A community bus success story

Tuesday 21st March 2023

It’s not often a locally based community led climate action campaigning group puts its money where its mouth is and starts up a brand new route to encourage motorists to leave their cars at home and catch a bus instead. Even more rare it turns into a rip roaring success within a matter of weeks.

But that’s exactly what’s happened in the market town of Strathaven (population 7,000) and nearby Stonehouse (population 5,000) in South Lanarkshire located 25 miles south east of Glasgow.

These two communities had been in a public transport backwater having no direct bus route into Glasgow for around 15 years meaning an inconvenient two stage journey with a change in either Hamilton or East Kilbride both around eight miles away on to a train or bus to travel on into Glasgow. Many residents would drive either all the way into Glasgow or as far as Hamilton/East Kilbride and catch the train from there.

Tom Barbour the chairperson of Climate Action Strathaven has spearheaded the project to introduce a bus service which has taken around two years to come to fruition. Tom explained in a recent television interview he and colleagues carried out market research locally to establish whether a direct bus service offering a cheaper alternative, as well as a quicker journey by bus would be attractive enough to persuade them to use it and 85% said yes. We’ve all seen research like this over the years (where everyone says ‘yes’ but don’t end up doing anything when it comes to it) but Tom was buoyed by another survey he carried out across a three hour morning peak from 06:00 one morning which showed 2,083 cars leaving Strathaven heading to Glasgow. It seemed there was definitely a market to tap into.

The group successfully overcame the hurdles of acquiring an O licence and very impressively, crowd funded the purchase of a brand new Mercedes Tourismo coach, and on 10th October last year bus service 3C began running five return journeys a day into Glasgow. It’s numbered 3C to highlight the urgent need for climate change measures to prevent the predicted and catastrophic rise in global temperature levels of three degrees centigrade.

After five months operation I thought it was high time I took an opportunity while in Glasgow last Friday to give the 3C a try out and boy did I get a big surprise.

I’d picked up the vibes the route was doing well from Tom’s recent blog update on the Climate Action Strathaven website telling everyone “The 3C Bus Service is here to stay!” ….

…. and another blog apologising to passengers unable to board some busy journeys during last December especially the midday departure into Glasgow on Saturdays.

It seemed route 3C had certainly turned into a very welcome success story.

I travelled on the 16:15 departure from Glasgow and arriving soon after 16:05 saw the bus already parked in North Hanover Street alongside the side entrance to Queen Street rail station, a few yards further up from the terminus bus stop.

I took a few photographs as three or four passengers were boarding and then climbed aboard, paid £10 to the driver …

…. with his portable contactless card terminal which issued a return bus ticket….

…. turned to find a seat only to realise the coach was almost full with just a very few empty seats towards the rear.

It’s not just the Saturday midday departure that’s busy.

With one seat spare out of the 53 capacity we left spot on time at 16:15 and were soon on the M8 following an easterly route out of the city before using the short southbound M73 to connect with the M74 south eastwards to the junction with the A71 south of Larkhall where we came off the motorway 22 minutes later at 16:37. It was then a short ride into Stonehouse where twelve passengers alighted at five consecutive bus stops through the village and then on to Strathaven where we pulled on to the bus stop right in the middle of this small town at 16:54 and everyone still on board alighted.

The next (and last) journey back to Glasgow is at 17:15 which I travelled back on along with seven other passengers, two of whom alighted in nearby Stonehouse where two others boarded and with a trouble free journey we arrived into Glasgow at 17:52 after a 37 minute run. Tom reckons a reliable and consistent journey time of 35 minutes will persuade even more commuting motorists to switch to the bus and is keen for Transport Scotland to use earmarked funding for much promised bus lanes along the motorway into Glasgow.

There were already a dozen passengers waiting to board as we pulled up in North Hanover Street even though the next departure back to Strathaven isn’t until 18:15.

No doubt it’s another busy journey and passengers were keen to ensure a seat.

The spot where we pulled up was some distance from the official bus stop which has 3C on the plate ….

…. although I noticed SPT hasn’t included any departure information in the timetable case which is a shame.

The same at the Strathaven terminus too.

Come on SPT get that sorted for this enterprising community.

When I spoke to Tom yesterday about the service I mentioned about the picking up point in Glasgow and he explained that other vehicles frequently block the stop – it’s right opposite the side entrance to the station – so drivers and passengers have become accustomed to stopping further back. Something else SPT could usefully sort out if better parking enforcement is needed.

You can’t fault Tom and the team for raising awareness and promoting the 3C as evidenced by its huge popularity. Word has definitely spread among the communities in Strathaven and Stonehouse. On board the coach are promotional posters on the glass panels behind the driver (which did obstruct the forward view a little!) …

… as well as other posters further back in the coach encouraging passengers to fill in an online survey form.

There are also leaflets available on board the coach to pick up.

The team are also running trips out on Sundays to gain more revenue and ensure the coach is used efficiently.

Service 3C advises children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult, and it’s recently announced the single journey fare will increase from 1st April from £5 to £6 although the ten journey ticket will remain at £40 offering a substantial discount. Young people and seniors in Scotland travel free under the concessionary travel scheme.

Climate Action Strathaven has a shop in the centre of the town which also promotes its other activities including cycle repair and bike hire including cargo bikes and home delivery as well as a car club where motorists not using their cars are encouraged to sign up so others can make use of them.

I asked Tom about back up arrangements for the coach and driver and he explained they have the equivalent of 1.5 full time drivers as well as other part timers with a PCV licence as does he himself and has been out driving. There are arrangements with another local coach company to hire in a coach if necessary as a back up arrangement but so far it’s all run smoothly.

The coach gave a very comfortable and smooth ride. It has a toilet on board, not that it’s needed for the regular journeys.

I asked Tom what he thought was the secret of his success. “Listening to what the people wanted” was his immediate reply. Simple, eh?

Something else Tom told me that very much chimed with my own current thinking was his priority is all about getting people out of their cars and on to buses and coaches which he points out will achieve the greatest reduction in CO2 emissions as illustrated on the back of the company’s leaflet (see above). That’s why Climate Acton Strathaven hasn’t gone for an electric coach (quite apart from the huge expense, extra infrastructure and other set up issues) but sees the type of fuel used as something to consider in due course once car use has significantly reduced.

If only certain provincial elected mayors and local authority leaders introducing strict new low emission zone arrangements and charges for buses while doing nothing about cars could pay heed to this approach too.

Many congratulations to Tom and everyone involved in Climate Action Strathaven for spotting the gap in the market and actually doing something about it. It’s very heartening to see and we’ll hopefully see an expansion of the timetable at some stage in the future.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

7 thoughts on “A community bus success story

Add yours

  1. Well done Climate Action Strathaven. It is amazing how seldom groups do something positive instead of lobbying others.

    Not so long ago this is the sort of initiative a local operator might have tried, but nowadays head office and their parachuted in managers have little interest.

    Shame the coach is flat white as they could splash out and promote the service on the outside of the vehicle.

    Finally I am intrigued by the pricing policy. No discount for a return is odd and the advice to buy two singles in case the coach is full a touch worrying. But for a new operation they are doing very well.


  2. Lots of interesting points here. Why didn’t local bus companies spot the need years ago? In the picture of the coach look at the average age of the passengers, does Scotland’s young person concessionary scheme help? But key point is getting local people involved, how do we do that? Roger, well done for raising the profile of this, not seen anything elsewhere which also shows how useless the industry press is.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a fair point you raise about mayors and local authorities. But i’d also argue that the likes of Stagecoach and First, that operate close to that area, didn’t see an opportunity. Surely that’s a failure on their part also?


  4. The pick up point being used in Glasgow appears to be marked out as a taxi stand. Not in SPT’s gift to change – the highway authority is the city council – but it is disappointing that abuse of the road markings by a PSV does nothing to discourage others from doing the same to bits of the road that are reserved for buses.


  5. The Longest Bus Service

    This must be the longest bus service. Istanbul to London . It will pass through 22 countries and take 56 days. It will be operated by Adventures Overland


  6. Park’s of Hamilton ran a commuter service between Glasgow and Strathaven for a while. I can’t find any information as to how often it ran or when it ceased though.


  7. The previous private service for commuters between Strathaven and Glasgow ran one service each way a day, which stopped at the start of the pandemic.


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