Saturday 29th February 2020
A long overdue overnight visit to some friends living in the delightful market town of Stamford was a great opportunity to sample a couple of Lincolnshire’s bus routes on Thursday and yesterday. The foul weather put paid to more extensive travelling; pouring rain and misted up windows are a lethal combination which put off even this most hardy traveller exploring further on this occasion.
Although Stamford is in Lincolnshire, it’s a stones throw from the boundaries of three other local authority areas: Rutland, Northamptonshire and Peterborough unitary council.
I took LNER’s first off peak stopping train to York which leaves Kings Cross at 09:06 arriving Grantham at 10:18 allowing plenty of time to wander the short distance through the passageways connecting the staion to the town’s bus station and an 11:00 bus departure.
Grantham bus station hasn’t got any better since I was last here a few weeks ago. The former travel and information shop has long closed but no one thought to take down the sign displaying its former rather restricted opening hours.
On the plus side the departure stands do display timetables and it’s fairly easy to work out which service departs from which bay.
I noticed Stagecoach isn’t the only company to have a livery makeover with Centrebus, who are the main operator running into the town, adding more blue to the back of the design in the new scheme. It does look smarter.
I wanted to sample Lincolnshire County Council’s Call Connect set up. This is a long standing initiative which serves the County’s vast rural hinterland and pre-dates the latest fad for app based DRT services.
There’s no app; but it works on the basis of registering as a user then booking your journey either by telephone or online any time between one hour before your desired departure and seven days in advance.
There are two types of Call Connect – fixed routes with timetables which incorporate short flexible diversions as required by passengers who may have booked from a designated hamlet off the line of route and a completely flexible Call Connect serving named villages and hamlets in a given area.
I was catching route 4 from Grantham to Stamford which used to be a traditional bus route operated by bus companies under tender to the county council but a while ago was converted to a Call Connect fixed route with a couple of flexible variations. There are three journeys from Grantham all the way to Stamford at 07:00, 11:00 and 14:00 with return journeys at 08:25, 10:25, 12:25 (which divert off to serve Burton-le-Coggles as required) supplemented by a two or three other off peak journeys between Stanford and Corby Glen with an extension to Swayfield as required.
While I was waiting for the 11:00 departure from Grantham a Call Connect minibus came in from another route with about half a dozen passengers including one with a walking frame who used the tail lift to alight.
The bus I was catching arrived just after 11:00 from a previous journey with another half a dozen passengers on board. The minibuses are not particularly accessible, but date from a previous generation. No doubt newer buses will incorporate level boarding at the front entrance, and indeed we passed one heading towards Grantham on our journey.
A tweet response from the Call Connect team to an observation made on Twitter agreed the driver should have positioned the minibus closer to the kerb in the bus station (as I photographed) to make it easier for those alighting and boarding.
It’s also a bit cosy inside too…
… although there’s room for storage of shopping trolleys, walking frames and a wheelchair by the rear accessible door.
Route 4 avoids the direct A1 route between Grantham and Stamford, taking a more rural ride along the B1176 to the east which hogs the main railway line for much of the route.
It’s actually a very pleasant and enjoyable journey, and I can imagine in better weather is rather scenic too, particuarly for a rather flat landscape.
We got away at 11:07 with three others on board, two of whom confirmed to the driver they’d booked a set down at the hamlet of Burton-le-Coggles,which is just off the line of route about twenty minutes from Grantham, and the other passenger got off at Castle Lytham another twenty-five minutes further on. They all seemed very happy with the service provided, especially the bespoke nature of it.
We picked up a passenger in Corby Glen, not far after Burton-le-Coggles, two more in Castle Lytham and one in Ryhall all of whom journeyed into Stamford. So, it wasn’t a busy bus, but after my experience with Tees flex on Tuesday, I reflected that it seemed a sensible way of connecting up these villages on a fixed route and times together with some route flexibility and offer passengers some certainty about when they can expect to travel.
The driver didn’t have a smartphone or tablet, but some kind of electronic running board showing departure times, which I’m assuming also advises of pre-booked passengers off the line of route.
After an overnight stop off in Stamford I left there yesterday morning on one of the routes operated by independent operator Delaine who provide buses on the Peterborough to Bourne corridor including Stamford and Market Deeping and the other Deepings.
Route 203 runs between Stamford, Market Deeping and Spalding offering three off peak journeys at 09:35, 11:35 and 13:35 as well as a peak morning and afternoon journey along part of the route and school journeys too. Delaine were experiencing operational problems yesterday as a result of the level crossing at Deeping St Nicholas on the Peterborough to Spalding rail line getting stuck down through the morning peak.
A diversion around the problem would add at least half an hour to the journey time meaning the timetable would be severely disrupted well into the morning. I was impressed with the Company’s updates on Twitter which reassured me the journey I was catching, the 09:35 from Stamford, would run as normal despite the earlier disruption; and indeed it arrived on time.
This came about by buses kissing and turning at West Deeping and, as I was the only passenger on board it wasn’t much of an inconvenience to swap buses especially as both drivers were so pleasant and helpful in their explanations about what was happening.
As we continued towards Spalding we picked up a dozen more passengers and the morning’s earlier disruption was the talk of the bus and everyone was expressing their appreciation of how the Company had dealt with it, helped by our driver’s sociability and positivity.
It just shows if you handle disruption properly, you can end up with happy customers.
As well as embracing social media and excellent customer service, Delaine is a very traditional bus company in the way it portrays itself through its livery, which also includes details of the routes it operates….
… and even more impressive, internally on cove panels are not only a network map (in diagrammatic style)…
… but also … details of return times from Peterborough as well as tickets and ticket prices.
I haven’t seen that anywhere else. Well done Delaine.
Spalding bus station is a rather open affair with space for school bus parking being well utllised.
It’s a pity the main board which presumably was designed to show which bus departs from which bay is empty …
… but each departure stand does show a timetable of departures.
As you can see the operator Brylaine has quite a presence in the town with its town services and network of routes serving north of Spalding …
… along with Delaine and also Stagecoach who operate across to Kings Lynn.
As the rain continued I curtailed my Lincolnshire foray in Spalding and returned south via Peterborough by train but will return again soon to sample some more Lincs links.
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.