Saturday 22nd May 2021
If you want a good example of how local authorities and bus operators can work together to breathe new life into tendered bus routes look no further than Lancashire’s Ribble Valley where Transdev Blazefield have refreshed a small network of bus routes after winning a tender from the County Council.
I took a ride around the area today to try out the new fleet of minibuses operating the network as well as seeing how the smart new branding is settling in.
It’s a very impressive set up.
“The Mighty Ribble” bus company began operations 102 years ago but the name disappeared when it became a Stagecoach subsidiary after a short spell as a management buyout at privatisation in the late 1980s.
The refreshed network is branded Ribble Country as a nostalgic reference back to that much loved bus company which, aside from the many municipals, dominated the county of Lancashire’s bus scene.
The new network began at the beginning of this month and includes three rural routes (64, 66/67) linking Burnley or Nelson with Clitheroe, another (65) taking a rural route between Burnley and Nelson while three other routes (6, 68 and 69) take a more suburban round the houses route along the valley. There are also two local Burnley routes (14 and 15) and one in Clitheroe (4).
As you’d expect from Transdev Blazefield there’s an easy to follow colourful map which helpfully shows clearly where all the routes go….
….and there’s also a printed timetable booklet.
As well as the smart new branding and investment in a £2.4 million fleet of 18 new Mellor Strata Ultra minibuses some of the routes now incorporate much improved frequencies as part of the handover from the previous tenders run by the former operators.
For example, route 64 (green) between Burnley, Padiham and Clitheroe, previously operated by Pilkington, has seen a doubling of frequency to hourly with a new 2-hourly Sunday service. Routes 66/67 (purple and blue) between Clitheroe and Nelson also now have a new Sunday 2-hourly timetable while local Burnley route 14 (pink) has also seen its frequency doubled to half-hourly. It was previously operated by Holmeswood Coaches.
Holmeswood Coaches were also the operator of the 4, 15 and routes 95/A (now part replaced by the 6 and 68/69) while Pilkington used to run routes 65, 66 and 67.
One benefit of the Transdev takeover is a new through ticket from these local routes on to their WitchWay service to Manchester as well as other routes across Lancashire operated by the Company.
I very much like the Mellor Strata minibuses. These have 17 seats in the rear half with three standard and three tip up seats in the front half with a bay for a wheelchair or buggy. Three accessible standard seats isn’t many but as a ratio to total capacity it’s a lot better than the hydrogen double decks I’ve recently travelled on.
For me, the Mellors don’t have such a claustrophobic feel as the Mercedes Sprinter and seem much more airy to travel in, helped by the large windows.
The door is nice and wide giving good access into the bus (and leaving it too of course).
Being behind the front wheels means the departure stand has to be at the far end of the ‘front-on’ bays in the bus station so that passengers can use the paving to board.
The seats are comfortable but there’s no usb or Wi-fi available on board.
The interiors are attractively kitted out with helpful information on the cove panels….
… and timetable booklets are available on board….
… as they are at Burnley bus station..,.
…, together with an updated branded departure sign.
It was also good to see Lancashire County Council had detailed information posted about the recently introduced changes inside the bus station too.
There’s a lot to read.
Passenger loadings were quite sparse on the rural routes today with most people spotted travelling between Burnley and Padiham.
What these rural routes might lack in passenger numbers they more than make up for with fantastic views of this wonderful Ribble Valley area, made all the better by those large windows in the minibuses.
There was some late running on route 64 today – the bus I caught came into Burnley from its previous journey late, left late and arrived into Clitheroe ten minutes late.
Frustratingly it meant missing what should have been a ten minute connection with route 67 at Clitheroe which left just as we arrived.
Partly because it was blocking our progress to turn in front of the “Transport Interchange” and also because no other passenger (unlike me) would make a connection of this kind as Clitheroe is the main destination attraction at that end of the routes.
The local routes in Burnley I saw had small numbers of passengers on board the buses as befits routes of this kind, but if they have potential to grow patronage, this brand makeover and excellent publicity and information with attractive eye catching modern buses is definitely the way to do it.
Well done to Transdev Blazefield and Lancashire County Council. It really is a “breath of fresh air”.
Meanwhile over in Preston Transdev Blazefield have also introduced five similar new Mellor minibuses on another recently gained tendered route between Preston and Leyland via Higher Walton and Bamber Bridge now branded as ‘little hotline’ and using the number 153.
They also look very smart but sadly time prevented me taking a ride on board today. Perhaps next time.