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You can hardly make a journey on the roads without passing a Bus stop, although some are more prominent than others. London alone has over 17,000 stops.
There are four main types of Bus Stop to be found in the UK, although they generally all serve the same purpose.
Hail and Ride & Unmarked types
Hail and ride bus services operate on the principle that they will stop anywhere where it is safe to do so along the route in order to pick up and set down passengers. As such, the only stops that will be marked are those which are shared with other more formal services. Most hail and ride services operate within urban areas, often covering some of the sprawling suburban housing estates that surround our towns. Most of these services will only stop at marked stops one they enter the town centre zone.
As the number of parked cars in urban areas has increased, finding a safe place for a bus to stop without being an obstruction has become more difficult, especially as operators become more concerned about the risk of passengers falling if the bus can't pull level with the kerb. As a result, urban hail and ride services are becoming increasingly rare.
Hail and ride services also operate in more rural areas, but this time the hazards which make finding a suitable place to stop are more permanent (poor visibility, narrow roads, high traffic levels).
However, unmarked stops are also used by other services. Many of the Scottish Citylink services are the only buses serving scattered rural settlements, and as such the timetables include the note This service 'will pick up passengers at all the stops listed above and established unmarked stopping places outwith the 30mph speed limit zones.' In practice, this means that they operate a hail and ride type service, stopping anywhere where it is safe to do so outside the urban areas.
Simple signed bus stops
The most basic marked bus stop is the small sign (known as the 'flag') on a post on the pavement, or set on a small paved area alongside the road. This type of bus stop is also the most common, in use the length and breadth of the country in rural and urban areas, albeit rarely on the busiest roads. The signs have taken a variety of forms over the years, but most have been small white squares with the words 'Bus Stop' prominently printed on them. In the era of the National Bus Company, it became common for them to feature the operator name and the routes served by the stop, and this has developed in the privatised era with the signs providing advertising opportunities for bus companies.
Depending on a variety of factors, there may be other facilities located at these simple stops. Some will feature a small sealed board housing a timetable for the routes, or main routes served by the stop. These are held together with a few varying screw types which all the local operators will have an appropriate allen key for. Others will have Bus Shelters (see below) to protect waiting passengers from the weather, however it is the sign and not the shelter which marks the location of the stop. These facilities are erected by the local authority but updating the publicity is shared by the operators serving them, unless an agreement is reached with the principal operator or highway authority. Generally, an empty publicity board will be used entirely by the first operator to find it, while boards which are already shared will be informally shared between operators. Despite stories of rival operators tearing each others' posters down, even on the most competitive of routes all operators will usually play fairly when maintaining the stops.
In rural areas, a single bus stop sign may be used, with a note explaining that the stop applies to both sides of the road.
Box Marked Bus Stops
On busier routes, a simple roadside flag sign may not be enough to warn motorists of the presence of a bus stop. In such cases, large yellow boxes are painted on the road with the text 'Bus Stop' inside them. As it is an offence to park within marked bus stops, this seems to be the primary reason for their presence, in order to provide sufficient room for the bus to stop safely. This means that they are also often used on roads with kerbside parking.
Accessible Bus Stops
Within the last twenty years or so, new bus stops are being built to accessible standards, in order to allow mobility impaired users to gain easier access to buses. Low floor buses, coupled with raised kerb lines at bus stops, on an alignment where the bus can easily drive onto the stop parallel to the kerb, mean that wheelchair users and buggy/pram users can board the bus without having to negotiate a step.
Electronic displays on the stop are another accessibility feature, as by only providing the next few departures they can use a much larger font than traditional bus timetables.
Some authorities have experimented with 'talking' bus stops which provide information for the blind when requested, but without much success.
Bus Stop Laybys
The final type of common bus stop is that mainly used on the very busiest of our roads, which is a full Layby for the buses to pull into. Again, they are painted with the yellow markings to prevent parking. Due to the length of a bus, and the desire to have it square on to the kerb to prevent it blocking the road and also provide easy access for passengers, these laybys tend to be more than double the length of a bus once the tapered ends are considered. This requires a significant land take, so minimising their use to roads where they are required on safety grounds.
On occasion bus stop laybys are extended to cater for more than one vehicle. However, this is generally only within urban areas. A more common variant is where town centre regeneration schemes see pavements built out into the road to produce bus stop laybys. These can often be long enough for 3 or more vehicles to pull in, each with their own bus shelters and often used on roads that have been turned into de-facto bus stations.
Bus shelters are an integral part of many bus stops, but these too take on a variety of forms. The simplest are glazed screens with cantilevered roofs to provide the minimum of protection. Next up are enclosed shelters, where at least three sides are screened. Often all four sides are screened, albeit with gaps left as doorways. In all cases, the glazed screens are more commonly filled with perspex than glass these days in order to minimise the damage from vandalism.
In many places, and more common in rural settings, bus shelters are built from blockwork. Whether this is left bare or rendered, it provides a more substantial and vandal resistant shelter. However, there are downsides too, as the lack of glazing both prevents waiting passengers from easily seeing an approaching bus, and also provides a secluded hide away for people. This leads to a number of people being reluctant to use them, for fear of what may be inside.
In some parts of the country there are other solutions to the design of bus shelters. For instance, in the Western Isles many bus stops are provided with round bus shelters, where a circular concrete roof is supported by two cross walls. This provides four corners for waiting passengers, and theoretically means that they are protected no matter which way the wind is blowing! Of course, it also makes it more difficult to see the bus coming if the wind is blowing the wrong way!
Many bus shelters are provided with benches. The brick built shelters will often have a solid two or three slat wooden bench within them, whilst older glazed shelters also feature a decent bench. However, the latest type shelters only offer a narrow perch just a few inches wide. This seems to be designed as a short term rest for just a few minutes which is less appealing to teenagers looking for a proper seat to loiter on!
Whilst the majority of bus stops across the country are equipped at best with paper timetables in glazed holders, there are an increasing number of stops in urban areas that have passenger information screens. Some of these show only time-tabled services, and take no account of delays to buses, but many stops now have real time passenger information (RTPI) screens which report on live progress of each individual bus, giving a more accurate indication of how long you may need to wait for your bus. Some operators also provide a bus stop reference number that you can text to Traveline (a third-party timetable provider), and get a reply with a list of the next buses expected to reach the stop.
Information on forthcoming departures is usually provided by the buses 'checking in' at the bus stops they have served so far, creating an estimated arrival time at the next few. This is provided online and replicated at each stop.
Republic of Ireland
Whilst the layout of bus stops in the Republic of Ireland are very similar to that found in the UK, there are a few differences. Many bus stops that are used less frequently are not marked at all, except with a bus stop sign. Those bus stops that are marked have BUS painted onto the road at either end and they do not have any yellow lines marked on them. The vast majority of local bus services outside of Dublin are run by Bus Eirann, so the signage will be similar across the country. As of 2016 new bus stop signage is being rolled out. These are replacing the traditional red lollypop shaped signs that were familiar across the country. Each stop has its own unique 6 digit ID number and you can enter that into the Bus Eirann website to track when the next buses are due to arrive.