Friday 19th April 2019
It’s not often a completely new bus route starts up. Usually changes to bus services see variations to long standing routes featuring improvements or reductions to frequencies and journey times or diversions to routes to serve new developments.
The last new route launch I can recall was Stagecoach’s brave investment decision to introduce eight new coaches on the South West Falcon branded hourly service between Bristol and Plymouth in 2016. Encouragingly three years on that service seems to be doing very well. There are signs Stagecoach are about to launch another new service in the south east which will be watched with great interest.
At the more minor end of the new route investment scale is Brighton & Hove’s brand new 11X which launched today running between Brighton and Eastbourne. Not all along the A259 coast road via Seaford – which has seen remarkable growth over the last twenty years transforming a staid 30-minute frequency service into an amazing 9-bus an hour timetable as far as Seaford with 6-buses continuing to Eastbourne; instead the 11X runs via the less populated inland A27 route where it’s been a struggle to ever make a bus route stack up commercially east of Lewes§Instead of running via Lewes, the 11X route astutely leaves Brighton along the busy Coast Road via Rottingdean, Saltdean, Telscombe and Peacehaven as far as Newhaven before heading inland on the A26 to Beddingham joining the A27 to Polegate and importantly serving Middle Farm and Drusillas Zoo Park along the way before continuing south on the A22 to Eastbourne.
It’s a one-bus, three-return-journeys-a-day, Sundays-and-Bank Holidays route for the summer season meaning the commercial risk for Brighton & Hove is minimised. The bus would have sat idle in the garage over the weekend anyway, so the marginal cost is just a couple of drivers’ duties, diesel and other minor incidental expenses.
The other great thing about this new route is the idea for it came from Shaun, one of the regular drivers on the Coast Road bus routes, showing a bus company receptive to ideas and suggestions from its employees and prepared to take a punt on trying one out.
It’s always nerve wracking to see how a first journey on a new route will work out. Will anyone turn out to take a ride, aside from the devout bus enthusiast keen to record a historic first? The omens were good as I arrived at the Brighton Station departure stop at 8.45am for the 9am journey. There were ten people already waiting.
Shaun drove up in the Drusillas branded bus in good time at 8.50am and we left spot on time with twenty on board.
As we continued along the seafront to Newhaven we picked more passengers up at all the key stops the ‘limited stop’ timetable observes which, after one passenger alighted at Rottingdean and one in Newhaven, meant we headed to Beddingham and the A27 with a very impressive 56 on board. Now that’s what I call a very successful new bus route inaugural journey.
Encouragingly there were many families and children on board; concessionary passes and their poor reimbursement rate were definitely in the minority. Even more impressive, forty passengers alighted at various stops along the A27 including Firle, Middle Farm, Charleston Farmhouse, Wilmington and around half at Drusillas. Until today none of these destinations had been available by bus from Brighton and the Coast Road.
As we continued into Eastbourne we picked seven more passengers up at the District Hospital dropping seventeen off in the town centre and the remaining six at the Pier terminus.
A glorious sunny and warm Easter weekend has helped kick start this new route but it has all the hallmarks of being a successful addition to Brighton & Hove’s award winning network, and deservedly so.
Not only is it tapping into what I believe is a growing market for leisure and tourism orientated journeys by bus – it was noticeable how many passengers alighted with walking maps and other leisure orientated literature – but also full marks to Brighton & Hove for making sure proper promotional leaflets and information is readily available.
Bus stops have been updated with the 11X route number and timetable….
…. the real time signs included our departure, on board next stop displays and announcements have all the new stops and there are timetable leaflets on board too, all key ingredients alongside an updated easy to use website with information too.
I wish those managers at bus companies who reckon because there’s a timetable online there’s no need to print anything could have seen all the passengers on board this morning clutching the latest edition of Bus Times magazine which was also available on board. This is how you encourage passengers.
Arriving in Eastbourne Shaun was understandably well chuffed with a total of 65 passengers having travelled on the very first journey. I reckon this must be something of a record.
Ten boarded at Eastbourne Pier for the return journey too. The omens are definitely good.
To celebrate it was time for a coffee and soak up the Eastbourne Easter sun and write up this blog.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train.