Tuesday 5th October 2021
First the good news. Go-Ahead’s Go Cornwall Bus website which acts on behalf of Transport for Cornwall (TfC) now includes a comprehensive map of the combined county bus network showing both First Kernow’s commercial and TfC’s tendered networks.
An integrated bus map. At last.
And as I found when I was in Cornwall over the weekend it’s on public display across the county at bus stations in at least Truro, Camborne and Penzance and no doubt other locations too.
It’s even more colourful than before with added shades for each of the extra routes now included making it a bit of a challenge to follow every variant but I’m not complaining as it’s a most welcome development.
The bus station displays really are excellent and even include colour coded timetables.
I tried to pick up an updated timetable book hoping for a hard copy of the map but alas couldn’t find supplies anywhere – I’m not sure one’s been published – but I did find First Kernow’s updated book from 5th September 2021 in Bodmin’s Visitor Information Centre containing timetables, ticket information and maps …. but only showing their commercial routes as that’s what the timetable book purports to be.
I also spotted them on display through the closed doors of TfC’s Truro bus station office and the sadly closed-for-the-weekend Visitor Information Centre in Penzance.
The timetable book includes details of new route developments including First Kernow’s latest wheeze to link former routes 86/87 (each ran hourly to make a combined half hourly service) between Newquay and Truro with the half hourly route U1 between Truro and Falmouth. This re-establishes a Newquay-Truro-Falmouth link previously introduced as route 88A in 2011.
This 2021 version of the cross Truro half hourly route is numbered U1 for hourly direct journeys between Newquay and Falmouth and U1A for hourly journeys via St Agnes as the 87 used to do, taking 10 minutes longer as a result.
The newly linked route has yet to appear on the prominent T-Shape route diagrams on the route branded buses serving the university campus in Penryn but there’s no doubt it’s a good move to further extend the direct cross county links to the university.
Meanwhile Go Cornwall Bus registered a number of commercial initiatives of their own to start from the beginning of September including what look like three competitive swipes at First Kernow’s network.
Two of these have subsequently been put on hold due to bus driver shortages including an hourly route F1 competing against First Kernow’s U1/U1A between Truro and Falmouth with its differential offering being a quicker end to end journey time (reportedly a 14 minute saving) by missing out the major traffic objective of the University campus at Penryn.
A similar idea of speeding up end to end journey times is behind another Go Cornwall Bus competitive venture: two hourly routes – 26 and 26A – providing a new combined half hourly link between Bodmin and St Austell competing directly with First Kernow’s hourly route 27 between the two towns (and which continues west beyond St Austell to Truro).
Whereas FK’s route 27 takes a circuitous path to serve both the villages of Roche and Bugle on route as well as a detour in St Austell to serve its Boscoppa suburb, Go Cornwall’s new routes take a more direct trajectory out of St Austell and then serving either Bugle (route 26) or Roche (route 26A) consequently giving a 22 minute saving on the Bodmin to St Austell journey time.
This development is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly while it’s quite legitimate for Go Cornwall Bus to introduce competitive routes, because its branding is synonymous with the Transport for Cornwall branding it appears to the public that it’s the Council behind the move. You can’t really tell the difference between Transport for Cornwall and Go Cornwall Bus, particularly the red livery which emphasises the TfC logo ….
…. and if you use ‘Google’ to access ‘Transport for Cornwall’ it directs you to the Go Cornwall Bus website. To all intents and purposes they are one and the same.
But Transport for Cornwall is promoted as the all encompassing brand by Cornwall Council for its aspirations for a fully integrated public transport network across the County – it’s origins are in the 2015 Devolution Deal originally branded “One Public Transport System for Cornwall”.
As it is, since the “one public transport” network concept was launched by the Council in March 2020 it has so far failed to introduce the promised integrated tickets; timetables still don’t show both commercial and tendered journeys where appropriate; there’s none of the promised coordination between bus and train timetables; there’s no comprehensive website; there are continuing delays to a much hyped reduced fares trial (delayed from summer 2020 to Autumn 2021, now looking like Spring 2022); and until now, no comprehensive map.
Now it would seem the TfC brand also represents competitive bus routes which leaves me perplexed and confused as to exactly what the Council is seeking to achieve. It’s certainly nothing like how officers portray it in their presentations about how well everything is going with continued emphasis on integration. That’s just a mirage.
In the event on the St Austell to Bodmin corridor only route 26 hit the road at the beginning of September with driver shortages leaving Go Cornwall’s plans for the 26A stuck in a lay-by.
I took a ride on both Go Cornwall’s route 26 and FK’s route 27 on Friday afternoon to see how the competition is impacting passengers four weeks on.
I’d planned to catch the 14:35 route 26 departure from St Austell’s bus station, sited alongside the railway station, up to Bodmin and was taken aback as I alighted the train from Paddington at 14:15 to see the bus reversing off the stand to depart, supposedly twenty minutes early.
I and two other passengers frantically waved at the driver who pulled back on to the stand but when challenged he claimed his duty card confirmed the departure time as 14:15.
It would seem there are two versions of Go Cornwall’s route 26 timetable with journeys twenty minutes apart which is not very conducive for attracting passengers to a new service.
The pdf version of the timetable posted at bus stops …
…. and available online …
…. show the incorrect times whereas the web based timetable format and driver’s duty cards show the correct times.
As if that wasn’t crackers enough when I tweeted Go Cornwall to let them know about this anomaly they were totally disinterested to the extent of ignoring my tweet on both Friday afternoon and when I sent it again on Saturday morning.
I spotted another problem on Saturday when making my journeys around the county that route 42 is missing from TfC/Go Cornwall’s website so took the trouble to let the company know about that by tweet too.
Again, no acknowledgment or even a thank you. Nor did a tweet from another tweeter get acknowledged who pointed out routes 33, 35, 35A and 69 are missing too.
And that got me looking further into this and I realised these routes are sub-contracted to other operators by Go Cornwall, in this case OTS. So how are passengers supposed to find these timetables?
And then I looked closer at that impressive colourful ‘comprehensive’ timetable display at Truro bus station and realised timetables for other operators are missing from this too including route 304 operated by Hopleys Coaches and 493 operated by Travel Cornwall..
But then I looked more closely and realised it was a display showing timetables of either First Kernow (in green) or Go Cornwall Bus (in red), whereas you’d be forgiven as a passenger for thinking the red colour and brand represented Transport for Cornwall.
It makes we wonder what the Transport for Cornwall branding stands for, who ‘owns’ it and who is ‘managing’ it on who’s behalf.
Thankfully, timetables for the missing routes are posted at the departure stands in Truro bus station…
Back to my journey and a shout out to the driver of the 14:15 (not 14:35) St Austell to Bodmin journey on Friday. There was clearly some hiatus going on as I boarded and it turned out a passenger on board had realised she’d left her handbag at the bus stop in the town centre when she boarded the bus. The driver decided to zoom back down there to see if it was still there including doing a u-turn in East Hill but sadly it wasn’t, so then he zoomed back up to the bus station and asked the driver of the FK route 27 bus which had arrived for its 14:25 departure if he’d seen it, but sadly he hadn’t either.
No luck there but good for him trying to help the distressed lady out.
Due to that excitement we inevitably ran behind schedule to Bodmin although some passengers would already be confused what timetable we were following anyway. Carryings were low with two or three alighting as we left St Austell and a couple more in Bugle. Four more alighted closer to Bodmin with two more in the town centre.
Route 26 terminates at Asda to the north of the town which coincidentally is where FK now start and finish their route 27 rather than at Morrisons which is slightly to the east of the town centre.
I travelled back to St Austell on the 15:50 departure from Asda on route 27. We picked up around a dozen passengers in St Austell who travelled to various destinations along the route with more joining us at the services on the A30 and in the village of Roche.
In Bugle I realised St Austell bound passengers now have FK’s route 27 on one side of the road and GCB’s route 26 on the other making it somewhat confusing.
We continued on our more circuitous route through Boscoppa but this saw more passengers alight and board so was worthwhile. We arrived St Austell on time at 16:58.
My conclusion is the St Austell to Bodmin market is certainly not worth fighting over. There are no rich pickings to be had for either operator.
So it’s interesting to hear First Kernow are not fighting over it and have registered a modified route 27 from the end of the month involving severing the link to Bodmin and only running between Truro and St Austell then continuing through Boscoppa and terminating at Carclaze, just to the north of St Austell, which in my observations is where the main passenger demand lies. And even more interesting FK are redeploying the saved resource from ceasing to run between Bodmin and Carclaze to double the shortened route’s frequency from hourly to half hourly.
There’s a distinct air of ‘if Go Cornwall Bus think the St Austell to Bodmin market is commercial at two buses per hour – one via Bugle, one via Roche – they’re welcome to it and it gives us cover to withdraw and concentrate resources where margins are commercial’.
In view of this development there’ll no doubt be pressure behind the scenes from Cornwall Council for Go Cornwall Bus to get that proposed route 26A on the road as registered, staff shortage or not, especially as GCB reckoned it’s a commercial proposition, which FK clearly don’t.
It’s ended up as a win-win-win for everyone. Passengers get either more direct routes or double the frequency; First Kernow drop what they believe is a duff bit of route and Go Cornwall have the road to themselves where they believe there’s a commercial market. Everyone’s happy.
One unfortunate side effect of these shenanigans though is those lovely map displays and FK’s timetable book will be rendered out of date.
One other Go Cornwall Bus plan was to double its St Austell to Fowey frequency from hourly to half hourly with new 25A/B variants to compete with FK’s commercial hourly route 24. This has also been postponed for lack of staff so it’ll be interesting to see when and if it finally appears.
Go Cornwall Bus’s website indicates this “will be achievable in October”.
Certainly Cornwall Council will be wanting to see the 26A appear by then.
Finally, my grateful thanks to Go Cornwall Commercial and Customer Manager James Church who kindly contacted me yesterday morning having seen my tweets on Friday and Saturday and apologised for the errors I found of incorrect timetables on display which “we will look to fix this morning” which is always good to hear, as that’s why I pass feedback on. I know from long experience it’s easy to overlook errors and mistakes do happen (typos in these blogs are testament to that!), and that’s why welcoming and monitoring customer feedback is always so important and valuable. James is also checking “with the Customer Experience Team as to why your tweet was not responded too”. So that’s all good.
And not so crackers after all. Perhaps.
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.