Tuesday 9th August 2022
I was last in Snowdonia on the erstwhile Snowdon Sherpa network of bus routes almost a year ago last September and concluded my blogged review with a hope the network would receive some attention to presentational detail and expanded to fulfil its obvious potential.
Coincidentally, good news followed with a much welcome pledge by the Welsh Government to invest not only in a much needed brand makeover but to significantly expand timetables with an improved network for this summer season.
I blogged about this back in April but as the new network kicked off at very short notice with the Welsh Government commitment coming late in the day, I left a visit until now to let things settle down and bed in.
Last Thursday found me back in Caernarfon ready for some serious Snowdonia scenery spotting.
I had an online copy of the excellent brochure promoting the new network complete with bilingual colour route map and timetable downloaded to my phone so felt confident at using the new bus routes and increased frequencies.
The map is a huge improvement on the rather rudimentary diagram produced by Gwynedd Council for many years.
The brochure is naturally bilingual with the same map and timetables but using Welsh names on one side and English versions on the other. Disappointingly the name “Snowdon Sherpa” isn’t used in English, but only the Welsh “Sherpa’r Wyddfa” is used. This really is a missed opportunity.
The same applies to the smart livery now adorning some of the buses used on the network by Anglesey based Gwynfor Coaches. This doesn’t feature the name “Snowdon Sherpa” even on the English (offside) of the bus. Crazy.
It’s taking the ‘politically correct‘ need to give prominence to the Welsh language to a ridiculous extreme when a bus network aimed at tourists who will principally speak English doesn’t use the brand name that’ll be most familiar to them, ie Snowdon Sherpa.
When I boarded my first ride of the morning, along with one other passenger, on the newly introduced route S3 from Caernarfon to Dinorwig – I didn’t see any leaflets available on the bus so asked the driver if he had one and luckily he had a few in his bag and kindly gave me one.
He said leaflet holders are expected on the buses which would certainly be helpful as another bus had them in a pile on the front windscreen shelf but inevitably they kept flying over to the nearside when the bus went round a corner making them difficult to reach, especially when the door is open..
I spotted another handy place to store them being used by the fire extinguisher.
I’m sure once the leaflet holders are in place all will be well with that.
The new route S3 runs hourly as far as the village of Llanrug from where its two-hourly via Deiniolen to Dinorwig. Deiniolen is also served by route S2 which now runs hourly from Bangor to Llanberis and Pen-y-Pass whereas in the old set up Bangor only had a two-hourly link to Llanberis on route 85.
The S3 to Dinorwig is a fantastic ride with some great views of Llanberis Lake near the base of Snowdon from the bus as you approach the terminus at Dinorwig.
The rather desolate terminus close to the National Slate Museum must be one of the most dramatic turning circles in Britain.
What a shame the bus stop plate wasn’t more in keeping with the new branding maybe incorporating a nice logo for the network.
I understand new branded bus stop plates for the whole network are in hand so one these are in place all will be well with that.
As you can see the bus wasn’t in the new livery which was generally the case for buses on routes S3 and S4 with most of the newly adorned buses allocated to the main S1 and S2 routes, which makes sense as these are the busiest and most frequent.
Hopefully more buses will have the new imagery applied in the coming weeks and all will be well with that.
After enjoying the layover at Dinorwig I was surprised to see the driver had changed the blind for the return journey to show Caernarfon as the destination rather than continuing on to Beddgelert as shown in the timetable.
He explained the section of route beyond Caernarfon is what they still call the S4 and I’d need to change buses in Caernarfon. He just shuttles up and down between Caernarfon and Llanrug (hourly) and Dinorwig (two-hourly) as an S3
Sure enough when we arrived in Caernarfon with five passengers on board everyone alighted and a few minutes later a bus arrived displaying Beddgelert but showing route number S4 as used to be the case before the April changes. I was the only passenger who made the switch from the S3 to the S4.
We headed off with four on board who all alighted in Waunfaur after about fifteen minutes into the journey with four other passengers boarding as we left Caernarfon three of whom travelled through to Beddgelert and one alighting earlier at Rhys Ddu.
When we arrived in Beddgelert – another gorgeous Snowdonia village very popular with tourists ….
…. I asked the driver for confirmation where I needed to wait for the connecting bus on route S4 down to Porthmadog that would come from Pen-y-Pass ….
….. and to my surprise he explained he was that bus and duly changed the blind to show the old route number S97 for the former Beddgelert to Porthmadog route…
… and we waited for the bus from Pen-y-Pass to arrive to make a connection. That bus was heading on to Caernarfon as an S4 or maybe an S3, which I’d expected the bus I’d arrived on to do.
And then the penny dropped. I realised the network wasn’t being operated in accordance with the published map and timetable at all. It was running as per the previous route number and connectional arrangements. Indeed the S4/S97 driver confirmed they couldn’t make the new schedules work when introduced in April as it had led to drivers handing over to others in awkward places for breaks so they’d reverted back to the pre April route and network arrangements, albeit still with the improved frequencies.
When we arrived in Porthmadog having picked up six passengers along the way the driver changed the blind to display S97 Beddgelert for the return journey and unsurprisingly it caused noticeable confusion from some of the 14 passengers boarding who had been expecting an S4 to Pen-y-pass.
All the more so as in Beddgelert this same bus actually did continue through to Pen-y-Pass as per the published timetable and we connected with a bus showing route S3 to Caernarfon (rather than Dinorwig).
I don’t know what number was displayed on the bus I was on, as I stayed on the bus. I suspect S97 as that’s what the driver displayed for the next return journey when we reached Pen-y-Pass.
It’s all very confusing but I’m sure it can all be sorted out soon and then all will be well with that.
All the more so as I noticed lovely new bus maps on display for all to see in various locations around the National Park including Beddgelert…
…. and Pen-y-Pass.
At Pen-y-Pass that display shows departure times for the routes which is very helpful…
… but it’s a shame the actual display in the timetable case attached to the bus stop lie behind a rather murky cover. But I’m sure this can be improved on and all will be well with that.
And it would also be good to get that bus stop pole in Caernarfon bus station sorted as I’m sure it leans a bit more every time I visit. Maybe one day it’ll be horizontal and that’ll be the day it will get fixed and all will be well with that.
And maybe a new cover for the timetable case too. Attention to detail and all that.
Meanwhile back at Pen-y-Pass I was impressed to see the number of passengers using double deck operated half hourly route S5 which shuttles motorists from the Park & Ride car park at Nant Peris near Llanberis every fifteen minutes in a coordinated timetable with hourly routes S1 and S2.
There was some late running going on as the S5 arrived simultaneously with the S1 rather than being fifteen minutes apart. I’m sorry the double decker in the new livery wasn’t out last Thursday and instead a rather dull looking 18 year old ex London red liveried bus was on the service which was not really in keeping with the new image and brand.
It’s peak season in Snowdonia at the moment and it’s good to see the higher frequencies and improved network being well used but the application of the branding is definitely ‘work in progress’ and much is still to be done. The Snowdon scenery is as stunning as always with spectacular views as the bus climbs up to Pen-y-Pass. A ride around the Snowdon Sherpa network (oops, sorry, Sherpa’r Wyddfa) is strongly recommended.
I’m sure work will continue over the coming months and hopefully the 2023 season will see that ‘work in progress’ progressed. Not least sorting out which route numbers and network are actually being operated and then promoted.
Finally for North Wales, arriving at Bangor I couldn’t help but notice the welcome posters at the foot of the steps as you leave the railway station include what looks at first sight to be a very helpful map and index of bus routes on the right hand side.
Until you study it in more detail and realise that references to long ago withdrawn and changed bus routes as well as bus companies (Express Motors ceased trading in 2017) makes it at least five years out of date.
How to mislead and confuse passengers in one easy lesson, not least as this is a major interchange point between train and bus with passengers continuing their journey to Caernarfon having to make the modal switch here. Anyone hearing about the fabulous new hourly route S2 into the heart of Snowdonia or the new TrawsCymru route T10 to Betws-Y-Coed which picks up right outside the station exit will be disappointed. There is of course no mention of either of them.
Passengers in the know will walk to the right and then turn left to catch Arriva’s route 5C to Caernarfon from a bus stop I highlighted on my last visit was in desperate need of attention being completely devoid of any timetables or bus route numbers to offer reassurance.
I was told after my visit that plans were in hand to improve the waiting area and guess what? Peak season, and those improvements are now underway.
Except there’s now absolutely no information about whether buses are stopping there while work is in progress, and if so, at what times, and if not, where to wait instead.
I can imagine across a whole day hundreds of passengers are bewildered and confused by this. Around 15 passengers got off the train I was on and everyone was asking everyone else if they knew if buses were still stopping there.
No-one knew for sure. And, frankly, it was quite dangerous to walk round the ‘Footpath closed’ sign, in the road, to reach the bus stop area.
And finally when a bus appeared ten minutes late it thankfully did stop.
How not to attract passengers.
I wait with great anticipation to see the new improved facilities on my next visit. The foundations for whatever the super shelter is going to look like are certainly substantial.
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