Tuesday 9th May 2023
“Fflecsi is the perfect way to enjoy fun days out and explore the beauty of this part of Pembrokeshire” encourages a colourful Transport for Wales (TfW) leaflet extolling the virtues of its fflecsi DRT service and the scenic county of Pembrokeshire and the Coastal National Park.
I didn’t need convincing about the delights of Pembrokeshire and as I keep hearing positive reports about fflecsi I thought it was high time I took up the invitation to combine them both and enjoy a “fun day out”.
Fflecsi’s coverage in Pembrokeshire is divided into two geographic areas. The ‘explore Pembrokeshire’ leaflet sets out the Dale Peninsula (dark green on the map below) and North West Pembrokeshire (khaki on the map) as well as a third area called ‘fflecsi Bwcabus’ to the east of the county which has an overlap zone (yellow) with the North West Pembrokeshire area.
Bwcabus is a longer standing Dial-A-Ride operation in this part of Wales providing connections from small hamlets to scheduled bus routes on main roads which has now largely been incorporated into fflecsi albeit with slightly less operating hours (finishing at 17:00 instead of 18:30 on Saturdays). In this area Bwcabus was extended last June to enable passengers to travel all the way into Haverfordwest or Fishguard without having to connect with the TrawsCymru T5.
As I knew TfW had withdrawn the Dale Peninsular’s principal scheduled bus route – the 315 – at the end of January in favour of fflecsi I decided to book a series of three journeys in that zone and spend a fun morning exploring that part of Pembrokeshire.
You can book fflecsi journeys up to a month ahead so I used the app on 10th April to plan a morning of exploring last Wednesday. You get a 20 minute window for pick up times but the unknown is how long a journey will take as obviously at the time of booking the algorithm doesn’t know how many pick ups might arise nor the final route to be taken. This makes planning an itinerary quite tricky and a real downside compared to working with a scheduled timetable.
I asked for a departure from Haverfordwest to Dale at 08:30 and got offered a pick up between 08:20 and 08:40 which was just the job.
Google maps told me the journey time from Haverfordwest to Dale is 23 minutes so I reckoned I’d be in Dale around 09:00 and spend an hour exploring this attractive coastal community so requested a second journey for 10:00 to take me across to Broad Haven.
Again, the app came up trumps and offered me a journey between 09:50 and 10:10. Google maps said it takes 17 minutes so I reckoned another hour there would mean needing a third journey back to Haverfordwest to complete my itinerary at 11:20.
The app offered me an 11:20 to 11:40 window and with a Google specified 14 minute journey time I reckon I’d be back in Haverfordwest latest midday having spent three and a half hours in explore mode and by the look of it occupying the fflecsi bus for the morning too – but who would join me, I wondered, and would it all work as planned?
Would fflecsi live up to its positive reputation?
Read on to find out.
I’d spent the night in Haverfordwest and at 07:20 received a text telling me the pick up would be “between 08:37 and 08:38” which was a very exact prediction and at the later end of the original 08:20 to 08:40 window.
Peak time traffic was probably a factor leading to a text at 08:36 advising “your Fflecsi is 10 minutes away”.
And finally at 08:48 it arrived. But not the RE17 FBF registered Mercedes I’d been advised to look out for in the texts and app but what looked like a vanilla branded substitute bus from Pembrokeshire County Council’s extensive fleet.
Fflecsi is a standard pay as you board service with all normal tickets and fares applying so I took advantage of the West Wales Rover at £8.50 and paid with contactless. There’s a real north south divide for bus tickets in Wales with the 1Bws ticket available throughout north Wales for only £6 or even £4 with an English or Scottish concessionary pass.
£8.50 was still good value for my itinerary (I had more planned for the afternoon) and in a happy coincidence of price paid and departure time aligning we set off at 08:50 with a family of three still on board prior to the bus arriving – and one passenger alighting as the bus arrived. A destination of Dale would mean us heading south west out of Haverfordwest but the bus actually went north as we had to drop off the family who stayed on board in the bus station at their desired location …
… before retracing our route back and passing the bus station again while battling peak hour traffic which fortunately wasn’t as bad as coming into town.
I noticed we were heading due south towards Milford Haven rather than south west towards Dale and guessed it meant another likely pick up on the journey ahead.
Sure enough we reached the centre of Milford Haven at 09:17 …
… and picked up a passenger …
… and then two more by the station …
… all looking like coastal walkers travelling to Dale. Not long after that as we headed westwards towards and through the hamlet of Herbrandston we picked up two more passengers and a dog also heading for Dale at 09:23 …
…. and then, would you believe, two more at 09:25 …
… making it an all time record for me of seven passengers and a dog travelling on the same DRT journey at the same time and, of course, another three and a child having alighted previously.
Wow, I thought, perhaps fflecsi really has cracked it. But then I remembered this flexible tech friendly fflecsi had replaced the long established scheduled bus route 315 a matter of a few weeks ago and looking up the old timetable confirmed there had been a journey taking the same route we’d just followed from Haverfordwest via Milford Haven and Herbrandston to Dale (and on to Marloes) at 09:00 albeit latterly operating on a request only basis by telephone.
That had arrived into Dale at 09:55 but our arrival time was slightly earlier at just before 09:45 as we’d skipped the hamlet of St Ishmaels.
Readers may recall my next booked journey with fflecsi was from Dale between 09:50 and 10:10 so rather than my originally expected hour to explore Dale I ended up with a quick five minutes as the app and a text were telling me the bus would be departing at 09:50 to take me to Broad Haven – the algorithm obviously was aware that would be a good time to offer a journey as it knew far more than I about likely timings and the former route 315 timetable.
A quick toilet stop, a few photographs of the lovely beach and it was back on the bus for journey number two north, across the peninsular, to Broad Haven.
Until January, the former 315 having returned from Marloes departed from Dale for Haverfordwest at 10:25 so not surprisingly a passenger was waiting and boarded with me as we left at 09:49 bound for Haverfordwest.
This time we called into the hamlet of St Ishmaels at 10.01 as the 315 used to do, and picked up an adult and child ….
… also going to Haverfordwest.
This time it was my journey causing a diversion for those three passengers on board as we headed over to the delightful Broad Haven …
… where I alighted on arrival at 10:17 and the bus headed on to Haverfordwest with its three passengers.
This time I did have an hour to explore as the app and a text confirmed my next pick up from there to return to Haverfordwest would be at 11:20.
Sure enough the same bus and driver appeared at 11:20 with one passenger already on board and we went back to Haverfordwest with no more pick ups, arriving at 11:35.
Interestingly I’d spotted a timetable in the bus shelter opposite Broad Haven Post Office …
… for the three journey a day route 311 to Haverfordwest which hasn’t yet been withdrawn in favour of fflecsi and I was told Broad Haven residents are resolutely using it as “they don’t want the faff of Fflecsi here” which is an interesting and, perhaps perceptive comment, on this fad of making passengers book their journeys rather than just turning up at a bus stop and hopping aboard.
Based on my experience last Wednesday that’s how you’ll get people really taking up the “explore Pembrokeshire” mantra – fixed timetables enabling a proper and reassuring exploration plan to be drawn up.
You’d then not have to worry about restricted availability in the afternoons either, as I understand the fflecsi bus and driver for the Dale peninsular are committed to a school journey making it unavailable for bookings during that time – just as the bus on route 315 had done too.
Despite the plain white bus I travelled on, Fflecsi has certainly raised its profile as a brand in the area. There are posters in every bus shelter and even pavement advertising…
… in Haverfordwest.
Before ending, a word about two wonderful services on which I’ve travelled in Pembrokeshire previously and sadly are unlikely to be operating this summer following the decision by Richards Bros to withdraw their involvement.
The Puffin and Strumble Shuttles (routes 400 and 405) were two fantastic routes linking around the coast to the city of St Davids …
… look as though they’re now history although I see you can use fflecsi to try your luck at getting a journey booked for your needs. I had a wonderful time riding around Pembrokeshire in 2016 using these routes to connect with the former route 315 in Marloes as other passengers did too.
I understand the latest news is that the Poppit Rocket (route 405) will operate as previously, which is good to know…
… and in St Davids later on Wednesday afternoon I found local route 403 Celtic Coaster continues to run.
Pembrokeshire County Council does a great job providing information online and in print…
… about the services it offers and despite the financial challenges it faces, provides some decent bus services through the National Park. Indeed, in January the Council completed the purchase of the otherwise about-to-close-down and long standing Edwards Bros Coaches of Tiers Cross …
… and now run it as a municipally owned business together with an extensive fleet of vehicles on school contracts and, of course, fflecsi.
Coming soon: Exploring Pembrokeshire with TrawsCymru
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS
Another downside to DRT is that Google Maps, and presumably other similar sources, don’t know how to deal with the phenomon, so choose to ignore it. Otherwise such an excellent journey planning tool, especially when used in conjunction with bustimes.org., Google needs to address this shortcoming. BTW, one pedant to another, although part of your tour was peninsular in nature, you were actually visiting a peninsula!
Now corrected to peninsula, thanks.
The word peninsular is an adjective. The noun is peninsula. This is an increasingly common error.
Now corrected, thanks.
The withdrawn Puffin and Strumble Shuttle services operated on Summer Sundays and Bank Holidays, which were often the best days for the number of passengers – the replacement Fflecsi only operates on Monday to Saturday, except Bank Holidays,
DRT is pretty useless if you need to be somewhere at a specific time
The Flecsi seems as far as these service go have a reasonable number of passengers who appear to have been using the 315. How long it will keep them remains to be seen
A lot councils seem to be keen on transport hubs with the DRT connecting with timetabled services at the hub but if you do not know when you will be able to get there that’s not a lot of good
For Hub as well read as bus stop on the street with no facilities and probably no shelter as well
If council think that will work they nee to dream on
First Bus seems to be clinging o in that area. They used to have a small garage in Haverford west but I think that’s gone
The number of routes they are operating now is tiny. I doubt they will be in West Wales for much longer
The depot in Haverfordwest is still going. It operates the main routes to Tenby via Pembroke, and to Milford Haven, as well as a tendered (I think) 356 from when Silcox went bust.
Another route they have is the Tenby Coaster, an open top development that appeared in 2022 and has returned for 2023. One wonders if the intrepid RF spent the afternoon heading to Tenby and Saundersfoot after arriving back into Haverfordwest?
First’s Haverfordwest depot is still there, Bob
It is interesting what success feels like for DRT. 7 passengers is Roger’s record and this might just about survive with a tendered service, but what is seen as improvement. There is a view that DRT services are for the “needy”, a rather Victorian approach, and that people with access to their own transport will not use it. What metric is used – subsidy per trip, subsidy per passenger mile, subsidy per day?
As a car owner I often use buses and in walking country it is much better to have a one way walk. DRT could work for this, but as an outsider it is difficult to know when to book the return journey for and demand would be weather dependent.
I think that all tendered services also are often seen by government and councils as for the needy, as if they are an extension of social services. It’s all operated on a shoestring, and there are frequent changes of operator and quality. I was surprised to read recently that Transdev’s Ribble Country with the smart liveried Mellor Stratas have gone as Lancashire have retendered the routes. Imagine what message that gives out to the passengers as their bus service suddenly morphs into something completely different seemingly on a whim. Certainly this approach won’t attract new passengers who have an alternative, which is exactly the opposite of what the government’s carbon reduction targets require.
I have always advised people that they should take the bus to the furthest point and walk back. This can be done with either a conventional bus route or DRT.
When I visited this area back in September 2020, I seem to recall that the only fixed journeys on the 315 were the journeys arriving Haverfordwest before 0900 and leaving at 1600. The Broad Haven timetable also looks the same as then.
I look forward to reading your views on Traws Cymru T5 and the state of the “Transport Hub” in Cardigan 🙄