Changes in the Chilterns

Thursday 25th August 2022

Firstly an update to Tuesday’s blog regarding Kent’s bus cull for blog subscribers and early morning online readers before the post was updated at 07:30. Thanks to reader Darryl I added an update after it had been published to confirm at a Kent County Council Scrutiny Committee meeting last Thursday the bus cuts were put on hold pending a discussion at the next full County Council meeting on 15th September. It seems Tory councillors had received an “avalanche of emails” from concerned residents about the cuts, particularly implications for school journeys. It will be interesting to see what decision is taken at next month’s meeting. Today’s blog is about more bus changes, this time in Buckinghamshire, but these definitely are taking place on 4th September (unless anyone knows differently- we’re living in strange times, with last minute announcements becoming commonplace; cf Yellow Buses; HCT Group and now, an urgent TfL board meeting called for next Tuesday – has the cash reserve finally run out there and the unthinkable will happen?).

And so to todays blog.

As long ago as 19th July Carousel Buses were quick off the mark announcing a number of changes to its network of routes based on High Wycombe for introduction from 4th September. That’s what I like to see, especially with full explanations about the changes together with easily accessible new timetables readily available online.

Interestingly, the forthcoming reduction in service frequencies is accompanied by an Oxford Bus/Stagecoach style removal of joint operation between Carousel and Arriva on two of the main corridors out of High Wycombe – one to Amersham and Chesham and the other to Bourne End.

Route 1 – marketed variously as ‘red 1’, ‘red one’, ‘blue one’ and ‘one’ by Carousel and Arriva has had a history in recent years of a coordinated timetable followed by outright competition for a while which led to the current full blown partnership approach with joint ticketing and mutual promotion of a joint timetable with an even headway.

From next weekend (4th September) Arriva’s involvement, providing four buses on half hourly journeys numbered 1A between High Wycombe and Chesham’s Pond Park alongside Carousel’s commitment of a half hourly High Wycombe to Chesham Broadway service numbered 1 with an hourly projection of alternate journeys on to Hemel Hempstead making for a joint 15 minute frequency between High Wycombe, Amersham and Chesham will cease, with Carousel becoming the sole operator on the corridor.

The frequency will drop from four buses an hour to three with two an hour doing a tour around Amersham’s Stanley Hill and two an hour continuing beyond Chesham Broadway to the Pond Park area which retains its half hourly service currently provided by Arriva’s 1A. The extension of the other journey per hour beyond Chesham to Bovingdon and Hemel Hempstead will also continue. It’s a neat timetable taking seven buses instead of the current nine. Carousel will increase its commitment from five to all seven buses with Arriva losing its four buses.

Meanwhile routes from High Wycombe to Bourne End (numbered 36, 37, 37B) currently operate a four bus per hour frequency involving both Arriva and Carousel also dropping to three buses an hour and becoming the sole preserve of Arriva with Carousel no longer providing two buses on the half hourly route 36 which runs via Flackwell Heath. (See network map further down)

Arriva currently runs an hourly route 37 from High Wycombe via Loudwater to Bourne End continuing on to Maidenhead as well as an hourly 37B via Wycombe Marsh as a short working to Bourne End.

These two journeys coupled with route 36 give the current four buses an hour. In the new scheme of things route 37 continues to Maidenhead every hour as now; route 36 drops from half hourly to hourly and route 37B continues hourly but with a renumbering to route 35. Arriva’s current vehicle commitment increases by one bus to cover the hourly 36 and Carousel will save its two buses on the 36 and redeploy them on route 1 as explained above.

I had a ride on these routes on Monday and concluded these changes which have been brokered by Buckinghamshire Council make a lot of sense with minimal numbers travelling on the Bourne End routes reducing from half hourly to hourly during the off peak.

A mid morning journey on Arriva’s 37B carried just six passengers and four of those were fairly local journeys within High Wycombe where other routes are available and the other two alighted in Wycombe Marsh. A return journey back to Hugh Wycombe on Carousel’s 36 faired better with eight passengers and three accompanied children.

Over on route 1 an Arriva 1A journey from Chesham to High Wycombe took four from Chesham (three to Amersham and one to High Wycombe); five and a dog from Amersham (one just a few stops and two and the dog to Hazlemere with the other two to High Wycombe) as well as an impressive sixteen adults and one child boarding in Holmer Green and Hazlemere.

I reckon I know which company’s got the best deal out of these upcoming changes.

One other change being introduced by Carousel from 4th September is further tinkering with its Chiltern Hundreds branded network of routes which link High Wycombe via the A40 to Beaconsfield every 15 minutes before continuing to various other destinations including Amersham, Uxbridge and Heathrow, as well as Slough and links to the Chalfonts.

The high profile Chiltern Hundreds band was first launched in July 2018 and has seen a number of changes in the ensuing four years including Hemel Hempstead being removed from the network (served by route 1 instead) and a recent cut back from Watford. The route to Heathrow has only just been restored after being cut back to Uxbridge due to the Airport removing funding during the pandemic. Routes 106/107 were added to the network in August 2021.

The upcoming change from 4th September sees route 103 withdrawn between Beaconsfield and Chesham and diverted to Slough via Farnham Common instead. It’s a strange time to make this change as the route was only cut between Amersham and it’s previous eastern destination, Watford, and extended instead to Chesham as recently as 24th July. But. as we’ve seen Amersham to Chesham is already well served by route 1 and my ride on the 13:00 journey from High Wycombe to Chesham on Monday only saw one adult and a child travel between Amersham and Chesham. We only had two on between Beaconsfield and Amersham, although the route it takes along the A355 doesn’t have any houses or anything to speak of at all. A water tower and that’s about it, and I didn’t even spot that. I don’t think anyone will miss it as it embarks on yet another route change to Slough.

First Berkshire already operate a fast route from High Wycombe to Slough – half hourly route X74 taking 50 minutes with Carousel’s new hourly 103 taking 63 minutes, so I doubt it will take much end to end custom away from First.

It’s a shame the numbers travelling on the Bourne End routes were so low. At one time of course there was a through rail service between Bourne End and High Wycombe, but this has been closed since 1970 with Bourne End now a dead end buffer stop seeing trains only shuttling between Marlow and Maidenhead and changing direction there.

It’s generally a very prosperous area and bus companies wanting custom really do need to up their game if they want to appeal to discerning potential passengers.

Sadly I found quite the opposite on my visit on Monday.

As you can see from the earlier photographs, some of the buses are quite clearly hand me downs from other operators and showing their age.

Buses in anonymous branding.

Cleanliness not good….

… and neither was comfort on these awful seats.

Notices were annoyingly stuck so you couldn’t see out of the window.

Notices behind the driver with small print you simply can’t read. (And clicking on that QR code won’t help if you want a copy of the new times for routes 35 or 36 as it only takes you to a timetable showing route 37’s journeys to Maidenhead.)

Out of date notices stuck on bus shelters advising of closures.

Notices at bus stops telling you where you can catch a bus which look helpful, except the lettered bus stops are so faint, they’re almost unreadable…

…. and the map at the top doesn’t tell you where the lettered bus stops are.

Town centre shelters in High Wycombe with obsolete machinery …

…. which are just a blot on the streetscape and give a “we don’t care about you” impression.

As do odd seat moquettes.

And long obsolete monitor screens with unnecessary pole structures to hinder forward views.

It just comes across as a slapdash uncaring approach.

On the positive side, High Wycombe bus station is kept clean with departure information at each stand and around the concourse which is fairly easy to assimilate and all bus stops around the town had departure listings …

…. together with a smattering of real time signs, including one outside Bourne End station which although an hour behind time, hopefully is being sorted by the council following a tweet exchange.

And I did like the signs on bus stops approaching Bourne End. A nice bit of marketing.

But it’s going to need a lot more than that if these upcoming changes are going to be the ones which ‘turn the corner’ and see an uptick in passengers and more viable bus services as a result. Otherwise it’s very much managed decline.

And it looks like I’ll be back in High Wycombe again very soon.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

14 thoughts on “Changes in the Chilterns

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  1. Is it actually verboten for two bus operators to talk to each other about co-ordinating their services? – i.e. was the council’s involvement necessary? I wonder if either of the groups have recorded how much/little management time was spent, and how much money saved.

    The ‘One’ group of routes give a good range of journey opportunities to the villages in between, but a poor end to end service (HW to Amersham – or to Hemel). Between HW and Aylesbury, the direct – and faster (33mins – by car avg 40mins) rail service has not stopped the Redline 130 ‘local’ bus every 15 minutes, so why does Carousel not also run an express service on the ‘One’ axis? After all, in the Brighton area, the 28/29 run express from Falmer to Brighton, without seemingly affecting takings on the 25 ‘local’; maybe managers within Go-Ahead should talk more to one another.

    I read through the Go-Ahead/Arup policy document on ‘Future Transport Hubs’ – a bit disappointing, looking like an Arup bid for more government money, dressed up in the latest consultant-speak. Go-Ahead appeared to have little input into the docuument, but did put it on their website. They (or any of the big bus groups) could run a pilot, improving the ambience and facilities at a group of bus stops, and calling it R&D, as other big industrial companies would. In any case, maybe GA’s new owners will not be interested in upgrades for customers (unless there’s a million or so of government money available)

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      1. What a shame to hear of those cuts. The 11 I’ve often used when staying in Minster for a scenic day trip to Canterbury. Since the 9 was diverted and 42 wuthdrawn ironically Minster has had a great service but my bi-annual trips can’t keep that giing when there’s an hourly train servive

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    1. It’s a judgment call but to ensure the CMA doesn’t get offended, a third party can be employed to broker the process and that is usually the local authority. Otherwise, you have the suggestion of anti-competitive carve-ups.

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  2. Sensible reductions in service to match passenger numbers now travelling and ending the (sometimes) complications of joint working. But not sure about the 103 changes, both recently and to come. The reasonably well used Watford link, or should I say “lifeline” for some not near a station, now replaced with practically no link to Amersham (new 336), now breaking the useful Beaconsfield-Amersham link. This had eight one way and six the other on an afternoon journey I sampled a few weeks ago, seemingly mostly care home and allied medical staff who may or may not be able to transfer to the 1. Diverting the 103 to Slough, apparently to give Beaconsfield residents “a new link” (the First X74 helpfully omits it) is not going to prosper unless taking X74 passengers away in the Farnham Common-Slough areas where the chimney pots are.

    I think we may well see some further changes in the near future.

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  3. With “Back on the Bus” month starting in one week, hopefully both operators will have got their act together, opened their offices in High Wycombe us station, have adequate supplies of printed timetables and will run totheir advertised timings.

    2 months ago I made the journey from High Wycombe to St. Albans. My intended departure was Carpusel route 1 at 13.30 from stand 12. We weren’t notified of the change to stand 15 from where the bus finally left 25 minutes late at 13.55. I, obviously, missed my 7 minute connection at Hemel Hempstead to Arriva 302. The next advertised departure on the 302 was 15.30. We finally left at 16.11. The total delay on a 2 hour journey was 71 minutes. Back on the bus – I think not until these 2 operators get their acts together!

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    1. Unfortunately what you encountered is all to typical
      You were lucky to get the first bus as all to often they change stands and no one tells you so unless you are very alert you are left behind

      No doubt as well there were no explanation’s or apologies for both buses running late and strangely the bus you intended getting was not running late

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      1. Locally, I know the day to day operation leaves not just the passengers, but the drivers and the competition too, scratching their heads in wonderment. What game are they playing at?

        We all know the answer. Doing what they can. It’s the British, Alice in Wonderland, system. Completely bonkers.

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  4. Rick T . . . any changes that might reduce competition between bus operators to the perceived detriment of the passenger need to be “brokered” by a third party (normally an LTA), otherwise the Competition bods can intervene and delay matters considerably. In practice, as long as the LTA is in the same room, discussions can proceed without delay.

    This is part of the dilemma concerning Arriva trying to sell piecemeal lots of their business . . . if (say) Stagecoach and Arriva run in the same town, and Stagecoach bid for the Arriva operation, then Stagecoach would find it difficult to “disprove a reduction” in competition. The fact that passengers might actually see an overall improvement in their network (network tickets; cross-town routes and so on) is not important.

    Of course . . . the actual competition is the car . . . !!

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    1. Sadly, passengers would be unlikely to see any improvement if Stagecoach took over.

      Arriva have been poor for years, but Stagecoach are following that business model.

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  5. Years back there use to be a funny Chiltern bus company called Chiltern Queens I wonder what became of them?I have a feeling that they might have semi morphed into Thames Travel?

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    1. Chiltern Queens was sold to Horseman Coaches of Reading though it was a reduced operation. They retained the coach business, and disposed of the remaining stage carriage to Thames Travel

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