A route march to March

Tuesday 13th December 2022

Among the bus service cuts made by Stagecoach East at the end of October were changes to the company’s bus routes between Peterborough and the market towns of March, Spalding and Ramsey.

Route 33 provides a long established link to March and used to run hourly but cut back to two-hourly from 30th October. The route heads pretty much due east from Peterborough serving the small town of Whittlesey before continuing via Coates to March. End to end journey time is 66 minutes.

The six journeys a day on route 33 are coordinated with two-hourly route 31 which follows the same route between Peterborough and Whittlesey thereby providing an hourly frequency on that section before continuing south to Ramsey.

Until 30th October route 36 ran between Peterborough and Thorney via Eye but as part of the changes the route was extended from Thorney to March with a two hourly frequency taking 57 minutes.

The six journeys a day on route 36 are coordinated with what used to be hourly but now two-hourly route 37 which follows the same route between Peterborough and Eye thereby providing an hourly frequency on that section before continuing north to Spalding.

Thorney also enjoys an hourly frequency to Peterborough on First Bus ‘excel’ branded route B.

I took a ride from Peterborough to March on a recent Saturday morning using route 36 for the outbound journey and returning via route 33, made easier by the fact the routes interwork in March using the same bus.

I planned to catch the 11:10 departure from Peterborough’s dismal Queensgate bus station. Thankfully the escalators to the shopping centre had been repaired since my last visit but I noticed Stagecoach still hadn’t bothered to install updated timetables at the departure stops and it was only thanks to the enterprising Brendan that up to date information was on display.

11:10 arrived and no bus had shown up at the departure stand. The electronic sign above the door unhelpfully removed the departure from the display so waiting passengers had no way of telling if the bus was late or had been cancelled.

I turned to the Stagecoach App to see if that would help but sadly it just unhelpfully told me there were no departures at nearby bus stops – how useless is that when I’m standing in a busy bus station?

I thought about giving Stagecoach’s call centre a ring but decided it was unlikely anyone sitting in an office in Perth would have any clue what was happening 370 miles south in Peterborough, and would only consult the useless app anyway.

Luckily at 11:13 a bus appeared displaying 31 Peterborough and I guessed the blind would soon change to show 36 March, confirming it’s one huge inter-worked network..

Which it did and four of us boarded and we headed off a couple of minutes later.

Leaving the bus station was made harder by roadworks meaning we had to circumnavigate the A15 dual carriageway known as Bourges Boulevard which was congested with motorists seeking spaces in nearby car parks and by the time we made it back to the other side of the blocked bus station exit which we could normally have just driven out of, we’d taken six minutes, making us 11 minutes late.

We picked up five shoppers returning home from the bus stop in Broadway and made our way out of the city. The route takes in a suburb of Peterborough to the north called Eastfield where we dropped four off and picked two up before heading towards Eye.

However, before reaching Eye we diverted off to serve the Peterborough One Retail Park.

This involved a double run around the car park and finding no-one at the bus stop, which I noticed had no shelter and cost us five minutes for no benefit.

Having gone through Eye and dropped six passengers off, on what is now the former A47 suitably traffic calmed called Thorney Road (see map below), we set about rejoining the A47 but instead of turning right to head east we turned left and headed back towards Peterborough due to what I assume has been risk assessed as a dangerous right turn manoeuvre even though the car in front of us did it easily and I’m sure we could have done, but I can imagine it would be tricky if the A47 was busier, as it must be in the week.

We soon turned round at the next roundabout and were back passing the junction we’d come out of three minutes earlier and headed off the A47 again for three and a bit miles to serve Thorney, but this time there were roundabouts where the old road joined and rejoined the new road. We dropped our last passenger off in Thorney – where the route used to end – and it was just me and the driver for the next 25 minutes for the 12 miles along a very straight A47…

… before continuing south along the A141 to March.

Before reaching the town centre, on the north western edge of the town we did another dog leg in Westry to serve a large Tesco including circumnavigating the car park, passing by the main entrance and an empty bus stop which at least had a bus shelter, albeit rather basic looking.

The diversion to serve Tesco cost us another four minutes.

We finally arrived in the main shopping street in March called Broad Street thirteen minutes late at 12:20 where buses on routes 33 and 36 set down at a stop confusingly called Station Road on the east side of Broad Street, and pick up on the west side of Broad Street at a stop confusingly called Grays Lane.

However, the driver who’d done a sterling job trying to make up time bombing along the A47 needed a few minutes break and popped into the nearby Tesco Express and by the time we turned round at the end of Broad Street and picked two passengers up and queued at the traffic lights to head back to Peterborough as a route 33 it was 12:30 making us 12 minutes late.

We picked up another passenger at the next stop and surprisingly he alighted as we did that circumnavigation of the large Tesco at Westry again so perhaps the seven minutes it cost us this time was worth it. Or perhaps not. It took longer as there was a queue leaving the supermarket …

…. and once again we had to turn left out of the Tesco access road and head back towards March until reaching a roundabout to regain our north bound trajectory.

We then turned to head westwards along another long straight uninhabited road (the A605) for six miles …

… with just the two other passengers on board….

…. until we reached the village of Coates where we picked three passengers up and then into Whittlesey where three adults and two children boarded as we did yet another dog leg to serve part of the town until we reached the bus station where 15 adults and four children boarded and surprisingly we’d reverted to being on time reflecting a generous time allowance between Westry and Whittlesey.

Three passengers alighted as we headed into Peterborough but six adults and two children boarded making for a good load as we arrived into Peterborough and Queensgate bus station was reached just four minutes down.

I understand Stagecoach closed its bus garage in March as part of the 30th October cuts and presumably inter working between the 33 and 36 is part of this new arrangement but it seemed to me the new link between Thorney and March is of questionable viability and is also unrealistically timed – with a scheduled 15 minutes but took us 25 with the driver having his foot flat down on the accelerator. 50 minutes travel time (there and back) is a lot of extra mileage … and in my sample journey, no revenue.

It might help if Stagecoach were to take the display of timetable information more seriously. Three weeks after the changes and not only was Peterborough’s bus station devoid of official publicity but timetable cases along the route were empty and in March were displaying an apology “we’re sorry we can’t provide printed bus times at this stop just now.”

Why ever not? Still at least the bus I travelled on was a “Bedford bus”

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

14 thoughts on “A route march to March

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  1. With trains between March and Peterborough running generally every hour, and taking less than 20 minutes for the journey, it is unsurprising that not many people are using the bus for the end-to-end journey, and with few opportunities for intermediate journeys it does bring into question whether the route is really needed.

    One argument I hear is that forcing people to use the train to get to nearby urban centres disadvantages people with ENCTS passes – but I can’t help thinking it might be a better use of public money to subsidise their train fares and offer an ENCTS discount on such journeys than to pay to run nearly empty buses.

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    1. That’s fine where railway stations are central, but many can be difficult for a lot of bus users, who tend to be disproportionately young, old or less mobile. But with the massive subsidy paid into the railway there will be more demands for better use of funding and the death of a thousand cuts will continue on the bus network as it is creates less political noise.

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  2. Oh dear . . . this all sounds like a set of timetables planned with little reference to local conditions . . . running times which are either unachievable, or ridiculously excessive. To be fair, these are services with limited or no chimneys (except for Whittlesey Peterborough . . . remember Morley’s of Whittlesey, finished in 2005?).

    Congratulations to Brendan Fox on maintaining the bus timetables at Peterborough Bus Station . . . could he have a go at Bedford Bus Station next? I was there last Saturday . . . Grant Palmer had gained access to the timetable cases and provided new timetables, but Stagecoach? Old timetables partially obscured by paper timetables already 6 weeks old . . . and incorrect as well . . . my 50 to Kettering was shown on the departure screens and timetables as leaving at 0950; bustimes showed 1000, and we left at 1000.
    The Stagecoach website declined to give any information at all, so I was unable to cross-reference to confirm the times.
    In Kettering, all bus stop timetables were correct from the changes in October, although some bus stop flag route numbers were still to be updated.

    I get the feeling that Stagecoach East, with a new MD recently, has subscribed to the “it’s all on line” mantra from the Stagecoach UK MD, who seems to be on a personal crusade against any other publicity. Why is it that the simplest methods of telling passengers what is out there is ignored? I despair; I really do.

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  3. Very interesting Roger: I feared that you had missed the Bedford identity on – or in – that bus, but it was mentioned at the end! One at least of the two which moved from Bedford some time ago also has maps of Bedford local routes displayed inside.

    For clarity, the 33 was previously run on the 2 hour frequency to March. However there were also hourly shorts to Whittlesey, running to the “dogleg” known locally as “the Avenues” and thus giving 2 buses per hour on the Peterborough to Whittlesey section – now down to 1 with the withdrawal of the shorts. The timetables on the 31 and 33 are now even through the day with no adjustment for any peak travel demand.

    StevieinSelby – point taken re the trains, but at least today the buses are running.

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  4. The previous service on the 33 from March to Peterborough was never busy east of Whittlesea, other than at college times. But by serving almost all the estates of March, it at least had a bigger catchment area. The through service was two hourly (so the current situation is a doubling of the end to end frequency – and quicker by avoiding the estates), but the March local sections were served hourly. The problem with the train is the station is well out of the town centre, almost at the northern end of the built up area, and only linked by one 56 bus an hour.

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    1. The through service Peterborough to March is only double the previous frequency by providing 2 buses every 2 hours but close together; for example the 36 which Roger caught (the 11:10) would have been followed by the 33 at 11:25 and then the next 36 at 13:10, which isn’t much use in frequency terms. I do agree about the problem with the station at March.

      Interestingly the 56 (Benwick/Manea – March – Wisbech) is operated by Stagecoach East Midlands from its Long Sutton outstation, but the other March – Wisbech route (the 46) is operated by East (at a 90 minute frequency). With the closure of East’s March outstation this now means buses run light between Peterborough and March several times per day, not integrated into the 33/36 passenger journeys.

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  5. With the decreased frequency the timetable planner would have been faced with the thorny problem (excuse the pun) of providing a coordinated hourly frequency in both directions between Peterborough and Eye (routes 36 and 37) as well as between Peterborough and Whittlesey (routes 31 and 33). Perhaps one day in the bath he (or she) had a eureka moment – extend 36 from Thorney to March and link it with 33, enabling the desired coordinated timetables. So I’m guessing it was done to make the timetable work rather than for any commercial reasons. Whether there is a better solution I don’t know.

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  6. Whilst closing down depots and outstations may save a bit of money it comes at the price of making services unreliable which means fewer passengers use them

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  7. Lack of timetable updating at bus stops by Stagecoach is also an issue in East Kent, 6 weeks after the timetable changes (cuts). First printed timetables were withdrawn (though not entirely in some areas) and now maybe bus stop timetables are going by stealth. Very worrying!

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  8. Perhaps up to date timetable information at bus stops should come under the service registration process with the Traffic Commissioners ensuring compliance via spot checks and fines. It really is unprofessional not to produce up to date timetable info at bus stops and bus stations, which are basics of bus operation. How can managers have any pride in their company with such mediocre and shoddy service.

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    1. The Traffic Commisions do not enforce anything now so I would not hold your breath

      They ajllow companies to take on addtional work when they do not even have the resource to operate their current services with high numbers of cancellations

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  9. It’s like dog training. Waving the big stick does no good whatsoever, they just don’t get it.

    It’s the oldest schizophrenia, do less and try to do it well; or try to do it all, and fail at (pretty well) everything.

    What’s the answer? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else does, either. So we end up all over the place. In chaos, as would-be passengers and operators try to make the best of it. If anyone has an idea of what to do, please let us know about it.

    Maybe sometimes it works out, as the next blog will (hopefully) celebrate. But it’s as much down to luck, as anything. Perhaps an award for Lady Luck, whoever she is?

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  10. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. It’s the old NBC problem.

    A local example. They’re reducing services to Hyde Hall Gardens, to improve network reliability, but we have few enough attractions to benefit from growing leisure traffic, just about the only thing that is. But we can’t afford to try and grow bus use… We can’t cope with what we’ve got already.
    Just sometimes I have sympathy for the late Nicholas Ridley.

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