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Get down Sheppey

Friday 9th April 2021

The Isle of Sheppey has been on my ‘to visit again’ list for some time, so news Arriva are retrenching from the island by closing their garage with its rather basic facilities sited alongside Sheerness station seemed a good reason to arrange a trip yesterday.

I’d also been browsing Arriva’s infamously impenetrable website again recently and stumbled across a page enticing a visit to Sheerness with the tag line “a remote island feel just half an hour from Kings Cross”. Now, I know I slagged off the website when it was launched last August, but I hadn’t realised so much rubbish verbiage sits alongside the unreadable PDF timetables.

Just who sat down and wrote that drivel? Sheerness a “remote island”? The island is called Sheppey of course (Sheerness is only the main town) and since the rather brutal looking massive dual-carriageway four-lane flyover A249 “Sheppey Crossing” opened in 2006 and dwarfing the rather barren Swale station, you could hardly call the island having a “remote feel”.

“Just half an hour from Kings Cross”? Where to begin with that claim! Certainly not at Kings Cross, that’s for sure. The current best journey time by train from St Pancras International to Sittingbourne is 57 minutes, and thanks to a tight 3 minute connection with the hourly shuttle train to Sheerness, the end to end journey time during daytime offpeaks from St Pancras to Sheerness is officially 2 hours 18 minutes, as journey planners don’t recognise such a tight connection. That works out at four and a half times longer than the claimed half hour. If you’re lucky and that three minute connection works, then it shaves an hour off the otherwise very frustrating journey time, with a nerve racking connection on your mind all the way from London. And it’s no good catching Arriva’s route 334, now running half hourly, from Sittingbourne to Sheerness as an alternative as the slower journey time means there’s no time advantage.

Two features of “Sheerness” are highlighted in the website’s blurb. Barton’s Point Coastal Park and Sheppey Little Theatre. I took a walk to see the delights of the Little Theatre on my visit yesterday, but, of course, sadly it was very much closed.

Barton’s Point Coastal Park kind of looked “amazing”, as described, but the “outstanding natural beauty” descriptor is pushing it a bit and I’m sure the “cycle routes” through the park are worth visiting but I decided to stay put on my 367 bus as we drove past the park, as I’d left my bicycle at home.

If you know where to look on Arriva’s website you can find a rather helpful network map showing the “several bus routes which run in and around Sheerness” (it’s hidden away under Locations – then click Kent and Surrey – then click ‘Choose a town or city’ – then click Bus Travel in Sheerness – then click Zone maps – then click Swale map). Phew.

“Why not let us drive while you relax and enjoy the scenery by bus?” That sounded like a good idea to me. It’s my kind of day out.

My previous visits to Sheppey have involved taking the train or Arriva’s route 334 from Sittingbourne to Sheerness and then returning again either on the train or bus, but this time I wanted to venture over to the east side of the island to Leysdown-on-Sea, Warden Bay and Warden Point, not least because the latter is described by Arriva’s website as a “town” which I reckon would be news to the handful of permanent residents and the many seasonal visitors to the adjacent caravan park.

Warden Point terminus highlighted

Thankfully the “Bus Travel in Sheerness” page listing the four routes serving the island looked helpful (the fifth, route 341, shown on the map, seems to have disappeared), but sadly clicking on links for routes 334 and 367 you end up with ….

…. but luckily links to routes 360 and 361 do work, but you then have to battle your way through the completely unintelligible PDF timetables, which are worse than useless, seven months after launching on the new website.

It’s all the more pertinent to have easy access timetables online, especially when all timetables at bus stops have been removed.

Just how passengers are supposed to find out when route 334 and 367 operate to “let us drive you” I simply don’t know.

And yesterday, even Arriva’s app was useless. Reckoning no bus routes were operating when I checked live times a couple of minutes after a non appearing bus had been due.

But, despite this information dearth, I battled on, made a few plans and found the main bus stop in Sheerness town centre, at the Clock Tower, and noted the impressive list of bus route numbers on the flag.

Except not only was this out of date (it looks to me as though routes 339, 341, 362, 363 and 365 have long since disappeared) but the road alongside is now closed, so it didn’t really matter.

I decided to wander over to the large Tesco store where I knew the island’s bus routes congregate and, thanks to the Traveline website, which fortunately just about hangs on to an existence, I’d found a timetable for route 367 ….

….and arrived for the 11:15 departure – one of five a day on the service – to Warden Point.

To say route 367 is a circuitous route is an understatement.

The route map on Arriva’s website (shown earlier) marked yellow, might give you some idea of the tangled web involved, however as I was wanting a bit of a sightseeing trip it suited my needs perfectly and we soon dropped off the three passengers who had boarded at either Tesco or by the shops in Sheerness, so I had most of the journey to myself, taking in lots of different roads in Minster, the island’s rather inconveniently located community hospital, the three prisons clustered together (Elmley, Standford Hill and Swaleside) necessitating a tedious double run over no end of speed humps in a long 15 mph speed limited no-through road all to no avail re any passengers, and not surprisingly bearing in mind only three journeys a day serve this complex….

… there was a rather large car park which looked somewhat full, as well as passing through the communities of Brambledown and Eastchurch before finally arriving after a pleasant 55 minute journey at the dead end which is the metropolis of Warden Point.

I took a pleasant walk south from Warden Point through Warden Bay and along the coast down to Leysdown-on-Sea where Arriva’s other east-west route across the island terminates. Route 360 runs hourly and other than for a double run on journeys in either one direction or the other to serve Warden Bay takes a much more direct route across the island.

Three young female passengers boarded in Leysdown and all got off at the Community Hospital and soon after that we picked up a couple of couples travelling into Sheerness, and that was it.

I noticed one of the two vehicles on the 360 was a double deck and the other was a single deck. I missed the former, but can imagine it offers some great views across the island from the upper deck.

No surprises, this being Arriva, the interiors of buses were full of notices…..

See if you can sport all 27 notices/instructions in this photo.

… while the bus stops were devoid of any information.

It does make you wonder if bus travel is so safe as every bus company director I hear keeps professing, why there’s a need to put up so many notices? Why not just refer everyone to guidance and information on the website, rather like passengers have to do when it comes to finding out a bus time?

Reassuring, to some passengers, I’m sure.

And, whoever decided all bus windows must be kept open, has obviously never travelled on a bus at speed across a windswept island, or any main road for that matter. All the windows, except one, were closed on the buses I travelled on yesterday.

Which rather makes a mockery of the notices.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the island’s routes once Sheerness depot closes. I understand the half hourly route 334 will be run from Maidstone, its southern terminus, and conceivably it could be operationally linked to the hourly 360 I suppose, but I hear routes other than the 334 have been deregistered …. but perhaps they’ll be saved through Kent County Council’s Enhanced Partnership under Buses Back Better.

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.

22 thoughts on “Get down Sheppey Leave a comment

  1. The Isle of Sheppy is actually England’s second biggest offshore island after the Isle of Wight.Sheerness is pretty bland but the southern part of the island has nice marshes.of course if Boris had gotten his way it would have been overlooking a huge airport!the airport version of parkways and park and ride,hide the problem of planes and cars.you are probably right in saying Sheerness is about 1 hour from St Pancras assuming good connections but say 1hr 20 to be on the safe side.it’s probably around 2 hours using Charing Cross/Cannon Street/Victoria?

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  2. A number of school bus services are provided between the island and Sittingbourne schools by Chalkwell and Travelmasters. There is also a commuter coach operation to London
    Long gone are the days of busy, frequent all day coach services to central and east London, and the coach station at Leysdown and bus services to Harty and in Summer along the dirt track to Shell Ness. Not to also forget a brief spell of open top double decks!
    Does anyone know if Arriva’s local services in Sittingbourne which use three vehicles are also affected by this?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I find that the Arrova app routinely says that Arriva does not operate from whatever Arriva bus stop you are at. It is incredible. Experienced it yesterday. When the coast path is fully open Sheppey is on the 2 do list so I hope Arriva have not packed up completely by then!

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  4. Regarding the transport links that Arriva give, I think they mean Queenborough, not Queensway. The latter, I think, is just a residential road which is the terminus of a bus route. The island’s largest town is Minster, which does not merit a mention by Arriva, which houses the secondary school as well as the hospital. Its spread rather since I visited it many moons ago.

    The 367 is a KCC route, which Arriva snatched from Chalkwell a few years ago. They had operated it for many years under the Island Buses banner, they might just fancy it back (along with any other discarded Arriva spoils). Chalkwell also used to run a service from the mainland to the Eastchurch prisons for visitors but that stopped a few years ago. School work may be picked up by Kent Coach Travel (t/a Travelmasters), who carry out a lot of this in the Swale area; this might include the 341, which does still exist, but is for school students only (Covid restrictions). 339 was a Chalkwell shoppers bus, they all finished some years ago. 362/ 363 were variants of the 360 (indeed 362 went all the way to Leysdown while the 360 just went to Minster) when the Sheerness to Minster service was half hourly. There was an innovation a few years ago from Queenborough via a large supermarket and hospital to Minster but that ceased fairly recently

    Last time I visited Sittingbourne, Arriva were having staffing issues – local services were running at reduced frequency, regularly according to locals. The driver of the bus I travelled on was clearly exasperated by the situation, not helped by inappropriate comments by some passengers. Perhaps drivers just walked!

    And please be careful if you go back, the cliffs just round the corner from the terminus of the 367 have fallen into the sea, taking property with them!

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  5. I note you actually got the 367 timetable from https://bustimes.org/
    For many places (where both the county council and bus operators provide useless information) it’s the only place to find a half-useful timetable.
    Of course its independently run, without the murderous hands of brand consultants etc. to hide the useful information

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    • When Chalkwell ran the 367 their timetable was on the website – and easy to find. Following a quick perusal of other independents in Kent, I found most made it easy to find timetable information. It can be done. It just depends how important operators think their passengers are!

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  6. Tony, I wish you were right. But the fact that nothing gets done to correct the web site, either means that they don’t read Roger’s blog, and still really believe their web site is excellent, or they are too daft to care. Incidentally, busmap.org is very good, but is only as accurate as information is made available from operators. I have found on several occasions where routes change hands, that both the old and current operators timetables are displayed alongside each other, so always check details carefully !! Also, because of the scrolling style timetable given, its next to impossible to keep a photo of the timetable on your phone, meaning you rely on having an internet signal to look up the timetable when out and about. For this reason, I wish operators that use this type of timetable, like Reading Buses, would always add a pdf timetable to their web sites.

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  7. I recently stumbled across proper timetables on Arriva’s website!

    From the Home Page, click on Help, then Coronavirus, then Coronavirus Timetable Information and scroll down to the chosen area. It looks like proper, conventional timetables are available for all services nationwide.

    It does beg the question why they aren’t available in the main Services and timetables area of the website. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if a senior Arriva manager reading this decided to get it done?

    Liked by 1 person

      • I emailed Arriva to explain how frustrating it is not to find coherent PDF timetables under the Services and Timetables heading instead of these being buried away elsewhere, using merely as an example Green Line service 757. I asked if this matter could be addressed, but all I received by way of reply was an apology and a link to the 757 timetable which I had already located albeit by a circuitous route! Still, at least I have found a direct email address for Customer Services which in itself had proved challenging.

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      • But remember that this is Arriva: the timetables for Leicester on the Coronavirus page have a number of errors, even including the WRONG NAMES for some locations – on the X84 Leicester to Rugby timetable, Broughton Astley has been renamed Bolton Astley! On other files, journeys are missing or in the wrong order – presumably the latter is to make you feel at home if you’re used to the new-style website PDFs!
        Nonetheless, I make sure that I download these as soon as they appear as, if only they were accurate, they would be exactly what the traveller without a smartphone needs to be able to carry around.

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  8. The above though is just typical of the sorry state most bus serves are in . No real information and what there is, is often out of date and inaccurate. It is the same with bust stops. Buses full of scruffy notices stuck on the windows and frequently peeling off. Old notices are rarely removed. Why do they need to post so many useless notices? Useful information such as a local network map and timetables are rarely available

    What is becoming clear is that post Covid there will be fewer be passengers. Most bus companies seem to be operating the head in the sand attitude with this. In many areas even the loss of a few passengers will make routes commercially non viable

    Most buses are still running around 90% empty. For how long will the government continue to bail out the bus companies. With things pretty much at least on paper returning to normal from later this month I can see the government phasing out the support

    Bus companies need to be looking at using smaller buses ass well. It makes no sense to use large double decker’s when at mot they have a dozen passengers on board

    From that article I don’t see the already poor service o the Isle improving I can only see them getting worse. It is not exactly going to gain them passengers

    I can see the current favourite with the Council replacing them. Most of the services will be axed and be replaced by a token Demand Responsive Service . These services are very expensive for the very basic service they provide

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    • Smaller buses?! smaller buses mean people are closer together and that’ll discouraged even more people from using them!

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      • It may depend where people live but my local route is operated by double deckers simply because between 08:00 and 09:00, and 15:00 and 16:00 it is packed out in normal times because of students going to school. (In fact, some local routes even have duplicates for school journeys now for social distancing reasons). If you catch it at about 11:00 it may well be 90% empty as a previous responder stated but the company has to allow for the maximum usage, ie during peak times. You are right to suggest that people will be put off travelling by bus if they are sitting too close together (especially in these times), but they will be put off even more if they have to stand or, worse, are denied entry because the bus is full.

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  9. There is one secondary school (the Oasis Academy) on the island which can be seen in the middle of the map, and served by many of the services. It is comprehensive and anyone wanting choice has to use one of the selective schools in Sittingbourne, which are close to the town centre. This results in a mix of operations with dedicated commercial school buses from Sheppey and a mix of commercial and tendered bus services for the Sittingbourne area pupils plus three (I think) contract buses from the west. This results in the rural areas having a Monday to Friday peak operation. On schooldays they are full The last time I visited a couple of journeys used midi sized vehicles and continued in service through the off peak. There was no obvious scope for putting smaller vehicles into service without more commercial peak work.
    The cross island shopping bus which ceased had been funded by s106 money which ended.

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  10. To build a bur network that is designed to cater for one return journey a day is commercial madness and to quite an extent accounts for the continued decline of bus services. They are pricing themselves out of the market as well as failing to provide the services that are needed

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  11. Reported by Kent0nline (the web outlet of the Kent Messenger newspaper group):
    “Bus services are at risk after Arriva announced it was looking to close the Sheerness hub and axe its Island-only routes.
    The company has told Kent County Council (KCC) it intends to stop running the 360, 361 and 367 from June 16”

    In the same article Travelmasters (Kent Coach Travel) have expressed an interest in operating them. If they don’t take them up, I would expect Chalkwell to be interested.

    The bus service I alluded to earlier that went via a large supermarket and the hospital was apparently pulled when Morrisons withdrew funding.

    No mention of Sittingbourne locals (347, 349) which are operated by Sheerness (but could be operated equally well from Maidstone).
    .
    Article at https://www.kentonline.co.uk/sheerness/news/this-decision-will-leave-a-lot-of-people-stranded-245904/
    – yes, its a bit over the top!

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    • I am a little surprised that they seem happy to run the Sittingbourne locals from Maidstone. The A249 is a NIGHTMARE. Regularly blocked by accidents and as a link between the M2 and M20 subject to traffic diverting off either motorway.

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      • I agree about the A249. The alternative could be from Gillingham. Or there might be announcement that they are surrendering them? They would suit Chalkwell, who might take the opportunity to reorganise Sittingbourne services.

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