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Book review: Your handy guide to Buses in Cornwall

Thursday 16th July 2020

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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.

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They’d sent me an out of date timetable!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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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So the unwary tourist or commuter who uses both buses needs to shell out up to £24 for their ‘integrated travel’ around the county.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

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.

15 thoughts on “Book review: Your handy guide to Buses in Cornwall Leave a comment

  1. Sadly it is customer focused as in Thatcherism passengers become customers and all relationships between people financial.if I was Cornish I’d shout “bring back Western National!”

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  2. Oh dear, not good, sounds more like Turkeys For Christmas! Why when setting up so called ‘Integration’ could TFC not come to an agreement with First? You’d have thought that as the majority operator any revenue would be good? I do wonder what % of users are ENC card holders are against actual fare paying passengers? Where is the integrated bit if First are not accepting TFC tickets? It doesn’t sound a very ‘Unified’ Unitary Council to me!
    “Visit the website for more information” is a classic Faux Pas – no web address shown!!! I wonder if they need a consultant…. my fees are quite moderate?>

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  3. Oh Dear! Perhaps to err on the side of generosity, the whole set up could not have occurred at what will probably turn out to be the worst ever possible time for a new operation to have began. Teething problems would have been impossible to avoid even if pandemics had not had to be coped with. And the speed with which contracts were won (and lost!) probably stopped maps being produced, which is a serious oversight and needs instant rectification if Cornwall’s many Visitors need to find their way about. The lack of timetable/fare co-ordination with First is similarly unfortunate, and if common sense prevails, this too should be “integrated” at the earliest opportunity. Or perhaps Cornwall Council saw the recent First group statement to the City regarding the possibility of ceasing trading unless lots of £help is forthcoming and think they will get the lot anyway? As for the Cornish shouting “bring back Western National”, do take a look at some of the timetables of the 1970s, when it was almost impossible to travel to many adjoining towns apart from the Truro-Penzance corridor.

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  4. Sounds like the complete balls-up they made of the launch of this package of tendered services was only the tip of the iceberg for how much they were going to balls up the implementation 🙄

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  5. What I find amazing is that if someone was thinking about making a trip from Truro to Penzance mid-morning and wanted to return in the evening, looking at either First Kernow or TfC websites, the would-be passenger would think that there are no buses at the time they require them, and will therefore go by car. Neither operator will receive any fare income. However, if they had co-operated and produced a joint timetable, and accepted each others’ return tickets, then they would both receive some income. Short-sighted or what?

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  6. Regrettably, it seems that what was predicted has come to pass, and for those of us who lived through deregulation and all its tribulations, yes, we DID learn very quickly about the value of including other operators’ complementary timetables in our booklets!
    However, perhaps our indefatigable reviewer could try to get a TfC Summer timetable, and compare and contrast between the hwo? ISTR that there was expected to be a second tranche of improvements in May, that might have included inter-availability of tickets and so on . . . . obviously delayed/cancelled because of C-19.
    And just one point to note . . . . . if I was travelling from Truro to Penzance, I’d head for the train! I know that Truro Station is a walk outside the Town Centre, but with a pretty-regular 2 TPH all day, and a journey time of around 40 minutes . . . . I wouldn’t travel on a bus, however high-falautin’!!

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  7. Actually, this is the current timetable. They had planned to introduce it on 29th March, but because of the lockdown they only started a limited interim service then, which they gradually ramped up until the full service started in July.

    On the hardcopy, have they fixed the mistake on the 21 Sunday timetable that afflicts the website version?

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  8. Assuming First & Cornwall CC had some discussions about this, It would be interesting to have been the proverbial fly on the wall. I wonder which party was being most obstructive, First or the Council. Could have been either, but whichever it was it didn’t produce a good outcome for anyone nor a good model for other like-minded authorities

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  9. Thanks Roger for another detailed analysis of the situation developing in Cornwall. This is very worrying – the extent to which public money is producing such a poor outcome and potentially damaging a commercial operator. No doubt First have other priorities but this really should be challenged.

    Are you able to get this report into the next edition of Buses?

    Best wishes – Mike Hodges

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  10. All so disappointing!
    Cornwall Council had government funding under the Cornwall Devolution deal to introduce a “fully integrated and sustainable public transport network” and encouragingly have introduced several new services and increased frequencies on others.
    I don’t know what happened to relations between the Council and First Kernow but we now have two networks which barely acknowledge the existence of each other.
    From what I could see publicity prior to the end March introduction date for the new network was abysmal from both Go-ahead and First and the council seemed to have given up with their website altogether. They have at last introduced a list of services from 12th July but the maps on their site are from 2019 and the last entry under the “ongoing developments” tab is dated 2018.
    It seems crazy in this day and age (and can hardly be economic) to have odd journeys on principal routes run by another operator, surely an arrangement could be made for First to run these either as a subcontractor or a direct de-minimus tender.
    As there is hardly any competition between the two networks, a joint map , timetables giving at least some information about the other routes, and joint ticketing do not seem to be too much to ask.
    So sad that this opportunity has not been properly taken, “fully integrated” it is not.!

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  11. Up until transport for Cornwall came on the scene First Kernow were providing us with the best bus service the County has ever seen in my 70 plus years. After having old cast off buses from up country a new fleet of single and double deck buses branded for routes made for reliable comfortable travel. Now all 51 double deckers are operating in Somerset which makes me think First Kernow might be putting two fingers up to Cornwall Council. I feel that the Council are to blame here for not staying with First as they were giving such excellent service. I too live on a route operated by the two companies where passengers now have to change at Cornwall Services. What a waste of dead mileage and now we have old buses back. Kernow worked hard to come up with passengers and the Council’s demands and now we are worse than back to square one.

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  12. Yet again proof that leaving the provision and planning of bus services to councils and councillors is sure to lead to a total shambles. Neither Go Ahead nor Cornwall council come out of this with any credit at all. Many of the TfC drivers don’t know the area, have been given inadequate maps, and frankly couldn’t care less about passengers or running to time. A big contrast with First Kernow who are generally on the ball; the buses may not be newbut they are generally spotlessly clean and the drivers seem to want to be doing their job, unlike TfCs.

    I just wish the council would admit they have made an error and start again, with a sensible split of contracts between operators and cross ticketing arrangements. But they won’t, because they are absolutely useless.

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  13. Students, who live on GoCornwall routes rather than First routes, going to and from Truro College at times other than the school bus times at the start and end of the school day in order to fit in with varied class times now have to pay to travel on GoCornwall buses even though they have a pass which has been paid for. This surely makes no sense as most of the GoCornwall buses subsidised by Cornwall Council are running mostly empty

    Des Mennear, Tregony

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  14. The sad demise of Ian Allan Publishing

    Almost the last remnant of it has no gone with the closure of their Waterloo Book shop. The magazines were sold some time ago to key Publishing and the books went to a company I cannot remember. The Masonic book publish arm I am not sure about. It was up for sale but not sure if they have found a buyer
    Ian Allan was probably most famous for its ABC Rail books

    The Ian Allan Group now seems to consist of only a Motor dealership and a small property company. So the only link left to transport is the Motor dealership

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