Tuesday 27th July 2021
At a reported cost of £8 million Exeter’s brand new bus station, which opened for business on Sunday, sounded like excellent value for money so I popped down yesterday to take a look around and see what’s on offer.
As readers will know I never trust the hyped up world of gushing rose-tinted descriptions that plague launch news releases for “state-of-the-art” developments of this kind (they’re always “state-of-the-art” and nowadays “green technology” and “sustainable” too, as this one inevitably is according to Stagecoach’s blurb) preferring my own personal assessment of how things actually are on the ground.
The first thing you notice as you approach the new bus station is how much smaller it is from the old clapped out one it’s replaced, so much so it’s located in just one corner of its extensive land grabbing predecessor.
Even more so as part of the old site is also now occupied by an almost finished swish looking new leisure complex to be called St Sidwell’s Point Leisure Centre with a “state-of-the-art” swimming pool allegedly ready to open this summer and “just being fitted out internally”.
The complete site including the former bus station has been given a project name – Citypoint – and will eventually include……
The old bus station may have been much larger including the split level adjacent coach station but it was for a bygone era (having opened in 1964) and been looking distinctly down at heel for many years.
For now the remnants of what’s left of the old bus station are still in situ as it was in use up until Saturday evening, albeit the Travel Office had long closed which was a particular shame as you could always find a comprehensive display of timetable leaflets inside and helpful staff on hand.
So it was excellent news this new facility includes dramatically improved arrangements for buses on the city’s long distance inter-urban and rural routes and the consequential enhanced image always portrayed by a new bus station is hugely welcome. Not least passengers can now wait in the comfort of an enclosed weather proof environment.
Not everything is absolutely finished at the moment particularly the paving in the immediate area leading to the new bus station and it’s southern pedestrian entrance/exit alongside the adjacent new leisure centre.
For now everyone has to enter and exit through the door at the north end which meant some congestion across queues of passengers waiting to board buses from the low numbered stands at the north end.
Indeed the concourse area for passengers looked somewhat tight on space to me with insufficient room for passengers to walk past the queues accessing the stands. This situation may ease a little when that other entrance/exit opens as everyone won’t have to walk the far length of the concourse if they arrive at the ‘wrong’ end.
There isn’t much room for seats with only a row of three on one side and a single seat on the other side of each departure door.
The doors open when sensors detect someone nearby and aren’t triggered by whether a bus is on the stand or not. I saw two ignorant people use one of these doors to exit and walk across the bus manoeuvring area and were rightly chastised by Stagecoach staff but only to mouth back an obscenity.
There are three bench seats in alcoves on the far side of the concourse area, and one of these was being used by a member of staff and a couple of fire extinguishers. The blue kitchen litter bin looked rather like an after thought too.
There’s a staff facility behind the concourse through a coded locked door …
… and as always with these things, no provision has been made for the not insignificant number of bus drivers who like a smoke in their break with the consequence that even yesterday, the first weekday, a tradition seemed to have started of clusters of smokers on their breaks chatting close to the pedestrian entrance.
It’s understandable with no alternative provision but I never think this is a good look. (Bristol’s bus station is notorious for the same characteristic.)
Each departure bay has a ‘real time’ electronic sign above the door showing the next three departures and one by the three seats showing the next dozen departures (if appropriate) as well as a static list of departures on the other side but there are no static full timetable displays anywhere which I do find very disconcerting for a bus station.
Bays 11 and 12 in the southern corner have less seats.
There are a couple of posters at the entrance showing by stand number which routes depart and obviously these were being constantly referred to by first time visitors yesterday, but there wasn’t anything to consult in route number order.
I’m a bit surprised there weren’t more of these posters affixed to the back wall, if only as a temporary introductory arrangement.
There are two electronic departure boards with very clear displays showing the next ten upcoming departures in time order which is useful. One of these is outside the glass fronted office which is the designated “Information Point”.
I had high hopes for the “Information Point” but was disappointed to find it’s situated in what looks like an unfinished office and currently comprises another electronic departure board, a transparent plastic leaflet rack and some more fire equipment.
I saw from a tweet put out by Stagecoach the leaflet rack was well endowed at midday on Sunday but sadly by my visit, twenty-four hours later yesterday lunchtime, it was almost empty.
Thus confirming two truths. Firstly timetable leaflets ARE popular with passengers (even though “it’s all online”) and secondly you have to be proactive in topping up leaflet racks to avoid disappointment.
As it was, the only leaflets on display were just a few of three new brochures showing a map and summary of frequencies and first and last bus times for routes operated by Stagecoach in Plymouth; Torbay; and North Devon .
Sadly nothing for Exeter.
However, I had a nose around behind some moveable display boards displaying a set of maps for each area and some posters (behind the one chair) ….
…. and found a cache of cardboard boxes with supplies of Devon County Council’s superb timetable books.
I helped myself to an East Devon book from the one opened box but didn’t like to rummage further. Back in my employment day I’d have filled up the leaflet rack from a supply like that!
I also resisted doing any floor scrubbing.
It seemed a tad unfortunate to me the only actually bus timetables available were those produced by Devon County Council and then only if you could find them.
I was a bit surprised there wasn’t any razzmatazz or staff on hand to help unsure passengers on their first day experience of using the new bus station but it may be I just missed the goody table that had been staffed earlier in the morning.
I did spot what looked like goody bags in the cardboard boxes behind the screens so maybe more was planned for later in the afternoon.
I also wondered if the whole “Information Point” area will be fitted out with a counter and staffed so that it becomes a very useful “Information Point”. It looked like it might. I noticed a sign that referred passengers wanting timetables to the Stagecoach website – quite extraordinary.
There are some nice new toilets which I do hope will be kept in pristine condition and not abused by members of the public.
There didn’t look to be much room for buses laying over, other than on the departures stands …
… and I spotted a couple of Dartline buses lurking in a side street and asked the drivers if they were using the new bus station, but they said, it’s for Stagecoach only.
Aside from the niggles I’ve outlined above, all in all, the new bus station is a much welcome improvement on the old rather windswept and dated facility but it does seem a shame this one feels a bit cramped, has so few seats and a rather basic “Information Point” but at £8 million, it’s pretty good going considering that would only buy a very basic new one platform, no facilities, railway station in mid Wales.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.