Thursday 16th July 2020
It’s always nice to get a bus timetable book delivered through the post, so many thanks to Transport for Cornwall for sending me a copy of their 196 page book ‘Your handy guide to Buses in Cornwall’.
I‘d seen it advertised on social media and saw you could request one be sent in the post, so I sent off an email on Tuesday last week, 7th July, explaining I might be visiting during the summer and a few days later it popped through my letterbox. Impressive service.
Except it was only after I’d been studying its 196 pages for a day or two when I realised the cover said ‘valid from 29th March 2020’, whereas social media was extolling the virtues of the ‘Summer 2020 Edition’ valid from 6th July 2020.
They’d sent me an out of date timetable! I suppose that’s one way to get rid of a job lot of wasted copies. But not very reassuring for a summer visitor.
“What is Transport for Cornwall?” the book asks on its introductory pages before explaining it’s “a partnership between Cornwall Council, Go Cornwall Bus and other local public transport providers working towards the delivery of the vision for a high-quality, integrated and customer-focused public transport network”.
The problem for the unwary bus traveller, and particularly visitors to Cornwall who may not be familiar with the intricacies of Cornwall Council’s recent tender award for unremunerative bus services (and why would they be?) the “other local public transport providers” excludes the major commercial operator in Cornwall, First Kernow, who run around half the bus routes across the county.
To be fair, the next question the timetable book addresses “Which operators provide Transport for Cornwall services” is answered by explaining “Go Cornwall Bus (also know as Plymouth Citybus – sic), Hopley’s Coaches, OTS of Falmouth and Travel Cornwall”. So if you’re a bus company savvy holidaymaker visiting Cornwall I suppose you might spot the absence of First Kernow in the listing and start to realise the implications, but there again probably not.
Further reading starts to explain things with explanations such as return tickets issued by Transport for Cornwall not being available on First Kernow’s buses (but they’re OK the other way round) and if you have a question about a First Kernow service “you should contact the operator direct”. But intriguingly “you can send a copy to the Council for reference” – I’m not sure how you do that if you’re giving them a call about a bus time.
It baffles me that Cornwall Council are heavily promoting this “vision for a high-quality, integrated and customer-focused public transport network” but what is being peddled is anything but. In fact it’s worse than before the Transport for Cornwall brand came along.
Aside from the hassle of tickets not being inter-available, the first lesson everyone learned back in 1986 when buses were deregulated was not to make access to timetable information hard for passengers. Having to look in one timetable source for daytime journeys and another for an evening or Sunday service. Yet here we are 34 years later with precisely that situation.
Page 15 of the Transport for Cornwall’s timetable book (the updated ‘Summer 2020 Edition’ – which is available online) contains the timetable for route T1, the trunk route between Truro and Penzance.
Visiting tourists have to be eagle eyed to spot the note in the bottom right hand corner to realise the few early morning and evening journeys shown are a small soupçon of the substantial timetable including regular daytime journeys operated by First Kernow.
And the same if the unwary passenger consults the First Kernow timetable brochure who may not realise there are additional early morning and evening journeys unless they spotted this note elsewhere in the leaflet.
First Kernow’s online pdf timetable pages give no clue to the existence of the additional journeys. You only find reference to them if you first find the imagery shown above, then spot the note on a different page of the imagery and then refer to the Transport for Cornwall website and then find them there. And we’re trying to encourage public transport use????
Even more bizarre, the Transport for Cornwall app which comes recommended in their timetable book doesn’t use Traveline’s comprehensive information but restricts itself to the Transport for Cornwall bus timetable database.
This means a journey request for a daytime bus between Truro and Penzance will take you on a five or six hour endurance journey involving changing buses using only Transport for Cornwall branded services, and steadfastly ignoring the direct and frequent route T1. Here’s an example I entered for a journey at 15:00 this afternoon. Just who do the pedlars of this nonsense think the app is aimed at?
And then there’s integrated ticketing. Not. The First Kernow range of day tickets which cost either £13 or £15 depending on how it’s bought is not valid on Transport for Cornwall buses, and the Transport for Cornwall £9 day ticket is not valid on First Kernow buses.
So the unwary tourist or commuter who uses both buses needs to shell out up to £24 for their ‘integrated travel’ around the county.
But if they are really ticket savvy they’d buy a ‘Ride Cornwall Ranger’ which costs £18 for a day. This not only includes all day bus travel across both networks but all rail travel west of Plymouth too (not before 9am on Monday to Friday trains).
But you won’t find out about it in ‘Your handy guide to Buses in Cornwall’ timetable book or on their website. There is information on the Plymouth Citybus website if you manage to click through ‘Tickets’ – ‘One Day tickets’ – ‘Other Tickets’ then you might stumble on to it, but even then there’s no mention it’s valid on First Kernow, so you’d not know that.
In the world of timetable planning, if you have a number of buses leaving a town centre along the same road before turning off towards their different destinations on various routes it usually makes sense to try and spread the timings to give passengers a range of departures. Not so in the world of Transport for Cornwall timetables where leaving Truro in an easterly direction towards Ladock or Probus there’s a 17:55 service 50 to St Mawes followed by three departures at 18:05 all running together for a little over the first 20 minutes of their journeys – on route 89 to Bodmin, route 95 to Camelford and route 497 to Summercourt. Great for bus photographers but frustrating for passengers.
It’s nice to see the Transport for Cornwall timetable book includes an ‘index to places served’ including those bus routes serving the listed places but unfortunately it contains a number of omissions (and I don’t mean the First Kernow routes); even TfC routes are missing in some entries – e.g. Probus doesn’t show the Transport for Cornwall route 22 (or the mixed FK and TfC 27) – although I see this has been corrected in the latest ‘Summer 2020 Edition’ online and presumably in the printed copy to, although I obviously can’t vouch for that, having the out-of-date copy.
It’s also unfortunate there’s no map showing where the bus routes go, and despite much searching online, I couldn’t find one on the internet either. That’s a very backward step as Cornwall Council used to produce a fully integrated network map showing all bus routes across the county, which complimented the colourful map produced by First Kernow. Now it seems it’s up to us passengers to use our own visualisation capacity to work out where the bus routes listed in the 196 page book go. Not an easy task, especially for visitors to the area unfamiliar with the geography.
Still, it’s good to see a timetable book being produced, especially as many bus companies have ceased printing timetables during Covid, and thanks again for the copy sent in the post (albeit an out-of-date one). But visionary, this isn’t.
Never mind “high-quality, integrated and customer-focused”, it’s pretty much low-quality, unintegrated and customer-unfocused reminding me of the bad old days of the 1980s deregulated bus wars in some of the conurbations.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Can I recommend the visionary Cornwall Council transport team take a look at Bus Times – produced by the Brighton & Hove Bus Company? It might give them an idea of what can be achieved.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.