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.
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