Tuesday 30th August 2022
Cornwall is the country’s luckiest county; being first in the queue to receive oodles of Government cash to splash on additional bus routes, improved frequencies, new buses and cheaper fares – the way things are promised for 31 other areas fortunate to draw a winning ticket in the Government’s Bus Service Improvement Plan lottery with funding due to start appearing any time soon.
So as ‘Catch the Bus Month’ gets underway on Thursday – it used to be ‘Catch the Bus Week’ and that was seven days too long for me – I just don’t see the point of a promotional campaign that implies it’s OK to not catch a bus for the rest of your time – welcome to a two part blog featuring two routes about to be chopped from Cornwall’s super-funded rural bus network.
Things only started happening big time in Cornwall as recently as March 2020 just as the pandemic hit so it’s not been a typical bedding-in period to trial the Council’s exciting new bus routes for which it has optimistic aspirations. Generating passengers for brand new bus routes is hard enough at the best of times, but to attempt it in a deep rural area in the aftershock of a “don’t use public transport” pandemic is a heroic challenge few would attempt. Furthermore, the county’s much heralded fare reductions which aim to increase passengers only kicked in earlier this year.
Consequently, even though the county is awash with cash for buses it’s not been all sweetness and light here either and things are about to change as an update from the Go Cornwall Bus website about alterations from this weekend explains …..
There are some routes which although have seen growth in passengers are still not generating enough money to run them at the current frequency. We have agreed to give these routes more time to grow passenger numbers and revenue. These routes are:
- Service 21 from St Austell to Newquay
- Service 22 between Truro, St Dennis and St Austell
- Service 25 between Fowey, St Austell and Newquay
- Service 26 from Bodmin to St Austell
These routes will be reviewed again in January 2023, and may need to be revised if the number of passengers does not increase.
The local services around Redruth and Cambourne have been reworked with new route numbers being introduced. Frogpool will no longer have a direct link to Redruth, but Stithians will gain an increased frequency. The section of route between St Day and Truro will be reduced to two hourly. All other destinations are still served to the same level as today.
A table lists all the changes route by route with two routes destined for withdrawal – which interestingly don’t get a mention in the aforementioned introduction. One route for the chop on Saturday is the five journeys a day (Monday to Saturday) route 76 which runs between Bodmin and Launceston.
Go Cornwall explains “this route was introduced in 2020 as a trial, and due to low passenger numbers will be withdrawn.”
As the helpful and colourful network map below indicates, route 76 (shown in purple) ploughs a lonely furrow between Bodmin and Launceston with just one small deviation to serve the hamlet of Altarnun as well as three other minor stops off the A30 to serve hamlets that at one time were on the main road until by-passed by the dual carriageway many years ago.
There’s not much else for route 76 to do. It’s basically been serving Bodmin Moor for the past two years; and there’s not a lot to serve on Bodmin Moor.
Thanks to blog reader Peter for alerting me to the route’s imminent demise I popped down to Cornwall last Wednesday to take one last ride across the Moor.
The journey is timed to take 50 minutes for the 21 miles. Google’s journey planner reckons a car can do it in 26 minutes and as most of the journey finds the bus thrashing along the A30 with not a bus stop in sight those extra 24 minutes come from the minor deviations to serve the small hamlets, as I found. And lucky too as it was the only way to pick up the few passengers travelling.
I caught the first northbound journey of the day – the 09:52 from Bodmin. Well, actually it’s 10:04 as the first 12 minutes are spent on a short circuit of the south east corner of the town, which you might not realise from a cursory reading of the timetable. The bus leaves from one side of the road at a bus stop called Shire House and arrives back directly opposite it on the other side of the road at a bus stop called Shire Hall 12 minutes later.
It’s a bit confusing to a stranger especially as the otherwise very helpful large real time display by the bus stop called Shire Hall, which you can peer at through the end of an old style rusting bus shelter, shows buses departing from both sides of the road but calls them SW-bound or NE-bound. Knowing your geography in Bodmin is a bonus when catching buses.
Sadly the other side of the sign was experiencing ‘Error-113’ preventing it displaying train departures from Bodmin Parkway which is a short bus ride away on route 10.
Aside from those two minor quibbles, things are looking very good in Cornwall with lots of attractive marketing literature and information available. I found compressive timetable books on display in St Austell railway station …
…. and these include network maps and times. Maps, static and real times are displayed at the well organised bus station immediately outside, although it’s a shame Go Cornwall departures are now in the form of listings rather than full timetables as First Kernow’s still are.
The new cheaper ticket deals are promoted on real time signs in between departure information as well as posters at bus stops.
I mention these positives so it doesn’t appear I’m always carping about things, because when the bus arrived I just couldn’t believe what I saw.
Four promotional posters for the reduced ticket prices were covering two of the five windows either side of the bus including the all important rear nearside windows, directly in line with the seats.
What on earth possesses bus company staff to obliterate windows like this is beyond me.
A nice scenic bus ride across Bodmin Moor completely ruined by such thoughtlessness. Why not go the whole hog and put some seats in vans with lots of space to promote tickets all over the outside of the vehicle?
Windows are for seeing out of. End of.
Rant over; and the driver agreed with me but optimistically thought they might be taken down after the school holidays. I don’t see why that would be the case as the reduced prices continue for the next four years. Hopefully they’ll be taken down having publicly shamed Go Cornwall staff into acting.
The ride across to Launceston was everything I expected. A fast pace along the dual carriageway A30 until we reached the first deviation to serve the Jamaica Inn at Bolventor.
And it was worthwhile too, as we picked up our first passenger travelling to Launceston.
The deviation involves a reverse turn opposite the pub and retracing our way back to the junction (see map above) that we’d left four minutes earlier.
But a passenger was now on board.
Next turn off is for Trewint, continuing on to Five Lanes where another passenger boarded and intriguingly bought a weekly ticket.
We then turned left to make our way to the delightful hamlet of Altarnun ….
…. before another reverse turn and retraced our route back to Five Lanes then forward to the A30 which we rejoined seven minutes after leaving it.
But a second passenger was on board.
Our third and final deviation was to serve Tregadillet where we used the old A30 for a stretch which gained us three passengers before rejoining the A30 five minutes after leaving it.
But now we’d grown to five on board.
The bus route then involves a circuit around southern Launceston where we picked up two passengers and dropped two off with the five left on board alighting at the town’s main bus stops in Westgate Street on time at 10:55.
I should add that the little tour of Bodmin’s south east corner resulted in two passengers making a short hop into town so that makes nine passengers in total, albeit four were locals at either end.
As the bus had pulled into Bodmin from its first journey of the day (09:00 from Launceston) two had alighted.
So you can see it’s not carrying nearly enough people as I suspect my experience (even at peak August holiday time) is fairly typical. Peter took a trip on the route on Tuesday with a friend and there was just one other end-to-end passenger on board.
I’m not sure where it was expected more passengers would come from for the route.
Whereas the adventurous team at First Kernow under Marc Morgan-Huws has made a commercial success of tourist routes across Exmoor and Dartmoor these last couple of years, Bodmin Moor just doesn’t cut it with a fast dual carriageway all the way and not much else.
I’m sure the scenery is pretty awesome though.
It’s just I couldn’t really appreciate it other than through the front windscreen.
As you may have spotted from the bus network map extract shown earlier there’s also bus route 425 shown serving Five Lanes and Alternun. There’s a new timetable for this meandering route from next week which includes four journeys from Launceston down to this point on the A30 thus ensuring passengers other than the woman who boarded at the Jamaica Inn are catered for.
So that’s good.
But it’s goodbye to Bodmin Moor for buses. No more.
After an hour or so’s break in Launceston with time to explore this lovely town my next journey was on Cornwall’s other about-to-be-withdrawn-from-this-weekend bus route – the three journeys a day (Monday to Friday) route 235 from Launceston to Callington. I’ll tell you about that in Thursday’s blog.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu