Sunday 27th June 2021
You can usually pick up the vibes quite quickly whether a new bus venture will be a success when experiencing the service on the road. Despite my previous trip on First Bus’s (Buses of Somerset) Exmoor Coaster having a disappointing single decker at the beginning of the month the omens were positive that passengers would be attracted and the service prove popular.
Even in that first week with promotional leaflets yet to arrive from the printers the signs were it was already gaining passengers.
Bus stops all along the route had colourful timetables on display and the open tops sport an attractive and informative livery which really sells the service.
With publicity leaflets now printed and distributed around the area, as well as plentiful supplies on board the buses, awareness has certainly grown so it was good to see an impressive busy top deck yesterday morning with 25 passengers enjoying the ride from Minehead to Lynmouth.
Having backed the wrong horse last time and receiving inside info on Friday that one of the open tops was poorly again (thanks to Marc and Jason for that update) I decided to go ahead with my planned revisit yesterday but get up even earlier to catch the other vehicle working with its favoured open top allocation when only one is available.
And so it was I found myself in Minehead to catch the 10:35 departure that had come through from Doniford.
The very early start from Sussex was definitely worth it.
The views across Exmoor and over to the coast are simply superb and all the better from being seen from the top deck.
I’m sure this venture will be a huge success and just shows what opportunities are out there for a commercially minded entrepreneurial approach to encouraging passengers. I doubt an Explorer Coaster type of service would feature in a Somerset Council inspired ‘Bus Service Improvement Plan’ and certainly not if they ever thought bus franchising was the answer (although there’s no risk of that in Somerset).
Our driver yesterday morning had obviously been on the customer service course demonstrating some text book techniques to add value to the journey giving out interesting information over the PA system as we journeyed along (although he wasn’t sure whether Porlock Hill was just the steepest A road in England or whether in the whole of the UK).
He was also doing a brisk trade in handing out leaflets and information on our arrival in Lynmouth and even announced over the PA which return journeys would be open top and which single deck for the rest of the day.
I got the sense everyone enjoyed their ride and were well satisfied.
I also saw plenty of heads turning in a busy Minehead and in Lynmouth where the bus parks up prominently in the car park in between trips to see what the open topper was doing.
The ex Lothian Scania converted-to-open-top OmniCity buses work hard up and down the hills into and out of Porlock and Lynmouth on the A39 so it’s no surprise, bearing in mind their age (57 plate), they need quite a bit of tender loving care. Buses of Somerset say other vehicle types they have in open top format aren’t robust enough for the challenge which I can well believe.The Scania N94UD certainly took the hills well.
It’s that potential restricted vehicle availability which could be a dampener on the service. If I’d planned a trip out again the same as last time without prior knowledge of where the open top was likely to be, it would have been a bitter blow to find a single decker again and I’m not sure even I would have given it a third time lucky approach.
As it is I had a tremendous travel experience and will be telling everyone about it and recommending the ride.
If it’s the success I predict Buses of Somerset will, I’m sure, be buying a third bus to act as a spare. That’ll really sort it.
From Lynmouth I took the wonderful Cliff Railway up to Lynton and caught the Filers operated route 309/310 over to Barnstaple.
In doing so I bumped into the lovely Hugo who was taking photographs of the Exmoor Coaster as it arrived into Lynmouth and. like me, was travelling on to Barnstaple.
It’s always good to talk to young adults with an interest in the industry especially those completing a University course, as Hugo is, and have a whole range of career options ahead of them.
We had a good chat along the winding and picturesque journey on the A39 which is just as delightful west of Lynmouth and Lynton through north Devon as it is east over Exmoor in Somerset.
A shout out to our driver for some expert manoeuvring past a wide caravan on a particularly tight bend on the A39.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bus come through such a tight squeeze. And that wheel in the photos above on the bus …. two passengers boarded at Blackmoor Gate (pictured by the nice wooden shelter above) with a flat tyre they’d just suffered and decided the cheapest way of sorting it was to take it into Barnstaple on the bus to get it repaired and return later on the bus!
In Barnstaple I spotted another open top bus route showing positive vibes of success – Stagecoach’s route 21C to Croyde Bay – and both Hugo and the flat tyre passenger on board the 309 confirmed it’s well worth a ride offering more great north Devon scenery especially at the end of the route at the Bay.
I’ve got fond memories of a trip from Barnstaple to Georgeham via Croyde Bay three years ago but on a closed top double decker and can imagine an open top adds to the delight of the spectacular views across the Bay.
It’s good to see so many great initiatives to encourage passengers back on to buses all around the country this summer.
I’m delighted to see things going as well as they can be on the ground with no spare open top vehicle, however First need to get a grip of their Customer Service department. I emailed them with a query about if you can use the Adventurer tickets on the 28 too back on the 14th, and still no reply! I’m surely not the only one who has asked this question either, yet the website remains unclear
That’s a shame Alistair; I’ve forwarded your comment on to First Bus, so hopefully this will gee them up.
I spent a few days in the area last week and took a ride on the Explorer. Unfortunately it was on a single decker. However, I can echo Roger’s view on the scenery; absolutely fabulous. But First really need to have a backup open topper. I intend to go back in September for a second attempt but the publicity doesn’t say when the open top season will finish. Likewise the coaster services in Cornwall.
Likewise we are planning a trip in September and this service is one of the reasons for going. I will be with a group of probably 50 people – all in caravans and motorhomes and stopping near Minehead. Good potential business if we know what is going on.
I also did the trip on the Exmoor Coaster on Saturday, on a similar sounding schedule to your first run incorporating the 28 from Taunton and the little Feeder bus from Watchet. I sadly ended up on the single deck 12:00 from Minehead, but returned on the 14:40 on the open top, which had a near full load upstairs. On the way back we passed the other open top being tested, so it makes sense now that it returned to use yesterday.
Regarding the ticket situation, I tried to use the Adventurer M-Ticket off the app on the 28, but it unfortunately came up as invalid and so I had to purchase a seperate ticket for both routes. Could’ve just been the app playing up, but perhaps indicates that the adventurer ticket is only valid on the coaster.
I intend to try the Dartmoor Explorer very soon as well!
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The fares are such a mess with conflicting information, but if you look on the App, then it says the £15 ABB ticket is valid on all Buses Of Somerset buses, as well as in Cornwall and all the Adventures By Bus Services. I would check this to see if you have the correct M ticket, and if so ask for a refund. A friend had no problem using a similar (albeit bus purchased) ticket on BoS services a few days ago.
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I am pleased to hear that this service is doing well. It serves part of the 630 mile South West Coast Path, which is even more spendid than the bus rides. Anyone walking this path would find the local bus network really useful for accessing the walks and more effort by the bus companies would bring more passengers
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Buses of Somerset are notoriously bad at providing information relating to service issues on social media – the company last advised customers that only one open top bus would be operating on the Exmoor Coaster until Sunday 20 June!
I unfortunately travelled on the single decker yesterday as I did not have the benefit of ‘inside information’ – I could have changed my plans with advance notice!
The guidance issued for Bus Service Improvement Plans by the DfT does include reference to tourist services.
“94. In holiday destinations and scenic areas, much more should be done to promote
buses to visitors. Popular tourist areas such as the West Country and the national
parks are often blighted and congested by too many cars. More must be done to
promote buses to visitors, with improved services, easily accessible information,
park-and-ride sites and special tickets. LTAs need to consider how work could be
undertaken with tourist attractions and venues to promote and facilitate bus travel to
the site e.g. more accessible parking/stops for buses and coaches.”
Perhaps my experience is poor, but certain national operators are contributing little to the BSIP process, unlike local independents who are much more engaged. The BSIP is not a council document – it has to be a joint effort with operators, but it’s difficult when the operators aren’t really joining in.
Good to see that the Stagecoach corporate livery can still be tweaked. Buses on the Wave used to have their own cheery take on the previous corporate style and now the wavy lines and palm trees show that somebody can at least be bothered to think about local branding. Shame that the Coastliner 700 Brighton to Portsmouth wasn’t allowed similar treatment – instead becoming all over school bus yellow – https://twitter.com/DiscoveryBuser/status/1398175648426958851?s=20. Perhaps Barnstaple is too far west for the livery police
Also I don’t know who decides whether a route is a local or longer route – I took the X3 from Cardiff to Hereford the other day which is locally branded despite running along the M4 and having a 2x longer route than the Coastliner route, but it does also provide a lot of local journeys around Cwmbran.
To add to this, I saw Stagecoach just created a new route branding for the X4/5 in the Lake District which is branding for that route specifically – but I thought this wasn’t a thing any more?
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Seems to be allowed in tourist areas, as indeed are printed timetables.
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The 2nd open topper returned to the Exmoor Coaster this afternoon, let’s hope it lasts longer than previously. At least Buses Of Somerset did tweet the journeys that would be open top when they were down to only one bus, but of course many days they have had none available. A daily update would be useful.
I wouldn’t have thought today’s weather was very open-top friendly anyway! All right, I’m in Cardiff not Somerset – but it’s not that far away (in fact I can see it from my bathroom window!)
It’s that close that the Tesco at Culverhouse is the closest Click and Collect location to Minehead, according to their app! 😉
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