Saturday 20th May 2023
It would have been another family owned small bus company on the back of a coach hire business to tell you about as my alphabetical ramblings continue, but the Sutton family who’d owned Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire Ltd since it was formed in 1991 sold it on to a company called Travellers Choice in Morecambe a couple of years ago which is where the 28 buses and coaches are now based.
Not wishing to lose its heritage the company’s website tells customers it “is a family-orientated business. We maintain a family ethos in all our activities and always try and provide that extra touch.” There are also a couple of “short pen profiles” so that “you know who is on the other end of the phone when you ring the office”. Except that one of the two profiles is of Matthew who from the description sounds very much like Matthew Sutton who I had the pleasure of meeting back in March when visiting Lancaster and who no longer works for the company. The other is Richard described as “the brains behind the operation” who I’m guessing is Richard Blaikie who was appointed a director in February 2022. The other director, appointed when Matthew officially left in February this year, is David Smith.
The website could do with a bit of updating as a page called “The Grapevine – Latest KLCH News” has details about extra buses on Lancaster Park & Ride dated May 2021 and before that entry are the 2020 Covid announcements.
As well as private hire and contracts the company runs four broad groups of local bus routes in Lancashire and North Yorkshire as well as a small part of the recently formed Westmorland and Furness.
First up in Lancaster it operates the city’s Park & Ride which utilises two buses on a 15 minute frequency with a third bus providing local hourly routes 8 and 9 to St Chads and Bowerham respectively.
Secondly two buses operate tendered bus route 89 for Lancashire County Council between Lancaster and Knott End on the coast.
A third group are three infrequent rural routes: the 550 a Tuesday Milnthorpe and Arnside to Morecambe journey, the 551 a Thursday Arnside and Milnthorpe to Kirkby Lonsdale return and the 552 a Monday, Wednesday and Friday Arnside and Milnthorpe to Kendal.
And finally the main route run by the company is its trunk service between Skipton and Lancaster via Settle, Ingleton and Kirkby Lonsdale. Branded on the timetable as the Craven Connection and Lune Villager it includes five different route numbers for the two hours and 37 minutes end to end journey. There’s a two hourly through service supplemented by hourly shorts along parts of the route including a link to and from High Bentham every two hours.
The southernmost section between Skipton and Settle via Gargrave, Hellifield and Long Preston takes route number 580 and runs on a commercial basis every hour. Alternate journeys terminate at Settle and head back to Skipton. The other alternate journey continues from Settle through to Ingleton and Kirkby Lonsdale using route number 581 and is financially supported by North Yorkshire County Council and from Kirkby Lonsdale the same bus and driver continue to Lancaster using route number 82 and this section is supported by Lancashire County Council.
Meanwhile another two-hourly journey numbered 583 runs from High Bentham via Lower Bentham to Ingleton and Kirkby Lonsdale financially supported by North Yorkshire Council and is co-ordinated with the 581 to provide an hourly frequency between Ingleton and Kirkby Lonsdale and finally a two hourly Lancashire County Council supported 81 runs from Kirkby Lonsdale via much the same route as the aforementioned 82 except the 81 goes via Nether Burrow, Melling, Wennington and Wray to Hornby instead of Whittington, Arkholme and Gressingham (served by the 82) as far as Hornby from where the 81 and 82 run along the same route providing an hourly frequency via Halton to Lancaster.
It’s quite a neat timetable and I reckon it takes six buses. There’s also two journeys every Saturday on route 75 between Skipton and Malham which is provided by North Yorkshire Council buses in the week. Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire has provided DalesBus organised journeys to Malham on Sundays in previous years, here’s a photo of when I visited in 2017.
More recently I took a ride on the Skipton to Lancaster route (in mid March) but arranged it to include an hour’s break at Settle by first catching one of the Skipton to Settle “shorts” and transferring there on to the following through bus. This gave me an hour for a look around Settle and an all important toilet stop on a long journey, although there are also short pauses at Ingleton and Kirkby Lonsdale.
The 09:45 ‘short’ left about five minutes late with four on board but we were quickly back on time – at Gargrave by 10:00 – where one passenger alighted; nine joined us at Long Preston and that was it.
After the hour’s break in Settle I caught the through bus to Kirkby Longsdale and Lancaster and noted the two passengers already on board were asked to represent their concessionary passes to be recorded on the ticket machine as we all had to do so again at Kirkby Lonsdale making for three separately recorded journeys whereas the driver explained someone travelling through from Skipton to Lancaster would only pay for the £2 maximum fare once … which struck me as a bit inconsistent.
The rest of the journey wasn’t particularly busy …. with one alighting and three boarding in Austwick and two alighting and two boarding in Kirkby Lonsdale …. until we reached Hornby from where the final half hour journey into Lancaster gained us twelve passengers making it the busiest section of route. I’m sure the Skipton to Settle section is equally busy but I was going against the flow at 09:45.
The company’s bus fleet comprises about 22 single deck buses with a third Volvos, a third StreetLites and a third Solos with one MetroCity.
It’s a decent looking company fulfilling a useful role in this part of the country.
Previous AtoZ blogs: Avanti West Coast, Blackpool Transport, Chiltern Railways, Delaine Buses, Ensignbus, Faresaver, Grand Central, Hull Trains, Ipswich Buses, JMB Travel.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS and the occasional Su post including one tomorrow on TfL’s proposal to discontinue one day Travelcards.
Interesting review thanks, and I agree that Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire generally seem to do a good job. They’ve certainly improved the bus service between Lancaster and North Yorkshire over the last few years since Stagecoach pulled out, with a more regular timetable that makes sure there’s at least a bus per hour between Lancaster and Kirkby Lonsdale and further services through to Skipton. I’ve also used the 89 a few times and it seems reasonably well used. I think both the Craven routes and the Lancaster P&R could be better publicised though – I think timetables are available in paper form on the bus but there’s certainly nothing at Lancaster bus station to tell you about KLCH’s services.
The company’s services are included on the departure lists at the bus station in both paper and electronic form. Or Bus Users Group had recently persuaded Stagecoach to provide a leaflet rack for timetables at the station, but it takes 1/3A4 leaflets which are Stagecoach‘a standard size whereas Kirkby Lonsdale’s leaflets are produced by the county council to A5 and don’t fit!
Roger, I’m afraid you have transposed the routes of the 81 and 82 between Kirkby Lonsdale and Lancaster. 81 goes via Wray and 82 via Gressingham.
And Richard at the company is Richard Blaikie (as in On the Buses)!
But it’s always interesting to see a visitor’s perspective of one of our local operators.
We at the Bus Users’ Group think they do a good job too.
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Thanks Jim; post now updated.
Rather interesting that The Travellers Choice company, now the owners of Kirkby Lonsdale, can trace their origins back to at least 1872 I believe, which must qualify them to be the oldest bus and coach company still in existence. Although I am sure I will be corrected on this…..
But yes, a good example of how a well run local company can provide a service not always possible from corporate giants, most of whom are now based outside the UK.
That company did a very long route last year which I went on from Richmond to Preston via Hawes,Ingleton and Lancaster.It only ran on a Sunday and was so walkers can access the Yorkshire Dales National Park.Unless someone had requested Preston the evening trip would terminate at Lancaster the driver told me but I was only going between Richmond and Ingleton anyhow.Hopefully they will run this year too?
Minor point – North Yorkshire County Council is now a Unitary authority so has dropped the ‘County’ from its name
Great to see a small operator able to succeed where Stagecoach locally could not.
Being in touch with local needs and knowledge of the local area is so important in the bus industry and most successes occur where good local managers are given the opportunity to shine. Large operators often like to move their managers around losing that local knowledge.