Thursday 16th June 2022
Readers may recall when I tried the DigiGo DRT operation from Chelmsford’s Chelmer Valley Park & Ride site at Easter I spotted the temporary ‘dealer stock’ buses being used by Vectare on that route into the city pending delivery of a new fleet of buses as part of the company winning the contract from Essex County Council.
Nine ADL Enviro 200 buses were ordered for the operation (plus a tenth for other routes) and at least four have now arrived and are in service on Chelmsford’s other Park & Ride route – the 701 to Sandon where there’s been a substantial car park (1,377 spaces) sited conveniently to the east of the city next to the A12 since 2006.
It’s a very straightforward arrangement with buses using a lay-by alongside the entrance to the car park on the A1060 Maldon Road just west of its junction with the A12.
The service takes four buses in the peak with a 7-8 minute frequency from 06:30 to 09:25 and 16:00 to 17:30 while a 15 minute frequency taking just two buses operates during the off peak period with the last bus back from the city centre at 19:30 (19:00 Saturdays). The two peak buses layover during the off-peak in the lay-by, so it’s just as well it’s a long one.
It’s only a ten minute journey from the Park & Ride site to the beginning of the loop buses take around the city centre which takes a further four minutes and then a nine minute ride back again, so the buses won’t be tested to their extremes not least as the terrain is flat and helpful bus priority measures are in place on the city bound journey.
Back at the car park the reception building is well appointed with toilets and a bench seat for passengers to wait as well as an office and facilities for a supervisor – also manned by Vectare as part of the contract.
There’s clear information about upcoming departures and a large poster explains the extensive pricing options …
… including a fairly recent change (2020) whereby concessionary pass holders have been paying £1.50, which when I took a ride on Tuesday during the off peak made up the majority travelling.
It was impressive to see 14 passengers on one departure and in the low tens on others and the car park was looking fairly well occupied in contrast to experience of Park & Ride operations elsewhere – I’m thinking of Maidstone (now ceased) and Canterbury’s Sturry Road (in hibernation).
The new buses in their all black livery stand out from the First Bus old style insipid colours which otherwise dominate the local bus scene, although I did spot a couple of black liveried buses operated by First which presumably were the ones that company used to use on Park & Ride before losing the contract to Vectare.
Inside the buses, they’re not quite so dark, sporting a nice snazzy blue moquette with comfortable seats …
…. and adequate leg room.
There are usb sockets (one per pair of seats) and a little bizarrely a coat hook for each seat, which seemed a bit of a luxury for a ten minute journey.
Leaflets about the Park & Ride service are available on board all the buses and there’s a screen which could show the next stop, but didn’t seem to have been enabled yet.
Essex County Council have launched a whacky ‘Name the Bus’ stunt for not only the buses being introduced by Vectare in Chelmsford but also Arriva’s new fleet of similar buses which are heading to the Colchester Park & Ride operation.
I wonder how many Bus-y McBusface suggestions they’ll receive.
Park & Ride is a simple and easy to understand formula. The branding and straight forward frequency and ticket price offer attracts motorists. New buses with enthusiastic and welcoming staff add to the positive experience.
If only the same could be said for the rest of the bus network.
I’d been looking forward to visiting Chelmsford for a few weeks as it’s one of three Essex locations targeted by First Essex for a revamp and rebranding of its bus networks. Along with Colchester and Basildon, Chelmsford’s bus routes were given the full makeover treatment from 17th April to make them fit for purpose post pandemic. In the words of the joint Essex Bus Enthusiasts Group and Omnibus Society Eastern & Southern Branch special supplement to the Essex Bus Magazine the changes were “the most extensive and radical set of service revisions in the history of the operator and its predecessor Eastern National”.
The magazine supplement goes on to explain: “the most radical part of the changes is the creation of new networks in three key towns/cities – Basildon, Chelmsford and Colchester. All existing commercial local services have been cancelled and replaced with new shuttles, most only running from the estates to the town/city centre, although some cross-town routes remain in Colchester and Chelmsford and in practice, a number of routes interwork when they reach the centre. These routes all use a location-specific prefix, so Basildon routes are B1 etc, Chelmsford C1 etc and Colchester S1 etc – having two places both beginning with C is obviously a problem! We gather S was chosen for Shuttle”.
I was looking forward to seeing lots of publicity and high profile promotion for the new Shuttle branded routes now running around Chelmsford having seen bright new professionally designed logos and slogans online and in advance publicity.
Sadly I was disappointed. No timetable leaflets were available on board buses that I saw (indeed one driver told me there weren’t any and the classic “it’s all online”) and of course the Travel Centre in Chelmsford bus station has been closed for some time.
But, there was a route map and listing of routes next to the door which staff use to reach facilities.
It wasn’t easy to read let alone understand.
The Essex Bus Magazine reported that while Essex County Council had updated timetable departure lists, bus stop flags were still showing old route numbers but at least that potential confusion had been solved by my visit on Tuesday as someone had been round every stop to cover up the numbers with white blank labels. Problem solved!
Timetable departure lists have been updated but at busy stops, such as the Market photographed below, it’s a formidable list to navigate for a stranger unfamiliar with the new routes and network.
But more positively there are electronic displays showing upcoming departures from nearby stops in the pedestrianised shopping area which is good to see …
…. and I also found a route map behind the driver’s cab on board one bus …
…. and “shuttles” branding has been added to tickets.
So that’s all good.
I understand buses will be painted in a new brighter “shuttles” livery which will join what is already a welcome refreshing green First Essex branding used on longer distance routes.
But for now, the state of the buses doesn’t exactly inspire.
It’s back to Park & Ride for me.
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