Is there a place for travel shops?

Tuesday 29th March 2022

It’s not often a bus company opens a brand new travel shop these days. Many bus companies have been only too pleased to save costs and close down any ‘High Street’ vestiges they once had which provided helpful face to face contact with the travelling public.

Arriva’s former travel shop in Newcastle.

Arriva and Stagecoach are the two prime examples of bus companies no longer wanting to have such links with their customers preferring the anonymity of a faceless centralised online contact centre and social media presence which regularly demonstrates how out of touch it is with local issues.

Stagecoach took over Arriva’s closed travel shop in Guildford and kept it closed.

So it was a welcome change when I was in Dundee a few weeks ago to also check out Xplore Dundee’s brand new city centre travel shop on the recommendation of owner McGills’ Chief Executive Ralph Roberts.

It’s certainly a smart and spacious shop unit and on the day I visited was rather sparsely furnished with both furniture and travel information.

There were supplies of a promotional leaflet about the new buses on route 28 and that was about it.

But Ralph was telling me he’s keen for the company to restart providing printed timetables now the Covid hiatus is abating so I’m sure there’ll soon be lots of exciting racking and promotional leaflets to extol the virtues of taking the bus.

Ralph is one of the leading lights in the bus industry and McGills are certainly beginning to make their mark on Xplore Dundee with regime change following the takeover from National Express – which interestingly if it was sold in preparation for the Stagecoach ‘merger’ takeover – is no longer relevant – so quite an astute move by McGills there.

Meanwhile in Edinburgh I was delighted to see Lothian Buses still have their smart travel hub complete with coffee shop going at the western end of the city where Princes Street turns into Shandwick Place.

This is an excellent example of how to make a travel shop look inviting and enticing.

OK; it didn’t have any timetable leaflets available this time due to Covid, but it was offering a citywide bus map. Even though it is rather difficult to follow.

Linking it to a coffee shop is also a brilliant idea but I’m not sure how the economics of that works out. Judging by the number of coffee shops now on our ‘High Streets’ and the astronomical price of a cuppa – it makes me wonder whether there’s more profit in a coffee than a bus fare.

Well done to both Xplore Dundee and Lothian for investing in travel shops – it can’t be easy these days with the nature of transactions changing to contactless and capping – which will ultimately make such retail facilities redundant.

But you just can’t beat a physical presence on the ‘High Street’ to reassure existing passengers and encourage new ones especially if, as I hope, those timetables and maps become available in print again soon.

Maybe the answer is cheaper to maintain and run kiosks as Harrogate have in the bus station. At least this maintains a presence on the ‘High Street’ which is so important for a local ‘retail’ business like a bus company.

It’s all about getting new passengers on board. they’re not just going to turn up. They need selling to too.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

Next blog, Thursday 31st March: Clear Bluewater.

42 thoughts on “Is there a place for travel shops?

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  1. Bus companies need to invest in things like maildrops. People who aren’t passengers already are unlikely to drop in to a travel shop. They need to be using social media not only for live updates and disruption, but to give other local social media outlets things to share. In general, almost all of them are terrible at things like this

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    1. Pretty much al bus company marketing is aimed at people that are already bus users so offers very little benefit

      Bus services as well outside of the major towns and cities are so run down they are of little to no use to most people. It also means the fares are very high for a very basic and infrequent service. At present bus service are in a spiral of decline

      Even trying to find out about local bus service can be very difficult to impossible as each company has its own web site sand different ways of presenting data and contain different levels of information. It really needs proper coordination but there is little sign of that happening

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  2. A friend visited the Lothian office just as contactless payment was becoming the norm in London, where he lived. They explained that he would have to pay his fare in cash, using the right money, and refused to change a note so that he could.

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    1. Insisting customer have the right fare when they will in many cases not even know what the fare is is just telling people4 they simply do not care whether they have customers or not

      Imaging going into a supermarket and they demanded you have the right money for your shopping

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    2. A bit like TfL saying you CAN’T pay by cash on the bus, you can ONLY use a card payment, either bank or shortly to become defunct Oyster card, failing to acknowledge the huge numbers of the London population who exist in a “cash only” segment of society.

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  3. As a bus and train user I absolutely agree with all you say. Arriva and Stagecoach’s policy of shutting shops says only one thing to me – they are just cutting costs (in this case, mainly staff) regardless of he extra income which that expenditure should bring in. If their bus shops are not ‘growing the revenue’, they should pay a few visits to shops which obviously do work (such as the excellent One-Stop’ shop run by Brighton & Hove).

    An old accountant said to me – back in the ‘lean, mean’ Thatcher era: “anyone can cut costs – you just cut them; what is better and more business-like is to sell more by improving the quality of your product and making it more relevant to the needs of your customers”.

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  4. Maybe Tesco could learn from Stagecoach, Arriva and First and close their stores, replacing them with a note saying “it’s all on line”.
    P
    The product of “a bus journey” needs to be accessible via a personal contact and visible tangible (i.e. printed) publicity.
    On line is only of use to regulars.

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  5. In this context, I hope that you get to visit Plymouth when the letter P is due.

    Citybus know how to make the best of a high street presence, by using a shop unit on Royal Parade, which is the city’s main bus hub. A crew restroom is provided upstairs and the ground floor provides a useful manned and stocked travel shop.

    Economical and simple.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree that fare information has to be well presented, especially when no change is given. However I do have to wonder how many people pay with cash anyway? My experience is that the vast majority of folk pay by card, phone app or Smartcard; Covid has only accelerated this trend although cash payment should still be available.

    Nothing to do with the above, but I do get annoyed by people who stand at the bus stop (and even board the bus) looking at Important Things On Their Phone and don’t “call up” the relevant app until they actually have to pay! (True of folk who stand in front of the driver and only then start digging around in their bag for their pass).

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    1. Andrew, outside of the conurbations a significant proportion of people still pay by cash in all retail, be that shops, pubs or public transport.

      While it’s not as large a proportion as it was pre-Covid, it’s still a significant chunk of customers – which also means that any business going completely cashless is cutting themselves off from those customers.

      Some retail businesses have done so, I know, but those businesses are either secure enough in their current customer base that they can do so or arrogant enough to believe that they can throw away custom for their own convenience.

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      1. A theatre I attend only takes cash at the box office, but only takes cards at the bar. But generally retail is more switched on to attracting people to spend money than most bus operators are.

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  7. Indeed there is a place for Travel shops Roger.
    I remember the days when I would have timetable subscriptions dropping through the letterbox weekly.
    If you are familiar with the route concerned you could say I don’t need a timetable and use digital means, however if you are a visitor,where do you start,with having no timetables to peruse,to see what is on offer how can you give confidence to the customer to use your services?

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    1. Exactly Martin. I know you can use the journey planner, but that aaaumes you have already chosen where you wish to go. To be encouraged to make additional journeys you need to be told what is available, so you need a good map and or a list of the routes operating in the area Many operators web sites fail, for example Stagecoach, by making you enter a route number to get the timetable, yet give you no clue which route numbers are available.

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      1. I certainly agree,when I worked in travel shops I would have a set of timetables ready for the customer, according to which ticket they had purchased if they wished for them.
        Otherwise it’s like buying something electrical minus the instructions (the timetables)and then having to try and work out how to put it together(which route goes where?)

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  8. The issue with bus shops is that it is relatively easy to ascertain the costs – rent, rates, utilities, staffing. A cost of many thousands per year. The more challenging task is working out the cost (from lost revenue) of not having travel shops. It’s very easy to blithely talk of beancounters knowing the price of everything and value of nothing but equally, what is the actual cost of not having a travel shop?

    Despite that, it is my view is that the blanket decisions from Stagecoach and Arriva, with the dead hand of centralised diktats, fail to fully appreciate the potential other options. For instance, Arriva has long had an office in the centre of Darlington except it isn’t – it’s a staff welfare facility. In that respect, they are paying for building anyway. In that case, why not repurpose it as an unmanned information facility where publicity and leaflets are available; the same goes for the Stagecoach ones in Guildford and Aldershot. Granted, you may not have the interaction with people but it can act as a source of information.

    The idea of a kiosk is good in terms of reducing the cost burden of a full unit albeit you still have the cost of manning it. I seem to recall that First in Weymouth was looking at having something like that on the seafront but the council was blocking it. Incidentally, they also have a welfare office opposite the station that could be used as an info point.

    In respect of Arriva and Stagecoach, their decline and apathy towards marketing (longstanding with the former and sadly increasingly apparent with the latter) mean they are unlikely to be that forward thinking. Close it, job done!

    Another good example of the art of the possible is TrentBarton and their depot in Belper that acts as a bus station. They have only their main route (Sixes) there yet can extend to a free-standing timetable shelving unit in a smartly turned presented building. The days of every small town having an enquiry office are long gone and on-line is undoubtedly the main means of smartly and efficiently providing information, but there is still a place for roadside information, printed media, and the ability to effectively market in both digital and analogue worlds.

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    1. Contactless is a far better approach in my view There seems to be no problem working out the benefit of TV and Radio and magazine adverts by most companies so why do bus companies find it impossible ?

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  9. Yes of course they must re-open travel offices. Passengers are bewildered enough already with buses stopping at peculiar stands [Northampton, stand 20 for Daventry two streets away, yesterday!],[ Leicester, where the X6 stop is hundreds of yards away and out of sight]. But many are part of bus stations already so where is the rent to be saved? [ eg Folkestone, Canterbury, Chichester, Guildford, Aldershot, Basingstoke]. At Aldershot, since the lady retired a few years ago, the office was manned by an inspector who had other things to do too, so where is the saving?, Aldershot had timetables, even for other places like Bracknell as well. Where do you get your timetables even if they are printed [ Hampshire, Surrey]? Libraries or TICs if they exist like Guildford or with-it drivers like one of Compass Bus who carried a Surrey book – Stagecoach drivers do not. Why not?
    It stands to reason that companies wanting to sell something like seats in this case, must have shop windows,
    The Guildford office was always well used.

    Like

    1. Most bus tations now are owned by councils and they are always keen to sell them to a property developer leaving buses stopping at randonmstops around the town

      There is plenty of evidence that doing awy with a bus station reduces passengers numbers by between 5% and 10%

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  10. Very impressed with Lothian’s combined travel/coffee shop. What an innovative idea. In contrast closed travel shops at bus stations simply say “we don’t care about you”. Regarding fare information, my local independent operator Faresaver publishes a list of fares with timetables at its bus stops. It maintains an active Facebook and Twitter page, and responds promptly to direct message enquiries.

    It has also replaced faded First bus stop flags with smart new branded ones.

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  11. Oxford Bus Company have a nice one at Oxford Bus Station.The Stagecoach Oxford one on the other side of the alley seems to be shut to the public and used for drivers.The National Express one next to it is shut too.

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  12. Whilst Travel offices as we now call them are a “nice to have”, the original purpose of Enquiry offices were for use as booking agents for both their own and others company coach services/tours, selling timetable books (remember those?) and most importantly, as a parcel agent pick-up and collection point, which accounted for a huge amount of business in some parts. Even the mighty London Transport carried parcels outside the Metropolitan Police area on services “numbered above 300”, although goodness why rules had to be different within.

    Sadly, none of the above now apply. So I think Harrogate have got it about right, with a simple kiosk. In more modern times, offices became essential for selling a range of tickets not available from Drivers, and much too of this has now been rendered unnecessary. So whilst I can agree with much of the sentiment, bearing in mind business rates and staffing costs, each company needs to work how best to serve passenger needs, which doesn’t always mean a completely staffed office.

    And that does mean an improvement to the current dire situation such as the McGills office in Paisley, where (pre-Covid) racks of timetable leaflets were available in a room only accessible by Drivers, a situation repeated now in numerous places elsewhere.

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  13. At Keswick, Stagecoach have a bin which is normally well stocked with their Lake District Bus Timetable books just outside and under the canopy of the Booth’s supermarket which is next to the bus stands. I do not know who restocks the supply but have never seen it empty even when a new edition is due.

    Like

  14. Over one million new passengers could be encouraged onto the UK bus network through the switch to zero-emission buses (ZEBs), but passengers are reluctant to bear the brunt of the cost of transition, a new report from Stagecoach has found.

    The findings come from Road map to zero: The transition to zero emission buses, what it means for people, and the journey to get there, which sets out Stagecoach’s vision for achieving the introduction of 100% ZEBs across the UK. It builds on Stagecoach’s existing target to achieve a ZEB fleet by 2035 and hopes to support other bus operators in achieving the same.

    In addition to the encouraging findings from non-bus users who say they would start to use services “if electric buses were introduced in their local area, as long as fares and frequency remain the same” the report also reveals nine million current passengers would “expect to use the bus more often”. Almost one in five people interviewed in the East of England would use the bus more if ZEBs replaced diesel buses, while two thirds wanted to see their local bus company move to “using only ZEBs”.

    I think this wport needs to be treated with a lot of caution. It is based just on questiong people and they tend to give the answer they think is the one you want

    THe real test is if putting electric buses on route with no other chnges increase usage. I suspect it will make little difference

    Hertfordshire County council have funded an electric bus for the PB1 route. It uses one bus. It will be intesting to see if it increase useage

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    1. I don’t think an electric bus attracts any more users at all. It may please the green brigade, and improve their image of the bus, but that is about all. The only thing Mrs Sceggins wants is that the bus turns up, how it is powered has little concern to her

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      1. Certainly what bus passengers say to me, is they don’t really care what turns up as long as it does.
        At the basic level of competence, which seems to be a struggle for many, that must be right, surely? But isn’t it helpful to at least pretend we care? I suppose how far we need to go, is the arguable point.

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    2. I suppose though it’s handy to be singing from the same hymnsheet as the Cambridgeshire Mayor, at least? Though whether it does any of them any good, remains to be seen. At least he has a plan, or a daydream.

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  15. Arriva had a travel shop in the Starbucks at Luton Bus Stn. A visit only a couple of months ago showed it was still open,but had no timetables available at all

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    1. Alas Bigbri that is happening all over the country.
      I can’t see why timetable information is hidden under the counter as it were.
      They then wonder why they have fewer passengers (failure to showcase their products spring to mind).
      Of course there are exceptions by some very switched on companies.

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  16. Lothian had done a good job, to incorporate travel shop with a cafe would brings non-bus user to travel shop, at least you have the opportunity to tell how you service is and to sell them to have a try on bus service. Also, a travel shop incurred as a cost centre being an easy target in cost cutting exercies, it would be a revenue stream if set up with a cafe. For some companies with strong brand, eg. Lothian, it is a good way to sell souvenir, bring in some revenue to balance the cost of runnign the travel shop.

    Like

    1. Hopefully for those visiting only for a coffee, there will be plenty of bus positive displays in the area, and maybe even playing on video screens.

      Like

  17. Metroline 84

    TfL have now confirmed they will not be funding a replacement service for the Barnett to Potters Bar Section

    Like

  18. TING to be extended

    Who dreams up these silly names ?

    Some numbers are mentioned. When you crunch the numbers the passenger numbers are very low probably about 2 or 3 per journey. (No exact dates are given so its hard to be exact)

    Crunch the financials and it looks even worse. It quotes 10,443 journeys It does not state single or return but it seems to be normal practice to quoted single). So over about 4 months assuming every one pays the £2 fate (Highly unlikely)
    that £21,000. So £84,000 a year. Operating costs must easily be in the £500,000 region. What happens when the subsidy runs out

    Again even if you assume every bus runs full the service will still make a large loss( I have assumed about 20 seat vehicles

    A trial of the Stagecoach East-operated TING demand responsive transport service in Cambridgeshire is to be extended until June 2022.

    Launched in October 2021, TING allows passengers to book their trips via an app, with the bus picking them up at their chosen time. It allows passengers to travel anywhere in the service zone for £2 each way. A youth fare of £1 was introduced on the service yesterday (28 March 2022).

    The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee has recommended for approval a three-month extension of TING.

    Throughout February and March 2022 an in-person survey of passengers on conventional buses in the same area as TING was undertaken. It found that 80% of people riding the public bus reaffirmed the need for the TING service with passengers highlighting the need for better connections, more stops and consistent service.

    Since its launch, TING buses made 10,443 journeys across West Huntingdonshire (part of Cambridgeshire). The service is operated using four small single-decker buses.

    https://www.stagecoachbus.com/promos-and-offers/east/ting

    Like

    1. DRT is very inefficient compared to a coordinated fixed route bus system as each vehicle cannot carry many passengers per hour, and thus the cost of the drivers is disproportionate.
      This article explains more.

      https://humantransit.org/2019/08/what-is-microtransit-for.html

      In Switzerland they have a nationwide network of conventional bus routes that offer timed connections with each other, trams, and trains. Use of rural buses is higher than the UK because they are part of a wider network and not just a shoppers shuttle to the nearest high Street. Of course this requires proper government funding beyond even the promises of BSIPS.

      Like

  19. It seems unfair to target Stagecoach and Arriva. Go Ahead’s North East division closed all of their travelshops (presumably spending the money on a Best Impressions paint job for their ever changing route network)

    Equally Nexus, the Tyne and Wear PTE closed all of their offices. The market just isn’t there and resources can be deployed in a much better way around bus and interchange stations at a reduced cost – I don’t see travelshops improving the ridership in non tourist areas, in many places they are a relic of the past – most younger passengers who are the passengers of our future want as little interaction as possible and an app that can do it all.

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    1. Um, many more of them want their own transport to do it all. Living at home, with rocketing inflation, that and their gadgets are probably the only bit of freedom they get. Think 1950s.

      Like

  20. London Victoria station: Iconic steam train service to run from capital this summer

    The Royal Windsor Steam Express service will begin in May and continue throughout the summer, taking passengers on a steam-powered journey from London to Windsor. The train will be powered by the Mayflower, a British Rail locomotive built in 1948.

    61306 was completed in April 1948 by the North British Locomotive Company. Though built to an LNER design, it was delivered after nationalisation to British Railways

    Like

  21. Electric buses driving into Norwich after £3.2million funding is secured

    Norfolk County Council has secured the funding after a joint bid with First Bus was submitted to the Department for Transport (DfT) for funding from the ‘Zero Emission Bus Regional Access’ (ZEBRA) scheme.

    This bid is matched by £3.6m of local investment from First Bus and will deliver 15 battery electric buses which will be in operation by March 2024.

    The new vehicles will operate on four existing bus routes, all of which operate through the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in Norwich City Centre. The routes are:

    Green Line: Bus routes 15 / 15A / 15B
    Yellow Line: Bus route 29
    Purple Line: Bus route 39
    Charcoal Line: Bus routes 40 / 40A

    The news comes just days after Norfolk County Council also secured £500,000 Zero Emission Transport City (ZETC) development funding from the government which will allow a detailed study to be carried out this year to explore the benefits and impacts that a zero-emission zone in the city centre could bring and how it could be established.

    Like

  22. First Essex Giving up a number of major notice at short notice. Withdrawn from 17th April

    No idea as to whether there will be replacement

    Pitsea Broadway and Laindon, Fentonway 8 / 8A

    Greenstead and Shrub End/St Michaels 64 / 64A

    West Bergholt, Queens Head and Rowhedge, Heath Road 66 / 66B

    Beaulieu Park, Shardelow Avenue/Beaulieu Boulevard and North Melbourne, Copperfield Road/Wicklow Avenue or Broomfield Hospita 54 / 54A / 56 / 56A,56B / 54C / 56C

    Channels, Brassie Wood South and Boreham, Plantation Road 40

    Like

  23. As someone said, online journey planners are fine for an individual origin to destination journey. However a motorist thinking of giving the bus a try won’t know where buses run to or even which website is best for them. Same applies for tourists arriving on holiday.
    A map and frequency guide shows potential customers the possibilities for getting around by bus, but with the demise of Travel Shops, local libraries are few of the remaining places where you might pick up a copy. In holiday areas, hotels and B&Bs could include them in their leaflet racks.
    National Rail stations display Onward Travel Information posters which include a bus destination finder and nearest stop locations. This principle could be replicated in town centres, siting the posters (inc a QR code) wherever footfall is greater, even if the bus stops are away from the high street.
    Bus spider maps are far too daunting for newbies. Packed with too many destinations and coloured lines and you don’t need to know all the via points either. The old style Where To Catch Your Bus panels worked well because they listed just the main destinations and showed you where the nearest stop was. That’s all you need to know. Departure lists are then posted at the stops/shelters. Anything else is information overload.

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