Sunday 16th January 2022
Join me during 2022 as I check out the state of public transport provision in a variety of small to medium sized towns across England. And as I like to bring a bit of order to such meanderings, let’s start with the letter A and take a visit to Andover in Hampshire.
Andover’s population is currently assessed as 50,063 following significant expansion since the 2011 census when 38,290 people were counted. The town’s expansion is expected to continue and reach a population of 54,810 by 2026.
Located in Hampshire’s north western lower tier authority, Test Valley Borough Council, Andover lies midway on the South Western Railway line between Basingstoke and Salisbury having an hourly train service on the West of England line between Waterloo and Exeter supplemented by hourly all station ‘shorts’ between Basingstoke and Salisbury.
That’s until this weekend. From tomorrow South Western Railway’s Omicron inspired reduced timetable severely impacts the Waterloo to Exeter service with most journeys split in Salisbury including a two-hourly frequency between Salisbury and Exeter. The line through Andover is reduced to an hourly service between Waterloo and Salisbury with just a couple of extra journeys added at busy or school times. It’s quite a reduction.
Residential areas are evenly spread out around the town giving a nice geographic circle, albeit with more in the north than the south and three industrial estates are located on the western and eastern edges of the town. The town centre is dominated by retail, commercial uses and Andover College.
Andover’s rail station is a ten minute walk north west of the town centre and served by a 15 minute bus route (branded activ8) but the bus station is right in the centre adjacent to a pedestrianised shopping mall known as Chantry Centre making for a very convenient location.
The bus station is a typical drive in, reverse out affair with ten bays and an enclosed waiting area.
It was given a £2.9 million rebuild in 2014 and includes a light and airy spacious area for passengers including comfortable seating …
… an office for Stagecoach staff as well as one for Unity which was formerly Test Valley Community Services and provides mobility and transport support for older and disabled residents and other services for local businesses. There’s no public travel shop or enquiry office in line with Stagecoach policy on such matters.
However, there are plentiful displays of timetables and maps ….
… as well as real time departure screens….
… sadly there weren’t any printed timetable leaflets on display but there was evidence these were once available in Andover.
A Waitrose store is located right next to the entrance to the bus station and Chantry Centre as well as a small Costa which by association gives the bus station a very middle class aspirational feel to the place.
On a cold winter’s day the three automatic doors to the departure bays (there’s not one to each bay) and more doors at the entrances/exits keep out the worst of the chill and cold making for a very pleasant place to wait, and it’s impressively still in a presentable state more than seven years on from its rebuild. There are public toilets just round the corner in the entrance corridor to the Chantry Centre which were also in a very clean and presentable state.
Out on the town network 50 bus stops close to new housing areas have been upgraded with new poles, flags, shelters and raised kerbs thanks to developer contributions.
Other bus stops I saw all over the town were kept in good condition and displaying up to date timetables and route numbers with a location name on bus stop flags where appropriate. Well done to both Stagecoach and Hampshire County Council who looked to be jointly responsible for this provision.
Bus routes are almost all in the hands of Stagecoach with the two most popular and frequent routes being town route 1 running every 15 minutes to residential areas north of the town and the inter-urban route branded as activ8 run jointly with Go-Ahead owned Salisbury Reds between Andover, Tidworth and Salisbury. Four buses per hour run as far west as Tidworth with two an hour continuing to Salisbury.
Salisbury Reds have recently updated their version of the acitv8 branding….
…. whereas Stagecoach haven’t. Although thankfully they also haven’t yet updated it to the new corporate “school bus yellow” branding for their inter-urban routes.
Four other town routes run half hourly with one hourly and a couple running two-hourly. They nearly all utilise a circular routing at the far end of the route and many can round in not much more than twenty minutes from the bus station and back again. There’s quite a bit of interworking between many of the town routes to make for efficient scheduling.
There’s one bus an hour from Andover via Whitchurch to Basingstoke supplemented by another journey each hour between Whitchurch and Basingstoke on route 76 which has branded buses (still advertising a more frequent service which I assume was pre-Covid)…
…. while route 7 runs four times a day to Newbury. Other routes serving the rural hinterland are much less frequent with some operating just three days a week.
Encouragingly Stagecoach have a network map for Andover available on its website (above) while Hampshire County Council have a county wide map showing longer distance connections, and as a real treat for passengers the County also produce an Andover Public Transport Guide (along with similar publications for other areas). It’s a comprehensive timetable book including full bus timetables and details of express coaches (the two/three journeys a day between London and Bournemouth) as well as the aforementioned Stagecoach town bus map and an extract from the countywide map.
It’s a truly splendid publication and proved invaluable to plan out my day’s riding around the network.
There’s not much bus priority in Andover. There’s a section of one-way bus only road beneath the railway line enabling route 6 to take a shorter route on its way back into town from the East Anton area…
… and a short stretch enabling buses on route P20 to maintain a direct routing between the town centre and the new residential area called Picket Twenty in the south east corner of the town.
Issues of concern raised in Hampshire County Council’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) submitted to the DfT last October include low levels of bus use (other than activ8 and route 1) as it says “bus fares are higher than the cost of short stay parking”; a lack of evening bus services (apart from activ8 and routes 1 and P20) and risks that “when developer pump-priming contributions that help to run the 6, 10, 12, 13 and 13A begin to be phased out, these services may not be commercially viable if passenger growth is slow to build up”. There’s also an acknowledgement limited funding means supported services have low frequencies.
On the positive side the BSIP has targets to reduce average bus journey times by 5% by March 2025 and 10% by March 2030 and get timekeeping up to 89% of journeys on time by March 2025 and 93% by March 2030 with bus passenger numbers to pre-Covid levels by March 2023 with 6% growth thereafter by 2025 and 11.5% growth by 2030. With population growing and considerable house building continuing in the town, these modest targets – not much more than 1% per annum should be achievable.
I spent an interesting day in Andover last Monday taking four journeys on infrequent rural routes (two out and two back) and seven journeys on town routes. All ran to time. All had pleasant drivers. All were in presentable buses. All carried few passengers.
Route 1 the most frequent route – every 15 minutes – to King Arthurs Way took seven passengers home from the town centre at 11:00 and brought four back in. The area served has fairly densely spaced housing making it ‘good bus territory’ but I noticed most houses had garages and a space for a car outside and there were many parked up.
Half-hourly route 4 to Drove Estate at 11:34 took four home from the town centre and brought six back in.
Half-hourly route P20 to Picket Twenty at 14:27 took eight home and brought four back in.
The rather oddly named Picket Twenty residential area is one of the more recent additions to the town and I assume the coincidentally numbered bus route P20 is being subsidised by the developer.
It was one of the routes utilising a former Stagecoach Gold spec’d bus now downgraded into the new style nationwide corporate bus livery favoured by Stagecoach’s senior management.
Half-hourly route 6 to East Anton at 15:05 took five home.
Those were the four town routes I took a ride on.
The first of the rural routes I sampled was route 5 which runs five times a day serving the villages of Grateley, Monxton and Thruxton to the south west of Andover.
It was a delightful circular journey along narrow roads …
…. allowing time alongside Grateley Staton for a photo opportunity especially as the 09:45 departure from Andover not surprisingly had carried no-one other than myself out there on the half hour long journey.
However, on the way back via Thruxton, we did pick a passenger up in Quarley …
… another in Thruxton and two more in the Army complex served on both the way out and way back into Andover as well as five more within the town of Andover itself.
The other rural journey I enjoyed was route C5 which departs at different times on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to Tuesdays and Thursdays but is basically a two off-peak journeys (out and back) a day service to the isolated villages of Upper and Lower Chute.
These lie about five and a half miles as the crow flies north west of Andover but the bus follows a circuitous route taking in other villages including Ragged Appleshaw and Kimpton making for a 70 minute round trip on a 12 miles or so out and 12 miles back journey. We carried three passengers home on the 12:40 departure and only one went a significant distance and it was just me on the return, no surprise there, as there’d be no way for passengers to return home again until the next morning at 11:30.
More positively, during the afternoon, I noticed the bus station getting busier with young people and it was obvious the centrally located Andover College must be a good source for bus passengers on the town network as well as the longer distance routes.
I combined my visit to Andover with a social call on my nephew and his fiancé who’ve just got themselves on the home ownership ladder by buying a house in East Anton; served by route 6.
Despite all the plentiful information provision, it threw me when I came to take the bus to their newly acquired home as I realised the town network map online and in the Hampshire County Council Bus Guide shows what I assume is the eventual planned routing rather than what applies at the present time – which is displayed on the map in the bus station.
Then I also noticed the latter also shows a route 14 which doesn’t feature on the online map. It turns out route 14 no longer runs so the bus station display map is wrong on that front but correct on the route 6 front.
Unnecessary confusion caused and although my nephew drives, his fiancé doesn’t, so I’m not sure Stagecoach are making it easy for her and their neighbours to understand the bus network. The bus driver was confused by it too, wondering what on earth I was asking about when boarding and assuming the online map was correct so expecting to reach East Anton Farm Road, but she advised she didn’t go that way.
That was the only negative I came across during my Andover day as well as the lack of printed timetables (I couldn’t find copies of the Hampshire Public Transport Guide anywhere), but otherwise I was impressed with what I came across on what is a sizeable bus network for a town of around 50,000 population with a very pleasant bus station.
It’s a shame the opportunity hasn’t been taken to brand the network with a strong local identity. Sadly this idea no longer fits into the Stagecoach corporate way of doing things. For me, it’s crying out for that to achieve a sense of community and identity.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu
Next blog, Tuesday 18th January 2022: London’s newest bus route.