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History repeats itself in Norfolk

Monday 16th August 2021

After my recent visit to Safeguard, I thought I’d feature another small bus operator exuding quality and that’s Kings Lynn based Lynx operating a network of routes across north west Norfolk.

Julian Paterson and colleagues began trading as recently as January 2015 and it’s no surprise to see how well it’s doing because this Lynx team have form for setting up and running a successful bus company in Norfolk having done exactly that with the highly regarded Dereham based Konectbus established in 1999 before selling to the Go-Ahead Group in 2010.

Julian has a long association with buses in this part of Norfolk being born and brought up here as well as working for Eastern Counties in NBC days and into the privatised era. There’s not much he doesn’t know about the local market for bus travel.

Julian stayed with Go-Ahead after 2010 to manage its burgeoning East Anglian bus business portfolio but he’s a small bus company man at heart rather than someone comfortable working in a plc Group corporate management style.

So he left and joined former Konectbus colleagues to reinvent the same successful small scale quality bus operation formula they’d done before.

It was a classic case of being the right person (Julian) in the right place (Kings Lynn) at the right time (with Stagecoach failing to give the Norfolk Green company – it had purchased in 2013 from Ben Colson and colleague shareholders – the local management oversight it needed).

Lynx was slowly building up a presence on the Kings Lynn and Hunstanton corridor which Stagecoach inherited from Norfolk Green as well as in 2017 gaining some tendered bus routes previously operated by Stagecoach when the following year Stagecoach decided to walk away completely from the former Norfolk Green operation enabling Julian and the Lynx team to take on those routes they knew could be run successfully.

This truly was history repeating itself for bus operations in Kings Lynn as Ben Colson had done much the same thing after he’d gradually built up Norfolk Green from the late 1990s when in 2011 First Bus subsequently gave up its interests in the area other than the Peterborough to Norwich Excel route.

I spent a few hours riding around the north west Norfolk network as well as a catch up with Julian on Friday and as always came away impressed with the high quality standards the company maintains. You can’t help thinking that certain much better resourced plc owned bus companies could learn a lot from the Lynx approach to running buses.

Here are just a few examples.

A nice bright simple livery and logo consistently applied across the fleet providing an unambiguous marketing proposition.

Clean well presented buses inside and out even though 33 of the 35 strong fleet is second hand.

Two different timetable leaflets covering all the routes operated with a network map in both.

Available to pick up on all buses….

…. as well as in the Information Office at Kings Lynn bus station where Council employee Joe is on hand to answer any queries.

It’s instructive that whereas West Norfolk Community Transport, which operates bus routes in the local area, and Lynx regularly supply timetables for display so passengers can pick them up, First Bus never does for its Excel route nor Stagecoach for its route 505 to and from Spalding.

What a lost opportunity.

The fleet comprises 26 single decker Optare Tempos with examples formerly with Trentbarton and Transdev Blazefield as well as one or two other companies and seven double deck DAF DB250 with Gemini bodies from Reading Buses (five) and Konectbus (two). They are all kept in first class condition and wear eye-catching promotional messages.

There’s even a nod to the local bus network’s heritage with a pair of retro-style NBC style promotional messages behind the driver on a couple of Tempo buses.

In April the fleet was enhanced by two brand new ADL Enviro400 double deckers with branding for the Coastliner route 36 (which forms part of the four buses per hour Kings Lynn to Hunstanton corridor along with routes 34 and 35) before continuing along the coast to Wells and then south to Fakenham.

They’re the first brand new buses for the fleet and three more to the same spec have been ordered for delivery next March enabling all journeys on Coastliner to be double deck operated offering great views through this part of Norfolk and along the coast.

They’re impressive buses with a route diagram as part of the livery on either side of the bus as well as prominent marketing messages.

The interior includes comfortable seating with a bright moquette and two tables on the upper deck.

They come equipped with usb sockets but not Wi-fi or next stop announcements or displays.

The spec includes a handy multiple luggage rack replacing the front nearside seat which Julian explained always has limited leg room and being a route serving a popular holiday area passengers often board with luggage needing somewhere for it to be stored on board.

The downside is it hinders the forward view from inside the lower deck which Julian acknowledged but a glass partition had been ruled out for fear of it getting smashed which is a good point.

It was good to see the space utilised for a leaflet rack which was well filled.

Cove panels on both decks had bespoke promotional messages for the route including a map line diagram.

There are welcome messages and attractive visuals as you board …

…and it was so refreshing to see other surfaces were devoid of ‘Customer Notices’ that plague certain corporate bus fleets proving you simply don’t need such visual ‘noise’.

I also noticed single deck interior cove panels were nicely clear of such visual verbiage.

It really made for a pleasant change and conveys a much more professional image.

I caught four Lynx buses on a circular tour from Kings Lynn via Fakenham and Hunstanton and back to Kings Lynn on Friday as well as having time to break off and visit my good friend Ben Colson for the afternoon who still lives in this part of Norfolk.

All four drivers I met were smartly turned out and very welcoming. Customer service skills were much in evidence. David on the double deck route 36 even remembered the previous journeys I’d made with him including one with Ray Stenning as far back as 2010 on the Coasthopper from Cromer to Kings Lynn in Norfolk Green days as well as a trip up towards Hunstanton soon after Lynx started operating in 2015.

The driver of a 36 from Fakenham to Wells was presented with a First Bus day ticket which the ticket machine rejected. He used his phone to check its validity with Julian and politely and courteously explained to the passenger why it wasn’t valid selling her a return ticket instead.

We carried about a dozen passengers on the 10:00 departure on the five journeys a day route 49/49A from Kings Lynn to Fakenham with a similar number boarding the 11:00 return journey.

The 11:00 Fakenham to Kings Lynn journey on route 36 carried about twenty passengers to Wells with a good number alighting there and a crowd of about 10-12 waiting to board. The next journey arriving into Wells saw all 20 or so passengers alight with about a dozen boarding towards Hunstanton and Kings Lynn. Other journeys observed on routes 34, 35 and 36 between Hunstanton and Kings Lynn all had what I’d describe as ‘good loads’.

As we were departing Wells for Hunstanton we met a slightly late arriving bus on the Sanders Coaches route CH1 Coasthopper route from Cromer and it was good to see David stop to ask if there were any passengers on board wanting to transfer across. Back in the Norfolk Green days the service ran through from Cromer to Kings Lynn of course.

It’s disappointing to hear that Hunstanton bus station is destined to close with Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council giving planning permission to build a replacement library and 47 flats on the site.

As the site is now…
… and as it’s planned.

Work to demolish the adjacent former County Council library is already well advanced.

It’ll mean busy buses picking up and setting down on a busy road with less room for passengers to wait. The Borough Council state “the bus stops will be relocated onto the streets in new, safe and efficient locations”. Julian isn’t convinced.

I enjoyed my north west Norfolk circuit courtesy of Lynx.

I knew I would.

But let me leave you with three comments made to me quite spontaneously by passengers as they saw me taking photographs on Friday ….

He’s a really lovely driver; they all are.”

“It’s a very good bus company.”

“These are great buses, aren’t they?”

Roger French

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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.

23 thoughts on “History repeats itself in Norfolk Leave a comment

  1. It’s amazing the benefits of a lack of competition. Sometimes. Perhaps it makes it easier to focus on what really matters?

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  2. Some years ago I had planned to visit North Norfolk and walk along part of the coast path, encouraged by the excellent services operated by Norfolk Green. Events got in the way so it never happened. I hadn’t realised that Stagecoach had walked away; it should have been clear to them (as it was to me from a distance) that Norfolk Green had over-performed and it would need need a similar style of management to make a go of it, sitting back was not an option. It is encouraging that similar minded individuals had taken up the reins, it might need to go back on the to-do list, so thank you for this very thorough, enlightening and encouraging report.

    Two observations. Firstly, I hope Sanders would have hung around if a Lynx bus had been slightly overdue; the loss of through buses is a disadvantage here. Independents need to stick together, in this case their competition is north of the border not by the back door.
    More importantly perhaps, (at least) four cheers to Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Council for providing the information facility – staffed – where much larger areas don’t bother, and to Joe for ensuring the timetables were well organised and those he had were readily available.

    If I was visiting and was at a loose end for a day, Spalding and Dereham would not likely to be on my visiting list. (Assuming there are timetables at the stops) I would know I could get there, I would not be certain about getting back!
    Lastly, I hope that the council I praised above learns the lesson of the incident at Wells, described by Roger, if passengers need to change buses, they need to know where their next bus leaves from, as in directions, and it needs to be close by. Bus stations usually provide that,. roadside stops do not necessarily.

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  3. Agree that Lynx are good with publicity etc but Roger French of all people should know how Lynx progressed helped by the gross mismanagement of Norfolk Green by Stagecoach.
    In fact I still cannot understand why they bought it in the first place.
    Having to give wage parity with Stagecoach East to Norfolk Green drivers pushed up their costs. I wonder what wages ex Norfolk Green drivers are on now.
    Lynx took all the council tenders from Norfolk Green, as they themselves had done with First, and only operated the main section of the Hunstanton route during working hours.
    Main think going for Lynx is their livery which is just plain and simple and the turnout of their staff with no hi vis in sight when driving.
    With regard to bus stations, there are now very few, most being asset stripped , with Brighton and Hove appearing quite happy to pick up in the streets

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  4. Great report and an impressive operation!

    One bug bear for me of the Coasthopper service is the lack of any evening journeys beyond Hunstanton. This means anyone coming up from London by train for a weekend on the coast at, say, Burnham Market, needs to leave London King’s Cross about 2pm to connect all the way through. This has been the case since Norfolk Green, and in fact the last through trip used to just miss what would have been a slightly later rail connection. If one or two buses could be out-stationed at Wells and extent beyond Hunstanton around 7pm and /or 9pm that would solve the problem.

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  5. Amazed that buses don’t come with “Next Stop” announcements and displays as standard by now, especially in an area catering to a fair level of tourists. It’s very useful information if you’re not familiar with the area.

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  6. Lynx is indeed an impressive operator, but I am sure a better solution to the forward view downstairs problem could have been developed. Maybe a glass screen, but with protective metal bars in front, so it can still be seen through, or maybe use perspex, although appreciate that can get scratched. Without the forward vision, the next stop announcements really would be useful!

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  7. Great report, Roger. Was in Lynn a few weeks ago and can confirm that whilst there may not have been leaflets in the bus station, I can confirm that the Excel most definitely had them on the buses themselves.

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  8. I am always irritated by luggage and the high seat backs being on the nearside – why not on the offside as a matter of course so as not to obstruct forward visibility? Operators do not seem to realise how many people peer ahead to try to see their stop, although next stop announcements [ non-verbal] are excellent .I assume bus designers never themselves travel by bus.

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    • I would agree that blocked forward vision is not customer-friendly but Roger’s report suggests the blank panel was specified by Lynx; it is not a standard feature. Even if this was toughened glass, luggage in the rack would obscure the view. In other E400MMCs you do have a forward view save that a passenger in the ‘jump-seat’ may also obscure it.

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  9. When I lived in Hunstanton in 1988 the bus station was owned by a company called Birds.I don’t think that Birds did the Kings Lynn Hunstanton bus and it was probably Eastern National which hadn’t, I’m guessing,fallen into the hands of First: Transforming Travel at that point.Birds also did a bus link on behalf of British Rail Leicester to Hunstanton via Peterborough and Kings Lynn and I think that I caught it once.The bus to Wells next the Sea from Hunstanton was run by a small private ,not Birds,company and only ran a few days a week

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    • I doubt that Birds owned Hunstanton bus station and suspect it was always a council facility, given there was a library on site. I don’t know about the asset stripping of bus stations being endemic nowadays; it was the case in the post de-reg era but most council ones still survive. Hunstanton is a very small town (though it swells with holidaymakers) and arguably wouldn’t justify a bus station; there are larger (though still small) towns like Fakenham and Downham Market and they manage without them. It’s quite a large plot for 5 departures per hour (of which 4 are to King’s Lynn).

      As for the main King’s Lynn to Hunstanton service, that would have been Eastern Counties not Eastern National.

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  10. One of life’s little mysteries is that in the summer of 1969 Eastern Counties Service 35 ran every 30 minutes between Kings Lynn and Hunstanton seven days a week. In the summer of 2021, Lynx run every 15 minutes (20 minutes on Sundays) over the same route. How is this possible when bus ridership levels in general have decreased dramatically over that half century period?

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    • I am guessing its all down to marketing and / or a changing lifestyle. There are so many cases of bus services these days being much better than in years gone by, sometimes dramatically so, but sadly more that have gone in the opposite direction.

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  11. Some good bus news

    #Wright Bus are back on track and expanding. It is converting a 120 temporary jobs to permanent and taking on another 300 staff which is great news for Ballymena NI, It is a big turn around as in 2019 it was down to only 56 staff, It is now focused on building hydrogen and battery powered buses

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  12. Sorry but no forward view and no next stop annoucements, especially in an area with tourist traffic, really isn’t acceptable.

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  13. Stephen @0949 rightly points out that the lack of evening connections beyond Hunstanton from Kings Lynn mean very early connections from London. It also means that the bus isn’t much use for anyone going to work even in normal office hours. This pattern is repeated on the Sanders service further along the coast with a leisurely start time around 0930!

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    • The Sanders vehicles interwork with school contracts before they start on Coasthopper Services. If people travel by train to Norwich (a more sensible option for North Norfolk) they will find a combination of bus and train services run so that the last arrival, at Sheringham, is nearly midnight.

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  14. In spite of Eastern Counties happily using double deckers on the section from Hunstanton to Cromer, we were always told by Norfolk Green and Stagecoach, (who even purchased “slimline” Solos), that they couldn’t be operated on this section “because of narrow roads” and over-crowding was the sad result. Yet Lynx is able to buy new E400s and operate without difficulty as, of course, a double-deck vehicle takes up less road space than most singles, a point missed by many. Pity about the need to block forward vision downstairs for those unable to climb.

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  15. With Tempos for every mood, Lynx’s admirably well maintained ones are superb cruisers – friendly, smooth, relaxing and powerful! The backbone of Lynx’s services. The ADLs’ ride is a little firmer than the Tempos’

    Their new Enviro400 MMCs are appreciably thoroughly thought out! Plenty of seat mounted grab handles, meaning abundant handholds even on the virtually rail less top ‘viewing’ decks under two immersive skylights topping those from Trent’s 2007 Tempos (though I’m a little disappointed there isn’t a middle one too) blazing moquette that conjures images of African savannahs and big cats, fiery orange underseat lighting (making up for ADL’s poorly designed saloon lighting that points out the windows, leaving the aisle in shade) and handy charging points. Exciting, full height Lazzerini seats everywhere provide good comfort (though Esteban Civics are my more streamlined and relaxing).

    An unfortunate design fault by ADL is a wheelchair pinch point with interior mouldings jutting out for no reason. Seat mounted bells are a reasonable idea, but I feel to pull it off one bell is needed on at least every pair of seatbacks. Next stop announcements can always be added (and sound like a nightmare to do so) but with spaced out stops and handy charging points smartphone GPS is fine

    After owning many ex Welsh Tempos, I’m a little surprised about the luggage rack boards, I’m semi-surprised ADL didn’t advise the punched metal sidings First’s old Excels had. There is comfortable room around the boards to use the handrails however.

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