Sunday 21st April 2019
Let’s get the vinyl-over-windows frustration out of the way first. It’s never a good idea to ask the public to vote on branding; it’s bad enough letting them decide on EU membership or naming a research vessel for the British Antarctic Survey so when CT Plus Jersey (an HCT Group company) celebrated winning the contract to replace Connex to run the State of Jersey’s bus network in January 2013 and invited the public to vote on the marketing and branding for the revitalised network as a bit of a ‘community involvement’ PR stunt, it was bound to offer up a Boaty McBoatface result.
Sails are all very well, but whoever thought it was a good idea to cover bus windows with them has obviously never travelled on a bus, especially on an island renowned for its spectacular views across glorious bays.
The fact the public backed livery went on to win an award for ‘Best Brand Campaign’ at the ‘Jersey Chartered Institute of Marketing Awards’ in 2013 speaks volumes about such dubious accolades rather than anything to crow about.
Six years on from winning the contract it was telling to see what seems like the majority of buses looking distinctly slapdash with missing vinyl where panels have been replaced during my whistle-stop visit to Jersey this Easter weekend…..
….. but there’s a glimmer of hope for the future as it appears the designers have finally seen sense, with a year left to run on CT Plus’s initial contract and introduced a very welcome modified livery with less prominent sails which I spotted on a few newer or repainted buses.
So, having sorted that, here are some of the many positives about LibertyBus.
It’s a tidy, easy to understand network with all bus routes sensibly radiating out from St Helier which lies a little to the east of the centre of the south coast, and is the Island’s capital. Pretty much all the main tourist hot spots and coastal bays are served by bus meaning there’s no need for tourists to hire a car, although many must do as this rather effective and poignant message on a bus confirmed.
For those eschewing car hire, three bus routes serve Jersey Airport, located in the west of the Island, with buses stopping right outside the exit to the terminal building.
Most routes run to an hourly frequency with route 15 to the Airport and route 1 to Gorey Pier, on the east coast, running every 15 minutes Mondays to Saturdays and every 20 minutes on Sundays. Route 3 to Jersey Zoo is increased to half hourly from the end of May to the end of September when there are a few other seasonal enhancements to the network.
Most routes are operated with single decks (Solos, both long and short, dominate the fleet) but route 15 as well as route 22 to the west coast are double deck (Alexander Dennis Enviro400s and a few ex London Scania OmniCity buses).
Buses were busy as you’d expect over a late Easter weekend with superb weather but the frequencies and vehicle capacities seemed to be coping well. I saw one or two ‘stacked out’ Solos on route 12A which skirts St Aubin’s Bay on its way to the picturesque St Brelade’s Bay and Corbière on the south coast. On Sunday buses were leaving Liberation Station showing ‘Sorry! Bus Full’. I reckon the ‘high summer’ seasonal route 12 could usefully be added to the network from Easter.
Summer only route 14 which follows a similar route to the 12A as far as St Brelade’s Bay has a Beach Bus branded open topper (a second hand Dennis Trident from Lothian) and was doing a good trade for much of the day although I noticed it had been replaced by a standard closed top double deck later on.
It was noticeable how many families and people of all different ages were travelling by bus, and although there was some minor late running due to squeezing pass traffic on narrow roads, there was no real congestion issues and it was all the more enjoyable to travel around the Island without incurring severe Bank Holiday traffic delays. I was particularly struck by how few sets of traffic lights I encountered on my travels.
LibertyBus have a unique system for marking bus stops; in many cases there’s no pole on the pavement but simply the word BUS painted on the road with a four digit number (which appear to be to any random sequence along a route) to identify the stop to find live departure times online, although the look up option also includes bus stops by name too. I wasn’t convinced all the information was showing ‘real time’ either.
The most odd feature is the listing of routes online which, like the bus stop numbering, also appears to be in a strange random order. I guess locals get used to it though.
There’s a very impressive zoomable colour coded online map which shows the exact position of every bus on each route by colour as well as every bus stop being clickable for departure times and interestingly this sits on a Government of Jersey webpage rather than the LibertyBus website.
Slightly less impressive, the online network route map which backs up the ‘journey planning’ tool is out of date showing a route (27) and network link (route 4 to the Zoo) which are now withdrawn.
The website also contains an image of the very colourful and helpful network timetable book which one can scroll through, but frustratingly as the timetable pages are printed landscape you have to crick your neck to try and see them at ninety degrees on screen.
It would help if a pdf of the timetable pages in the book could be shown turned by ninety degrees or more pertinently the website be updated and the timetables which are showing the right way up but expired on 31 March (for the winter), and still displaying, need to be taken down and replaced with the now current summer timetables.
There’s no app available which is a shame as these rather cumbersome look up features, including real time departures, lend themselves to be much simplified through using a handy app on a smartphone when out and about. It could also give the option of mobile tickets.
The heart of the bus operation is Liberation Station where all services terminate. There’s a Tourist Information desk as well as a LibertyBus Customer Services desk with extensive opening hours.
Both have supplies of the timetable book to hand out but I noticed none were on wide display for passengers to help themselves, which is a shame. I did spot a little pile on the Customer Services counter from time to time.
There were lots of racks containing plenty of other tourist leaflets including a Visitor Map of the island which I noticed many people using (it does show some bus route numbers but is no good to follow the routes).
I also noticed a lack of timetable books on board buses and other distribution points such as hotels; something Stagecoach do very well in the Lake District by comparison.
The bus station concourse is extremely well laid out being very inviting and airy as well as functional. There’s a coffee/snack bar and also a Brompton Cycle Hire facility and toilets are adjacent.
There are a few seats by each of the ten departure bays on the inner side of the concourse which have doors covered by advertising material so you can’t see into the gloom where the buses draw up.
However, there are screens advising of upcoming departures and at each departure bay a screen shows imminent departures.
The advertising at most of the bays features a tourist attraction along the route which is a nice touch.
Once a bus pulls up ready for boarding the departure door opens.
The area hidden from view reminded me of Aylesbury bus station, except there passengers have to wait and board buses in the gloomy area.
This side of the bus station can only take single deckers so the double deck operated routes depart from the other side of the concourse on the roadway where there are a further four departure bays and where all evening departures leave when the concourse is closed. Many buses also set down at these stops too.
Smartcards are available for regulars, visitors and students on which a range of consecutive day tickets or pay-as-you-go can be added and contactless is also available, but there’s no on board Wi-fi or usb sockets, but there are next stop displays and in some cases, audio too, although I noticed on some routes the displays seem to get stuck. The audio only plays for major tourist destinations. As mentioned earlier, no mobile tickets are available which would prove useful for visitors.
Fares and ticket prices are good value. A day ticket at £8 gets cheaper the more consecutive days you buy (2 for £15, 3 for £21 and 7 for £30). A 10p increase was applied to the flat £2.20 fare from the beginning of April but it’s still just £2 per journey for contactless payment or a bargain £1.65 for pay-as-you-go.
I spotted the above notice on a bus which would indicate there are cheaper ticket prices for residents who register and use an ‘Avanchi’ smartcard – 7 days travel for £21 instead of £30. If so, CT Plus Jersey are running a risk of a claim for discrimination!
Three highlights of my visit and highly recommended are a ride on the hourly route 22 (also route 12 from end May to September) over to the west coast which takes about an hour to reach the terminus at L’Etacq and the views from the top deck between Corbière and around St Ouen’s Bay are magnificent as pictured above; secondly a trip on the less frequent route 4 (nine journeys a day) which reaches the north of the Island and particularly Bonne Nuit Bay and the quintuple hairpin bends down to, and back up from, the scenically spectacular Bouley Bay (below)…
…. and thirdly a ride on one of the heritage buses operated by the independent Jersey Bus & Boat Tours to the Jersey War Tunnels; if you’re lucky on the wonderful RTL 326.
This tour company runs a number of island tours which are worth considering if you want to explore the island in one journey without taking a myriad of local bus routes.
I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend’s wander around the island using routes 1, 1A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 21, 22, 23 and 28 finding well used buses even away from the main tourist spots, keeping pretty much to time, and with very friendly and helpful drivers. The only mishap was the driver on my open top journey on route 14 this afternoon taking a wrong turning instead of heading to St Brelade’s Bay necessitating a 20 minute detour to get back to the same point but it was all taken in good spirit and we all enjoyed a bonus longer journey.
CT Plus Jersey’s initial seven year contract expires at the end of this year but I’m sure the optional three year extension will apply; all the signs are that it’s going very well. Passenger numbers have been reported as growing year on year although I noticed this year’s summer timetable has retained a couple of winter features rather than the usual seasonal enhancements.
A 9 by 5 mile island would lend itself to electric buses and local press reports indicate environmental issues are rising up the agenda. Certainly something well worth considering.
As is a more frequent timetable on the 12/12A with double decks perhaps earlier in the season as well as wider distribution of the timetable book, an app together with mobile ticket options, and add usb and Wi-Fi on board. Sorted.