Thursday 8th October 2020
Following recent trips to Selsdon/Croydon and the Herts/Essex border I’ve continued my ‘London Country 50th anniversary’ inspired days out to the former London Transport red and green bus boundary territory by taking a look at how things are fairing in that prosperous corner of Surrey that includes Walton, Weybridge and Woking.
Like the former London Country North East patch around Harlow, Epping and Waltham Cross, the south-west segment has had a fair share of operators of dubious quality coming and going over a couple of decades.
In 2016 when Abellio Surrey gave notice it was quiting its substantial tendered work some questionned whether the network would survive. In the event new operators entered the market, ousting Abellio in the retendering exercise who also subsquently gave up its two commercial routes leaving the deregulated market to concentrate on TfL tenders.
These new operators – notably Falcon Buses (“Surrey’s Premier Bus Company”), Rotala owned Hallmark Connections and Carlone Buses – have spearheaded a gradual and very welcomed noticeable upturn in quality.
The trio have been joined by White Bus, the long standing and respected Winkfield (near Windsor) based operator, who have expanded significantly into this part of Surrey and adding their quality operation to the area.
And of course there’s First Berkshire’s slimmed down network in the Slough area including route 8 which provides a link to Heathrow Airport Terminal 5.
I’ll describe my journeys in the Woking and Guildford area in a future blogpost, but for now I’m reporting how bus operation around Staines-upon-Thames (as Staines renamed itself in 2012) is doing.
I travelled over to Staines-upon-Thames on Falcon Buses operated route 456 (with White Bus operating the Sunday service). This is one of two hourly trunk routes linking Woking with the riverside town. The other, route 446, is operated by White Bus and takes the direct route between Woking and Chertsey via Ottershaw and St Peter’s Hospital taking 43 minutes. Extra journeys between St Peter’s Hospital and Woking make for a half hourly frequency on the southern section of route.
Route 456 takes a more indirect route via West Byfleet and Addlestone before joining the 446 at Chertsey for a combined half hourly frequency via Thorpe Park and the nearby Penton Park mobile home estate to Staines-upon-Thames. End to end journey time is 68 minutes.
Like White Bus, Falcon Buses are investing in new buses with both operators putting smart new ‘70’ plate Enviro200s on the road and the one I travelled on was particularly impressive with noticeably comfortable seats. It made for a very pleasant ride.
We weren’t inundated with passengers. About half a dozen from Woking, mostly for nearby Sheerwater and another two or three making short journeys from both West Byfleet and Addlestone with a similar number travelling from Chertsey and Penton Park into Staines-on-Thames.
Falcon Buses and White Bus both have similarly designed websites which provide excellent clarity of information with easily accessible timetables as well as maps showing bus tracking for each route. Arriva could learn a thing or two about web page design and content from these two operators.
The bus station in Staines-upon-Thames sits alongside the Elmsleigh shopping centre providing plenty of room for the nine separate bus stands which are all clearly signed with timetables at each stop as well as a comprehensive display in two locations in addition to ‘Where to catch your bus’ posters.
This is all organised by Surrey County Council who also have a very informative website full of maps for the whole county as well as smaller areas and indexes to full timetables.
It’s very impressive to see such well presented modern buses coming and going. A really positive picture.
In fact, buses on TfL’s four routes which serve the town look positively dowdy in their plain red livery (and misleading notices in the dash boards showing bus full when it plainly isn’t – it’s at the terminus) compared to the smart colours presented by these independent companies.
Another operator running a small number of off-peak two-journey shopper type routes as well as tendered route 572 from Staines-upon-Thames is Bookham based Reptons Coaches who again were spotted running a nice clean and smart looking bus – with a pesonalised registration plate too.
The one stain on my Staines experience was Bear Buses. This small operator based in Shepperton operates a few school services as well as the infrequent route 305 from Staines-upon-Thames to the nearby villages of Wraysbury and Horton as well as Colnbrook and Poyle.
I’ll admit I may be being unfair making such a negative judgement. Bear Buses may be a fine upstanding business. It’s just my travel experience with them on Tuesday was a big disappointment.
There are just five/six journeys a day on the 305; three are aimed at shoppers, and the others for scholars attending Magna Carta School and workers in Poyle Indsutrial Estate.
It’s an oddball route for a number of reasons, not least that Staines-upon-Thames (its primary destination) is just on the northern border of Surrey County Council whereas most of the route passes through the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead (the villages of Wraysbury and Horton) and Slough Borough Council (Colnbrook and Poyle) who both chip in funding.
As shown above, the online timetable on Surrey County Council’s website shows the bus departs from Bay 3 in the bus station, but this is an error, as it’s shown departing from Bay 6 on all the signs in the bus station and where the timetables on display have been corrected by hand.
Also as shown above, Surrey’s bus passengers are afforded the luxury of clear signage throughout the bus station as well as on the bus stops themselves.
You’d think it would be an easy task therefore to catch the bus that leaves Staines bus station at 13:40 and take a scenic ride round via the reservoirs at Wraysbury and Horton to Colnbrook and Poyle.
So, I waited in good time for the departure taking in all the comings and goings of the smart looking buses seving this part of Surrey as well as the fringes of London, Windsor and Slough.
I also spotted a number of support vehicles on the far side of the bus station area used by the companies to ferry drivers to and from their garages to take over and be relieved from the buses.
I didn’t therefore pay too much attention to a rather anonymous looking cream coloured Dennis Dart, thinking it was just another driver relief vehicle, or somewhere for crews to sit during their breaks.
I didn’t even think anything of it when it drove off from it’s waiting point in the ancillary vehicle parking area.
When it got to about 13:50, and with no bus turning up to stand 6 for the 13:40 deaprture, I gave the telephone number for Bear Buses shown on the timetable display a call to see if there was any news. Alas it went to anwerphone, so no joy there. As the next journey wasn’t until 15:25, I decided to give up the idea but as I walked over to Staines (-upon-Thames) station it dawned on me that cream coloured Dennis Dart must have driven off around 13:40 and I surmised that was indeed the 305.
Never one to be beaten by these things I made a return visit to Staines-upon-Thames yesterday with a view to trying again and catching the 12:00 departure and sure enough, that very same Dennis Dart was back and although the front destination was blank, on closer examination, I spotted the side blind was indeed showing the number 305.
If you’re a regular on the 305 you obviously know to wander over to the bus parking area to catch your bus home. If you’re a visitor, like me, and wait at the correct bus stop, you miss the bus.
We left at 12:00 with four on board. Two alighed in Wraysbury, one in Colnbrook and one at the terminus in Poyle’s Coleridge Crescent where I also got off. It’s a very pleasant ride with lots to see including those reservoirs (well, the sheep grazing on the steep grassy inclines leading up to them), a long single file narrow traffic light controlled bridge over the railway at Wraysbury and the rather fine villages of Wrasbury and Horton.
The terminal point in Coleridge Crescent has a Slough Borough Council type bus stop flag but sadly no timetable for the 305 on display in the timetable case. It’s perhaps not surprising therefore that passenger numbers on the route are rather sparse – you’d be hard put to find out about it, and even if you did, to then know for sure where to catch it from the bus station.
Round the corner from Coleridge Crescent in Poyle is a TfL bus stop in Poyle Road, as it’s served by their route 81, and unhelpfully showing a completely out-of-date timetable dated 2018 for Thames Valley branded (and Courtney Buses operated) route 10 (it no longer extends to Bracknell and currently runs hourly between Dedworth and Heathrow).
According to that timetable I’d not long missed a bus but thanks to Courtney Buses’ website and its handy bus tracking page I saw a bus was heading my way in about five minutes so I was soon on my way for the short journey to Heathrow Terminal 5.
There was just one other passenger on board – an airline stewardess going to work. I understand from the end of this month there will be reductions on both routes 10 and 459 (which I blogged about when introduced last year). This isn’t surprising as sadly the passengers just aren’t there, even before Covid grounded the airline industry. Even more disappointing is a year on from the introduction of the 459 TfL have still failed to include either the route number on bus stop flags or the timetable in the bus stop cases where appropriate (as shown in the Poyle Road photo above and below – mind you there’s not even a timetable for its own route 81 either).
Although, I did catach a glimpse of a 459 timetable (and a 305 in TfL timetable style) on display as we passed through Colnbrook. So inconsistency is the name of the game, as usual.
But to end on some good news. Someone’s been at work in the dungeon that is Terminal 5’s bus station. Bus stop 8 has been updated to include route 459 on the flag …..
…. and amazingly up to date timetables for both routes 10 and 459 are on display.
I won’t hold my breath they’ll be updated for the changes at the end of the month though.
And the sign showing which local buses depart from which stop? Sadly that’s still well past its sell-by date.
But you can’t have everything.
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.