Monday 31st August 2020
I last took a ride on the Hayling Ferry in November 2018.
This cute little passenger ferry crosses Langstone Harbour connecting the eastern tip of Portsea Island with the extreme western tip of Hayling Island. It only takes three minutes to make the 400 yard crossing and saves a long detour by road via Havant and Cosham. The only trouble is there are no connecting buses on Hayling Island where the nearest houses are a two mile walk from the ferry’s landing stage.
Back in 2018 Havant Borough Council realised a long held ambition for a connecting bus, coming up with £20,000 to fund a six month trial of a Monday to Friday peak hour bus (numbered 149 – for nostalgic reasons – operated by Portsmouth City Coaches) to perform a circuit of Hayling Island before connecting to the ferry, while on the other side First Solent extended their route 15 from its Eastney terminus in Fort Cumberland Road about half a mile on to the turning circle close to the ferry’s landing stage.
I was a bit surprised the trial only ran at peak times as it missed the potential daytime leisure market. When I travelled just as the sun was going down in late afternoon on the first evening peak journey I was the only passenger.
I wrote about my journey at the time and not wanting to be a party pooper predicted it would be a total failure, and sure enough, it was. I don’t think it even lasted the six month trial.
First Solent continued running its route 15 (coloured green on the map below) to the ferry on an hourly frequency Mondays to Fridays. Buses turned at Fort Cumberland Road on Saturdays and a different route 16 (coloured brown) did the same on Sundays. The problem with route 15 was it didn’t serve the shops in Southsea where many people in Eastney like to go.
First Solent withdrew both routes 15 and 16 at the start of lockdown and that part of Eastney and the ferry have been abandoned for the last five months.
Now something is stirring in Langstone Harbour once again. From yesterday First Solent introduced a new route 25 linking Portsmouth Hard Interchange with the ferry on the Eastney side of the Harbour but via a new route through Southsea.
This time it’s Portsmouth City Council who’ve come up with the finance and First Solent get the benefit. The Council successfully bid for funding from the DfT’s ‘Better Deal for Bus Users’ fund announced with much fanfare earlier in the year pre Covid (£220 million for an electric bus town, ‘superbus’ networks, lower fares in Cornwall, bus priority in the West Midlands, DRT, etc etc) including “improving current services and restoring lost services where most needed” which Portsmouth reckon aptly fits the Eastney and Hayling Ferry situation. The DfT funding doesn’t quite stretch to cover all that’s needed so Portsmouth Council have come up with the remainder from its own resources.
There’s no doubting Portsmouth City Council’s commitment to the new service just by the number of councillors who turned out to join First Solent managing director Marc Reddy for the launch photoshoot last week.
The new 25 follows an amalgamated routing of the old 15 and 16 via Old Portsmouth, Southsea shops and Devonshire Avenue to the ferry, which is now served daily for the first time for many many years, if ever, perhaps.
The slight drawback is the rather awkward 45 minute frequency on Mondays to Saturdays and every 90 minutes on Sundays. This is because the journey time takes 32/33 minutes so 2 buses are used on Mondays to Saturdays with just one on Sundays. There’s a very smart looking timetable leaflet promoting the service making it clear when journeys operate.
The ferry operator has adjusted the timings of the ferry so that many of its journeys now connect with the bus and these are shown by colour coding (blue times connect and red ones don’t).
Even better they’ve also added the ferry times to First Solent’s bus timetable showing ‘through journeys which is very helpful.
I planned a ride on the first Bank Holiday journey this morning from The Hard Interchange at 09:45; which I see is now rebranded as Gunwharf Quays on the destination blinds after the discount outlets complex next door.
The departure boards inside the waiting area showed it leaving from stop M which is at the roadside across the road rather than one of the ‘head-on’ stands.
Sadly First’s Travel Centre was all locked and sealed up and I noticed a security man suspiciously eyeing me up taking a photograph of it so as a best means of defence …
…. I pushed my luck and asked if there was any chance of getting access to the timetables …. and much to my pleasant surprise he went off and got the key and let me in to take a leaflet.
That’s what I call good customer service.
It was also good to see the timetable cases at bus stop M had information about the 25 as did the flag …
… and real time information was all up to date – although I think it was scheduled time rather than ‘real’.
I wasn’t entirely surprised there was good coverage of the new 25 as I’d seen First Bus managing director Marc Reddy’s tweet last week announcing his staff were on the case (literally), which was all good to see. Other operators (eg TfL) please note.
I spotted the bus on route 25 was laying over from its first inbound journey in the Hard bus area and sure enough at exactly 09:45 it pulled round to stop M.
A supply of bus timetable leaflets were liberally displayed on the bus dashboard.
Four others boarded with me and along the route we picked more up including at Southsea shops. All told nine people travelled including four going right through to the Hayling Ferry turning circle. That really was impressive.
All the more so as, along with myself, two of them continued their journey on the ferry. The other two stayed on the Portsea side. We’d arrived exactly on time at 10:18.
You get 12 minutes to walk the short distance between the bus and ferry and I noticed one passenger heading in the other direction who’d got off the ferry that had just arrived and was heading for the bus. Both the bus and the ferry leave at 10:30.
There’s a £2.75 single fare available on the ferry, paid by card as you board.
A supply of bus timetable leaflets were liberally displayed on the ferry’s bench seating.
The ferry was being well used by cyclists and there was another walking couple on board. I timed the journey from cast off to landing. It took exactly three minutes.
There’s not a lot to do on the Hayling Island side of the harbour.
The bus turning circle and rather grubby shelter are still there now looking very forlorn with a car, trailer and van parked alongside it.
The Ferry Boat Inn alongside the jetty does nice meals and there’s a beach cafe too.
Just sitting on the beach front overlooking the harbour is a very popular way of watching the world go by as there’s quite a lot of small boats and jet skiers coming and going and using the adjacent slipway as well as seeing the ferry going to and fro.
In the absence of a 149 it’s a two mile walk either along the beach or the road until you get to Beachlands and houses. It’s a pleasant enough walk which I’ve done in the past, but not for me today.
I ventured half a mile down the road to Sinah Warren; a rather posh looking hotel and leisure complex. It even had a gateman stationed by a barrier so I decided not to venture further up the drive. I’d wondered if it could be a source of custom for the new bus and ferry combo but it didn’t look like its clientele would be the typical Gunwharf Quays discount stores customers, let alone take a ferry and bus there.
There are some small holiday type chalets near the ferry which overlook the harbour, and a rather nice view they have too, especially on a sunny and calm day like today.
And there’s a nature reserve to wander around.
But there aren’t any major destinations or attractions likely to attract many passengers hopping over from Eastney.
Having said that my return journey saw a dad and his son make the ferry crossing then join me on the bus and three other passengers boarded at the terminus who looked as though they had ridden out on the journey that had just arrived. They alighted in Eastney. We picked up seven other passengers through Eastney and Southsea with six of us continuing through to Gunwharf Quays. Not bad.
Until we approached Gunwharf Quays on the return journey I was beginning to wonder whether the running time could be squeezed to enable a round trip in an hour. We’d been taking the road in a fairly leisurely way in both directions.
But then we hit a slow moving traffic queue towards Gunwharf Quays’ car park which took us 13 minutes to inch our way along, using up all our stand time at the Hard in the process.
Although as it happens there was a driver and bus changeover and the next journey was leaving just as we arrived.
Bearing in mind needing to maintain ferry connections, the running time and that rather awkward 45/90 minute frequency seem about right.
The service is billed as running for a six month trial period and will be reviewed in March 2021. There’s no doubt it’ll carry some decent loads between The Hard, Southsea Shops and Eastney. I was pleasantly surprised at how many used both the bus and ferry or just travelled to the ferry, albeit small in number. Sadly I can’t see that increasing much in the winter months of the trial.
Perhaps the DfT funding can be extended for a second six months as the real test will come between March and September next year with better weather and more leisure trips likely. And maybe the DfT could fund an off-peak connecting 149 – make it an open-topper too for added interest and nostalgia. That really would be a “better deal for bus users”. It’d be more sensible than funding any more DRT schemes.
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.