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.