Friday 6th August 2021
After I’d checked out Exeter’s new bus station on Monday last week it seemed a good opportunity to take a ride on First South West’s new open-top Discover Exeter tour introduced at the end of May for the summer season.
It’s part of the company’s suite of initiatives under the overarching Adventures By Bus brand. I’ve brought you the Dartmoor Explorer, the Exmoor Coaster, the Atlantic Coaster and Lands End Coaster so how does Discover Exeter measure up against those gems?
It’s just not in the same league. For a start both open-top buses in their smart gold coloured branding for use on the tour have been laid up and not turned a wheel for some time.
The replacement vehicles are unbranded so you might spot it wandering around the city but you’d have no idea what it was doing.
One stand out feature of the City Sightseeing franchise is the bold use of graphics on their fleet of open top buses in towns and cities across the UK and globally. You can’t miss what they’re about.
Indeed First have done the same on its other Adventure brands with some brilliant liveries, so it really is a stroke of bad luck the very classy attractive design for the Exeter tour (see above) is not seeing the light of day and instead languishes in the corner of a bus garage.
A second thing that seems to be lacking is eye catching publicity at bus stops around the route and in timetable cases.
Although Devon County Council have installed a conventional timetable at the terminal point at Exeter St Davids rail station, it’s hardly going to pull the punters in, not being geared up to attract the leisure market.
I didn’t spot anything at all at the bus stop outside Exeter Central rail station right in the heart of the city centre.
Also missing on the replacement unbranded buses is any public address system letting passengers know all the features they’re passing by and something which is usually expected on a city tour. I understand the fully branded buses have got the equipment on board but it’s not practical and would be too costly to transfer this to the unbranded buses now being used.
The fourth feature that seems to be missing is passengers. I took a ride on the circuit over lunchtime on that recent Monday. It was a bright sunny day among the recent bouts of wind and rain but still no passengers joined us – apart from Exeter based bus photographer Hugo who cadged a lift from St Davids Station back to the University and who’d I’d had the pleasure of meeting on my trip to Lynmouth and Barnstaple.
However in some good news to report, as I got off the bus when we got back to Exeter Central another passenger did board who like me was going to enjoy a free ride on the tour as a concessionary passholder.
It does seem quite extraordinary that Devon County Council are reimbursing for concessionary passholders using this tour – it must be the only city tour in Britain to qualify.
The tour itself is an interesting unhurried route around the central area of Exeter. It doesn’t venture very far from the city centre – not much more than a half a mile radius – and takes 48 minutes to complete the circuit.
There are eight hourly departures every day of the week commencing at 10:00 from St Davids rail station but you can hop on and off at any stop on the circuit.
There’s an attractive leaflet which was available on board by the driver’s cab and I know the First South West team are working hard to distribute it widely.
As well as the route map and timetable, the leaflet gives a brief description of many of the places of interest the bus passes.
You get some interesting views along the tour including the new leisure centre being constructed next to the new bus station …
… and along High Street, once only the preserve of minibuses and off limits to larger sized buses.
I enjoyed my tour ride; it was nice to capture so many aspects of Exeter in less than an hour.
Exeter is one of the few tourist towns and cities of its size in the UK where City Sightseeing doesn’t operate. I assume having tired it, they found there wasn’t a lucrative enough market.
There must be a question mark over whether First South West will make it work particularly this year with the problems of bus availability.
But, as with other examples I’ve blogged about over the last few years, if you don’t try these things you won’t know, and certainly the Dartmoor Explorer and Exmoor Coaster are brilliant additions to the tourist bus scene in the south west and encouragingly I hear are doing well, particularly the latter.