H is for Harrogate

Saturday 23rd April 2022

And so to H. I thought about Harlow, just fleetingly, but couldn’t face the negativity. Hemel Hempstead came to mind – I sort of lived there with my parents for a time in the early 1970s while at university in Reading and it’s always interesting to go back – but in the end I opted for a strong dose of public transport positivity.

Harrogate’s population is 75,000 with a further 15,000 living in nearby Knaresborough. It’s the epi-centre of Harrogate Borough Council within North Yorkshire County Council. It’s renowned for its excellent bus service but would it pass muster in my A to Z meander around mid-size towns? Would some random bus rides and observations live up to its reputation not least as like many places the local bus companies have been suffering from driver shortages

I began my visit a few weeks ago by arriving on the half hourly Northern Rail service from York which runs via Knaresborough and Harrogate to Leeds. This is supplemented between Harrogate and Leeds by LNER’s two-hourly direct service down the East Coast Main Line to London Kings Cross.

LNER journeys only stop at Horsforth thereby achieving a Harrogate to Leeds journey time of just half an hour with Northern’s stoppers taking 36 minutes.

The famous route 36 operated by Transdev Blazefield’s Harrogate Bus Company does the same journey in 49 minutes and is currently on a Covid reduced 15 minute frequency with every other journey continuing north of Harrogate to serve Ripon half hourly. Pre Covid the respective frequencies had been 10 minutely and every twenty minutes either side of Harrogate.

However on my visit I noticed the driver shortage was impacting even this reduced timetable such are the challenges even the industry’s best companies are facing at the moment.

Other inter-urban routes from Harrogate to nearby towns including Ilkley, Otley, Wetherby, York and Bradford are operated by locally owned independent bus company Harrogate Coach Travel trading as Connexions buses as well as Transdev Blazefield.

The former runs the hourly X52 to Otley and Ilkley and the half-hourly X70 to Wetherby while the latter runs the Flyer branded hourly A2 to Bradford via Leeds-Bradford Airport, the half-hourly 7 to Wetherby and Leeds and the hourly 24 to Pateley Bridge.

There are also a smattering of more rural routes tendered by North Yorkshire County Council.

The Harrogate to Knaresborough corridor is served by both Connexions buses and Harrogate Bus Company with competing services.

The latter runs more frequently, albeit recently reduced from every 7-8 minutes to every 10 minutes while the former runs every 15 minutes. In Knaresborough buses operated by both companies undertake various loop routings to serve the town’s residential areas each with a suffix letter denoting each route.

Residents are well served here including the competing services on a couple of the loops.

Harrogate’s town routes numbered 2A, 2B, 3 and 6 are famously operated by electric Volvo buses which top up the battery with overhead pantograph charging each time the bus stands in the town’s bus station. They’re marketed as Harrogate Electrics and are superb buses to travel in with impressive interior features as I described in a recent blog.

As said, my visit began at Knaresborough’s delightful station which sits in an elevated position above the town with a wonderful viaduct immediately west of the station taking the line high above the River Nidd.

It contrasts with the rather brutal station in Harrogate which is hidden on the ground floor of an unimpressive Travelodge building.

The adjacent bus station owned and maintained by Harrogate Bus Company is a functional ‘saw tooth’ 13 bay arrangement with a well stocked (with timetables) travel kiosk (as previously highlighted) that’s all kept nice and clean and attractive but at busy times it can get very cramped in the waiting area with long queues stretching back especially for those popular route 36 buses causing pedestrian congestion.

My first journey was on a Connexions double decker on route X1A from a random bus stop in Knaresborough to St James Retail Park.

We passed through Knaresborough’s bus station and dropped a couple of the five already on board off and picked up three more all of whom bar one got off as we passed through Aspin and she alighted with me at the Retail Park terminus as the bus returned to Knaresborough as an X1B via Eastfield.

Knaresborough bus station

Timetable displays are available for both companies’ routes in separate cases at all relevant bus stops including at the Retail Park which is the usual collection of familiar names in shed style buildings.

I headed back into Knaresborough and Harrogate on the four journey a day tendered route 8 from Wetherby which takes a different route into Harrogate (via Wedderburn and Crossways) than the main Knaresborough corridor buses take via Starbeck.

It was worth doing as we picked up half a dozen passengers who’d obviously made a special effort to wait for this infrequent service.

I sampled the electric buses on the town’s other routes 2A/2B to Bilton and 3 to Jennyfield (both every 15 minutes) as well as keeping an eye on the half-hourly route 6 to Pannal Ash and its peak hour variant X6 to the nearby Beckwith Knowle Business Park.

These carried decent numbers for a March afternoon and the bus station was constantly busy with comings and goings of both buses and passengers.

There was some hiatus around school closing time during the afternoon with some late arriving buses with traffic getting busier and some good loads on board, with a bus seemingly not wanting to be charged up despite passengers on board ready to go. A control supervisor who is on the spot in the bus station was obviously on top of the situation and swapped buses around to get passengers on their way. Passengers were obviously pleased to be looked after and to be advised which alternative departure stand to head to.

I didn’t have time to try out the more rural routes, nor route 7 which takes the longer-way-round route into Leeds via Wetherby. But it looked to be doing a good job, and uses bespoke branded buses.

However, I did squeeze in a ride on route 24 which runs two-hourly over to Pateley Bridge in the Dales. This really is a delightful route which commendably is operated on a commercial basis Mondays to Saturdays with the Sunday timetable provided as part of the Dales Bus funded network. We brought 15 passengers into Harrogate during mid morning.

At the Pateley Bridge terminus.

It was interesting to see some of the bus stop flags in the Dales still sporting former company names ….

… and in some cases had seen better days.

But they very much were the exception with signs and information in abundance not only from Harrogate Bus Company ….

….. but Connexions doing their bit too.

It all makes for what comes across as a very vibrant town for bus use. Definitely beats Hemel Hempstead and, as for Harlow …. you know my views!

Roger French

Previous AtoZ blogs: Andover; Bracknell; Carlisle; Durham, Evesham, Folkestone, Grantham.

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS.

19 thoughts on “H is for Harrogate

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  1. The 24 to Pateley Bridge is two-hourly, not hourly, but nevertheless a lovely and useful link into Nidderdale. From April the Sunday service connects into other “DalesBus” marketed services which go further up the dale or across to Grassington.

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  2. Hi Roger,

    Thanks for another of your reviews of an old stamping ground of mine (DTS Harrogate, many years ago!).

    Several of my thumbprints are still in evidence, in particular the Jennyfields estate which would have been a cluster of culs de sac, and therefore completely unserviceable by bus, had it not been for a discussion between me and a Town Planner from the Borough Council which resulted in the spine roads through the estate now used by the bus service. Feeling pleased with self!

    Service 24 used to be run mainly by an outstation at Pateley Bridge, so very close relationships between drivers and locals up the dale, resulting in some charming anecdotes (I’ll not bore you!).

    Thanks once again, I’m enjoying reading the blogs of all your visits.

    Best regards David

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  3. Always nice to read about competent bus companies. I bet the situation would be very different if First was running it. Talking of which I recently had a clear out of old buses magazines dating back to 2012, and reread a sad article describing how First ruined their Northampton operation.

    In my locality things improved markedly when First walked away and left things to Faresaver.

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  4. Harrogate rail station might be brutalist but it does sport one of those mysterious none passenger platforms which is actually numbered too as Platform 2 and it faces east in the York direction.It seems to be used for cleaning trains.

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  5. So glad you didn’t bother with Hemel Hempstead . . . bus services in the town are but a shadow of former glories.

    In 1988, we at LCNW used a fleet of 30 Metrorider minibuses to massively improve the Town Services (around 24 PVR if I recall correctly). 6 BPH frequencies on many cross-town routes, and new routes introducing buses to many previously-unserved areas . . . all commercially operated apart from late evenings.

    In 2022, there are just 8 buses in use, with one route reduced to 2 BPH (routes 3/4). There are still limited journeys on route 2 to Boxmoor Station for commuters, but for how much longer. Herts CC have 2-3 buses on services around the town, but limited to daytimes only.

    The LCBS garage at Two Waters had a PVR of around 70 buses and coaches in 1988 . . . it’s now down to 39 PVR, which includes the town services in Watford and a route from Borehamwood to Harpenden. No Green Line services survive (around 10 PVR in 1988).

    Run down and unloved . . . and absolutely no publicity about the new network and timetables . . . even Intalink don’t seem to have managed to update many of the roadside timetables yet. It’s all very sad . . .

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    1. We’ve had this discussion before! Where isn’t it the same story in the northern home counties? We haven’t a sugar daddy, unless Intalink are about to step up (but don’t die laughing!)

      My local op (FEx) told us bluntly, we’ll increase your buses (they did) but if it doesn’t work, we’ll cut them, and they have. What do you and your colleagues on here suggest as an alternative? Clearly Metroline couldn’t think of one for the 84. Best to stay stum about anything that doesn’t suit your agenda, however unhelpful to us ordinary mortals who have to live in the real world.

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      1. Trying to run buses on a fully commercial basis is simply not going to work and we can set it is not working by the constant cuts to services

        Rail is not expected to be fully commercial but buses are.

        There are many ways to increase funding for buses. An annual charge for concessionary passes. Local councils being required to set a small percentage of council tax towards bus services. Industrial Parks & retail and Business Parks being required to pay a small percentage on business rates to help fund bus service, A small annual levy on car parking spaces

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  6. Self-driving bus will trial on roads of famous Forth bridge

    I would have thought the focus should be on self driving trains. With rail you have a much more controlled environment making it a lot simpler to implement. Mind you some strange things go on with new rail lines. I am baffled as to why Crossrail has three train signalling systems. Two I could understand as Great Eastern and GWR have different signalling systems but why did they need to throw the TfL system into the mix. Crossrail cannot mix with any of the other Tfl tube lines

    Stagecoach is carrying out on-road testing of the sensor-operated bus, with passengers due to board this summer.

    In the pilot, five single-decker autonomous buses will operate over the Forth Bridge between Fife and Edinburgh.

    The vehicles are capable of carrying 36 passengers the 14 miles of the route over the bridge.

    When the service is fully operational, a driver will be on board each bus to monitor the driving system, along with a ‘bus captain’, who will talk to passengers.

    On pre-selected roads, the buses are controlled by its sensors and do not need a driver. On other routes, a driver must take the controls.

    Sam Greet, Stagecoach’s regional director in Scotland, hailed it as a ‘hugely exciting project’.

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  7. Arriva have been a total disaster for the ex London Country areas. North of the river Harlow garage survives but with very much run down services. Hertford Garage closed and moved to Ware with very much run down services

    Stevenage services but the garage i in a new location but the services there are vert run down

    Hatfield closed leaving Hatfield and WGC with very run down services

    St Albans closed leaving St Albans with very run down services

    Watford Closed leaving Watford with very run down services

    Hemel survives but the services are very run down

    South of the River the services have fared no better

    There is no sign neither of any improvement to these service just more of the death by a thousand cuts approach

    Currently Councils seem to think DRT is he answer but all the evidence show is that they are very expensive to operate and fail to attract passengers. One report showed that almost 70% of these schemes failed

    May be the answer is flexible bus routes. These would be point to point bus routes but would divert into residential areas on demand

    There are of course a lot of challenges as to how this could be implemented. The need though is too get buses nearer to where the passengers live and fort frequencies to be far higher. I wold say at very minimum every 20 minutes. Passengers are not going to Walt 1/2 miles to a mile to get a bus. That simply does not happen well other than for the occasional shopping trip

    Is having buses operate to the same route regardless of time of day or day of week still sensible? It may be convenient for bus companies but dos it meet passenger needs

    In the morning the need is for commuting and schools . Currently though bus companies have given up on commuters with few if any buses going to rail stations and business and industrial parks so people drive as they have no other choice. For the remainder of the day until the afternoon peak it is mainly shopping trips. Buses still go to the town centres but ignore the out of town shopping areas

    In the evening buses have given up almost totally so if you want to go out or the evening it is the car or a taxi

    At weekends there is little commuter traffic other than retail workers but they use the car as the buses do not run when they need them or do not go where they need to go and again for weekend leisure trips other than for daytime shopping trips the bus does not meet the need. Even for shopping trips all to offer the services are far to infrequent to be of any real use

    Should out of town shopping centres, Business Parks and Industrial parks have to pay a small annual levy to help support bus services?

    Many of these business will have annual revenues of Millions. If the levy was just 1% of annual revenues a business with a 1M annual revenues would pay a £100.000

    At the moment whilst there is a lot of financial support for rail there is no real interest in support for buses although more people use buses than rail

    At the moment it is expected that the passengers will fully fund the buses but that approach is simply not going to work. It is accepted that rail needs financial support but fort buses it is not

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    1. I think the answer is that bus networks only work where there is the public funding (and enforcement) to support them. Think London. Perhaps a few holiday routes too. As ever.

      Everywhere else, we have to go back to how buses started. As local stage carriages, incidental to a local business. A bureaucracy can’t understand or get the support of a local market. So they’re just hunting for ghosts.

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    2. Isn’t there a clear lesson? It’s the NBC successors, like Arriva Kent&etc, First Essex and Stagecoach East who have the problems, less Uno, Stephensons, Ensign, the Red group companies or Sullivans and A2B, or even Go-East formed out of local operators. Ask ourselves why? Or rather, ask their passengers why? The answer, I suspect, will be the same. They’re on a different planet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Why did Sovereign give up their Herts operations? They couldn’t make it work (despite I think a sister operation going on to become Transdev in Yorks?) It certainly wasn’t because Arriva were too hot for them!

        FEx hobble on, but have shrunk constantly from ENOC days, and every initiative over the last 20 years (and there has been no shortage of them) has failed or is failing. Of course it’s just not what anybody writes about. It’s not news or inflating anyone’s ego.

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  8. Let me impolitely suggest some differences between the home counties and Harrogate.
    1. Less pleasant countryside.
    2. More cramming and development.
    3. A younger and less affluent population, with less time and money for leisure activity.
    4. A poor history of public investment.
    5. Car dominance, for both economic and social reasons.
    6.Town planning and economic development both historically dominated by the car. In short, traffic mayhem.
    The effect is that often it is virtually impossible to either run buses reliably, or to use them.
    7. Much travel is not linear but from everywhere to everywhere else.
    8. Bus services have been historically under-resourced and poorly managed. We have no legacy of competence.
    Everything militates against public transport. It needs a determined regulator (think Mayor of London) to challenge the orthodoxy. It will be interesting to see how the Cambridgeshire Mayor fares. So far, in the mire.

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    1. The dice are currently loaded against the bus. In the home counties Local councils show little interest in supporting bus service in fact many will see assets like bus station s something to be sold off and the money used for whatever is their current pet project and it will not be buses
      Many councils will subsidies car parking or even provide it for free
      Business Parks and Industrial Parks will provide free car paeking but will not suppiort bus services; Just requiring then to provide the same level of financial support that they provide for car parking for buses would significanly improve things. One could even factor in the cost savings from reducing conjestion and polution. Difficult to quantify but not impossible

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      1. Reading this with interest and some stuff here that is, at best, subjective and at worst, just wrong.

        Not least, Bob’s maths. A 1% tax on a business turning over £1m will not generate £100k of funds for public transport. It would be just £10k.

        Whilst it’s fair to suggest that Arriva has been a disaster for the home counties, to suggest that this is tied into the closure of various depots such as St Albans or Hatfield is highly doubtful, as is the relocation of Hertford to Ware. These were moves that happened under the ownership of AJS Holdings (with Parkdale owning the properties) – a good 10 years before Arriva was created, even before LDT was purchased by British Bus. Also, there is a very interesting parallel; West Yorkshire Road Car (who was the predecessor of Transdev’s Harrogate operations and those in Malton and Keighley) had also been purchased by AJS Group who had similarly broken up that firm with the properties been owned by Parkdale. Indeed, the depots at Harrogate, Pateley Bridge and Wetherby were all sold for redevelopment.

        In terms of the differences between Essex and Harrogate… well, Essex Smurf is clearly not familiar with North Yorkshire. Harrogate has not had a long history of public transport investment courtesy of the council (NYCC); they are more tepid than ECC. It’s a reflection on the commitment of Blazefield and latterly Transdev rather than anything more complex. That Harrogate doesn’t have traffic congestion… I’d suggest a trip into the town from Ripon on the A61 or the constant delays on the Knaresborough road from the level crossing at Starbeck will disavow you of that view.

        Also, whilst the population may indeed be older in Harrogate, the sheer growth of the population in Chelmsford massively overshadows any impact that it may have.

        Lastly, I’d point you to they Competition Commission report that explains why Blazefield sold off their Herts operations. St Albans depot was marginal and that was sold, separately, to Centrebus. The Stevenage and Hatfield ops were profitable but less so than elsewhere in the group. However, they had been given the opportunity to purchase the sub-optimally performing operations of Stagecoach in East Lancashire about 3 years. That required investment and time and they felt the return there was better so they decided to rationalise and focus on the North – hence they sold the Herts ops as well as Huntingdon and London and have a stronger core business in the North.

        Harrogate is one of the best bus operations in the country (and crucially, they are not perfect either) but it’s from hard work and an enlightened approach that came from people like Giles Fearnley. No surprise that GF recruited good people to help move First from its 2011 state to where it is now though First Essex is only now getting the treatment that places like Cornwall, Bristol have benefitted from.

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  9. Back in the optimistic early days of bus deregulation, I can remember reading in Buses Magazine about an innovative operation using Optare CityPacers called Welwyn Hatfield Line (I think). High frequency urban minibus networks were springing up everywhere, passenger numbers responded positively. Then bigger and bigger buses gradually replaced them, frequencies were cut.

    As someone posted above there’s no point waiting for half an hour (if you’ve just missed a bus) for a journey of ten minute’s duration. Urban bus services should be on a turn up and go frequency.

    The decline of the high Street retail means bus companies need to seek out new markets. So still run into town centres but extend the outer ends of routes to the out of town supermarkets. These are open to 10pm, staff need to get to them. Customers can use the bus to shop there after the high street shops close. Colleges, hospitals, industrial parks and most importantly railway stations should be the new traffic objectives.

    Liked by 1 person

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