Southsea gets a Coaster

Tuesday 26th July 2022

After last year’s return of an open top bus service along Southsea seafront following a nine year absence by Aldermaston Coach Lines, this year it’s the turn of First Portsmouth to try and make a go of it.

Like Aldermaston’s foray First’s period of operation is the school summer break of five and a half weeks – the route began last Saturday at and ends on Wednesday 31st August.

Whereas last year’s venture was very much down to Aldermaston owner Nick Morton’s personal nostalgia of youthful seafront open top bus rides, the 2022 version branded as Southsea Coaster using route number 50 is a hard nose commercial kite flying by a plc subsidiary.

Update: thanks to commentators pointing out the timetable leaflet (see below) states Portsmouth City Council are subsidising the service so not so much “hard nose’ after all and makes the ban on concessions (see below) an odd decision.

No doubt the decision of Portsmouth City Council to designate the route as a leisure service and thereby making concessionary passes ineligible for travel will have been welcomed by First as it means they keep all the cash received from fares upfront with an ’oap concession fare’ priced at £4 for a day ticket, a saving of £1 over the £5 adult fare. Children pay £3.

Another difference from last year is the shift of the termini westwards running from Portsmouth’s Hard Interchange to Southsea South Parade Pier via Clarence Pier. Aldermaston ran between Clarence Pier and Eastney.

The timetable is again hourly and the bus poodles along in no great hurry with a five minute stand at Clarence Pier and a short pause by the D-Day Story museum.

The bus operates daily between 09:00 and 16:00 from the Hard and 09:30 and 16:30 from South Parade Pier. Five minutes stand time is allowed at each end.

On the lunchtime trip I made last Sunday we arrived into South Parade Pier a few minutes early extending the time the bus was on show to attract custom, although unfortunately footfall at the terminal bus stop is not great.

It was only the second day of operation on Sunday and I was impressed with how many passengers were waiting at the main bus stops along the route obviously aware of its existence.

As well as the bus itself which has a bright red base livery attracting attention there’s an A5 leaflet with details of the times, prices and route – which I picked up from the Visitor Information outlet at The Hard (although I had to ask if they had one – but good they were open on a Sunday)….

…. and good to see copies available on board with quite a few being picked up by passengers.

Bus stop flags along the route look smart and have had Southsea Coaster and route 50 stickers added.

Stops also had timetables on display …

…. and a poster in the shelter where available…

…. although the timetable case at the terminal stop at South Parade Pier was unfortunately empty.

I also noticed the departures weren’t showing on the real time departure screens at The Hard but hopefully this may be a ‘first weekend’ teething issue awaiting a city council update.

The departure stop N alongside the ‘Interchange’ is a good location for attracting attention.

Destinations and graphics on the bus sides could be described as minimalist and look to me as though they might have been drawn up in a bit of a rush to meet deadlines.

But the basic information is all there.

The bus is a former Go-Ahead London Wright bodied Volvo which has seen past service on City Sightseeing before it’s current incarnation.

There are still some tell tale signs of this previous life…

… and personally I’m not a fan of stickers stuck to windscreens especially when the windows are already fairly small and it’s a sightseeing bus!

It’ll be interesting to see how this venture turns out after what I’m guessing was a disappointing experience for Nick last summer.

The route is susceptible to delays along the seafront road especially where parked cars narrow the available road width ….

…. and the inevitable queues for the car park under Gunwharf Quays which were building up early on Sunday afternoon, but as already highlighted theres a nice amount of slack in the timetable for such perturbance.

This year the omens look good: the tweak to the route makes sense – there’s much more footfall at Portsmouth Hard than Eastney – and hopefully the weather will continue to be kind over the next few weeks.

There were plenty of potential passengers enjoying a busy Southsea on Sunday and who doesn’t like a lovely seafront open top bus ride?

Here’s hoping it’s a success for the team at First Portsmouth.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

14 thoughts on “Southsea gets a Coaster

Add yours

  1. The information on the leaflet is pretty basic. With no tour guide or commentary they could do better.
    They could provide some basic information on the attractions the bus passes or goes near

    They could probably make some more money by doing deals with these attractions where they get a small commission for selling tickets for them. They could probably negotiate a discounted entry price as well

    Many of the places it makes no mention of such as the Spinnaker Tower. Charles Dickens Birth Place. The Mary Rose

    Bus companies in my view have never been good at marketing and selling

    Will the £4 for Concessionary pass holders put them off of using the service so the revenues end up less

    It is a pity the Concessionary scheme is not more flexible so that the Concessionary passes could be accepted on Leisure type service but they could still charge a small fare of say a £1


    1. To be honest, if they wanted to charge £1 for ENCTS, they could.

      As for bus companies never being good at marketing and selling… I could point you to Brighton and Hove in the mid 1990s!! Also, you might look at TrentBarton, First South West, First Eastern Counties, Go South Coast, Go North East and Transdev as being firms that are very good at marketing and selling in this day and age. Certainly some of the best examples of marketing in the bus industry.

      Roger’s recent trip to the Somerset/Devon coast and Exmoor is a fine example of doing it pretty darn well; the main criticism is they’ve drafted up two vehicles from Cornwall but haven’t amended the livery!

      However, I agree with your thoughts on the publicity for Pompey – some of the sights could be better highlighted. Same with Roger’s on the livery/vinyls – it looks a bit of a rush job though perhaps with that and a need to conserve expenditure, that is why it’s minimalist.

      Hope it does enough to wash its face this summer and that the “spending constraints” don’t then undermine the proposition


      1. I dont see the level of marketing needed. They dont engage with other tourist attractions nor with local hotels

        Whilst the could charge £1` for concessionary pass they would not under the current scheme get any reimbursment for the passes


      2. Trent Barton may have been good a decade ago, but the wheels look to be coming off. In the early days post deregulation TB did brilliantly at looking at the market, deciding where money could be made and then providing that service. This allowed them to beef up the fares.
        Unfortunately the rot set in over a decade ago when standards started to slip.
        Some of the First companies can be good, but diluting local management does not bode well.
        Anyway good luck with this service.


    2. A good example of tourist focused marketing is Switzerland. A stay in a hotel in say Basle, Zurich etc comes with a travel pass valid for the duration of your stay.

      I remember a buses article on Devon General back in the early 90s. The company provided and maintained timetable leaflet racks in local hotels.


  2. I travelled on it yesterday. Very good, but very few passengers [a Monday].
    Excellent bus publicity at Gosport tourist office, the Fareham First office being slammed shut.
    Gosport had the Hampshire map, Portsmouth map (not very good) and several First timetables like Eclipse and Star, all up to date.
    Also about 10 books about the old Provincial company!


  3. Interesting Warley is getting an open top bus service thru The Commonwealth Games as Diamond Bus are using thier open topper on services via Sandwell Aquatic Centre which is quite a novelty here in Brum

    Liked by 1 person

  4. For many years Ipswich – not a natural tourist destination – ran on open-top sightseeing service, the highlight of which was crossing the Orwell Bridge (the only way to see over the barriers is from the top deck of a bus and no normal service go there). It didn’t run every day: some days it went to Felixstowe or Woodbridge. The bus was a 1976 Atlantean and time caught up with it a couple of years ago, sadly it hasn’t been replaced. On non-tour sunny days the bus was sometimes used on regfular services 9/10 – not possible once the latest accessibility standards came in.


    1. A case of legislation having a negative impact. An Open Top Bus is never really going to be accessable unless they can instal a lift which is not practicable

      An Open top bus in Ipswich has to be a tough gig. It does not have much to interest tourists mind you Newport in South Wales ran one for several years which even had a tour guide. Not much in Newport thats Scenic. The 14 Locks is worth a visit . No surprise the canel traffic went when alternative become available Must have taken several hours to get through 14 manual locks. Last time I was that way one lock had been repaired and was working. There was a major challange getting further up the canel as a road to a housing estate had been buily across it. It now as well only goes as far as Cwmcarn. The bypass having been built over it after that

      Clacton has an Opentop bus that seems to be succesful. They charge normal bus fares and it run as a sort of normal route/ It runs as a cicular route with it running along the sea front between Clacton and Holland on Sea and in the other direction along the Holland road so it attracts visitors and locals. Not many tourist attractions in Clacton other then the Pier. A nice see front though


  5. The Ipswich bus was surpisingly well patronised, I suspect mostly by local families wanting to “do something” during the holidays! The bus was also available for private hire – I know our church Brownies had it one evening!


  6. Actually, it’s not a “hard nose commercial kite flying by a plc subsidiary” but subsidised by the city council, as mentioned on the leaflet, just to the right of the timetable, plus the giveaway of the PCC logo on the bus in the first picture (and further confirmed by the registration details).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “A bright red base livery” – I suppose that’s one way of putting it. It was like that when they bought it a year ago in July 2021. Until now it’s been working the Exmoor Coaster in totally anonymous allover red – no branding, no fleetname, not even a fleetnumber.


  8. Ahhh, happy memories of Southsea seventies seaside holidays riding open top PD2s & Atlanteans on PCT’s 25! Particualrly evening runs back from the fair at Clarence Pier!

    Different world now, of course, but all the best to First on this venture!


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