Monday 11th February 2019
I’m a great fan of the TrawsCymru high profile long distance bus routes crisscrossing the Welsh nation. They compliment the rail network and provide some great connections between distant communities at impressive frequencies.
I’ve travelled multiple times on all the routes numbered T1 to T6, and always enjoy the truly amazing and contrasting scenery each has to offer.
The idea has come a long way since the National Bus Company and Welsh Office initiated a single north-south TrawsCambria branded route 700 between Cardiff and Bangor in 1979 running only on Fridays to Mondays with National Welsh and Crosville each providing a vehicle.
Fast forward through three decades with many route introductions, withdrawals and changes to find the TrawsCambria brand being used on a growing network of individual routes of a strategic nature until 2012/13 when the Welsh Government, by then well and truly behind the initiative, introduced a renaming to the snappier TrawsCymru and importantly provided funding for new vehicles to use on the services with a bright exterior livery and excellent standards of comfort inside.
Since deregulation it’s been tricky for the Welsh Government to subsidise and control routes which bus companies see as a commercial proposition in whole or in part across the network. For a time Arriva had a go at developing a small network under the CymruExpress brand. After that idea was abandoned the TrawsCymru network has stabilised and become well established.
An off the wall idea in 2017 to promote the benefits of the network and raise its profile was the introduction of free weekend travel for every passenger, much to the consternation of bus companies running parallel commercial bus routes over common sections of route. The Welsh Government are underwriting this ‘trial’ (which continues well into its second year) including compensating operators who can show loss of commercial revenue.
My eye was caught last summer by some online controversy concerning further plans for new east-west TrawsCymru routes across mid and north Wales. This included allegations of political bias that the new routes served favoured constituencies, a lack of transparency and procedures not being followed. All of which were denied.
In the event just one of the three proposed routes, the T12 between Machynlleth and Wrexham via Newtown, Welshpool and Oswestry reportedly began at short notice last September.
In a completely separate development last September, Stagecoach regained the tender for route 39 in the Brecon, Hay-on-Wye, Hereford corridor and agreed with the Welsh Government to link the route to the Cardiff to Brecon timetable on the T4 with an improved frequency bringing Hereford and Hay-on-Wye into the TrawsCymru network and renumber the extended 39 as T14. This route duly appeared on an updated TrawsCymru network map.
Mysteriously the new map omitted any reference to the T12. Indeed you’d be forgiven for thinking the T12 doesn’t exist with no mention of it on the TrawsCymru website at all, even now over five months since its introduction. It’s as if the route has done something wrong and must be kept a secret.
I decided to head over to Machynlleth and take a ride on it to check out whether it really does exist.
The timetable can be found on the Lloyds Coaches website as well as Traveline. Intriguingly there’s no mention on the Tanet Valley Coaches website (checking their journey planner with two of the destinations served by the T12 returns a “no service exists” response) yet there are indeed 6-8 journeys on Mondays to Saturdays with Lloyds providing two buses (plus a peak school run along part of the route) and Tanet Valley three buses. The timetable states the route is funded by Powys County Council and TrawsCymru. The small print also confirms free travel is provided on Saturdays (there’s no Sunday T12 service) which together with the ‘T’ prefix route letter confirms it really is part of the TrawsCymru family.
I can understand why TrawsCymru branding has yet to be applied to the buses (costly to revinyl or repaint for what might be regarded as a trial route perhaps) but almost six months since introduction you’d have thought the network map could have been updated (especially as it was amended to include the T14), details could be included on the TrawsCymru website and branding could be applied at bus stops and shelters along the route as impressively applies elsewhere throughout the network.
In Newtown there’s a nicely branded poster for the T4 but no mention of the secret T12.
Instead I found bus stops and shelters to be in a very poor condition and at Oswestry, for example, there was no mention at all of the T12 in the bus station information panel. Mind you, anomalously this section of the route is passing through England so perhaps Shropshire County Council prefer to keep this secret Welsh initiative an English secret too.
There was also a distinct lack of printed timetable leaflets ….. anywhere. I’m really puzzled how potential passengers are expected to find out about such a useful bus service let alone be enticed to use it.
I planned to catch the 0857 departure this morning from Machynlleth station where Lloyds Coaches occupy the nearby former Crosville (and subsequently Arriva Wales) bus garage.
My heart skipped a beat when I consulted the Powys County Council departure listings at the bus stop stating the first departure on the T12 was two hours later at 1057 which would have thrown my onward travel plans into disarray. Fortunately I then spotted this was a separate listing for Tanet Valley Coaches’ operated journeys on the T12. I needed to look at the separate entry above it for the Lloyds Coaches’ operated journeys (you really have to be streetwise in bus schedules in Powys) and was relieved to see an 0857 departure duly listed.
The bus was reassuringly sitting on the garage forecourt after completing a school journey (handy contribution to the vehicle/driver costs) and pulled over to the bus stop spot on time.
I paid my £14 single fare to Wrexham, conveniently by contactless bank card, and asked the driver whether there was any provision for a toilet stop on the three hour thirty-eight minute journey that lay ahead. I wasn’t particularly relieved by the reply that “we have a nine minute break in Oswestry” as that wouldn’t be until after two and a half hours travelling but in the event there’s also a ten minute break in Newtown’s small bus station after an hour’s ride which proved timely and convenient! I’d like to add the driver drove superbly throughout the journey and is a credit to Lloyds.
My journey to Machynlleth on Sunday afternoon by train had entailed a rail replacement coach west of Newtown and I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful scenery along the A470 so it was a pleasure to travel in the opposite direction on the T12 and enjoy the sights again from a different angle.
The T12 pretty much follows the rail line all the way through Newtown to Welshpool where the former heads northeastwards towards Oswestry and Wrexham and the latter eastwards to Shrewsbury. The T12 also takes in the lovely town of Montgomery after Newtown.
We took two passengers out of Machynlleth to nearby villages and after some miles of just me and the driver travelling together we picked up seven passengers at various stops on our way into Newtown.
Another spell of solo riding followed from Newtown to Montgomery where one passenger boarded (travelling all the way to Oswestry) and that was it until Welshpool where five got on, two of whom soon alighted while three went to Oswestry as did six more boarding at various points either side of the Welsh/English border. Having emptied out in Oswestry again and enjoyed our little break one passenger boarded for Wrexham and another for just a short ride to the nearby town hospital.
Through Chirk there was some confusion among waiting passengers whether to board us or the following Arriva bus on route 2 behind. We take a more direct route into Wrexham which was favoured by two of the six passengers the other four opting for the all stops Arriva route 2, and finally as we entered Wrexham we picked up seven passengers at the hospital for the short ride to the town centre bus station so ended the ride with a respectable load.
Interestingly of the 32 passengers who travelled 27 were concessionary pass holders and five paid or had a prepaid ticket; 19 were female and 13 were male. Fairly typical of off peak travel characteristics most places these days. I wasn’t sure how the concessionary pass rules apply for the English boarders travelling across into Wales and vice-versa in these border areas – especially as we passed into England and back out again, but guess there’s some sensible knock for knock arrangement.
It looks to me as though the T12 has subsumed routes which previously connected some of the communities along the way, albiet possibly with an improved frequency. The free travel deal on a Saturday will be particularly attractive to younger people but that’s assuming they firstly know about the improved service, and secondly about the free fares. Neither of which are well publicised.
The T12 is a great addition to the TrawsCymru network of routes. With some proper promotion together with complimentary publicity for the Welsh rail network (one integrated map would be good – after all both are under the control of the Welsh Government); and some decent price offers – for example why not accept the Senior Railcard for a discounted fare on TrawsCymru for those English and Scottish visitors not in possession of a Welsh concessionary pass; and a proper makeover of the bus stops and shelters along the route – as has commendably been done elsewhere on the T1-T6 routes; and finally a nice attractive printed timetable leaflet with online information and an updated map ….. then who knows, the route could be the success it deserves to be!