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First Bristol is the bus service offered to those in Bristol. I don't like to write reviews without something good to say about the product. So I will make an effort with this one.
There is not a sufficient alternative to using the First Buses. Abus run a few services stopping within the city of Bristol (not county which used to be Avon) Other than school runs there is: 57 - From Stockwood to the centre 349/649 - Bristol through Brislington and Keynsham back to the centre This doesn't class as enough competition to challenge First...resulting in abysmal service.
Cost The maximum single price is £2 and return is £3 off peak. Weekdays before 9am it will be a maximum of £3.60 return. Now these prices aren't so bad if you live on the edge of the city and are travelling 5-7 miles. However this value for money stops if you want to make a short journey. It has cost me the maximum single price for a journey of just over a mile not going near the centre. You can buy a FirstDay which will give you unlimited travel within Bristol for £3 (£3.60 peak times) Very useful if you have to get more than two buses.
I have to say that First do offer a lot of different prepay tickets which can save you some money. (I will give examples of Adult prices) There are Season Tickets. These vary on the zone you choose. There are 2 zones. Zone 1 is the centre and areas around it which First calls the Central Area. Zone 2 covers the Central Area and outer Bristol (City not county)
First Week (7 consecutive days) Zone 1 or 2 only - £11.50 Zone 1 and 2 - £15.50
First Month (31 consecutive days) Zone 1 or 2 only - £42.50 Zone 1 and 2 - £57
First Year (52 consecutive weeks) Zone 1 or 2 only - £460 Zone 1 and 2 - £630
For the occasional user there is the FirstTen This is £18 and gives you 10 journeys with no time restrictions or expiry date.
FirstFamily is £6.50. Gives unlimited travel to up to 5 people (max 2 adults over 16) in both zones at off peak times.
Summarising it seems good value if you are travelling from the edge. However short journeys are a rip off. The FirstTen is only good value if you are travelling what would normally be maximum fare.
The cost seems extortionate for what you actually get.
Reliability In my experience you can't trust the timetables which are given. I get a bus which is due every 15 minutes. However I have found that regularly that buses fail to turn up. And I'm yet to go a week without a bus being late. I'm at the beginning of the route so there is no excuse for being late. When the bus is late I have never had an apology from the driver or an explanation, even when questioned over more than 30 minutes wait for a bus...it is always not the drivers fault. Finally the reliability of the engines can be temperamental. I have been witness to buses breaking down as a passenger. However credit is due to the drivers. They will ensure that the next bus will take you (no extra cost) and do try to ensure they are in a safe position if possible. Some are even friendly and will talk to you about what is happening.
Drivers I suppose the previous comment is over lapping into this section. The drivers that are hired are varied. I have come across some friendly ones with a smile which is nice. However more often than not the drivers do not seem to have a good grasp of the English language. This becomes a problem...especially with the Bristolian accent when people try to buy a ticket. More importantly, on a few routes it has been reported that the driver has had to get help from the passengers to direct the bus around the correct route. The Evening Post (Local paper) has reported on this issue many times and First bus have replied with comments that all drivers are trained in the route before they drive it. They do not seem to have done anything to rectify the number of buses where this has happened though.
Cleanliness Buses are meant to be cleaned over night. This doesn't happen. The Metro paper is supplied on the buses. I have often found papers from up to 3 or 4 days before still littering the bus. These don't really cause much of a problem. What do are drinks that have been dropped making the floor wet and sticky. I know a guide dog that has had chewing gum stuck on her coat. And my bag has often had to be washed from the dirt on the floor AND seats. There are always bus tickets scattered on the bus as well. I have seen drivers walk up the bus before setting out on a journey so these bus tickets and papers shouldn't be on the floors and seats.
Choice of routes. There are roughly 30 routes. While this seems like a lot many of them don't run on Sundays, or only run every hour/few hours. Not very useful really. The way they routes are structured it is very difficult to get to the outskirts of the city without going into the centre first. Bristol has a traffic problem and many cars with not much space. This means to travel a distance which would take 15 minutes in the car can take over 2 hours. Even if the car was to follow the same route as the bus the same journey would be less than an hour. Understandably this is very frustrating.
Safety I have seen many drivers go through red lights or get flashed by the "30" signs which only flash when the vehicles is speeding. Not exactly that safe for the passengers. This is the only problem. It has been in the local news recently (article published 26/07/05) that on a check of the buses many of them failed safety checks such as the emergency door not opening and the brakes being faulty. Now both of these are of great importance to me that they are working. Apparently not to First as these buses were being signed off as ok to drive.
The failed inspections are not the only problems that First have faced recently. In the last four years they have been to four inquiries about complaints regarding punctuality. In February they were fined £96k. Coincidently the fares increased soon after. And they were recently (June I think) increased again. These increases have been over 20% at times.
Doesn't seem great customer service to increase fares effectively punishing the user for the company not meeting the customers' needs.
So in conclusion. There is value for money, but only if you live on the edge of the city and don't make short trips. The reliability is questionable and this has been noted by higher authorities for 4 years...yet nothing has been done. The drivers can be friendly but many also don't know the routes. The buses themselves don't all pass spot-checks and breakdown BUT the drivers are very good when this happens. There are a lot of routes but they aren't really that well thought out and many aren't active enough The buses aren't clean and not much effort is made to make them so.
I tried to include as many good points as I could, but there aren't many. If there was an alternative city wide I would use it and advise others to do so.
(The specific Criteria don't seem to be matching...I have rated the categories in accordance to how easy it is to perform the tasks using First. This applies to Sightseeing, Shopping and Nightlife)