Wednesday 9th June 2021
It’s exactly five months since Arriva sold its Cannock based operations comprising about a dozen bus routes, 46 vehicles and the Delta Way bus garage to D&G Bus back on 9th January, so with a brand new service introduced last week, I thought it was a good time for a visit and see how the new regime is bedding in.
It’s a long time since I’ve visited Cannock’s bus station and I’d forgotten just how basic the facilities are.
For the size of town it’s quite a busy bus station with ten drive through stands spread over five through lanes with lots of barriers to deter pedestrians crossing other than on designated pink coloured walkways.
As well as D&G Bus, buses operated by National Express West Midlands on the 20 minute frequency route X51 to Birmingham …
… and a sister company to D&G Bus called Select (it has common ownership as well as a common livery) also operate from the bus station.
There’s a shelter at each stand with two separated horizontal bars which I assume is meant to be an apology for a seat. I wonder if the designer has ever sat on one.
I also wonder what council officers and politicians at Staffordshire County Council and Cannock Chase District Council think about the facilities.
There are timetables showing departure lists at each bus stop and D&G Bus have added a traditional style timetable for their services.
There’s a supposed “real time” departure sign at each stand with the destination shown on the other side which is helpful.
But what’s missing is any information to tell you which service departs from which stand. There are a couple of blank poster cases which would be ideal for this purpose by the steps from the adjacent shopping centre.
I had no idea where the new route X14 to Telford and Oakengates leaves from so walked around each stand looking in the timetable case until I found it.
I eventually found details on stand 8 including a large print timetable for the new service. It was alongside the departure listing for route X51 which was out of date showing a former half hourly service, now improved to 20 minutely.
So not only a bus station with sparse information, but wrong information too.
It was a good job I had plenty of time to search around for the departure; and it also gave me an opportunity to see the gradual rebranding of what was once an Arriva stronghold into the resurrected Chaserider brand D&G have chosen to trade under in this area.
It’s a throwback to the brand first used by Midland Red North in 1980 which lasted until 1992.
The purchase deal with Arriva included a motley collection of vehicles including ageing (16-17 years older) Plaxton Pointer bodied Dennis Darts and Optare Solos from 2008/9.
Inevitably these are still running round in Arriva livery with Chaserider logos but D&G have introduced enough newer vehicles in their smart red livery to create a good impression of the new regime.
Maybe they’re not all in tip top mechanical condition though …
…. but I’m sure the former Arriva vehicles present more challenges – as I found out.
D&G have left the route network inherited from Arriva largely unchanged since the January takeover with demand devastated by Covid and the DfT’s Covid Bus Service Support Grant CBSSG meaning it wouldn’t have been a priority to make changes.
New route X14 is the first foray into trying a new commercial opportunity. The timetable is a one bus affair providing a two-hourly frequency between Cannock and Telford along the fast A5 Watling Street, only diverting off to serve Shifnal on the outskirts of Telford and the rather upmarket residential area of Priorslee on the approach into Telford town centre.
Route X14 continues beyond Telford to terminate at Oakengates while back in Cannock on the inbound journey it runs via the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet before reaching the town’s bus station.
The Monday to Saturday timetable (no service Sundays) doesn’t get going until 08:42 so I’m guessing the bus probably does a school journey before that, but afterwards it keeps going until 20:40 fitting in six return journeys in that 12 hours with only five minutes stand time in Oakengates and two minutes in Cannock every two hours, meaning it’s a very tight wheel turning time of 56.5 minutes each hour.
And as I found out on Monday when I gave it a try, it’s far too optimistic, not least because there are major roadworks disrupting traffic in Oakengates necessitating a delay infused diversion.
I’d planned to catch the 12:42 (12:40 arrival) from Cannock bus station. It was only a driver waiting to take the bus over that reassured me the bus was on the road, as by 12:50 there had been no sign of the bus.
Sadly my enquiring tweet to the Chaserider Twitter feed enquiring about its whereabouts didn’t elicit any response.
The bus eventually appeared after another five minutes and the driver coming off for a break explained the delays were caused by the roadworks. The driver taking over had already told me he’d had to miss out Oakengates one day last week due to late running and it looked as though the same would happen again on this occasion.
All the more so as halfway along the journey we came to a sudden stop on the busy single carriageway A5 as it appeared the bus was getting stuck in first gear. After some chivvying by our driver and the classic turning everything off and back on again at the master switch (a few times) we eventually got going again.
Only for the same thing to happen as we reached Priorslee. Again after a few attempts our driver managed to get us going and nursed us into Telford’s bus station where he terminated the journey.
I was a bit surprised to see the bus allocated was one inherited from Arriva for what I’d assumed would be a prestigious new route for the new Chaserider brand. It felt the bus had seen better days and wasn’t really the impression you want for a brand new service, especially with mechanical issues and roadworks disruption.
We’d arrived into Telford 25 minutes late which wasn’t bad considering the delays but our driver did have his foot down hard most of the time. It had been a very fast journey.
There were a couple of passengers who were already on board at Cannock bus station, presumably having boarded at the Designer Outlet and wanted to go to Oakengates so were disappointed to end up in Telford.
A passenger had alighted in Cannock and was reassured her return journey to Telford was at 14:42 which subsequent events proved was misplaced optimism. Another passenger boarded with me in Cannock and travelled to Telford. We picked up one passenger in Shifnal and three in Priorslee travelling locally into Telford who were waiting for an Arriva bus on another route.
The X14 has got potential as there’s no convenient public transport link between the two towns. It goes past Weston Park which might be a draw. But it’s going to take a lot of effort to market it and raise its profile.
I didn’t see much evidence of that on Monday.
There was an advert which popped up on the departure screens in Telford’s bus station every few minutes along with the usual Covid precautions advice etc but the revamped bus station in the town has an aversion to bus timetables although commendably D&G Chaserider have rebelled against Telford & Wrekin Council and stuck timetables at the departure bay used by the X14.
Other departure bays are completely devoid of information; they don’t even let you know which routes depart from which bay. It’s the new “minimalist” approach to bus information I suppose.
You have to rely on the electronic displays which list departures in time order for the next 30 minutes or so. It’s not very reassuring if you’re a stranger or new to travelling by bus.
Admittedly there are six (three back to back) of the screens along the length of the bus station concourse.
It’s no good thinking you can call into the nicely refreshed Arriva run Travel Office when the bus station was rebuilt as an edict from Arriva HQ has determined all such helpful facilities to encourage passengers must be closed. As this one is.
Still at least there are a few bench type seats at each stand; a luxury not available in Cannock.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned rather negative comments, it is good to see Telford’s bus station in its refreshed state, as the former one was looking rather tired.
It’s located at one end of the town’s huge shopping centre which has also had a makeover and extensions; but make no mistake the town is dominated by the car as the map showing where everything is inside the shopping centre admirably demonstrates. It’s surrounded by seven large car parks.
Still at least the map does show the bus and train stations.
And mention of the train station reminds me to highlight the good and bad there too. Inside the station building you can find a poster giving a map of Telford’s bus routes as well as information about routes 4 and 5 which provide a frequent link to the town centre if you want to avoid the ten to fifteen minute walk.
It would be nice to think the map is up to date. Sadly it doesn’t look like it is with a quick comparison with the map on Arriva’s website.
It’s also rather optimistic for the poster to advise “for our timetables please visit the bus stops outside the station …”
… as the only information at said bus stops is to let you know that the shelter is provided by Telford & Wrekin Council.
Still; I suppose that is helpful to know.
It looked to me that the Council is more keen on providing fun looking bus stop flags around the town, than useful information for passengers.
Back to D&G’s Chaserider and its website is giving information about some extensive changes to bus routes from 21st June.
As well as revamping existing routes and taking over route 71 (Cannock to Wolverhampton) from Select, with routes 7 and 8/8A moving the other way from Chaserider to Select, two further new routes are being introduced – route 1 providing a new half hourly fast link between Cannock and Walsall and route 61 an hourly off peak service between Chase Terrace (to the east of Cannock) and Lichfield.
A few suggestions – use the smart Chaserider branded buses to create a good image and impression on the two new routes (rather than the former Arriva buses, which don’t); produce an attractive leaflet to promote the services and make them widely available; and make sure the timetables are realistic.
It’s beginning to come together for Chaserider but there’s a long way to go yet. The forthcoming changes on 21st June will create new links which I hope will be a success. Thank goodness for Covid Bus Service Support Grant, once again.
PS My journey back from Wolverhampton to Euston with Avanti West Coast on Monday was on an 11 coach Pendilino. There were 13 people in the three coaches designated First Class (Coaches K, J and H) while Coach G (still designated First Class on the doors and outsides) was a completely empty Standard Premium. The Train Manager made no announcements about its availability. Meanwhile Standard Class was busy albeit social distancing was still maintained. And yet again the on board cafe would only accept cash. It’s not very impressive and this Standard Premium idea really is bonkers.