Longer bus journey times have been identified in a new report as a major problem for the north-east bus network.
The report claims journey times are lengthier and are “often not competitive” with car travel.
Other key findings include the cost of bus travel compared to the car and the underuse of park and ride facilities across the region.
The report also highlights a number of successes in the network including relatively high levels of passenger satisfaction and “huge advances” in relation to cashless ticketing.
Due to be presented to the regional transport partnership Nestrans on Wednesday, it was written by the North East Bus Alliance, made up of representatives from Nestrans, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, First Bus, Bain’s Coaches and Passenger Focus.
The report said: “While progress has been made towards improvements in infrastructure and vehicle stock, bus journey times continue to increase and bus patronage continues to decrease.
“Bus is not seen as a competitive or attractive alternative to the private car.”
It found most transport corridors saw journey times rise between 2006 and this year. A bus from Heathryfold to the city centre saw the greatest increase of almost 62% , rising from 21 to 34 minutes.
The Deeside corridor has also seen large increases with Banchory to Aberdeen journey time up from 58 minutes to 68 minutes (17%) and Peterculter to Aberdeen up from 36 minutes to 50 (39%).
However, these sections have been “heavily affected” by construction works on the AWPR, said the report, and may improve now the works are complete.
Congestion is identified as a “longstanding challenge” for the city but “considerable progress” has been made on delivering a range of infrastructure improvements in recent years including the new bypass and third crossing over the River Don.
The report states: “The full impacts of these improvements on bus journey times remains to be seen as it will take time for any journey time change to be reflected in the timetables.
“However, there is a considerable opportunity to ‘lock in the benefits’ for sustainable modes, including buses, in the city and this must be maximised if we are to reverse the trend of increasing journey times.”
Although bus punctuality has improved in the region, it has also been at the expense of journey times, according to the findings, with operators needing to timetable services to account for increasing delays on the network.
This has led to a situation where passengers are “often” on a stationary bus waiting at bus stops because the service is timetabled to account for worst-case traffic conditions.
Sandra Macdonald, Aberdeen City Council’s transport spokeswoman, said: “We have talked a lot about bus priority measures and I think that is something we do need to take some action on.
“It’s clear that people will use their cars if they don’t see a bus travelling faster than they are.”
A spokeswoman for Stagecoach North Scotland said: “The recent infrastructure investment has provided excellent support for our bus services operating in Aberdeen City and to Aberdeenshire.
“The AWPR and City Centre Masterplan have had a positive impact, beginning to tackle the congestion issues in Aberdeen we continue to be challenged with.
“Bus travel plays a fundamental role in tackling air quality management.
“We look forward to working with the Bus Alliance and other partners to improve on the areas highlighted and provide a more reliable and quicker bus journey.”
Analysis by First Bus identified 10 key city areas for delays, which include St Nicholas Kirk to Adelphi, Holburn Junction to Nellfield Place and Hammerfield Avenue to Newlands Crescent.
The comparable cost of bus and car has also been seen as a key issue on the network, with the report arguing the availability of free and cheap parking means the cost of bus travel is perceived as more expensive than taking the car, as people tend not to take into account the costs associated with buying and running a car.
The report said: “This comparison is especially true for families or people travelling in groups where the cost of travelling by car can be significantly cheaper than by bus.”
David Phillips, operations director for First Aberdeen, said: “We welcome the city’s efforts to improve its transport infrastructure. We are aware of the report and recognise it is to be viewed in full context of plans affecting the city – the masterplan, AWPR as well as the road hierarchy.
“We believe the consistent operation of journeys to timetable offers customers confidence to undertake a shift to public transport and at the same time reduces car journeys and improves air quality for all.
“To achieve this, we believe the creation of bus priority measures removes the variability of traffic which is a significant contributor to the reliability of our operations.”
Based on the findings of the report, the alliance board has agreed to develop a prioritised programme of infrastructure projects for the region, considering congestion hotspots, and using this to source and target funding to benefit bus users.
It has also agreed to work to raise the challenges the north-east bus network faces at national level.