Here in Hereford

Thursday 2nd December 2021

Hereford is one of those market towns where it’s notoriously hard to provide a decent bus service that’s financially viable. With a population of around 62,000, it’s a similar size to Corby, Canterbury, Scarborough, Taunton and Tunbridge Wells.

It’s a typical English market town with a relatively low population density in a shire county (now a Unitary) where another 130,000 people reside. The city centre itself has long been pedestrianised but traffic crawls through the city’s upgraded central roads at busy times.

As well as the railway station about a ten to fifteen minute walk to the north east from the cathedral where some long distance bus routes depart, there are two bus stations.

One for country bus routes which is five minutes walk from the station towards the city centre, and a city bus station carved out of the rear of a centrally located Tesco store.

Wayfinding finger posts with walking times reassure pedestrians they’re on the right path and the country bus station is well signposted from the road (mainly because there’s a car park behind it) and has timetables at each departure stand as well as a where to catch your bus poster.

There are also maps at each stand showing the location of the city bus station and key city centre bus stops.

Herefordshire Council has been funding free weekend bus travel for some weeks and arranged for some extra journeys to run on Sundays within the County to try and tempt motorists to use the bus. I don’t know how successful this is proving but it’s set to last at least until next April.

I’d hoped to get to Hereford last Saturday to see for myself but sadly Storm Arwen defeated me with all Transport for Wales services suspended.

Six years ago in 2015 First Bus closed its bus garage in the city and pulled out from running the city’s local bus routes. These were taken over by locally based long standing coach company Yeomans Travel but the company recently announced it will be withdrawing from most of these routes at the end of the month.

In a posting on its Facebook page Yeomans blames falling passenger numbers even before Covid “as more people have bought cars and traffic congestion in the city has got steadily worse”. It goes on to explain with Covid financial support having ended in September and passenger levels at 50% of 2019 levels “this is not sustainable”.

In a swipe at Herefordshire Council the statement adds “there have been no discussions with local operators about bus priority or traffic issues until recently when the Government unveiled a package to local councils to assist bus travel”.

The statement acknowledges the Council is working on a new bus strategy including support for bus services but explains it can’t wait for that and must act now “to protect the future of the Company” adding the Council asked it to carry on running the services until April with no offer of financial assistance. “If it is not financially viable why would we continue until then” the post asks?.

What’s also upset Yeomans is the Council put the about-to-be-withdrawn services out to tender with financial support explaining “if we had been offered this we would have continued operating these services which would have meant no disruption at all and saved a lot of time and effort all round”.

All of this naturally received quite extensive local news coverage as well as high profile articles in the bus industry trade press.

Against this background I took another trip over to Hereford on Tuesday to take a ride on the services involved to see how poorly supported they are.

To make a change from Saturday’s aborted journey when I reached as far as Newport, on Tuesday I travelled via Birmingham using Avanti West Coast and West Midlands Trains returning on the Cotswold line with GWR thereby making for three different routes from London to Hereford. Fortunately all went well on Tuesday and I arrived in the city at 11:15 for a four hour visit.

One of TfW’s Gerald trains was passing through Hereford as my GWR train arrived in the afternoon..

The network of local city bus routes is quite complex to discern. There’s a myriad of different route numbers with some routes operating both way circulars, others just one way and others out and back.

There’s a map on Herefordshire Council’s website but I’m not convinced it’s up to date as some route numbers shown on the map don’t seem to operate and others take a different route and others don’t get a look in – eg Sergeants routes A and B.

It certainly reinforces the complexity of it all.

Most routes are short, rounding in either around 30 or 60 minutes and provide half hourly or hourly frequencies with vehicles and drivers interworking across the network.

The city bus station is quite compact with three departure stands and a small area for out of service buses to park.

There’s a long covered shelter with some seating against the Tesco store’s building for one departure bus stop ….

…. a rather nice structure built to match the Tesco architecture on a centrally located island with no seating for a second ….

…. and a rather dismal shopping trolley type shelter for the third with a rather uncomfortable bench seat and with broken plastic panels too. Come on Tesco, or the Council or whoever, get that sorted.

There’s no map to telll you which route departs from which stop so you need to walk around all three bus stops and look at the departure times but most passengers are regulars who obviously know the routine. It’s just newbies and visitors who are flummoxed for a while.

Buses are coming and going all the time in this busy location with both Kington based Sargeants which operates two city routes lettered A and B as well as longer distance routes …

…. and Leominster based Lugg Valley Travel operating routes 76 and 76A, also as well as longer distance routes having a presence.

It may look like another Yeomans Optare Solo, but this one is operated by Lugg Valley Travel on route 76/76A

But it’s Yeomans which dominates the bus scene in Hereford both on city routes as well as country routes.

In the country bus station

Stagecoach also has a presence on its route 33 to Ross-on-Wye and Gloucester and TrawsCymru T14 runs to Cardiff; both routes departing from the station and call at the country bus station.

All Yeomans’ city routes have been commercially operated and it intends to continue running two of these – routes 74/74A and 78/78X although the former will no longer divert to serve Hunderton on its way to the residential area of Newton Farm.

Routes deregistered include 71 (Credenhill); 72 (Bobblestock); 77A (College Green and Bobblestock circular); 79A/88 (Putson and Redill) and a school route (74S).

I took a ride out and back on five different routes during my middle-of-the-day visit. The average number of passengers for each complete round trip was nine. I reckon at least 80% were concessionary passholders.

A single fare from an outer terminal into the city centre is £2.50 with a discount for a return. It’s not surprising the network is at best only marginally contributing during this off peak period and to hear it’s loss making after taking all costs into account. Based on my off-peak observations I doubt peak loadings are sufficient to sustain the network.

Not surprisingly the busiest route was route 74A to Newton Farm which took nine passengers on the way out of the city, but only brought two back in. The journey I took was one operating via Hunderton the section of route which Yeomans plan to abandon.

None of the bus stops were used in this section and what looked like a fairly long term road closure necessitated a diversion.

The route around Newton Farm was quite tortuous but I can see why it is potentially commercial for a low cost operator like Yeomans with its fleet of Optare Solos ideal for the terrain – narrow residential roads with twists and turns and lots of houses. The 74 and 74A provide four buses an hour between them which is the best frequency offered on the city’s routes.

I also took a ride on route 78X which Yeomans are keeping but this was the least used route of the five taking only four passengers out towards Rotherwas and bringing two back and then only as far as Putson. it runs half hourly.

The three other routes I sampled are all on Yeomans hit list – 72, 77A and 88 – and from the city centre carried 7. 6 and 2 passengers respectively bringing back 3, 3 and 7 into the city. With just a few exceptions everyone boarded or alighted in the city bus station.

I was impressed to see every bus had a box of face coverings available for passengers to pick up and use and indeed at one point a driver got out of the cab and brought the box to a passenger to help herself from when he noticed she wasn’t wearing one.

I was also very impressed to see Yeomans have an Inspector on hand in the bus station to provide information and reassurance to passengers and Bill was clearly doing a wonderful job of enhancing customer relations, especially at this time of uncertainty with passengers having read Yeomans’ Facebook post or seen the local press.

There seemed to be much talk about “the buses” and much uncertainty.

But the word on the street, well, in the bus station among staff, was that it’s all been sorted already with the Council awarding tenders for a slightly revised network featuring a 71B and an 81A and bringing a 75 back which I have to admit meant nothing to me but sounded reassuring enough, provided a map is produced to explain it all.

I understand Yeomans are short of a couple of drivers at the present time with two or three more leaving shortly so losing five rota lines of work with the tenders passing to another operator might be very timely. The rumours from the driving cabs were that the tenders have been won by Sargeants but no one really knows for sure as it hasn’t been announced yet.

My conclusion is Hereford Council and the city’s residents have done very well for the last six years with Yeomans providing a decent service for the city which is clearly appreciated by everyone using it. There’s a real need for an up to date bus map explaining the route network – I understand the Council used to provide a timetable book and map – if only that could be produced again – it might just encourage some new passengers, you never know.

Six years on from First’s departure there was an inevitability the unviable nature of the city’s bus network would catch up with everyone again and mean public funding would become necessary and not surprisingly with Covid Bus Service Support Grant ending that time is here now in here ford.

Roger French

Next blog: Saturday 4th December 2021.

28 thoughts on “Here in Hereford

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  1. £2.50 single for a town service journey sounds expensive.
    Surely Yeomans can claim Bus Recovery Grant through until the end of March?

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  2. Yes, Yeomans have done very well in Hereford after taking the City services from First during their particularly “bad” period. I also have to agree with them in their comments about the Council, who, like many others, are now realising “something must be done” about improving bus services after reading (probably with dismay!) the Buses Bill. Not sure throwing cash about in providing free weekend travel is quite the best use of Council tax payers money, as it inevitably leads to a substantial drop in patronage when withdrawn, not to mention often abused by less desirable and younger members of the community. A low flat fare would be more sensible. I think, although difficult to see the small print, the Pindar map on the Council website is dated August 2019, which is quite amazing for Pindar, as they annoyingly never a date any of their maps. And indeed, the Council did used to produce a splendid twice-yearly timetable book at one time, for a period as three area books with separate map. Almost too cumbersome to carry around! With the current fluid situation, it really would be a waste of resources to produce a timetable book at the moment, but a map, regularly updated, is ESSENTIAL, otherwise the casual passenger simply has not a clue where to start. Have never quite known the distinction between Yeomans and Lugg Valley/Primrose Travel, a former take-over, the latter based in Leominster but the operator of the City 76/A I believe. And I am sure there must be a few Readers who remember with fondness the splendid Wye Valley Motors with virtually all crew operated coaches in the latter days before Yeomans swooped.

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  3. £2.50 is a fairly typical fare in much of rural England. Considering the size of Hereford it has quite good bus service compared with other similar sized towns

    An 80% plus concessionary pass usage is also quite typical . Instability in the bus network is also quite common which does nothing to encourage the use of buses. In the small towns having multiple operators is another issue for fare paying passengers which discourages the use of buses

    I suspect that following Yemen’s withdrawal of service the replacement will be a cut down version. Leaving passengers in the dark over the future of their bus service can only lead to passengers finding alternative means of travel

    Tickets should be usable on any service. Why not significantly cut off peak fares. They have minimal fare paying passengers off peak. If that attracts just a few passengers it could increase bus usage

    At the moment what we are seeing in Hereford is going on in much of England. The constant cutting and changing of services which undermines any confidence in bus service and just drives even more passengers away in fact in many areas of England the service have cut to the level where they are of no use a all to most people. The only passengers they really have left are concessionary pass holders and school children. Even the cost of providing school transport has reached the point where councils are looking at lower cost options

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  4. Herefordshire’s BSIP looks towards multi-operator ticketing; a core Town network of simplified routes every 15 minutes (including limited evening services), and core Country routes running every 30-60 minutes. Funding requested is around £18m for 2022-2025, with continued funding of up to £3.5m each year beyond 2025. This seems quite cheap for what is promised . . . bearing in mind the likely shortage of funding across England, this might just have a good chance of being granted in full.
    {£6m each year, assuming £125K cost per bus per year without revenue, equates to roundly 48 PVR; assuming half of the cost is met by on-bus revenue, that comes close to 100 PVR across the County. That, carefully planned, could well be enough}.

    I haven’t been in Hereford for a couple of years, but I’m not surprised to learn of the fall in loadings . . . in 2010 buses seemed to be well used, but not so much over the following years (Country routes especially). The Yeomans fleet looks to be getting a wee bit tired, which is probably another reason why they want to step back from unviable services . . . the revenue isn’t sufficient to fund fleet replacement. There was an excellent County-wide bus timetable, but not since 2017/2018 . . . I believe that there was a retirement from the Passenger Transport section around that time . . . enough said!!

    I suspect that some Park and Ride sites might well be helpful here . . . with the wider population over 190K in the County, travel from outside the City by car is probably over-whelming the road network (which is busy all day, not just in the peaks).

    On balance, though . . . this looks like one of the better BSIP’s . . . not over-promising, nor with “flashy” ideas, but with sensible improvements instead. One to watch . . . !!

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  5. For the sake of completeness, Stagecoach South Wales also operate the X3 from Hereford to Cardiff via Abergavenny, Pontypool, Cwmbran and the Malpas area of Newport.

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  6. There used to ne a very well used bus from Newport to Hereford but that like so many routes got run down and that drove passengers away until is was eventually axed as was the service to Ross

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  7. Anyone care to speculate on how long these BSIP shots will last? Or is it like a covid shot where we’ll need a new one every six months (or less)? I hadn’t thought of a bus as a virus, but perhaps the analogy is not far off. One to keep it away, the other to keep it in being. As for the success rate, who knows?

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  8. Sargeant’s started operating routes A and B on 1st June 2021.
    Route A covers part of Yeomans route 75, which was followed by Yeomans reducing the frequency on the route, citing driver shortages on 26th July 2021. It was completely withdrawn on 5th September. There is some slight overlap with Lugg Valley’s 76/ 76A.
    Route B covers part of Yeomans 72 and 77A (the 77 disappeared in September).

    The Sargeant’s routes appear to be much more direct so the problem with ‘part of’ is what happens to the parts left behind? They, presumably, are likely to be less friendly bus territory. There is a solution but readers of this blog are not likely to like it!!

    I note that Sargeant’s also operate services 461/ 462 which calls at Credenhill (the destination of Yeomans 71 series of buses – amongst those being withdrawn).

    I am sure that there are readers who will have heard of Sargeant Brothers and associated them with a rural operator (the type that operated school buses and market buses many moons ago). Ownership was shared by four members of the Sargeant family until 15th November 2019, when the business appears to have been sold. On their website the owners have printed “Sargeants Brothers fleet underwent a renewal programme in early 2020 which saw the introduction of modern low floor Optare vehicles which brought the average age down to 6 years.” From ). It appears that they are keen to make a presence in the area.

    Since the Pindar map was published, Yeomans has registered at least three widespread changes to route timetables/ routes (probably most Covid related) so the map is unlikely to reflect any more than the areas buses might serve.

    The sole director of Lugg Valley Travel is Nigel Yeomans, who is also the sole director of G.H. Yeomans Motor Ltd.

    This is not intended to be judgmental about any of the parties but to put matters into context.

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  9. Very interesting background information and answers at least two questions for me. Presumably, there is a tax advantage in keeping Lugg Valley and Yeomans separate?, in spite of identical liveries and the untrained eye not realising the difference. And certainly wondered why Sargeants, a very solid family business started in the mists of time long ago, suddenly decided to choose probably the worst moment in the history of bus operation other than wartime, to suddenly launch competitive services some distance from home. Now I know. Clearly, a method in their madness if in fact they have won the City tenders. Always impressed by the fleet standards of old, so not sure where the “introduction of modern Optare vehicles” sits. The obsession with fleet age has always bemused me, as a cared for vehicle of fifteen years old can look better than an uncared one of three, although admittedly a maintenance cost advantage.

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  10. For some reason Yeomans have for at least the last sixty years operated through a web of interconnected companies. As Jeffhb says, Nigel Yeomans is the director of G.H. Yeomans Motors Limited. However that is a recently registered dormant company. The original company of that name was wound up and the assets passed to the previous generation of Yeomans. The current operator is Yeomans Canyon Travel Limited.
    The withdrawal of the 71 to Credenhill is interesting. This was the route SOLD by Yeomans to Midland Red in the 1980s but GIVEN back by First in 2015. I believe I once read that it was the only profitable rural route in Herefordshire.
    I have no personal knowledge on the situation but given the age of the sole director, one wonders if the business needs to show improved profits in order to offer it for sale.
    When I visited Hereford in the early 2010s the First vehicles carried as their legal address that of the First Essex depot in Chelmsford some 200 miles away which was hardly going to promote a local image.

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  11. In the many medium size towns the service really need to be operated as a single intrgrated nework in order to make them viable and for the town sercice I would say youshould have a single operator to keep costs down. I am not sure how much the enhasnced partnerships will help with towns like Hereford
    If Bus back beter funing was used it should not need much funding to keep all the service going as most appear to be close to breaking even

    How much research has been done into passengers needs? Where do they want to travel to and when etc

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  12. I had heard about Yeomans selling the route. Credenhill has a population of little over 2,000.but had an RAF station adjacent (which closed in 1994 – maybe Yeomans had heard a rumour?). It is now (a) home to the SAS. An aerial view of the village shows an awful lot of cars parked. The same image seems to show that Sargeants buses don’t actually enter the village, I guess that Yeomans buses do a 3 point turn at the village end.
    Three of the members of the Sargeant family and both members of the Yeomans family associated with the business are in their mid to late 60s. This may influence their decisions.
    Fleet age – a low one looks good, probably impresses councillors (or am I being cynical).

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  13. Yeoman’s use to do,still do?, the Sunday only Hereford to Hay on Wye service which is the only one of their routes I’ve ever caught.The weekday and Saturday service was run by Stagecoach South Wales and went to somewhere deeper into Wales.Both of those bus stations in Hereford aren’t very nice places to wait for long.The County one was probably owned by Midland Red I’d guess.The little bus station is sometimes referred to as the Hoppa Bus Station which probably refers to Hoppa Buses introduced around privatization although I have never actually caught a bus from it I have walked through it enroute elsewhere.

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  14. The Bus Archive Facebook page on 1 December has a photograph of Yeoman double deck buses at Hereford Country Bus Station. The photo shows that Yeomans had what looks from the signage, a whole platform for their services as did Wye Valley Motors whose buses used the adjacent platform. From what I understand the bus station was owned by the County Council and built on the site of the demolished county gaol in the early 1930s. The bus station was used by all operators so suspect the larger concerns rented the amount of space required for their departures. Midland Red and Red and White would also have had their own platforms.

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    1. I first visited Hereford in the 1990’s after the demise of the NBC but that bus station had a travel office in the town facing side that had a sign for Yeoman’s Canyon above it and it acted as an agent for National Express and National Holidays so I’m guessing that in NBC times Midland Red had it and it probably became Midland Red (West)when MR was split? Probably also served by Bristol, perhaps under a local guise like Cheltenham and Gloucester, and some of the Welsh NBC’s, which I must confess I don’t know much about, and after the split of MR Midland Red (North) coming in for Shrewsbury way too? Looking at an NBC 1970’s map Welsh one’s possibly going to Hereford are; Crossville,Red and White, Jones:Aberbeeg, Western Welsh, Rhondda.

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  15. The were two services from Newport. One to Hereford and one to Gloucester which were jointly operated by Stage Coach South Wales and Stagecoach Cheltenham and Gloucester

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  16. Bus services on rural Herefordshire routes had been systemically reduced by the previous administration in order to reduce Herefordshire Council’s budget during the the past decade. However, the latest authority (coalition) is far more pro public transport. In a survey undertaken by Herefordshire Council respondents asked for more frequent services, and in addition services to operate on evenings and Sundays if they are to come back to buses.

    The Free fares weekend promotion is one part of a turnaround strategy to encourage passengers back to public transport. Transport in Herefordshire counts for 32% of its C02 emissions, mainly through car use and the authority aims to reduce that. Feedback from operators and Rail&Bus for Herefordshire is that the market town principal routes and some of the city runs are doing very well as a result, other deeper rural routes less so.

    The main problem facing all operators in the city is the appalling level of traffic congestion and complete lack of bus priority to help bus companies reduce costs of operation and for passengers to be encouraged on board. This has been highlighted in the Bus Services Improvement Plan. Without such measures there is little chance of succeeding in achieving modal shift from the car.

    Two additional notes: the Sunday 39A (also known as the Hay Ho! bus) from Hereford to Hay-on-Wye was started as a community trial by Rail&Bus for Herefordshire and the Hay Tourism Group five years ago. Yeomans won the tender to operate it and continue to do so. DRM (based in Bromyard) also operate in Hereford on their 476 Ledbury route and also the 420 route to Bromyard and Worcester; both services are operated on a commercial basis

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    1. I caught the 39A towards the end of 2019 just as the coronavirus was beginning to enter our conciousness.Luckily I slept in and didn’t turn out for the first bus of the day as apparently the driver went sick and they had to get someone else out at short notice causing a delay of over 1 hour but luckily the second bus of the day was ok which was the one I got getting off at Dorstone and doing an international walk to Hay on Wye!The one going was about a quarter full but coming back I was the only passenger.Slightly less busy than another strange Sunday only service I do occasionally that being the Dales and District Northallerton to Hawes service, forgotten the number,but it was bailed out by a stair lift company as North Yorkshire County Council don’t like proper public transport although I see that they have plenty of money to part fund yet another parkway at Haxby just north of York.Solving the problem of the car with more cars!

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      1. It’s the 856 Wensleydale Flyer; and was sponsored by Acorn Stairlifts. Sadly, the route is again under threat as funding (now from LNER) runs out at the end of March. Hopefully a new sponsor will be found as it’s a tremendous ride out. It also provides some Sunday service on what is (on weekdays) the fairly busy half-hourly 73 route between Northallerton and Bedale. https://www.darlingtonandstocktontimes.co.uk/news/19756071.letters-support-call-remarkable-wensleydale-flyer-bus-service/

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  17. My Midland Red 1965 fare table (no home is complete without one!) shows the typical city to suburb fare in Hereford as 8d or 9d, with a maximum of 11d to Westfields. The Bank of England calculator multiplies these by 20 to reach 2021 levels, giving us current amounts between 67p and 92p – a long way short of £2.50. And BMMO’s fares were on the high end then. At current prices, getting a taxi, especially for anyone who isn’t a solo traveller, starts to look attractive. To look at it another way, a return to town swallows up half an hour or more’s earnings on mimimum wage. In the rest of the civilised world, where urban transport is subsidised as a matter of course, fares are much more reasonable in local terms. It was salutary in Locarno, Switzeralnd, a couple of years back – not exactly the cheapest place on the planet- to find fares that even at the current appalling £/SFr exchange rate were comparable to, or cheaper, than UK levels.

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    1. Even in NBC times bus fares where very expensive unless you lived in the PTE areas.I remember in about 1983 to get the United to Middlesbrough was about £1(the equivalent now is £3,20!)but I went to Barnsley to pick up some Musk 🐢 Turtles that I use to keep as pets at the time,so National Express to Leeds and then a local bus to Barnsley,if I recall it was a West Yorkshire but a long time ago, and it cost 25p!That was obviously across the West and South Yorkshire PTE areas.

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  18. Depends where you are! In my large market town, when I ended up in hospital a couple of times, to get quickly discharged, thankfully, it was £18 to get a couple of miles home by taxi, and £3.50 (£5 family) if I’d used the local bus rover (necessitating a diversion via the town centre).

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  19. How well will the so called enhanced partnerships work under the bus back Better legislation?

    As has been pointed out in the market towns in England most routers ort what is left of them are barely commercially viable viable
    Having a small cake divided up into small slice by multiple operator does nonthin g to help particularly as many off the operator will be based a fair distance from the town they are surviving. It will also add to costs

    These market towns really need the town services operated by a single company but I don’t see that happening with enhanced partnership
    There is talk in the legislation of ticked interchangeability but that itself brings problems with how the revenues are divided up and could affect the viability of some routes

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  20. The reference to Locarno above, all public transport in the Ticino region of Switzerland (which includes Locarno) is now free for tourists (anyone staying in a local hotel).

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    1. Indeed so- this was introduced to help mitigate the fierce SFr exchange rate, which means that Switzerland is expensive in Euro and dollar terms as well as the much-depleted pound. I did check out the locals’ fares, though. Another quaint relic of former days is the ready availablity of printed timetables including a free rail/bus/boat comprehensive book for the whole Canton- at least in 2019.

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