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.
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?”