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.
Don’t worry about the smoking as Philip Morris Tabaco says it wants to outlaw smoking in England in a few years, from a company who spent decades hiding the danger and then,as now, targeted the third world with their deadly product once the market started drying up in the west.Perhaps the far far deadlier car industry will say it wants cars outlawed in a few years after 100 odd years of slaughtering people and the planet?I fear not electric cars are their equivalent of vaping….as they drain the world’s resources finding lithium for the batteries so one person can sit in a four seated metal and plastic box!
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I am told that residential.Verney St is used for longer layovers.
As a fan of the former bus station, which we used every 6 months until May, with its space, enquiry office [ closed in May] and cheap but busy restaurant I am very disappointed. It looks a bit like High Wycombe, again with no bus office, but with possibly fewer seats. How can Exeter City Council possibly give it all to Stagecoach? Did the Council not contribute a penny towards it? Where are passengers to catch buses to Moretonhampstead, [ Country Bus 359, 2 hourly] , Chagford [Dartline173, several times a day], etc? Park & Ride buses did not even use the old station, so they need part of the restricted space too now. To find National Express coaches too, extremely busy until they were pushed out, passengers will have to first ask and then find directions to the new street stands.
How can Stagecoach possibly justify closing one of its busiest travel offices with its many timetable leaflets and the Devon CC books too, and its separate National Express desk? Do we have a Department of Transport or not? Does Devon CC not have a responsibility too if it still pays towards certain routes?
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Whilst it is disappointing that Dartline and Country Bus cannot use the new Bus Station, at least they don’t have to pay any departure fees. Their new stop is a dedicated one in Sidwell Street, so close by. Personally I would be more keen to see the 173 and 359 routed via St David’s Station to improve train connections.
A state of the art bus station would have a system for passengers to be able to see what time their bus arrives at their alighting point. “Country” bus stops need more seats than city bus stops as wait times will be longer.
At least there is a bus station. Many cities had main departure points on street, but when pedestrianisation comes along departure points can be disparate and unwelcoming.
For some years now, Stagecoach haven’t produced proper timetable leaflets in Devon; instead, they’ve relied on the excellent Devon CC timetable books . . . they have produced their map and summary leaflets instead. This actually seems sensible . . . as long as the Devon books are actually on display!! I think I’d’ve rummaged further behind the screens to get a full set!!
The old Bus Station was too large and crumbling gently away, so it did need replacing. With 500 new homes being built, as well as plenty of other facilities . . . it sounds like a good compromise, although the lack of standing space might be awkward. It’s all down to compromise . . . at least there is still a Bus Station there!!
One thing that did surprise me is that no attempt has been made to match service numbers with stand numbers, given the low service numbers used for country services. It would make life much easier for passengers, especially less regular users, if service 4 left from stand 4, service 5 from stand 5 and so on. Obviously it wouldn’t work for all services, but it would have done for most.
40,000 sq ft of retail space – even in prosperous and busy Exeter – what for?
My local bus station is currently being “redeveloped”. Prior to this, the council held a couple of consultation meetings. When I asked if the architects had discussed the plans with the local operators, I was told in no uncertain terms that they would not do that in any circumstances!
No doubt it will end up like Chelmsford where certain longer vehicles have turning circles such that they have to reverse in order to circumnavigate the bus station.
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One thing that always intrigues me a little bit about city bus stations is why the suburban routes so rarely use them. The majority of Stagecoach buses departing from Exeter city centre don’t run from the bus station … including several that use currently Optare Solos, and so couldn’t use the bus station even if Stagecoach decided they wanted to (although the new, smaller bus station now almost certainly wouldn’t have the capacity needed to service all the suburban routes as well). I mean, sure, people travelling into the centre from the suburbs will often be going shopping and so will want stops along the high street … but do they not expect anyone to be making a connection onto an interurban route to travel on to neighbouring towns?
Yes, it does seem short-sighted to have built a bus station that can’t accommodate wheel-forward buses at all, if that is the reason why Dartline and Country Bus aren’t using it – even if there was just one stand at one end that was configured differently, that would be perfectly sufficient for all those infrequent once-a-day or once-a-week services that have been moved out.
Luckily both Country Bus and Dartline do stop directly outside Exeter Central station. We usually catch the 359 there, and also caught the Dartmoor Explorer there in May.
I understand that Devon CC have barred any wheel forward vehicles from using the new bus station “on safety grounds”. Obviously £8m isn’t enough to employ competent designers.
In Bristol, you’re more likely to have to barge through crowds of chainsmoking local management than drivers at the access points to the bus station. And the reason the coaches are so short on layover space in Bristol? Mainly management (and their families) using the layover bays as a staff car park.
On the subject of modern bus station design, I think Mansfield may be better: probably smaller then Exeter, but with more seating and all the local routes….BUT no free toilets!!