Park and ride bus services in the United Kingdom

Park and ride bus services in the United Kingdom

Park and ride bus services in the United Kingdom are bus services designed to provide intermodal passenger journeys between a private mode of transport and a shared mode bus. The common model of bus based park and ride model is transfer from a private car to a transit bus, although schemes may also be used by pedestrians and cyclists. “Park and ride” commonly refers to permanent schemes operated as part of the public transport system, for onward transport from a permanent car park to a urban centre. ‘Park and ride bus’ can also be used to describe temporary and seasonal schemes, services operated for private or specialised users, and services that do not necessarily serve an urban centre. Bus services can be permanent, seasonal, or only operate on specific days of the week, or for specific events.

Permanent public transport based park and ride sites are predominantly constructed, administered and financially supported by one or more of the local public authorities, although partial private funding also occurs, usually in partnership. Since bus deregulation in 1986, the actual bus service for particular schemes is currently operated by one or more private bus operators, or stand-alone companies, with the contract to operate the bus service being put out to commercial tender. An exception is Northern Ireland, where the state concern Translink promotes and operates all public transport park and ride schemes.

Schemes are often specially marketed with a specific brand separately from other standard local bus services. This is sometimes not necessarily using the name park and ride. Public transport schemes mostly operate at a net loss, with the budgetary cost justified by the reduction in traffic congestion and reduced need for central parking spaces. Generally, the car parking is free, with revenue for the scheme being achieved through fares or travel passes taken by the bus operator. Initially heavily lobbied for by the environmentalists, increasingly the net benefits of park and ride schemes to the environment have been questioned in studies examining the effect of schemes on overall vehicle mileages and passenger travelling behaviour.

Implementation of public transport park and ride bus services in the UK accelerated through the 1980s and 1990s, although some schemes have failed or been scaled back due to lack of use. Permanent schemes range in size from an allocated area with provision of less than 10 cars, to multiple dedicated sites catering in total for nearly 5,000 cars. Schemes predominantly serve a single town or smaller city, while rail based mode, where it exists, is the predominant implementation for the larger metropolitan areas. Larger regional bus schemes exist, such as at Ferrytoll in Fife, Scotland and in Northern Ireland.


Permanent bus based park and ride schemes are most often found in the UK in historical towns and cities where the narrow streets mean traffic congestion hits hardest and streets cannot easily be widened. An example is Oxford, which operated the first scheme in the UK, initially with an experimental service operating part-time from a motel on the A34 in the 1960s, and then on a full-time basis from 1973. Large scale adoption in other towns then continued from the 1980s with increased car ownership. As of 2005 there were 92 park and ride sites across 40 locations in England [ The Guardian] Park and ride 'is ruining rural land', 8 June 2005]

Permanent schemes


Permanent park and ride services are predominantly intended for used by car driving commuters and their passengers, with shoppers being the next largest user, although it is also often targeted at day-trippers and tourists visiting by car [ [ BBC Essex] Chelmsford park and ride, 31 March 2006] . As well as car drivers, park and ride bus services may also be used by pedestrians and cyclists. Several schemes offer bicycle lockers to allow use of the bus by cyclists. For foot passengers, although the journey may be quicker than regular bus services, the fares may also be higher.

For ease of access by car, a common arrangement for a permanent park and ride is a site or sites located on the outskirts or outer suburbs of a town or city, with the aim of providing a short onward trip by bus into the centre. Sites are usually located near to the major approach routes to the centre, usually near to motorway junctions or beside the main arterial routes. Some sites, such as the village on Ellon, Aberdeenshire, are located some distance from the central destination, but the site is located on a main arterial approach route. Larger regional sites exist, with longer journey times, such as Ferrytoll in Fife, Scotland. In larger cities, space permitting, sites may also be located at transport hubs or interchange stations further inside the urban area.

As well as stand alone sites, permanent daily public transport park and ride car parks may also be operated adjacent to or as part of the car park of another facility, such as Basingstoke (a Leisure Park), Doncaster (a cinema) and Derby (a retail and leisure park). Some sites utilise football stadium car parks, as they are not usually in use on working daytimes, as happens in Brighton, Reading, Dorchester and Derby; and also horse racecourses as in Leicester and Cheltenham, although these services may not be available on match/race days.

Most schemes do not allow for overnight parking and cater for daytime and early evening usage. Users who miss the last bus may often find their cars locked in, requiring the calling of an emergency number. Some schemes have addressed the issue of the "last bus" by using other services, such as in High Wycombe where tickets are valid on standard bus services passing the car park after the dedicated service has stopped running, although the site gates have to be left open. Other schemes are open late on designated late shopping nights (often a Thursday).

Many sites are operational five or more days a week. Some schemes are often supplemented using additional sites with car parks normally used for other purposes during the week that only operate as park and ride on a Saturday or Sunday. These sites include the local County Hall or Town Hall car parks, or University car parks. Examples include Bath, Southport and Leicester.

As of 2008, permanent bus based park and ride schemes are generally implemented in small to medium sized towns and cities, with larger conurbations such as London, Birmingham and Manchester operating rail-based schemes. Edinburgh is the largest city with a comprehensive bus based park and ride scheme, although this is due to replaced in part with the Edinburgh tram network. In Manchester, the local transport authority GMPTE does not believe that bus based systems achieve the main aim of reducing car based mileage, stating that when implemented, most passengers are drawn from people who would either use existing bus services, or cycle/walk, with an estimated only 1 in 5 cars users coming from new public transport users [ [ GMPTE FAQ section regarding park and ride] ] .

Site facilities

Purpose built park and ride sites generally consist of a car park and adjacent bus boarding facility within walking distance. Large sites may feature covered multi-story parking, and covered waiting areas or passenger facilities akin to a small bus station. Bigger car parks may feature more than one bus stop to limit the distance users have to walk. Smaller sites may feature just a bus stop [ [ Fotopic image of Kinross park and ride, consisting of just a shelter and bike locker] ] and cabin for an attendant. For sites used as bus terminuses, the site may also feature bus stands.

The location of park and ride sites is usually predominantly sign posted to assist car drivers, and sometimes there may exist electronic signs giving real-time information about parking availability.

Many sites feature a controlled perimeter, entry/exit barriers, CCTV and monitoring in person by an attendant/s.

Planning issues

The location of sites is often restricted due to planning issues and land availability. The location of potential sites may conflict with the desires of other development aims. Some local authorities introduce new schemes as part of wider developments by stipulating as part of the planning permission approval that a private developer may only proceed if they include a suitable scheme in their development proposals.

The advent of Local transport plans enacted by the Transport Act 2000 in England has allowed park and ride usage to be a material consideration in planning matters in England.

In 2005 the Campaign to Protect Rural England called for a review of park and ride development expressing concern too many sites were being built on green belt land ["Guardian" 8 June 2005] .

In 2008, a scheme proposed by North Yorkshire County Council for a site for Whitby on green land within the North York Moors National Park was rejected by the park planning committee on grounds of its proposed location, within the park [ [ Whitby Gazette] Moors planners turn down Whitby park and ride plan, 27th August 2008] , despite claims by the borough council that no suitable alternatives existed, and traffic was an increasing issue in the town which threatened the prospects of economic growth [ [ BBC News] Park may block park and ride plan, 9 March 2008] .

In 2008 in Truro, Cornwall, a scheme was launched aiming to be complementary and integrated with the rural environment, marketed as a "park for cars" rather than a car park, with features such as natural building materials, solar power and waste water management [ [ Cornwall County Council Park for Cars concept explanation page] ]

Bus operators and vehicles

To comply with UK competition legislation, contracts for the bus operation aspect of schemes supported by local authority finance must be put out to commercial tender, although minimum quality conditions are often stipulated as part of the contract. Some bus operating contracts are awarded on the basis of a formal Quality Contract between authority and operator. For reasons of practicality and logistics, the winning bus operator is usually an operator already based in the local area.

Dedicated park and ride bus services are usually provided using transit buses. Depending on the passenger numbers, service may be provide with a combination of midibuses, single-decker buses, double-decker buses. In some schemes such as in Bath, articulated buses are used. As of 2008, the Optare Solo is a common type of midibus found on smaller schemes.

As with standard public transport bus services in the UK, as of 2008 the responsibility for operation of the buses for park and ride schemes is dominated by the major transport groups, either in part or full, with FirstGroup involved with 12 locations, Arriva and Stagecoach Group involved in 7, Go-Ahead Group in 3. Despite this, operation by small groups or independent operators forms a significant aspect of UK park and ride operations, such as Courtney Coaches (Basingstoke), Filers Travel (Barnstaple), Johnsons Excelbus (Stratford upon Avon), Cooks Coaches (Taunton), Pullman Coaches (Swansea), Konectbus (Norwich), Travel De Courcey (Coventry), Bennets Coaches (Cheltenham) and Smith and Sons (Perth). Some municipal bus companies operate their town’s service, such as Edinburgh (Lothian Buses), Nottingham (Nottingham City Transport), Swindon (Thamesdown Transport), Reading (Reading Buses), although the November 2008 transfer of the Ipswich operation from Ipswich Buses to First Eastern Counties demonstrated that council owned bus companies are not necessarily given favourable status in the awarding of council park and ride contracts.

For large schemes, park and ride bus fleets used are usually of a higher and/or different specification to the predominant transit bus fleet. Fleets are often purchased new in whole or in part for the award of a new contract, meaning low floor buses are increasingly common. In the Plymouth scheme, the buses are of an extremely high specification compared to regular transit buses, being equipped with high backed leather seating, television screens, and individual radio/CD sockets for each seat [ [ Alexander press release detailing the specification of the Plymouth park and ride buses] ] .

While dedicated park and ride fleets generally contain some of the newest vehicles in a bus company’s fleet, in some areas this does not occur, for example, the award winning operator in Derby, Trent Barton, defers operation of the park and ride to its Wellglade group sister company Notts and Derby, using vehicles older than that of the Trent Barton main fleet [ [ Fotopic image of an R registration Notts and Derby park and ride bus photographed in 2008] ] [ [ Fotopic image of a Y registration Notts and Derby park and ride bus photographed in 2006] ] .

Success and failure

While most schemes are hailed as a success, and see additions to site/spaces or increase in vehicle size over time, some encounter lower than anticipated passenger numbers and need to be withdrawn/modified. In Gloucester, a two route scheme existing in 2003 [ [ Gloucester 2003 Press release detailing the two separate park and ride services, the Javelin and the Severnsider] ] was required to be scaled back and rationalised into one through service after passenger numbers fell, putting one service in doubt [ [ Gloucester 2008 press release detailing the merging of two park and ride routes] ] . In February 2008 a scheme in Kidderminster was closed down despite objections, as it was costing £1,000 a week to operate, although it was later said the scheme had been introduced as a temporary measure while building works occurred, that was allowed to continue permanently [ [ Kidderminster Shuttle newspaper] Park and ride costs £1,000 a week, archive of a 26 February 2008 publication] . In 2008 Southport council considered rerouting their second scheme after initial passenger projections were not met, although comparison was made to the slow start but eventual success of the first site [ [ The Southport Visitor] Southport park and ride service may be re-routed, 6 June 2008] . In 2007, the long-standing Maidstone scheme was reduced from four sites to three due to a reduction in usage of a centrally located site causing a budget shortfall for the council [ [ Report into the decision to close Maidstone Coombe Quarry park and ride] ] .

A service operated by Go North East from the MetroCentre shopping centre coach park non-stop to Newcastle upon Tyne which operated on a model of pre-booked parking was abandoned after a year in September 2008 due to lack of use, replaced by a conventional service with more intermediate stops [ [ Go North East news about the withdrawal of the X67 park and ride service] ] .

Bus service

Onward bus services from a park and ride car park are provided with dedicated bus routes, the regular local bus service, or a combination of both. In busy or frequent schemes, the central bus stops may be sited separately from those used by other regular bus services. Sites already well served by or located on the existing bus network may feature no dedicated service at all. These services may employ no specific branding, but reference to 'park and ride' may exist on rollsigns and timetables. Park and ride sites may also be used as stops on longer distance coach services, although they are generally not available for use by private coach operators.

Dedicated routes are often operated point to point, running from the site to centre, and back, using the site as a bus terminus. Occasionally, through routes will run from one park and ride site to another, through the town or city centre, or to another suitable terminus such as a leisure centre. Routes may also call at multiple park and ride sites before commencing the onward journey to the destination.

Dedicated bus services can be operated as express bus services, running non-stop calling at only the car park and the central area. These services may also operate as limited stop express services, stopping also at any important intermediate locations such as hospitals, train stations, transport interchanges, out of town shopping centres, suburban retail parks and other places that are likely to see a high number of prospective passengers. In areas where there is less overlap between regular bus services, park and ride designated services may stop at every stop like a regular service, as in York, where the park and ride services are also part of the local bus network. Some express or dedicated services may extend beyond the parking site as regular services to outlying areas.

Funding and fares

The majority of permanent park and ride schemes are supported by funding from the local authority, with investment for construction of the sites if included, or support for the operation of the bus services. Park and ride schemes rarely become financially self sufficient even for just the operating costs, however most authorities cite the fact that profit is not the ultimate aim of schemes, rather the environmental benefits are what is being paid for. Some schemes where investment in a car park is not required can be funded fully commercially; the Stagecoach Group Cheltenham racecourse service is an example of a fully privately funded permanent service.

Authority involvement can be singular, or is often jointly between a borough and county council, such as in Bedford [ [ Bedford joint funding arrangement] ] , or even as a cooperation between multiple public institutions as part of a wider regional transport initiative. Public budget provision for schemes is often combined with infrastructure and vehicle investment toward high quality bus priority schemes, such as the A638 Quality Bus Corridor for Doncaster [ [ A638 Quality Bus Corridor webpage, Doncaster] ] or guided busway and bus rapid transit scheme investment.

Private companies often contribute additional funding where that company ultimately benefits from the scheme, either through increased custom or a reduction in employee parking needs. In High Wycombe, the scheme is part funded by a shopping centre and a local development partner, as well as the local council [ [ Wycombe park and ride page giving details of financial partners] ] as it is integrated into the newly developed Cressex business park [ [ Cressex Development website] ] .

A portion of the ongoing funding of the operating costs of a park and ride scheme comes from the collection of fares from the users, although some schemes operate completely free to the user. While most fare paying schemes are operated on a free-parking, pay on the bus basis, some schemes charge for the parking, to offer a financial incentive to encourage carpooling to the car park for cars with more passengers. Examples of car based payment schemes are Norwich and Canterbury. In the Chester scheme, a 2008 proposal to move from a bus based to a car park based charging system was dropped due to public opposition [ [ The Chester Chronicle] Red light shown to park and ride levy, 1 August 2008]

Specialist schemes

As well as serving as general public transport to central areas, specialist permanent park and ride services also exist, catering for a more specific user travel need. These exist both as supplementary routes from permanent public sites, or operate from private car parks. These services may be still available to the general public, or be restricted to a specific user/customer, and may be publicly or privately funded or both.

Private user schemes marketed as park and ride include airport buses and other shuttle bus links where they transport passengers from a car park to a destination such as a hotel or conference centre.

NHS Trust supported routes link public park and ride sites to hospitals, such as in Nottingham (Medlink), Reading and Cheltenham, for the benefit of passengers and staff. In Bath, a demand responsive transport service has been combined with a park and ride to hospital shuttle.

Another specialist service is the transport of football spectators to football matches from public park and ride sites, such as in Southampton. These services may only be available to those with a match ticket. A football service is privately funded by Sunderland A.F.C. on match days from the Stadium of Light to Sunderland Enterprise Park [ [ Sunderland AFC park and ride page] ] .

Temporary schemes

Some sites only become operational during a specific season, or for specific events, and as such may receive public or private financial support, or in the case of high usage, be self-funding. These ad-hoc services may not feature a dedicated bus fleet, but rather are provided by drawing on buses from other duties [ [ Fotopic gallery of buses drafted in for the Southampton Boat Show park and ride] ] . Temporary or seasonal services often use free buses, such as Weymouth, which uses existing public pay and display car parks.

Seasonal services occur in the summer to cater for tourists, such as Weymouth [ [ Official site for the Weymouth summer season park and ride] ] , or the Christmas period to cater for shoppers, such as Peterborough [ [ Official site of Peterborough park and ride Seaonal service] ] and Kingston [ [ Official site of the Kingston Christmas only park and ride service] ] .

Examples of services for specific events are Southampton (for the Boat Show) [ Official site for Southampton boat show and football match park and ride] ] and Whitby (for the Whitby Regatta) [ [ Official Whitby Regatta park and ride site] ]

Marketing and liveries

Some high profile public authority backed schemes employ a common "park and ride" brand identity for their park and ride scheme, and project this brand commonly across a website, printed material, and even extending to the colour of the bus in an all-over livery. In a small number of cases, the branding concept does not use the "park and ride" moniker as the primary identity, opting for a different name, such as "Centre Shuttle" (Basingstoke), "Quicksilver Shuttle" (Leicester), "Taunton Flyer" and "Park for Truro".

Smaller schemes may not necessarily employ specific marketing or dedicated all-over liveries where the passenger revenue does not justify this, such as in Stoke, Scarborough and York, although the term "park and ride" is a near-universally accepted term that is still applied to these smaller schemes on timetables and/or non-overall livery route branding. This also occurs in busier schemes where other high profile branding of local bus services exist, or the park and ride bus service is of the type that only consists of just another regular stop on the local services, rather than a dedicated shuttle type service, such as in Leeds and Nottingham. Schemes will often be promoted in terms of being high quality, with bus drivers undergoing customer service training, and schemes attaining the government Charter Mark for excellence in public service quality, or the Park Mark award for implementing enhanced car park security features. Maidstone was the first scheme to obtain a Charter Mark.

All-over liveries are employed in single or multiple site schemes. Liveries often emphasise the green credentials of the scheme, such as Plymouth's cloud livery, or by using green as a base colour (Oxford, Winchester). Other schemes use a bold overall colour scheme to reinforce the brand with publicity material, such as the Chelmsford (jet-black), Maidstone (yellow), Canterbury and Ipswich (purple), coordinated with the colours used in a website/publications. In some multiple site schemes, the all-over livery aspect is often extended to a distinct livery for each route/group of routes, such as the multi-colour coded schemes of Swansea, Norwich and Cambridge.

At peak times, standard liveried buses from the operator's main fleet may also supplement the service, or as replacement cover in the event of a dedicated vehicle's failure.



In the London borough of Westminster, a shuttle bus exists linking city centre car parks to the major shopping centres, which is marketed as park and ride.


As well as the Edinburgh council schemes, a regional scheme exists in Scotland in the form of a large site in south Fife, designated the Ferrytoll park and ride [ [ Ferrytoll About Us page] ] . It does not have a dedicated service, but rather a large number of regional services are coordinated through the site, serving as a park and ride service south to Edinburgh, and as a terminal for inter-urban and long-distance services north to Fife, Dunfermline, Inverness, Dunfermline and St Andrews. The southern park and ride section aims to relieve the congested Forth Bridge road crossing.


Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, bus based park and ride is organised on a regional basis by Translink. Belfast and other towns and cities are served by various sites, with bus services operated by Ulsterbus with their local bus services, and their "Goldlink" interurban branded services. Unlike in the rest of the UK, several site in Northern Ireland are as small as 10 spaces up to around 300, with (as of 2008) 20 sites across Northern Ireland [ [ Translink Northern Ireland park and ride directory] ] .



A scheme in Swansea currently operates from 3 sites [ [ Official site for the Swansea park and ride] ]

† - Not including sites proposed or under construction. Only including sites in use 5 days a or more a week, and not seasonal/Saturday only/event only usage

See also

* London River Services
* List of Parkway railway stations in Britain


External links

* [ National park and ride directory]

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