Only Connect in Kent

Monday 16th September 2019

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Back in July I took a ride on Nu-Venture’s route 58 between Maidstone, East and West Malling and villages and hamlets close to Wrotham Heath in Kent before it was transformed as part of one of Kent County Council’s rural pilots.

The idea was to cut the route back from the town centre to Maidstone Hospital (on the western side of the town), run more frequently (hourly), provide connections and through fares to Arriva’s town bus routes into the town centre and introduce two smart new Mercedes Sprinter minibuses.

The new arrangements began the week after I visited, on 15th July, so I thought it would be a good idea to pop back and see how things were settling down a couple of months on.

The publicity leaflet produced by Kent County Council for the new look 58 makes much of the ease of connections to and from Arriva’s bus routes. It suggests the best place to connect is alongside South Aylesford Retail Park, a few stops before the bus reaches Maidstone Hospital ‘due to the presence of shelters and real time information’ but ‘passengers may change buses at any stop on the route of the 71/72 that they choose’.

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The leaflet also explains ‘in addition, passengers can also choose to travel to Maidstone Hospital where connections to Maidstone Town Centre can be made with Arriva buses 3 and 8’.

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I’d been a bit sceptical about how easy all this sounded and particularly noted there was no mention of through fares if you began your journey on an Arriva bus in Maidstone town centre and wanted to travel out to the villages near Wrotham Heath but undeterred I gave it a go this morning.

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My scepticism wasn’t misplaced. Down in the bowels of Maidstone’s dingy Chequers Bus Station the driver of the Arriva Kent bus on route 71A immediately had a puzzled look and said he couldn’t issue any through fares to Trottiscliffe (one of the hamlets served by the 58 on the circuit via Wrotham Heath) and had never heard of such an arrangement. I decided not to press the point so bought a single ticket to Aylesford for £3.70.

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We arrived on time eighteen minutes later and I waited for the Nu-Venture 58 to arrive.

It turned out I got off at the stop before the suggested official interchange point at Homebase, but this stop, outside a large Sainsbury’s, is also endowed with a shelter and real time information, albeit not working, so seemed a good place to wait.

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There was an up to date timetable for the 58 and even a bum perch to sort of sit on.

The 58 arrived on time and the driver helpfully sold me a £7.20 return to take me on to Trottiscliffe and back to Maidstone town centre but emphasised when I returned it was best to alight at the stop opposite Homebase to change on to an Arriva bus there as drivers may not expect me at other stops – he also recommended having the leaflet to hand to show the driver.

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I said I was thinking of going on to Maidstone Hospital and changing to a bus on route 3 or 8 there as included as an option in the leaflet. The driver cautioned me against that as he thought that would only work for concessionary passholders rather than paid for tickets as Arriva drivers on those routes wouldn’t be aware of the arrangement.

He was also aghast to hear the driver of the 71A couldn’t issue a through ticket as he understood all the arrangements had been made for that to happen.

When I travelled on the 58 before it was modified back in July there were six passengers who had no alternative options travelling on a journey around midday (one of four off peak journeys). Today there were three already on board when I got on in Aylesford (one went to East Malling and two all the way to Trottiscliffe); two boarded in Larkfield (one to West Malling and one to Leybourne) and four and a buggy travelled from West Malling to Ryarsh. But sadly it was just me on the return journey back to Aylesford/Maidstone Hospital.

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We passed the second bus on service 58 in West Malling in both directions and it looked empty each time.

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The 16 seater Sprinter buses are smart looking inside with Arriva Click type seats and decor although the two front most offside seats are comfy tip-ups rather than standard tip ups by the wheelchair/buggy area.

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Heading back into Maidstone I got off at the Homebase stop with an Arriva 71A right behind us (the timetable shows an arrival on the 58 at 15 minutes past the hour and the 71A leaving at 16 minutes past) so that connection worked well….

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…except there was an inevitability as I presented my ticket that the driver firmly advised (twice) ‘we don’t accept Nu-Venture tickets’.

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Luckily the Mercedes Sprinter was just pulling away so I pointed to the unusual nature of the bus I’d just got off (not being a standard Nu-Venture route) and also produced in a flourish the Kent County Council leaflet for the driver to read – especially the section about through tickets.

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Fair play she accepted my return ticket even though there was a bit of ‘against my better judgment’ about it and ‘I’ve never heard of it’ and ‘it’s the first time I’ve seen one of those’. I stood my ground as I wasn’t going to shell out another £3.70!

This Rural Transport Initiative is a bold move which includes a more than doubling of the number of journeys serving the villages and hamlets near Wrotham and East and West Malling with direct journeys still provided to retail sheds at Aylesford as well as Maidstone Hospital; it’s seen two smart new minibuses and regular drivers too. My journey today had nine instead of six passengers (back in July) which is encouraging although the empty return journey and empty journeys on the other bus less so.

But although the connections for onward travel to and from Maidstone are pretty good and may work well enough for passholders not worried about through ticketing, for the few passengers who pay fares it’s incumbent on Arriva to make sure drivers are briefed and through ticketing made easily accessible on ticket machines especially in the outward direction. Otherwise passengers having a similar experience to mine today will be put off travelling.

It might also be a good idea for Kent County Council to take down reference to route 58 on all the bus stops on the section of withdrawn route into Maidstone town centre.

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Roger French

13 thoughts on “Only Connect in Kent

  1. Frustrating when operators don’t spend the time necessary to inform their drivers when there are changes like this. You’re a hardened traveller, so stood your ground. Others would easily be dissuaded from using the service

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Do both routes accept the Explorer ticket? That’s around the same price as your £7.20 return and would solve all the evidence of lack of training of the Arriva drivers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I suspect that Arriva have indeed “informed” their drivers, at least to their way of thinking, doing so in the time honoured way of posting a notice at the depot on a board that’s already full of other stuff and then after a week obscuring or replacing that poster with something the management felt was much more important (a fluff piece about a new marketing brand in Southend or Liverpool, or something equally irrelevant to Kent, based on painful experience).

    I long ago concluded that information on new ticketing arrangements, especially multi-operator ones, is Top Secret and only given out on a Need To Know basis, and the mere drivers who might actually have to deal with those tickets Don’t Actually Need To Know.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As both operators use Ticketer, it would be technically possible to share the QR codes that are normal on return tickets (and could be added to through single tickets) to be scanned by both operators. However, I think Nu-Venture use the original version that don’t have scanning equipment

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That section of London Road is still served by what were the school journeys of the 58 – now 558. .

    The 58 then went via Queens Road. Driving along it today a lot of stops have flags without service numbers and the 58 is still displayed on some that do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Delving a little deeper on Traveline services 19 and 60 were withdrawn some time ago,.and the 77 more recently. The 703 was I think County Connect who failed two or more years ago.
      Nor can I find any service 12 or 59 journeys on London Road past that stop.

      The reason for so many journeys/numbers is the proximity of two grammar schools, a college and two comprehensives.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Whilst applauding the initiative, one of the “off-putting” factors which may discourage use, quite apart from the ticket acceptance problem both expected and duly encountered, is the return connection. A delayed 71 from Maidstone just managing to miss a 58 on a wet/cold Winter day a few times……..need I say more? But I cannot quite understand how it can take a modern minibus almost two hours to complete a Maidstone Hospital-Trottiscliffe rounder! Even with the increased traffic levels compared with only a few years ago, this seems excessive. Whilst realising the aim of an hourly service is to attract patronage, it would be optimism in the extreme for this to happen on the 58, and two vehicles may well prove excessive.

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    1. Just plotted on a Saturday morning on Google Maps, the car driving time for the outbound route is 43 minutes in no traffic, while the bus time is 59 minutes, which is an acceptable 16 minutes longer given the location of the route, including some narrow lanes. A car would average 20.4mph, while the bus averages 20mph. For comparison, the average rural bus route along main roads seems to be timed for car driving time +10 minutes, and averages 30 mph.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Just plotted on a Saturday morning on Google Maps, the car driving time for the outbound route is 43 minutes in no traffic, while the bus time is 59 minutes, which is an acceptable 16 minutes longer given the location of the route, including some narrow lanes. A car would average 20.4mph, while the bus averages 20mph. For comparison, the average rural bus route along main roads seems to be timed for car driving time +10 minutes, and averages 30 mph.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. But the 58 is worked by vehicles which travel at car speeds, and pick up few passengers. In the recent past, even back when sluggish Leyland Leopards were chugging around the route, a full rounder from Maidstone was completed within two hours.

    Liked by 1 person

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