Monday 7th June 2021
It’s not just First Bus in the South West who’ve introduced new open-top and leisure bus routes this summer. Their colleagues in neighbouring First Hampshire and Dorset have also joined in the fun with some much welcome developments on the well established Jurassic Coaster service.
When first introduced a good few years ago the Jurassic Coaster ran from Bournemouth all the way to Exeter with support from Dorset and Devon County Councils.
It was soon cut back at the eastern end to Poole and in subsequent years has seen reductions in the timetable following the withdrawal of local authority support leaving the route serving the main Axminster – Lyme Regis – Bridport corridor then continuing to either Weymouth or Dorchester as an X53 or X51.
This year the timetable has been revamped again and includes journeys operated by open-top buses to take advantage of the amazing sights along this stretch of Dorset’s coastline.
A big shout out to whoever compiled this year’s timetable. It truly is a masterpiece of coordinated frequencies and journey options.
The long standing X53 number (the original Jurassic branded route) is used for 2-hourly Axminster to Weymouth journeys along the coastal road via Lyme Regis and Bridport. The X51 number is used for a 2-hourly Axminster to Weymouth, also via Lyme Regis and Bridport and then continues to Dorchester as it perviously did but is newly extended from there down to Weymouth, taking 10 minutes longer than via the coastal route.
The X51/X53 provides a coordinated hourly frequency between Axminster and Bridport.
East of Weymouth the X54 number is used for a two-hourly service to Lulworth Cove, Wool, Wareham and Poole with convenient connections for passengers changing between an X53 and X54 in Weymouth.
But the really clever bit this summer is the overlay of a new open-top route X52 running two-hourly between Bridport via the coastal road to Weymouth and then via Lulworth Cove to Wool before a loop to serve the nearby Bovington Tank Museum and Monkey World attractions. And it just so happens the times neatly coincide so there’s an hourly frequency between Bridport and Weymouth (X52 and X53 combined) and a similar hourly service between Weymouth and Wool (X52 and X54 combined).
So instead of changing buses in Weymouth between an X53 and X54 passengers wanting to make a through journey can use the X52. Very neat.
Except, as I found yesterday, you have to be fairly hardy to endure an open top ride lasting two and a half hours from Bridport to Monkey World, albeit with a 13 minute leg stretch and toilet stop half way in Weymouth.
Of necessity seats in open top buses are not renowned for their comfort. Even downstairs too.
But the scenery at various viewpoints along the route really is spectacular and makes the journey well worth taking on an open-topper.
Not only the views into the distance, but the villages the bus passes through too are delightful.
‘First Wessex’ are using three open-tops on the X52 with a Best Impressions designed livery promoting the Jurassic Coast which has also been refreshed and used for the closed top buses too.
There’s also the original Portland Coaster open-top route (numbered 501) which is currently running four return journeys a day between Weymouth and Portland Bill which will increase to seven return journeys when the schools are on holiday.
It’s another great route with some spectacular views down to Portland.
The vehicle allocation yesterday put a Portland Coaster liveried bus on the X52 as I understand one of the Jurassic Coaster liveried buses needed attention. Not quite on-brand, but at least it was an open topper.
Aside from the open-tops, it’s good to see the previous (non Best Impressions) Jurassic Coaster livery has been abandoned. It was somewhat overbearing with jungle type tree images on the sides and rear as well as partly over the windows making for quite an intimidating ride when travelling on the top deck.
This new one is much better.
It’s also good to see some excellent publicity and marketing materials for the revamped routes for the summer season.
There’s a great leaflet which drivers had available to hand out yesterday, and can also be found online.
It folds out into a magnificent colourful brochure with all the information you need as well as descriptions of all the lovely places to visit along the routes.
There’s also a splendid printed timetable booklet containing all the routes based on Weymouth, and branded as part of the Wessex brand.
That’s also available online.
There are also posters and great timetable displays all along the route and particularly in Weymouth where signs make it so easy to find out which bus routes departs from which stop. The posters really do catch the eye of passers by. I saw a number of people stopping to take a look yesterday.
It was also noticeable how bus stops all along the route have been updated and are on brand.
Including routes run by ‘more’ where appropriate too.
Even more impressive the Company were planning to install a Tardis style information kiosk (similar to Reading Buses) on the seafront by the bus stops at the King’s Statue in Weymouth to hand out all the lovely timetables and leaflets. Not surprisingly Dorset Council were very supportive of such an initiative to promote buses and pleased to see First Bus submit a planning application only for Weymouth Town Council to object saying it would clutter the footway.
What a short-sighted attitude by the Town Council when they allow cafes along that part of the seafront to put tables and chairs along the promenade. A great shame such a worthy initiative is struggling to get the necessary permission, but good for First for not giving up and still trying to pursue the idea. Sounds like some forceful discussions with the Town Council about the importance of buses to the local economy might be needed.
I travelled on the first journey out of Weymouth to Bridport yesterday morning which leaves at an amazingly early time for a Sunday morning at 08:15, so perhaps not surprisingly I was the only passenger, although we did pick two other passengers up further along the route, one heading off for a walk along Chesil Beach and the other going into Bridport. The journey’s effectively a positioning run to be the first X52 back from Bridport at 09:30 and indeed we carried a reasonable number back into Weymouth.
It’s good to see the Sunday timetable exactly mirrors the Saturday one – not something you see very often these days. In a nice touch in the timetable, it’s designated as ‘Weekends’.
At 09:30 in Bridport as well as our departure to Weymouth, there’s the two-hourly X51 which also runs to Weymouth but via Dorchester and taking that ten minutes longer. It was interesting to see passengers choosing which bus to travel on as we travelled in convoy through Bridport’s main shopping street.
The open-top bus arrives into Weymouth at 10:42 and leaves at 10:55 for Lulworth Cove, Wool and Monkey World and again we had a reasonable number on board for the ‘second half’.
On the return journey at 12:03 from Monkey World, we got caught by the level crossing gates by the station in Wool having to wait for trains to pass in both directions which made us about four minutes late. But in some ways this was just as well, as when we called into Wool Station’s bus stop round the corner from the level crossing there were about twenty people waiting and wanting to travel to Lulworth Cove and nearby Durdle Door.
Interestingly a ‘more’ operated bus on their Purbeck Breezer branded route 30 pulled into the stop behind us while we were loading up and I realised why our driver had enticed them all on board and they’d looked rather reluctant, as they’d obviously planned to get the 30 which had a more convenient connection time between the train and bus at 12:22 (than our scheduled 12:11 – the train had arrived at 12:10).
More’s route 30 runs six return journeys daily from Swanage to Weymouth via Wareham, Wool and Lulworth Cover along the same route as First’s X54 west of Wareham.
Lulworth Cove also has more’s route 31 from Wareham Forest Tourist Park, Wareham, Wool and Lulworth Cove as well as calling at Bovington Tank Museum and Monkey World. It operates a daily seven or so return journeys.
As one Twitter user commented, Lulworth has never had so many buses. Neither have the Tank Museum and Monkey World.
Commendably despite running around seven minutes late after we’d left Lulworth Cove, we arrived into Weymouth spot on time at 13:09 and the bus was scheduled to continue to Bridport at 13:25. It was good to see quite a few passengers waiting.
It had been a hugely enjoyable five hour round trip.
Just a couple of minor suggestions – many of the buses out yesterday were looking rather grubby, and could do with a run through the bus wash. I noticed someone had taken the trouble to give the new stretch of route operated by the X51 on one bus rear a bit of a wash to highlight it.
Also, it would be good to get someone to install a bit of panelling on the bus shelter in Bridport.
Aside from those finicky points, it really was impressive to see so much positivity yesterday.
Well done to managing director Marc Reddy and his team at First Hampshire and Dorset for putting together a great timetable, a great livery, really helpful information and attractive marketing material. It certainly deserves to succeed.
And finally a shout out to the DfT for CBSSG (Covid Bus Service Support Grant) too; I’m sure it’s a great help.