Tuesday 31st December 2019
Go-Ahead owned Carousel extended its High Wycombe to Uxbridge route 102 on to Heathrow Airport on Sunday; I took a ride yesterday to try it out.
The route is part of the Chiltern Hundreds (routes numbered 101 to 105 – get it?) branded buses running between High Wycombe, Beaconsfield and Slough/Watford/Uxbridge as well as a link from Uxbridge to Hemel Hempstead.
As we’ve seen in previous blogposts this year, Heathrow Airport are splashing the cash on improving a number of bus routes to the airport and this latest venture sees the hourly route 102 re-extended from its current terminus in Uxbridge to continue on to Heathrow Airport’s central bus and coach station.
Previously known as route A40 the route used to operate through to Heathrow but was cut back in June 2018 just before the renumbering and Chiltern Hundreds brand was launched. At that time there was much wailing from frustrated workers at Heathrow complaining at its withdrawal but presumably the reason for the cut back was too few passengers travelling beyond Uxbridge.
Now it’s back again and I assume Heathrow Airport are funding the extra bus it takes in the cycle to run the hourly journeys beyond Uxbridge off-peak, plus another one in the peak for extra running time, so Carousel will make a nice profit on the extension and High Wycombe, Beaconsfield and Gerrards Cross based airport workers will be happy once more.
Except it’s a bit of an oddball of a route now. It’s not clear whether Heathrow Airport have specified they want coaches to be used on the re-extended route or whether Carousel’s sister Go-Ahead company under the same management, Oxford Bus, just happen to have a fleet of twelve surplus coaches looking for a new home after this weekend’s withdrawal of the X90 London route, or a combination of both, that has lead to the bus route that now thinks it’s a coach service.
From my ride yesterday I’ve got a feeling these coaches are far from suited to the task.
The Chiltern Hundreds brand is a tidy network of routes offering a fifteen minute frequency out of High Wycombe south along the A40 to Beaconsfield of which route 102 is one of the four journeys each hour. Route 101 is timetabled on the opposite half hour and continues to run as far as Uxbridge, with the other two departures being an hourly 103 to Beaconsfield and on to Amersham and Watford and an hourly 104 (on the opposite half hour to the 103) to Beaconsfield and Gerrards Cross and on to Slough.
These latter routes are operated by standard sized single deck buses – a world away from the luxury of an inter-deck coach with under-floor lockers for luggage and very steep stairs for passengers to negotiate to reach the seats complete with curtains at the windows.
While it’s a novelty for some passengers to climb up and enjoy the view from a luxury seat, for many elderly passengers who’ve very much welcomed the era of low-floor buses, as well as those of any age laden with shopping or with shopping trolleys and buggies and pushchairs, these vehicles will be a very unwelcome travel option.
There are two seats immediately behind the driver for those not able to negotiate the stairs but these are hardly going to be sufficient for the average Buckinghamshire off-peak traveller.
The wheelchair access is alongside the driver and once the wheelchair is in place it will make it extremely hard for other boarding passengers to access the ticket machine and for the driver to deal with their transactions. (Sorry for the poor quality photograph.)
As it is, passengers need to turn to their left as they board to reach the ticket machine before retracing a step or two to reach the stairs and all this will slow dwell times at bus stops. I noticed the driver of the journey I took yesterday admonishing passengers who’d wandered down the stairs to stand by the door ready to alight at an upcoming bus stop, telling them they needed to wait until the coach stops before attempting to climb down the stairs.
Leaving High Wycombe yesterday lunch time the traffic in the town centre’s narrow roads was quite congested and we lost ten minutes struggling to manourvre the beast of a tri-axle coach through the gaps other motorists and bus drivers tried their best to leave for us.
Route 102 makes a slight detour to better serve Beaconsfield (closer to the shops by the station) rather than staying on the A40 (as route 101 does) and Maxwell Road which runs parallel north of the A40 on this route even has chicanes and “give way to oncoming traffic” calming measures making it rather unsuitable for such a large vehicle.
I wonder whether it would be better to swap the 101 and 102 Beaconsfield routes over to leave that twist and turn diversion to the bus operated 101 – that’s assuming that route will continue with buses.
The timetable for route 102 sensibly has extra running time for peak hour journeys – even yesteday lunch time we ran around fifteen minutes late all the way as far as Uxbridge (due to slow going leaving High Wycombe and along the A40) ….
…. but there’s a thirty minute allowance for the journey from Uxbridge to Heathrow, wheras it only took us twenty so we made up most of that lost time and our driver even managed a bit of a break with the ten minutes stand time not all needed for recovery.
From the timetable I assume route 101’s short journeys to Uxbridge inter-work with the hourly route 105 between Uxbridge and Hemel Hempstead and back which means route 102 needs three coaches to run the hourly service in an off-peak three hour cycle between High Wycombe and Heathrow Airport and back with what looks like an extra vehicle in the peaks; so only four (or possibly five with a spare) of the twelve ex route X90 coaches will be utilised in this way.
I understand four vehicles are currently being repainted into Chiltern Hundreds branding and livery at the moment – I’m sure they’ll be nice and “shiny” – but not quite so “new” – they’re 2015/16 vintage.
I wonder whether it would have been better to have found a more appropriate use for these coaches elsewhere in the Go-Ahead Group and four/five bus-like vehicles transferred in for the 102 – perhaps along the lines of those now run by Go-Ahead London on route X26 – which has a longer end-to-end running time than the 102 – from Croydon to Heathrow – and comes with a handy luggage rack on the lower deck to save the faff of using side lockers.
Those side lockers have also meant a reallocation of the departure stands at High Wycombe bus station with the 101 and 102 now leaving from Bay 18…
….while the 103 and 104 continue to leave from Bay 3 at the other end of the concourse, meaning passengers for Beaconsfield now have a fifteen minute frequency but split between two ends of the bus station.
However, I understand this is a temporary arrangement and the departures will be reassigned to be back together again soon.
The High Wycombe to Heathrow £8 single fare (£15 return) is good value and comparable to the £9 fare from Guildford on First’s RailAir route RA2. There won’t be many passengers travelling locally on the new bit of route from Uxbridge to Heathrow though as the £4 fare on the 102 is rather more pricey than TfL’s £1.50 on its route A1.
It’s great to see a bus route being improved with the Heathrow extension reintroduced. Myself and James, a fellow transport interested passenger, were the only two on board continuing beyond Uxbridge yesterday, but I was impressed to see four passengers board for the return journey when we pulled into Heathrow’s coach station, of which only two were obviously camera wielders marking the new route’s first weekday.
The coach station at Heathrow is the obvious place for a coach to arrive and depart from, but it’s a bit anomalous when other more bus type routes such as Arriva’s Green Line 724 and TfL’s new X140 and old timer X26 depart from the adjacent bus station stands.
In my view the 102 is more of their ilk than the National Express, RailAir type coach routes which have very few, if any, intermediate stops along the way and which the 102 seems to be pretending to appear like. But it isn’t.
It’s an all stopping bus route and although it was only the first main day of coach operation yesterday passengers were mystified as the coach approached. One passenger only realised too late as we sailed by.
I think route 102 and it’s new extension would be more successful if it remembered it really is a bus route rather than pretend it’s a coach route.
Time will tell.
Finally, great news to see Arriva have reopened their travel shop in High Wycombe bus station with a good display of bus timetables and tourist information. Well done Arriva.
And it was open yesterday which was very welcome.
As was Carousel’s office too.
And there were up to date posters around the bus station and an overall good impression created including a Carousel staff member patrolling the departure stands giving out helpful information.
It’s good to see things are looking good in High Wycombe.
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. Currently social distancing at home.