the future, public transport will be an important means through which we can make efficient use of valuable space and help keep our city moving effectively.'

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