Review of "Lothian Buses (LRT)"

published 11/05/2003 | molelover
Member since : 01/02/2002
Reviews : 179
Members who trust : 128
About me :
Pro new lower floor buses, huge network of routes, smartcard
Cons rude drivers, timetables that mean nothing, decrepit and smelly buses
very helpful
Quality of Rooms
Customer service
Frequency of bus / buses
Value for money

"The bus that used to be a chip shop"

The new bus design

The new bus design

If you ever find yourself in Edinburgh, you’ll most probably end up on a bus at some point during your stay. Although Edinburgh has plans for a new tram service, its a few years off yet. Until then over 250,000 of us will rely on Lothian buses to get us to our destinations every day. And some more on their rivals First Bus, but more about them later.

The routes:
I have the misfortune to be pretty dependent on public transport in the city. I don’t have the use of a car, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be inclined to even attempt to use it during the Edinburgh rush hour. Unless it was big, maroon in colour, covered in adverts, and could zoom down the bus lanes. Edinburgh is full of bus lanes, most of which seem to be designed to make life as difficult as possible for car drivers. It’s one of the main advantages of using the buses, or at least it would be, if they were effective. But in most places, they simply don’t work well enough to be effective.

Some of the routes I take exceed 45 minutes to get only halfway across the city, and I know I could walk quicker. If I wasn't so lazy, that is...

I work in a stupid place, and travel to even stupider places to meet my husband who doesn’t even really know where he works most of the time. All in all, its a lot of buses.

Lothian buses have a vast network: really, mammoth amounts of routes that you are never likely to want to take. But it does make for a pretty comprehensive service – basically there’s nowhere in Edinburgh you can’t get to by bus, whether its the zoo, the airport, or even Morningside where ShoppingGirl lives (posh wave). I’m still amazed by how easy it all is, even though it was 3 years ago that I gave up living in the wilds of Scotland where I had to spend £25 on a taxi to the bus stop.

The frequency of service:
I never cease to be amazed at the amount of buses in Edinburgh – you can stand at a stop and see about 14 buses go past in a minute: granted, all the same number and not the one you want, but loads of them nonetheless. There are over 500 in the Lothian fleet alone.

They go from as early as 6am right through to 3am (night buses) depending on your chosen route. Thankfully I’m usually tucked up in bed in Fife long before the night bus service begins, and I would always opt for a taxi at that time of night, but then I’m very cautious and more than a bit wimpy.
One thing to remember about buses in Edinburgh is that the timetables mean absolutely nothing after about 8am. If you choose to travel at 6am, your bus will probably turn up bang on time. After about 7am you get horrible things like cars on the road, and people about, and just general sabotage of the bus service by lollipop ladies, and then things just start to deteriorate until by 5pm you can be almost sure that everything is running exactly a certain amount of minutes late. The formula for finding out how late the buses are running is to take the time between two scheduled buses of the same number and to divide it by a completely random number. You’ll find that gives you almost the exact time of arrival of the next bus.

I’ve stood at bus stops for 45 minutes before now, in fact three or four times a week, in the pouring rain, waiting for a 21 or a 2 to come along, both of which run at 10 minute intervals. That’s 8 invisible buses I missed. How stupid am I?

The competition
The introduction of the First Bus company was a bit of a shock for Lothian buses plc, who pretty much had a monopoly in Edinburgh since 1871. (They still have 80 per cent of the Edinburgh market.) With competition of course, the consumer expects raised levels of service as competitors try to win you over to their side. Ha ha ha. Lothian and First bus are indeed arch rivals, but it’s not so much “Look how shiny our buses are” so much as “Right, I’m going to take his wing mirrors off.” Really, they race to see who can get to the bus stops first, and I’ve seen physical scrapes (buses not drivers), fists raised, and wing mirrors knocked off. Ah, that’s service for you.

The Bus Stops
They do say that 50% of the population can’t read a railway timetable. But if there’s one thing I do like about Lothian buses, it’s their timetable and fare information boards. It’s colour coded, it’s well laid out, it’s easy to see where you want to be and how to get there, and how much it will cost you. In fact, sometimes I just use the bus stops to work out where the hell I am.

The newer ones have this horrible checked thing going on, bit like someone has opened a box of square confetti, dipped a bus in glue, and then thrown it randomly. I don’t like it, but I do like the old bus colours: maroon and white. Traditional and instantly recognisable. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, its the 21. About bleedin’ time.
The most confusing thing for tourists about Edinburgh buses is that they only take exact money – you just drop it in the slot – there’s a glass barrier between you and the driver – and he produces a ticket for you which you have to pull out of a machine. It’s agonising to watch in the summer when tourists drop in their pound coin, and wait for their change, which doesn’t come. Then they get some grunts from the driver (Edinburgh bus drivers have a reputation for being the least communicative and yet the rudest – no mean feat- in the world) and wait anxiously for a ticket, which appears but isn’t in their eyeline. It all gets very confusing. It’s bad enough for those of us who do it every day as they keep moving the ticket machines. I’ve got the hang of the dropping the coins in and avoiding eye contact bit, but the ticket machine moves from the left to the right of the driver with alarming regularity. It’s never at the same side two days in a row, so your eyes have to be well ahead of your hands.

More and more low-floor buses are being introduced, as well as more double deckers, and as the newer style buses begin to replace the older tattered ones, bus travel does become more appealing. Some of the old buses are in a very bad way. You get broken chairs, stained cushions, manky windows, and small confused toddlers that ask their mothers (on seeing the No Hot Food sign) “Mummy, did this bus used to be a chip shop?” Given the Iron Bru bottles rolling about on the floor, the smell, and the quantity of old newspapers lying about, it was an easy mistake to make.

The newer buses have space for mums with buggys and wheelchair users, but only space for one of either: I’ve seen mums at bus stops with fractious toddlers watching their bus go by knowing they simply can’t get on it as the buggy space is taken. How frustrating that must be. And Edinburgh buses on popular routes are generally very busy – between 8 and 9 am and 5 and 6 pm you might well find yourself standing for the entire duration of your journey. Well, it’s either that or head upstairs, and I’m just not brave enough to venture up there. Upstairs is a very scary place, where the seats are far more likely to be broken or occupied by obnoxious teenagers and/or snoozing drunks. There don’t seem to be any rules about who can and who can’t get on a bus. I’m reasonably tolerant of the general public, but personally I don’t think letting two roaring drunks (one female in her 20s although she looked about 40) clutching three uncorked bottles of aqua libra onto the bus is a terribly great idea. But drivers frequently do. I suppose maybe the new low floors are not just for the elderly: they also help the drunks to slide off the buses quicker. Hurray!
Despite liking the concept of clean shiny buses, I don’t like some of the new ones at all. They’ve developed this new layout on some of the new lower floor buses where the back seats face opposite more seats, so you have to squish in face to face with someone with hardly enough leg room for one, and nowhere to look except right between them and the person next to them. No one likes these seats. People stand just so they don’t have to sit there sweating with the concentration of looking at their own legs and nowhere else. I do hope this isn’t where the £23 million pounds of investment Lothian spent between 1999 and 2001 actually went...

Some of it probably went on the new Wayfarer Smartcard system, which I have to say is very good. You buy a card, with photo ID, and place it on the electronic reader next to the driver: it then flashes a green light and beeps (presuming you have anything left on it) and unlike the ticket machines, its always in the same place! You can also kiss goodbye to trying to find the right change every time you want to take the bus. Unlimited travel for a fixed monthly fee. It works with cinemas, with internet access, with mobiles – and now with buses. I like the fixed monthly fee thing. Ideally I’d like to do it for everything in my life! A smartcard will cost you the equivalent of 96 per day, for unlimited travel on any route (except to the airport.)
When it comes to single fares, you can work out your fare by looking at the boards by the bus stops. Certain stops are deemed Fare Stages – and your fare is dependent on how many of those you want to pass through – from orange (only 2 stages) right up to red. If your stop is on the orange line, it’s 60p. It it’s green, it’s 80p. Red, £1. Blue, you need your eyes tested. You can buy an all day ticket for unlimited travel that day - £2.50 if you buy it before 9.30am and £1.80 the rest of the time and at weekends. Children’s fares are 50p. If you are an OAP it’s 40p, or you can travel for nothing if you wait until after 9.30am. If you bring one of those trolleys on wheels anywhere near Princes street, it costs an extra £10. (Honest. Well, ok then, not. But worth a try...)

You can also buy a book of single journey tickets, which also means you don’t have to find change for the bus, but it’s a slightly more expensive option than the smartcard working out at the maximum fare £1 per journey.

The airport bus is £5 return and £3.30 single, but you can also pay slightly more and turn this paper ticket into an all day ticket as well meaning you can hop on and off buses all day at great value. Well, you can for as long as you remember not to screw it up and throw it away or lose it in the vast depths of your handbag, that is. Airport buses are the best and most realiable of the lot: they have masses of luggage space, are new and shiny, and run very frequently from the airport to Waverley train station in only 25 minutes.


Good Bits:
Shiny and fast airport buses
Huge variety of services
Smartcard excellent value and good overall system
Low-floor buses

Bad bits:
Decrepit old buses still in use
Aggressive, overly stressed out and rude drivers (some of them)
The General Public and the Great Unwashed
Irrelevance of the timetable.

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Comments on this review

  • marcellep published 12/05/2005
    I have to agree with this review, I live and work in sunny Edinburgh. I do have a car but it would be easier to get the bus as I pay a fortune to park. I would never depend on there service. Great review and really honest Rob
  • u103177 published 21/11/2004
    Couple of updates for you! The night buses run right through the night now. However the minimum fare has risen to 80p! aw well. Dave (Edinburgh)
  • lwbusiness published 01/09/2004
    Molelover, great review, highly accurate and very funny. I'm going back to rate it in just a minute. One thing I thought you might like to edit if possible is the increased fares (that's another point, why is it when you have just worked out how much you usually pay they bump up the fare again?!). Great and very truthful portrait of our virtually monopolistic bus service. L.
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Product Information : Lothian Buses (LRT)

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Listed on Ciao since: 19/03/2001