Newidiadau maw i wasanaethau bysiau yng Nghymru

(Major changes to bus services in Wales)

Saturday 16th April 2022

It’s an interesting time for buses and trains in Wales.

The Welsh Government took over running the nation’s rail franchise in February last year thereby bringing trains back into public ownership. Until then, and since October 2018, the Wales and Borders franchise had been operated by Keolis (60%) and Amey (40%) trading as Transport for Wales Rail Services; before that it had been Arriva Trains Wales, run by Arriva. The name Transport for Wales introduced by Keolis/Amey has continued under nationalised ownership of the trains. It should be noted this state takeover is not yet formalised as a permanent arrangement having being brought about by the pandemic decimating the franchise’s finances but no-one is expecting it to revert back to the previous arrangements.

Transport for Wales is also the name used by the Welsh Government for its arms length not-for-profit publicly owned subsidiary company which provides support and expertise on transport projects in addition to that company’s wholly owned subsidiary now running the trains (Transport for Wales Rail – but only using Transport for Wales in the public domain).

There’s a lot of Transport for Wales names around; and it looks like there’ll be a lot more in the future as the Government sets its sights on bus franchising, bringing all the nation’s bus routes under “One Network, One Timetable, One Ticket” which just happens to be the title of the White Paper published at the end of last month setting out proposals to take the nation’s bus services back under public control and give them all one common brand – presumably Transport for Wales.

The 42 page document is out for public consultation until Friday 24th June and includes 21 questions for respondents to complete so it’s not a quick five minute job to respond. Unlike the DfT’s Bus Back Better National Bus Strategy, the Welsh paper is devoid of any glossy photographs so I can’t bring you any illustrations here to lighten up the text. However, here’s a photograph of James Price the Chief Executive of Transport for Wales (the arms length publicly owned subsidiary company of the Welsh Government) (as opposed to the Transport for Wales Rail operator) (its wholly owned subsidiary).

By a happy coincidence James kindly came along to the twice-a-year Young Bus Managers’ Conference which just happened to be taking place in Cardiff over two days last week and at which I was carrying out my usual hosting role. James was happy to speak to us about all things Transport for Wales which obviously included reference to the White Paper just published. So it was interesting to hear the background to the franchising proposals first hand from the top dog.

Encouragingly he said how impressed he was at seeing so many keen and enthusiastic young managers from the bus industry and acknowledged that any franchising arrangements must take account of the significant expertise that lies in the industry.

James initially chaired Transport for Wales when it was first set up in 2016. At that time it employed 100 people who were engaged in giving advice to the Welsh Government on transport matters, not least all the preparations for taking over the rail franchise from the DfT as well as many miles of track and infrastructure from Network Rail in the Cardiff valleys in preparation for the South Wales Metro project. This extensive development is due to be introduced in 2024 and encompasses light rail conversion of some sections and ‘turn-up-and-go’ frequencies – although in Wales that apparently means anything down to as good as every 15 minutes, which for me, means knowing a timetable (my criteria for ‘turn-up-and-go’ is every 10 minutes – might just accept 12 – or better). That aside it’s an exciting project.

Transport for Wales has grown over the last six years to now employ 3,000 people including those in its subsidiary company actually operating the railway.

Unlike Transport for London where the Mayor chairs the TfL Board, the Transport for Wales non-executive Board chairman is independent, albeit appointed by the Government. Scott Waddington was reappointed for a second term of three years earlier this year in January to this role. He has extensive business experience, particularly in the hospitality sector and was chairman of the Welsh CBI in 2010 and 2011.

The Welsh Government sets the policy and strategy for Transport for Wales and Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Climate, is leading on the current proposals to franchise buses.

The idea for greater public control of buses has been around for a few years in Wales and has had a rocky gestation period. The Bus Services (Wales) Bill which would have granted local authorities statutory powers to franchise bus routes was withdrawn in summer 2020 “for further consideration” and some thought the proposals may have gone away.

But they’re back with a vengeance in this new White Paper which proposes updated arrangements with Transport for Wales becoming the franchising body together with representation from regional Corporate Joint Committees (CJC) (established under the Local Government and Elections Act 2020), which are basically neighbouring councils joined together where their resources would otherwise be too small, forming – what’s become a bit of a two word buzz phrase in transport – a “guiding mind” to “bring all aspects of the bus system together”.

The White Paper envisages local authorities developing “a plan for a bus network” while the CJCs would bring “these together to form a regional plan” with Transport for Wales working to “combine these networks into a national plan” which in turn would be reviewed by the “guiding mind” board which would include political representation from the Welsh Government. This final plan would in turn be “informed by expert and public views” facilitated by “an operator representative, a staff representative and a public transport user representative” also sitting on the Board.

It certainly looks like that “further consideration” of the proposals now ticks every conceivable box but whether it’ll lead to slick and effective decision making – something that’s intrinsically necessary to keep a bus network in tune with an ever changing market – is another matter.

As someone who spent 27 years running buses in a deregulated environment where decision making on improved bus routes/timetables/fares/tickets/vehicles/marketing etc could be enacted from original gestation to on the ground implementation in a timescale measured in weeks/days/and sometimes hours this process sounds like a recipe for bureaucracy and delay.

But that’s the problem with franchising as TfL know only too well (bus service changes put out to public consultation and implemented sometimes years later) and Transport for Greater Manchester are about to learn.

The White Paper also gives the freedom for local authorities to establish their own municipal bus companies but quite why the originators of this idea thinks the time is ripe for such a development is a mystery bearing in mind the rather precarious financial position of some of the UK’s remaining municipally owned operators.

The upside for franchising is the Holy Grail of “One Network, One Timetable, One Ticket” and I wish Transport for Wales well in achieving that, not least promoting it widely and making it actually happen on the ground. My experiences of using fledgling tickets of this kind have not always been positive as long term readers of this blog will be aware. The excellent 1bws ticket introduced in 2021 across all bus operators in North Wales is great if you and the bus driver know about it (too many don’t) as are the integrated rail and bus Explore Wales tickets, if you can find out about them and rail and bus staff know about them (too many don’t).

Provided the Welsh Government consistently puts the necessary funding into improving bus routes in Wales I’m optimistic things may just come good. There are already encouraging signs in the investment that continues to be made in improving (a) the TrawsCymru network (another new route (T22) will start this year linking Caernarfon, Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog and there are electric powered buses on order), (b) Fflecsi DRT services (there seems to be a strong dose of realism these will need ongoing financial support rather than a ‘three year trial’ approach – indeed it was encouraging to hear James Price recognising the need for subsidy and observing it was at ‘pocket money levels’ compared to the subsidy per passenger paid on some of Wales’ rail routes) and then there’s (c) the transformational (and I don’t often use that word unless it really is) improvements to the Snowdon Sherpa network of routes from last weekend.

This is part of a commitment of a few hundred thousand additional pounds funding from the Welsh Government for the year ahead to provide a step change in bus provision across the Snowdonia National Park and the result is very impressive. I’d intended to take a trip out there last weekend but circumstances prevented it but it’s definitely worth a visit in the coming weeks, by which time buses will be sporting a new livery and branding which will also encompass bus stops and publicity including a very impressive map and timetable brochure outlining what the new network offers.

Hourly timetables have replaced previous arrangements with more limited offerings as well as excellent connection opportunities between routes across the Park. It’s very encouraging to see this come about and I look forward to reporting back on the step change following my visit last September when I reported how the Sherpa branding was now looking tired and dated and needed the very shot-in-the-arm it’s now received.

If this is what franchising will do all across Wales, then I say bring it on.

But it’ll need a lot, and I mean a lot, of money. And not just for one year either (which the Snowdonia money currently is).

Roger French

Blogging timetable 06:00 TThS

33 thoughts on “Newidiadau maw i wasanaethau bysiau yng Nghymru

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  1. The Fflecsi service in north Cardiff is to revert to a timetabled operation soon.

    I hope that’s due to a realisation that urban DRT hasn’t worked and Newport will get its scheduled services back in the evenings and on Sundays. Four buses isn’t anywhere near adequate for a city of nearly 150,000 and its very difficult to book.

    Thanks for the link to the consultation. I will be sure to respond.


  2. Laudable aims as always from Politicians, much of which could have been achieved moons ago if they had sat down with bus Operators in the spirit of partnership and co-operation. I fear the desire to control 100% will come at a great £cost, as political interference and bias has already reared it’s ugly head in Wales. At least, years of chaos following the closure of Cardiff bus station may not be allowed to happen again, but who knows?


  3. And of course with Franchising, the two remaining municipals in Wales could find they have no business left! Which begs the question why anyone would want to set up a new one?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m interested that your criteria for ‘no need to look at the timetable’ is every 10 minutes; for myself, I decided some time ago that 8 services an hour (i.e every 7or 8 minutes) was the level. It’s actually more important than just a discussion point between people who like bus travel: in an era when the planet needs us to get as many passengers as possible on to buses and trains, it must be important to know the frequency at which you start getting a major shift from private to public transport, and the point at which people don’t need to look up times will be critical to that.


    1. I think it depends where people are and what their expectations are.

      For rail, we discovered years ago that a 15 minute frequency is turn-up-and-go for many people, whereas 20 minutes isn’t. For buses I suspect that 10-15 minutes is more realistic for most passengers, as hanging round at a bus stop with little or no shelter and even less information isn’t exactly an encouraging alternative to the car.

      Of course, for every generalisation there will be people who disagree, whether they say turn-up-and-go should be more frequent or are happy with a lower frequency.

      The elephant in the room about the the car-vs-public transport argument is that you could run buses every 2 minutes at zero fare and most car users would still automatically jump in their cars; cars are pretty much an addiction and like all addictions it takes enforcement as much as encouragement to get people to give up. That’s a political decision, though, and none of our politicians are willing to bite that bullet as they know it’ll destroy their chances of re-election.


      1. It definitely depends on where you are, and the availability of the tax receipts to pay for it. So with a captive taxpayer, we can have whatever we want. Without, our option is to like it or lump it. That’s the only message busmen need to make people understand. The passengers are there to serve the bus, not the other way around. Buses are a leisure activity for those with the time and money, not a necessity. If we need something to rely on, avoid the bus. Most travellers already instinctively know it.


  5. Amazing that Cardiff and Newport still have surving municipal bus operations Mrs Thatcher would be doing hand stands in her coffin in the Ritz!I suppose Swansea probably had a municipal operation too and maybe a few other Welsh towns might have been big enough but most will have been merged into the NBC circa around 1970, becoming Crossville, National Welsh,etc..


    1. As far as I am aware, Swansea never had a municipal operation. In South Wales, Caerphilly, Bedwas and Machen, Gelligaer, Pontypridd, Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare did whilst North Wales had Colwyn Bay and Llandudno. The last two having one all year route whilst Llandudno also ran tours around the Great Orme headland.


      1. All(?) the former south east Wales municipal operations bar Newport and Cardiff ended up as part of Stagecoach.

        There are still a few independents such as Harris Coaches and Phil Anslow. The latter twice sold his stage carriage operation to Stagecoach and concentrated treated on schools, tours and private hire before starting up again.


  6. Hopefully the franchised local buses will have timed connections with Traws Cymru, and rail to create a nationwide integrated network. Now that would be something to celebrate.


  7. I didn’t know about the North Cardiff Fflecsi service! sorry.

    I agree with the post about “car addiction” – clearly not the case in some European countries. Not helped by Mrs Thatcher’s view that anyone over 25 who uses a bus must be a “failure” (and similar sentiments).


    1. Car addiction is the same in every country in Europe except for the Vatican State and Sark!Even tiny island nations like Malta and Jersey are full of cars.Amazingly the little offshore English archipelago, the Isle of Scilly,is full of the things despite the short walking distances.Lundy might be car free but I wouldn’t bet on it! However my attempt to get to Lundy a good few years back was,in an April,was thwarted by adverse tides.Because the car is seen as a method of travel rather than as a status symbol and weapon nobody is willing to address the problem…. anywhere on Earth! Interestingly when you see a news report about someone winning a large sum of money, it’s always about, first,what car they are going to buy and then moving onto house and holiday.And don’t get me into environmentally friendly Prince Charles recently knighting racing car driver Sir Lewis Hamilton!


      1. While the environmentally-friendly Prince Charles may well have dubbed Sir Lewis Hamilton with his knighthood (on behalf of the Queen), that honour will have been recommended by our car-friendly government and under our constitution the Queen is not permitted to challenge whether or not the award goes ahead.


  8. I’ve always seen the argument framed in terms of reducing the number of buses to match the passengers and NEVER trying to increase the number of passengers to match the bus provision. Clearly it’s buses that waste resources; cars don’t. Which given how many jobs car use creates, is probably right. Ask most people, would they have a job (= an income, or a leisure, to use


    1. That is the current approach with most bus companies, The problem is you eventully run out of passengers and go out of business

      Most of the larger bus companies have survived by buying up smaller companies but that approach is now starting to fail as they are running out of companies to take over


  9. On the back of this article, I had a look at the Snowdon Sherpa service. It looks good, with hourly services.

    The page has a link to the 1bws website, which states that the ticket is not valid on tourist type services.

    So it’s unclear whether the 1bws ticket is valid., which is a shame, but as you say Roger, makes using such a ticket somewhat of a lottery.

    Following last summer’s traffic and parking problems near Snowdon, I think this initiative can be seen as environmental. Traveling by bus allows for point to point walks rather than having to return to the car, which should be a good selling point.


    1. The 1bws ticket is valid on all five Snowdon Sherpa routes as stated in the publicity leaflet shown in the blog.


      1. Is it though? Surely the Sherpa is the definition of a tourist service. This sort of confusion can lead to conflict where staff refuse to accept valid tickets, leading to frustration all round. This has happened to me too often, especially when traveling with public transport phobic friends who decide public transport is not for them as it is too complicated.

        I think the 1bws is valid on Sherpa, but am unlikely to try it given the uncertainty, and Roger’s previous experiences.


    2. The Snowdon Sherpa network comprises five local bus services which carry tens of thousands of Gwynedd residents every year in addition to the visitors to Snowdonia.
      The 1bws ticket can be purchased on every Snowdon Sherpa bus and is valid throughout every single journey.
      The 1bws ticket costs £5.70 (adult), £3.70 (child), £3.70 (English and Scottish concessionary card holders) and £12 (Family – 2 adults max and 3 children max) for unlimited travel for one day throughout North Wales.
      The Snowdon Sherpa network be accessed at Bangor, Betws-y-Coed, Caernarfon and Porthmadog – the 1bws ticket can be used on the connecting local bus services to these interchanges from as far away as Aberystwyth.
      The Snowdon Sherpa buses operate from 0600hrs to 2023hrs, so come and explore Snowdonia by bus for the day with a 1bws ticket.


  10. I can confirm that Lundy island does not suffer from the effects of car addiction. There are no roads on the island.
    But, of course, there are no buses either !


  11. Today is the started of the revised First Essex service. It will be Tuesday though before we see how well they go down. The networks have been pretty much revised all around although there are lot of services reduction withing those revisions


    1. To paraphrase another poster, it’s what the people of Essex deserve, and want. Why bother with anything else? We’ve been there, done that. The minimum level of service we can get away with. There is no one to pay for, or use, anything else.

      Arriva, now First.

      Perhaps the future lies in the hands of the minnows, new and old, who have standards, rather than just the vague promises of “jam tomorrow”, if we’re lucky. Or we could look on at Cambs and Herts (maybe even Norfolk) and think what might have been.


  12. A new rail initiative is being introduced by the Government which is set to help people who have been impacted by the rising cost of living. The scheme will see rail companies join up with the government to provide over one million discounted tickets to train users. Passengers can get their “next trip at a snip” with savings of up to 50pc in the hopes that this will help connect friends and family, boost UK tourism and encourage green travel across the country.

    Tickets go on sale from April 19, with discounted tickets available on journeys from April 25 to May 27. For example, the savings could include a London to Edinburgh trip which was £44 now just priced at £22. It would also mean London to Cardiff which was £47, now being reduced to £25.


  13. The Franchising of Buses is overall a good idea the problem is with politicians the poor implementation. If you take TfL it has become bloated with management and is inflexible so that it cannot react quickly to market changes and i many case has lead to too many buses being on the road, Should there as well be higher fares for Sunday and Night buses after all they generally cost more to run

    Should the government change the concessionary fare charged to allow a small fare to be charged to save loss making services ., may be running those on a community not for profit basis

    For fare paying passengers through ticketing should be available at present rail and bus prices itself out of the market by the time you pay a bus far to the station and then the train and then another bus. Even having to change buses tends to make buses totally uncompetitive with the car or taxi if there are two people travelling


    1. I suspect there’d be general agreement with getting many buses off the road, and making the fewer that remain easier to use for the nutters that want to use them. The illusion of turn up and go has to be the biggest hoax of all time. Patience after all is good for the soul, apparently.


  14. I agree that the network and service design element of the franchising proposal feels very bureaucratic, there are simply too many layers. The actual franchise award will be done by TfW, except they can delegate it if they wish. There is no indication of who will choose what is being franchised as the publication state that it could be route level or network / area level. It feels like they want to avoid a ‘everything is run by Cardiff’ mentality but still want TfW to have overall control.


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