It can be done: more passengers on public transport in Nyíregyháza

Mobilissimus' commitment to public transport is well known and something we are proud of. When our approach can be put into practice and the results are visible on the streets, we are particularly pleased. Both Nyíregyháza and Siófok have renewed their local bus services with Mobilissimus' plans and professional support, not by eliminating, thinning out or reducing services, but by improving them. The results are already visible and are not only significant locally, but also remarkable at the national level.

Our first article is about the renewal of local bus transport in Nyíregyháza and its results.

 

Where did we start?

In 2017, the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) was completed, which assessed the gaps and potential of the bus transport of that time in terms of network, timetable, passenger communication and vehicle fleet. At the same time, a network development concept was developed, which forms the basis of today's transport system.

Planning accelerated in 2019 and the backbone of the new network and timetable plan was available by early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and ridership fell radically. The planning therefore temporarily changed direction and, together with the City and bus operator Volánbusz, we prepared the pandemic network and timetable, which was implemented from 1 May 2020. Consolidated routes, interval-based timetables, a system of connections to trains and other bus services have replaced the previous hectic legacy. Lines 90 were launched to serve large employers, and high-quality communication and passenger information helped people get around.

This partial renewal was a turning point, as we not only adapted the service to the reduced demand, but also offered a much better network and timetable for those who continued to travel throughout the epidemic. Results were constantly monitored to allow minor adjustments to be made where necessary. In summer 2020, the symbolic line 55 was launched, running between the city's largest residential areas and Sóstógyógyfürdő spa, removing the need for transfers between the most densely populated areas and the priority tourist area. From the pandemic timetable, there was no turning back to the old network: the parameters of the new network were worked out and Nyíregyháza introduced it on 20 August 2020.

 

New connections, fewer transfers, interval-based timetables

This was the slogan under which the new network was launched, highlighting the most important changes. Several new lines have been launched, such as the 44 to Oros, which runs from the train station via Jósaváros and Örökösföld to the outlying district, thus making educational institutions, which were previously only accessible via transfers, directly accessible from Oros. As a proof to the success of line 44, its frequencies had to be increased several times since then. The 90s, which connect the two large residential areas to large employers such as Michelin, LEGO or the Southern Industrial Park via the city centre and the railway and bus stations, have been further strengthened, thus eliminating the need for transfers. With the merging of lines 6 and 10, the long line 10 has been launched to Nyírszőlős via the ring road, while the newly launched opposite pair of buses, 20 and 21, connect the train station to Örökösföld, through the shortest route to this large housing estate. Daytime and weekend services have also been improved in many parts of the city, and operating times have been extended.

As well as reaching every household with news about the new network, there were numerous articles and interviews in the local media, billboards and posters at bus stop shelters, and of course the operator Volánbusz also communicated the changes. In the first period, we received a large number of passenger comments: most of them were due to a lack of information, but there were also legitimate requests for corrections, which were examined and, where possible, implemented. Among the comments from passengers, there were several letters of praise, which is particularly important feedback for a network redesign of this kind.

 

Three years of monitoring

After one year, a major monitoring and review was carried out and minor network and timetable adjustments were made to offer an even better service. This was partly since by this time all buses were equipped with on-board units, so that data of tens of thousands of departures was already available. On many lines, we were able to determine timetables much more accurately by type of day and time of day, radically reducing delays or early departures, and making transfers more predictable. From 30 August 2021, line 8B, which connects Sóstógyógyfürdő and Sóstóhegy to the city centre, started to operate through Fürdő Street. It has now been replaced by the line 55, which runs continuously as a circular service. Express lines have reached the major employment areas, which do not stop at the smaller stops, guaranteeing better access to incoming trains and intercity buses. In addition, a new industrial park area has been reached by the line 90E. This has also changed the way the suburbs are served, making it easier to get around. There are now eight basic shift services and three express services, as well as additional services to large employment areas.

In 2022, the ‘Retro bus’, a much-loved Ikarus 280 with folding doors, was launched, running every weekend in summer and, in the off-season, mainly on tourist routes 8 and 55 for major events and holidays.

In the autumn of 2022, after another year of monitoring, the system was further refined with the launch of the line 25 between the railway station and Borbánya, also via the large housing estates, so that there is no transfer to schools and institutions from the southern districts. The service of Huszártelep has been upgraded with the modification of bus number 9.

As of February 2023, several large employers have switched from contracted services to the local services operated by Volánbusz, including the new line 49 between Oros and Michelin and the new express service 95E from the railway station, with frequencies of up to 3-5 minutes during shift changes. This summer, an express bus service to Sóstógyógyfürdő was added: 8E reaches the spa a few minutes earlier than the classic bus 8. Night-time transport has been launched and extended: the 900, which also connects to the railway, is now available to meet the needs of the Sóstógyógyfürdő entertainment venues, while 918 runs in the off-season and 920 at dawn. 

Up-to-date brochures on the main changes and the tourist offer are produced in collaboration with Volánbusz. Extended night services are available during Christmas and New Year's Eve, and a reduced service for industrial areas between the two holidays, as agreed with the employers. 

It is expected that further positive changes to the inter-neighbourhood connections will be introduced from the December timetable change and that demand-responsive transport for unserved neighbourhoods will be tested in 2024.

 

A differentiated fare system

In cooperation with the City and Volánbusz, a new fare system has been developed, not primarily to increase fares, but to introduce new and differentiated fare products with attractive prices. Low-price season tickets have been introduced for employees of large companies and for families, with a volume discount allowing companies to buy season tickets at up to 20% off for large quantities. Several tourist tariff products have also been added to the range. The former suburban surcharge has been abolished, so that local bus services can be used at the same fare anywhere in the city.

 

The recipe

The positive results are the result of years of planning and preparation, and close cooperation between the City, Volánbusz and Mobilissimus. A common platform has been the recognition that passengers are valuable, especially fare-paying passengers. Building on this, we have developed the network in cooperation with large employers, educational institutions, tourism operators and the general public. The prestige of local bus transport in Nyíregyháza has increased because of the fleet development and the processes described. Of course, one cannot expect miracles in an environment with a strong increase in motorisation, but it is certainly a message that the loss of passengers has stopped and that sales figures - irrespective of price increases - are steadily improving.

All this is successful if there is continuous and forward-looking cooperation between the players. In Nyíregyháza, the local bus transport system can respond constructively to significant passenger demand, changes in the working hours of operators, and to comments and complaints that appear from time to time. 

 

The result and the vision

As in the whole country, the number of cars in and around Nyíregyháza has increased significantly. Since 2010, with a 4% decrease in population, the number of cars has increased by 43% at the county level and by 33% in Nyíregyháza itself. At the same time, public transport revenues have gradually declined, and in the first period of the COVID-19 pandemic, as everywhere else, they fell sharply. The main question was how to stabilise a slowly declining and then collapsing demand and revenue and put it back on a growth path.

Thanks to the new network, the ongoing professional support and communication behind it, as well as the new tariff system, sales volumes are approaching, and in some months have already exceeded, the 2019 levels. And compared to H1 2022, sales of season ticket products have increased by almost 30% in the first six months of this year, helping to drive longer-term commitment. Partly due to the differential price increase at the beginning of the year, and partly due to higher unit sales, revenues increased by 27%.    

Local public transport, which had previously been based on routine and stagnating quality, has thus been replaced by a new, passenger-friendly and modern-looking service based on new principles. Although any change requires a learning process, a stable system is now in place and is positively appreciated by passengers. After decades, public transport has become a brand, attractive in terms of both quality and quantity. It is not easy to achieve spectacular trend reversals in the face of motorisation pressure, but the increasing number of fare products sold, rising revenues and predictable service are encouraging signs for the future. More modern ticketing and integration solutions, the implementation of missing public transport priority measures and the renewal of older members of the fleet would further increase the attractiveness, and this is the task for the coming months and years. Likewise, there is a need to test and introduce attractive demand-responsive transport services in neighbourhoods not yet covered.  

 

The passenger and revenue data are presented with the contribution of the City of Nyíregyháza.

 

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