Thursday 12th May 2022
Back in January I blogged about the decision by Reading Buses to suspend its Tiger branded route 7 between Reading and Fleet from 17th January. Problems with long term roadworks necessitating a lengthy diversion and few passengers travelling were cited as reasons as well as every bus company being desperately short of drivers at that time.
While numbers travelling weren’t great when I travelled just prior to the withdrawal I could see there were enough people using the bus to villages such as Swallowfield (6 miles south of Reading) who’d have no alternative transport options that would force the local authority to act.
In the event a couple of months later Wokingham Borough Council found some Section 106 money to enable a reduced timetable to be reinstated for six months albeit with the service truncated at Riseley (one and a half miles south of Swallowfield) with the route no longer continuing further to Hartley Wintney and Fleet.
Last Friday I took a ride on the same journey I rode on Friday 14th January – the 12:35 from Reading – to see what the result would be.
In January 11 passengers travelled beyond Spencers Wood (where there are alternative options – route 8/9) with five alighting in Swallowfield, one in Riseley, three in Hartley Wintney and two in Fleet.
This time after Spencers Wood there were just four on board. One alighted in Swallowfield and three in Riseley. we’d left Reading with 11 passengers of whom four got off in Reading and three in Spencers Wood.
I also got off in Swallowfield as I spotted a woman waiting on the other side of the road for the bus to return and head back to Reading and thought it would be a good opportunity to do some market research and have a chat with her.
She told me how devastating it had been during the two months without a bus and she was worried about its potential withdrawal later in the year when the current six months funding runs out. She told me it would mean having to move. I decided it was politic not to mention all the funding through Bus Improvement Plans elsewhere as well as the Rural Mobility Fund millions.
We waited a long time for the bus to return and it was just as well we both knew it must be between Riseley and Swallowfield (we’d obviously seen it head south) as it was another village with no phone signal making it impossible to check online or on the App as we’re constantly encouraged to do.
On the way out the bus had arrived late into Reading at 12:37 from its previous journey, left at 12:40, five minutes down, and left Swallowfield heading to Riseley at 13:06, two minutes down, but eventually arrived back from Riseley at 13:20, seven minutes late. “It’s always running late“ my new found passenger companion told me and certainly it appeared the running time is tight – we arrived back at Reading station at 13:52, ten minutes late, and seven minutes after the bus was due to leave on its next journey back south which only goes as far as Spencers Wood.
The next journey back to Swallowfield and Riseley is not until 15:50 – there are just five a day – which was not convenient for my friend as she was only going to the library to return books and didn’t need two hours – interestingly her perception of how long she’d have to wait was three hours.
Three passengers were on the bus as it arrived from Riseley with four boarding in Spencers Wood prior to where route 9 joins then four more as we headed into Reading.
I’d been impressed that Reading Buses had retained all the high profile ‘Tiger’ branding for route 7 on bus stop flags and timetable cases and the bus was still in Tiger livery, albeit still implying the route continues beyond Riseley to Fleet – perhaps there’s some wishful thinking there?
Similarly the interior map diagrams continue to depict the pre January route rather than the truncated situation that’s applied since 22nd March.
I was also highly impressed to see a large stock of a colourful timetable leaflet for the route on display on board ….
…. but having picked one up was taken aback to see it was showing the pre withdrawal timetable showing journeys running to Fleet.
Even more bizarre it’s dated 3rd January 2022 just two weeks before the route was suspended.
All rather odd; as well as somewhat misleading.
At least the roadside timetables are up to date.
And good to see some fares information posted too.
Route 7 is clearly not a commercial proposition for Reading Buses and with cash strapped councils it highlights the somewhat incongruous situation where rural bus routes carrying passengers in modestly small numbers are facing withdrawal forcing residents to consider lifestyle decisions such as moving out of their long standing village home while, at the same time, new services are being introduced to other villages (eg Cockley Cley south of Swaffham) where there haven’t been any bus routes for almost sixty years and no-one is in the habit of travelling by bus.
It’s a funny old world.