Tuesday 28th March 2023
Ember, the Scottish coach company with expansionist plans introduced a Dundee to Glasgow service last August to compliment its Dundee to Edinburgh service introduced at the height of the pandemic when the company launched to the public in October 2020.
You may remember from my previous blogs (here, here and here) describing my three previous journeys on that service, I was impressed with the excellent customer service provided by the drivers, the easy to use website booking arrangement (no apps needed) and of course the environmental credentials of using Yutong electric coaches all charged at on street charging points in Dundee.
Ember’s fares offer great value and the coaches are intensively worked offering a 24 hour timetable while overhead costs are kept to an absolute minimum. Disruption to rail services over the last year due to strikes, particularly at the weekends, has also boosted coach travel in Scotland.
It’s a lovely scenic ride too.
This formula seems to be working well and I’m guessing the enthusiastic company’s founders (Pierce Glennie and Keith Bradbury) are even more positive for the future with their expansion plans well advanced for services to Aberdeen and Inverness as well as Fort William. Their equity backers are no doubt pleased with progress too. I admit I was a bit sceptical at first but the post Covid growth in leisure travel and the appeal of coach services in Scotland to the young and seniors enjoying concessionary travel as well as the company’s excellent customer service is winning me over to the idea ember are making an impact for the long term.
I needed to get from Glasgow to Dundee around lunch time on the Sunday before last so booked myself an £8.50 ticket online back in mid February when the website told me 37 seats were available, meaning I was probably the first to book as that seems to be the number of seats sold online for each journey.
There are 12 journeys a day (roughly every 90 minutes) with two more during the night and I booked on the 13:14 departure from Glasgow’s Buchanan Street coach station with an arrival in Dundee just under two hours later at 15:09.
When I checked the booking page on the website on the morning of my departure the journey was showing all seats sold out so I arrived in good time at Buchanan Street coach station to get near the front of the queue.
It was just as well as the nearby stands were bustling with passengers waiting to board CityLink departures and at 12:45 there were already passengers on the ember departure stand.
There’s a tracking page on the ember website and I’d spotted the incoming coach due to arrive at 13:04 was showing as two minutes late but in the event it arrived on to the stand at 13:05 making for a rather tight turnaround to offload what was a goodly number of passengers (I reckon that journey had been full too) and get us Dundee bound crowd on board.
Shaun the driver was excellent at welcoming everyone on board dealing superbly with a young male passenger of Indian origin with very little English who boarded, and not having contactless, asked if he could buy a ticket with cash. Shaun explained the coach was full and cash isn’t accepted but he advised the young lad to wait by the coach until everyone had boarded.
It turned out a gang of what looked like returning home hen party ravers had reduced in group size from seven to four over the weekend (!) so the driver invited the young man back on and found a way for him to travel. “You have to show your human side in this job” he told me as we chatted about his background.
I’m guessing ember’s ethos is in tune with Shaun’s. It certainly gives the impression of a company that really cares about its passengers.
After all that we were away a few minutes late at nearly 13:20.
To serve intermediate towns en route, ember’s modus operandi is to use pick up/set down stops on the edge of those towns (often Park & Ride sites) to minimise lengthening journey times for end to end passengers. With real time updates of bookings being sent to drivers’ tablets on the dashboard passengers are advised they must book a ticket a minimum of ten minutes before the coach is due at one of these points otherwise the coach will not call.
The Glasgow route uses the M80, M9, A9, M90 and A90 with pick up/set down points in Cumbernauld, Stirling, Dunblane, Auchterarder, Perth, Inchture and Longforgan.
I was a bit surprised when we pulled off the M80 on to the A8011 to reach our first stop in Cumbernauld as this entailed a lengthy segment of journey on the parallel A8011 through the central area of the town rather than an edge of town location close to a motorway junction.
I was even more surprised when the only passenger who alighted was a teenager (and skateboard) who’d obviously travelled free under the Scottish concessionary travel scheme (which extends up to age 22).
Good for him but I wondered about the efficiency of taking a coach full of passengers on a diversion through Cumbernauld for that sole purpose when there are plenty of bus routes running frequently between Glasgow and Cumbernauld by both First Bus and Stagecoach.
On we went and coming off the M9 on to the A84 to the north side of Stirling …
…. where it was a very quick call into the Castlanew Park & Ride site where we picked up one passenger.
Next up was Dunblane which, like Cumbernauld involved a bit more of a diversion parallel to the A9 ….
…. and where two more young people alighted in a lay-by on the B8033.
The next stop at Auchterarder was interesting as I’d expected us to come off the A9 again and go through the town on the A824 (the old A9) …
… but instead we pulled into a lay-by on the A9 just before the A824 turn off and four passengers alighted at what was a rather exposed location.
And as Shaun observed getting back into the fast moving traffic on the A9 was quite a challenge especailly as the bus stop/shelter is at the far northern end of the lay-by, but he managed it very well.
The Perth stop was another Park & Ride site on the south western edge of the city …
… where one alighted.
It was obviously a very popular stop for passing coach services as in the minute or two it took for us to pull in and then off again we passed three other coaches doing the same.
After Perth we headed east on the M90 then the A90 with no need to stop at Inchture or Longforgan as we headed to Dundee.
The last stop is on the western edge of Dundee – just a short diversion in Apollo Way – where we picked up a young lad heading into Dundee.
We pulled into Dundee at 15:08 pretty much on time where most passengers alighted outside the station before the bus continued on to the terminus around the corner in Greenmarket where ember’s two charging points are installed.
It had been another smooth journey with good customer service on display but I do wonder whether it might be better to restrict Cumbernauld to pick up only and Apollo Way as set down only on Dundee bound journeys with the opposite in the other direction.
Xplore Dundee have improved the livery of its Dundee to Edinburgh airport coach route which competes with ember’s route to Edinburgh although while that runs direct ember uses the tram stop at Ingliston Park & Ride, close to the airport on its way into Edinburgh city centre as a connecting point.
Ember’s coaches have space on board for cycles (opposite the central doors) …
… and its latest coaches have a toilet at the rear too.
I’m looking forward to more ember journeys as the company continues to expand, not least that goal of getting Fort William on to their network map.
Keep up the good work Pierce and Keith.
Hi Roger. All the pictures are downloading fine in the email today
Good to know; thanks Tim. WordPress told me it could have been a glitch at the email server of those affected as it only impacted a couple of recipients.
Ember are certainly getting something right, and perhaps the “local” traffic helps fill seats on days less busy than high weekend loadings. Although there would have been some passenger abstraction from ScotRail, hardly surprising after the turmoil there for a considerable period, I cannot help feel that many of these people would have switched from CityLink/Megabus. And a situation that I am sure will soon erupt into a fightback by the latter.
Citylink/Megabus have already added additional departures to their Glasgow/Edinburgh to Dundee/Aberdeen corridors, particularly Thursday to Sunday. At times on a weekend there’s an M92 between Edinburgh and Dundee/Aberdeen every 30 minutes.
There’s a distinct, large commuting group emerging, particularly among students and possibly driven by the free bus travel for under 22s in Scotland, returning home every weekend and back to university for the start of the week.
This market is about to get more interesting as FLIXBUS expand their internal Scottish offering.
Roger, in your paragraph about Xplore Dundee’s FLY Dundee to Edinburgh Airport service, you seem to be saying (if I am reading this right) that it is Xplore Dundee who serve the airport via Ingliston P&R. Xplore Dundee are non stop from Dundee to the airport terminal whereas it is Ember’s Dundee to Edinburgh city centre service that calls at Ingliston P&R to serve traffic to and from the airport with cheaper fares. As you have used Ember’s Edinburgh service before, I appreciate this was probably not what you meant to type!
You’re quite right Roy. I’ll see if I can reword it a bit to clarify what I meant!
I wonder where King Coaches goes to/from?
Citylink additional journey (as referred to earlier in thread) on M92 Aberdeen – Edinburgh. It’s First Aberdeen’s coaching wing.
I’ve used the Dundee to Glasgow service (as well as the Dundee/Edinburgh) from Ember a number of times over the last year. Never failed to be impressed by the friendliness of the drivers. Great service.