Spiralling decline in London

Friday 28th September 2018

TfL’s much leaked cuts to central London’s bus routes were officially published today as a six week public consultation is launched.

As expected the plans involve removing parts of or whole bus routes along busy roads also served by other routes on the grounds the overall capacity supplied by the combined route frequencies is well able to cope with the falling demand. The now often quoted sop for passengers facing a consequential change of bus for their journey is: ‘the Hopper fare will mean no increase in fares paid’.

But that’s not much consolation for passengers facing a more inconvenient journey involving changes in buses. There’s no question such a worsened journey proposition should mean paying higher fares. You can’t help thinking the Hopper fare has turned into a front for cutting service levels.

A through journey is far more convenient than having to change buses with all the uncertainties and disruption this brings, especially passengers encumbered with shopping or buggies or with accessibility issues. It makes travel seem more than twice the effort, when a change is involved.

Knowing these changes were coming I took the opportunity a week or so ago to carry out some impromptu surveys on those sections of route facing withdrawal. My observations reaffirm TfL’s stance there’s more than adequate capacity to cater for existing demand; and frankly the further downturn in passengers travelling which can be expected as a consequence of these planned cuts. Whenever you disrupt journeys you can expect to lose passengers.

Take route 171 from Catford for example, being cut back from it’s current northern terminus at Holborn. TfL are quite right, all the buses I saw north of the planned new northern terminus at Elephant and Castle had only half a dozen to a dozen passengers on board who could easily be accommodated on the abundance of empty seats on other bus routes between these points.

Similarly I had a ride on a morning peak hour route 4 from north London to its southern terminus at Waterloo. Whereas we were near enough full through Islington, after St Pauls (where it’s planned to divert the route to Blackfriars to replace a withdrawn section of another route, the 388), passenger numbers had thinned to around a dozen towards Aldwych and Waterloo picking up only a handful of new passengers who could easily be accommodated on alternative routes.

The same was true on a 242 south of Shoreditch (being diverted to Aldgate to replace the 67) with very few passengers travelling as far as the current terminus at St Pauls. Meanwhile the 67 will be cut back some distance to only travel south from Wood Green as far as Dalston Junction leaving the 149 and 242 to cope onward to Shoreditch; and cope they will from my observations.

BUT; (block capital letters deliberate) this phenomenon of decreasing passenger numbers towards a bus route’s final destination is not exactly surprising; more passengers inevitably get off than get on with the range of destination options diminishing as the route comes to an end. The exception being when a major attraction (shopping centre; station; school etc) is located at the terminus.

On TfL’s logic the 171 could soon be cut back from Elephant and Castle further south to Camberwell Green and save a few more buses and drivers and then why not cut it back further again to New Cross, and so on, with passengers hopping along from bus to bus on other routes instead of enjoying through journeys.

For years London was held as the pinnacle of best practice bus operation. Its growing passenger numbers were lauded by regulation protagonists who deliberately chose to ignore its booming public subsidy grant. Now that grant has been taken away the harsh realities of running buses are hitting the Capital as they have impacted other large conurbations for a couple of decades.

Route RV1, for example, which links parts of the South Bank not directly served by other bus routes on its meandering route from Covent Garden to the Tower is being withdrawn completely after recent frequency reductions. It’s just the sort of route that’s a luxury in a generously publicly funded regime but never a commercial proposition. So it’s no surprise it’s being withdrawn. I suspect there’ll be other London routes of a similar ilk facing the chop in the future.

Anyone want a spare fleet of hydrogen buses?

Interestingly TfL’s consultation papers include a clear localised bus map (TfL – bus map – yes, I know strange isn’t it?!) showing existing and planned changes so the impact can be readily seen in each affected area; but for the RV1 you have to consult two separate maps (one existing; the other proposed) making it harder to work out where the unserved roads will be.

RV1 – now you see it; now you don’t.

TfL make much of the significant downturn in bus passengers within central and inner London and how these consequential bus cuts are positive because (a) they better match supply with demand and (b) it enables a redeployment of resources to outer London where there’ll be ‘improved and new routes’. Err, except there don’t seem to be any such improvement plans in this package. The one ‘new route’ (the 311) is simply a renumbering of the western end of the 11 and a replacement for two other withdrawn sections of routes (19 and 22). So not exactly a new route.

Extract from TfL’s consultation paper

There’s also no evidence of steps TfL intend to take to stem the worrying loss of passengers throughout London. TfL’s map highlights the dramatic loss of passengers particularly in excess of 10% over the last three years in central and inner London.

The consultation states TfL ‘are looking to prioritise buses on our roads’ in Central London but it’s a great shame this wasn’t done some years ago which might have meant these cuts now planned for Spring 2019 would not have been needed.

I was on a southbound 29 only on Wednesday and it took around fifteen minutes to crawl through the gridlock at the bottom of Gower Street. Most passengers simply abandoned the bus as it was easily possible to walk to the terminus at Trafalgar Square in that time.

Rather than introducing bus priority, TfL’s answer seems to be to cut routes back to avoid such bottlenecks by in the case of the 29 turning at, say, Warren Street (as is planned for the 134). And who knows maybe even Camden Town, or dare I say Mornington Crescent! Game over!

The upshot of this is the vicious spiral of decline will continue; especially as TfL part justify some of these cuts saying less buses will mean less congestion. Who’d have thought that would be a justification for bus cuts.

Extract from the consultation part justifying bus cuts

Finally a small oddity in the consultation published this morning. It contained an error stating route 11 was being withdrawn between Liverpool Street and Victoria.

Conspiracy theorists might wonder whether this was in fact the originally planned fate of this iconic route; but in the event by this afternoon the wording had been hastily corrected and the 11 lives on (well at least for now) and albeit in a much truncated form with the route west of Victoria becoming the new 311.

The consultation can be found here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/buses/central-london/

It closes on Friday 9th November.

Roger French 28th September 2018

Which Ipswich bus station?

Tuesday 25th September 2018

There aren’t many towns of Ipswich’s size (circa 150,000 population) with two bus stations. Many similar sized towns don’t even stretch to having one bus station these days let alone two.

For example down the road and over the Suffolk/Essex border, Colchester rather cheekily calls its somewhat unexciting on-street bus stops in Osborne Street and Stanwell Street a ‘Bus Station’, although to be fair it does include a rather nice enclosed waiting room on the corner between the two streets and there are screens depicting next departures.

Back in Ipswich the former municipal bus station for local ‘town’ bus routes (Tower Ramparts) is to the north of the central retail area while the old Eastern Counties bus station for ‘county ‘ routes (the Old Cattle Market) is to the south. It takes around five minutes to walk between the two.

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Tower Ramparts bus station for town routes
Old Cattle Market bus station for ‘county’ routes

Both bus stations were completely refurbished by Suffolk County Council five years ago and impressively sport clear electronic displays at each stop and a poster listing departure points by service (assuming you know your service numbers). There are seats and covered waiting areas. They’re both clean and seem well looked after.

Both bus stations also have a Travel Shop. Tower Ramparts unsurprisingly looked after by Ipswich Buses with a little bit of a foreboding entrance while at the old Cattle Market there’s a snazzy brand new smokey glass kiosk manned by First Bus.

But, here’s the thing: time moves on and things change. While Tower Ramparts is still dominated by Ipswich Buses’ departures, some First Bus operated bus routes also now depart from there while over at Old Cattle Market you’ll find some ‘County’ routes now operated by Ipswich Buses as well as a myriad of other small operators running bus routes in addition to First Bus.

I’m sure you can guess what’s coming next…. I found impressive displays of timetable leaflets available in both Travel Shops but only Ipswich Buses operated bus route timetables were available in Tower Ramparts and only First Bus operated bus route timetables were available in Old Cattle Market.

Tower Ramparts Travel Shop displays Ipswich Buses timetables but not First Bus
Old Cattle Market Travel Shop displays First Bus timetables but not Ipswich Buses

So if you want a timetable for the Ipswich Buses run 93/94 routes to Colchester for example, which I did, or the 92 to Manningtree or the 97 to Shotley which, as former First Bus routes, depart from the Old Cattle Market, they’re only available in the Ipswich Buses Travel Shop in the Tower Ramparts Bus Station (which these routes don’t serve).

On the other hand First Bus town route 60/61 to the local areas of Gainsborough and Greenwich in Ipswich depart from Tower Ramparts but timetables are only available in Old Cattle Market. Now here there’s a bit of competition going on as Ipswich Buses routes have traditionally long served these areas, and still do, which might make Ipswich Buses reluctant to cooperate with timetable provision.

But, it is all very confusing. And not really a sensible way to grow the market for bus travel. Come on Ipswich Buses and First Bus – why not offer copious comprehensive information at both bus stations for everyone’s benefit?

It was too much to expect to find printed timetables for routes run by other bus companies besides Ipswich Buses and First Bus, and which presumably are funded by Suffolk County Council, from either bus station. That really would be making bus travel attractive.

Roger French              25th September 2018

Out in the Outer Hebrides

Saturday 22nd September 2018

I’ve been travelling by bus around the Outer Hebrides over the last few days. What an amazing bus adventure it’s been. Scenery to die for. Never mind Coastliner 840 across the North York Moors being voted Britain’s most scenic bus route – come up to the Isle of Lewis and Harris for some seriously stunning bus scenery. And as I found on Shetland, considering the extremely low population density throughout the islands, the bus network is pretty impressive. Many English and Welsh councils could learn a thing or two.

I last visited the Outer Hebrides as recently as May when I’d planned to travel from Castlebay in the extreme south, on the island of Barra, through to Stornoway in the north, on Lewis. The journey involves five connecting buses crossing four causeways and using two ferries taking around nine hours to complete, all in a day.

However I came a cropper just under half way as I’d failed to check the tide times for the ferry between North Uist and Harris. On around hundred days a year the ferry has to operate to an amended schedule because of low tides making it impossible to make connections for the through journey in one day. I’d inadvertently chosen one of those days and ended up spending the night stranded in Lochmaddy on North Uist (luckily finding a bed in the only hotel there) before catching the morning ferry across to Skye but vowing to return and make another attempt at the journey later in the year.

This time I decided to travel southbound and carefully checked not only the bus, ferry and tide times but also the variable times for the flight back to Glasgow from Barra airport where uniquely its beach runway means flight schedules are also dependent on tide times.

All seemed good for the third week in September and as I’d also received a number of recommendations for other interesting bus journeys on Lewis and Harris I decided to make a four day leisurely trip and soak up the true Outer Hebridean Western Isles experience.

As on Shetland there are a number of bus (and coach) operators involved in bus service provision and timetables are well planned by the Council to provide excellent connections to small isolated communities off the main roads from the ‘spine’ routes. The timetables are all online and while appearing fiendish at first due to all the connection options and different day/schoolday/seasonal variations, after a while you get the hang of them and appreciate the detail they contain.

What I missed most of all is a network map – it would have been so helpful to plan out each day’s trips. The rudimentary printed timetable booklets available in Stornoway have a basic map on the cover which would have been a godsend if available on line. Even more taxing is that place names are in English on the timetables but in Gaelic on OS maps.

All the bus routes are numbered with a W prefix presumably to denote the Western Isles.

Unlike Shetland there’s no integrated ticket or day rover ticket so it worked out quite expensive to make a number of journeys each day even though the fares obviously must be subsidised. The Travel Scotland smartcard seemed to be available but there was no information about this.

Stornoway is by far the largest town; indeed the only town, with a population of around 8,000. It has a five stance bus station and impressively a Travel Shop open six full days a week with a very friendly and helpful lady. There’s a waiting area inside too, and toilets ‘please pay 30p at the counter’.

Timetables are displayed in the Travel Centre window and there’s an electronic display showing scheduled departures but nothing on four of the five bus stops. There seems to be an aversion to using timetable cases all over the Outer Hebrides which is a great shame yet commendably bus stop plates show neatly placed route numbers even in the middle of nowhere. Bus shelters are very common but all are inevitably weather beaten and many are defaced with poster remains. They don’t look inviting at all.

After catching the lunchtime W5 for the short 15 minute journey from Stornoway airport to the town centre (only £1.20) my first afternoon jaunt was the two hour circuit on circular route W2 to the western coast. Buses operate both ways round about 4-6 times each direction with a couple of evening journeys on half the circuit so not bad for the small communities.

There are two connecting services (W3 and W4) on some of the journeys. I sampled the W3 the following morning to the tiny community of Bosta on the west coast island of Bernera across the ‘Atlantic bridge’.

What an incredible remote bus terminus, and a bonus of a fascinating reclaimed Iron Age house close to the beach which had been discovered during bad storms in 1992. We’d picked up Elizabeth, the guide for the house, on the journey up to Bosta (our only passenger on the journey). She’s a real gem; giving me a half hour’s personalised commentary on how the house inhabitants would have lived in the Iron Age.

Evelyn the W3 bus driver was also a star and having pre-booked my return journey at 1215 from Bosta the previous day she duly came back just over an hour after dropping me and Elizabeth off and took just me back (stopping for photo opportunities along the way) to the connection with the W2 (meeting buses running in both directions) enabling me to return to Stornoway.

My next trip was heading south for a half an hour’s ride on the island’s main north-south spine route W10 as far as the road to Orinsay where it connects with a W9 serving small communities towards the east coast.

Four of us made the connection with one, the driver’s mum, travelling all the way almost to Orinsay. It turned out the bus driver had moved up from Crawley where he’d worked for Metrobus and had considered a transfer to Brighton & Hove. I don’t blame him for opting for driving around Lewis instead of Lewes.

On the return journey (another one that needed pre-booking the previous day) I had to swap buses at a bit of an interchange point in the middle of nowhere so the right driver did the right school run and we duly picked up half a dozen primary school children dropping them off safely at the gate of their homes.

The driver told them I was a bus inspector from London who’d come to see how well they behaved on the bus (I played the part with gusto) and we had an uncharacteristically quiet journey for a school run! Another connection back at the main road on to a northbound W10 and it was back into Stornoway again.

Through return tickets are available for these connecting journeys and the next morning I was able to buy a single ticket to cover the full journey south on route W10 to Leverburgh and even break my journey two thirds of the way down at Tarbert.

I did this to try out the recommendation of taking the Friday only late morning trip to Hushinish and back on the W11. What a fantastic bus ride to this remote west coast beauty spot. Truly stunning scenery; lots of twists and turns on what is about a ten mile long no through road alongside mountains and lochs. And just me on board paying £3.20 return.

Bizarrely the road passes through the grounds of Amhuinsuidhe castle which is privately owned although the owner apparently lives in Switzerland. Another interesting sight off the coast is the island of Taransay where the BBC1 series Castaway 2000 was filmed that year and begat all the other reality TV programmes that followed, and launched Ben Fogle’s career. We even picked up a passenger for part of the journey back, but advisedly left another waiting in the bus shelter …

Tarbert is a bit of a node for buses and also has a well stocked Visitor Information Centre displaying timetables in the window, an area for buses (and their drivers) to congregate and a timetable case devoid of timetables bus shelter.

After lunch in Tarbert I caught the early afternoon school bus (schools finish early on Fridays necessitating different timetables – careful planning is needed) W12 to the east coast spot of Rhenigidale.

Another gorgeously stunning journey and only £3.80 return. We carried just four children home but picked up a passenger on the return journey who was connecting for the W10 northbound back to Stornoway.

Whereas I returned to Tarbert and used the rest of my through ticket back on the southbound W10 hugging the west coast with its beautiful sandy bays down to Leverburgh Pier and that tidal ferry to North Uist. Naturally there’s a handy connection to the ferry which takes precisely an hour to cross. It actually docks at the extreme south of the small island of Berneray.

It always impresses me how quickly Caledonian MacBrayne ferries turnaround getting vehicles on and off in just ten minutes.

It’s also impressive to see the bus connect at Leverburgh for northbound passengers ….

…. and for me heading south, within a couple of minutes of getting off the ferry, the bus arrived to take me for the short ride to my overnight stop at Lochmaddy.

That was after a quick bus change on route to ‘right end’ buses and drivers with their respective homes for the night.

My fourth and final day caught the W16/W17 spine route south from Lochmaddy on North Uist over the causeway to Benbecula another causeway to South Uist and one more causeway to the tiny island of Eriskay for the ferry to Barra.

It’s almost a two and a half hour bus ride and it has to be said the scenery is nowhere near as stunning as on Lewis and Harris, but plenty still to see including a bus change in Benbecula which happens on every journey (one bus company runs the southern bit and another the northern end).

The nail biting part was whether we’d run out of seats as when I boarded at Lochmaddy the sixteen seater was already well loaded with luggage as well as passengers.

These minibuses aren’t designed for holidaymakers with luggage and as we got more and more full with just one seat spare, luggage ended up on laps and blocking the gangway and doorway.

We made it in good time to Eriskay slipway giving me time to note another timetable-less bus stop but then finding a set of timetables posted behind the door in the ferry waiting room – not an obvious place to look when you come off the ferry!

A fairly swift 40 minute ferry crossing across to Barra with the added bonus of dolphins swimming alongside us and a shared taxi ride for the short journey to the nearby airport brought my Hebridean adventure to an end. Although the beach take off with Loganair is a fitting finale.

Finally if you’re inspired to also make the trip to these beautiful islands a few words of advice.

Allow contingency time for the flights to Barra or Stornoway. They’re very weather dependent and prone to delays. I allowed nearly three hours on my return flights to connect at Glasgow airport (where I’m writing this now) just to be on the safe side.

Check and recheck ferry times. Especially those affected by tides!

Get to bus stops early particularly for inbound connecting routes from the outlying areas. One bus ran 15 minutes early!

Don’t expect a bus ticket on every journey – one driver hadn’t even connected up his electronic ticket machine!

If you’re limited for time it’s better to explore more of Lewis and Harris than the southern islands (scenically speaking).

And finally finally a plea to the Council: please please produce a network bus map and introduce a day ticket available on all routes.

So that’s it, my flight down to Gatwick and home awaits and I’ll be back next Spring to complete those routes yet to be ridden.

Roger French 22 September 2018

Gliding on Glider

Ever wondered what around £100 million will buy in the way of Bus Rapid Transit? I popped over to Belfast today to find out.

The idea of creating a metro style cross city transit route has been discussed in the City for some years and as always with projects of this kind, (like in Bristol), it’s way behind the original hoped for introduction. But on Monday last week it finally glided into action.

It’s very impressive to see; there’s no doubt about that. It looks exactly like the vision those pioneers at First Bus envisaged when introducing ftr back in 2006 – a tram-like-driver-isolated-in-the-cab vehicle with bespoke tram-like stops and lashings of bus priority measures.

The downfall for ftr was the onboard self-service ticket machine which was never going to work, as well as introducing those first vehicles on a completely unsuitable route in York. Further trials in Leeds and Swansea never worked either because of the unacceptably high cost of employing conductors.

Translink operated Glider has overcome that problem by using some of the £100 million to install easy to use ticket machines (including contactless cards accepted) at all 110 or so bus stops along the 15 mile Glider corridor and implementing a strictly buy before you board policy policed by two-person ticket checkers who were out in force when I visited today (costly in itself but a good deterrent).

There’s also a smartcard system and good value day tickets. I found it quick and easy to buy my ticket.

The high profile bus stops along the route are all impressively fitted out with seats/perches and information including real time.

There’s an abundance of bus lanes all along the route (operational 7am to 7pm), sometimes only in a city bound direction, but even in the off peak when I travelled we gained time by passing other traffic queuing at traffic lights.

The 46 seat (yes, only 46 but lots of standing!) Van Hool hybrid articulated buses look slick and are painted in a smart purple (similar to ftr). They give a very smooth quiet ride. The Glider brand and livery as well as the interior decor are however very much understated but in some ways that gives it a bit of class.

As befits a publicly owned undertaking there’s no promotion or marketing to be seen; you wouldn’t know the key points served by the route (quite a few), frequency (high), price (good value) or added benefits (Wi-fi + usb) from seeing the buses.

I picked up three different leaflets about the service. Only one had a timetable and also had a route diagram, one of the other two also showed the route and details of the smartcard while the third had general information. All a bit confusing. The timetable leaflet was available at the city centre Visit Belfast shop and Metro kiosk but not the main city Europa bus and coach station.

The two other leaflets (but not the timetable) were on display at the very impressive waiting area building at the eastern terminus of route G1 – the Dundonald Park & Ride – now called Park & Glide.

No leaflets were available on board the buses or at bus stops.

Buses had four screens showing next stop and the two following with clear audio announcements except both times I ventured over to West Belfast the system gave up a few stops past the city centre. Presumably some technical teething problems.

Other teething problems were impacting the cross city G1’s timekeeping big time. Buses are timetabled to run every 7-8 minutes with an end to end journey time of an hour. It was taking longer than that leading to inevitable gaps in service, bus bunching and some over crowding.

A service controller was kept busy at the central Wellington Place bus stop moving passengers from one delayed bus to another and there looked to be quite a bit of light running going on. It didn’t seem the service was being controlled remotely using GPS positioning and radio contact with drivers which surprised me.

I’m sure these initial timekeeping problems can be overcome with a quick fix timetable review but it’s unfortunate that in the meantime goodwill during the honeymoon period is being lost as adverse comments build up on social media (#gliderbelfast refers).

The much shorter route G2 shuttle service running ever 10 minutes between the City Centre and the Titanic Quarter was keeping time much better and proving very busy with a steady flow of visitors to this popular tourist attraction.

The scheme promotors have spent quite a bit of the marketing budget on high profile Glider branding around the city centre and you can’t fail to notice the name.

One interesting feature onboard are the three doors being push button operated by passengers once released by drivers which will keep warmth in the vehicle in the winter.

The G1 cross city route is very significant in linking the communities of East and West Belfast (Secretary of State Karen Bradley please note!). I was intrigued to see if other passengers would join me in making the cross city journey on my travels and interestingly on one trip a couple did travel from the heart of East Belfast right into the Falls Road area in the west.

Previously both sides of the city had separate routes – the 4 to the east and the 10 to the west. It’ll be fascinating to see if more cross city, cross culture and cross community travel develops as Glider becomes established.

The desire is to introduce more Glider routes if this initial foray is a success and more significantly if future funds allow especially as a sizeable chunk of the money for this first route came from the EU as part of the Regional Development Fund.

Another interesting and unique aspect is the competition buses and now Glider face from the well established Black Cab scheme in West Belfast and especially along the Falls Road where ride sharing has been in place for many years and was much in evidence today.

It’s a fascinating project which, aside from the initial timekeeping teething problems, has been well executed and just shows what you can do with around £100 million. I wish it well.

Roger French 11th September 2018

Three Counties Circular

There’s a great bus ride to be had in that part of England where Lancashire meets Cumbria meets North Yorkshire.

I recently took a circular trip from Lancaster (Lancashire) taking in Kirkby Lonsdale (Cumbria) and Ingleton (North Yorkshire). I highly recommend it.

The bottom right corner of Cumbria’s bus map showing a protrusion in the Lancashire boundary placing Ingleton and Kirby Lonsdale in two other counties.

Stagecoach run the 80/81 from Lancaster to Ingleton (80) and Kirkby Lonsdale (81). While Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire run the 581 filling in the gap on the map between the two towns.  In fact these 581 journeys continue on to Lancaster (confusingly numbered 582) via a slightly different route having started way back south in Skipton (as a 580). Three numbers, three counties, one bus route!

A Kirkby Lonsdale 581 arrives in Kirkby Lonsdale already screened for the next leg to Lancaster as a 582

You have to choose your travel times carefully for the circuit as the 581/2 is only two-hourly and there are only four journeys a day on the 80 with the last departure from Ingleton inconveniently early at 1325 (although see suggestions below). But it’s certainly worth the ride as the journeys offer splendid scenery and Ingleton is full of charm and delight while Kirkby Lonsdale’s well worth a stroll round.

The gorgeous Ingleton dominated by the long disused railway viaduct

I made a morning of it and went clockwise round taking the 0840 (81) from Lancaster to Kirkby Lonsdale, but if you want to make more of a day of it after a lie-in I’d recommend an anti-clockwise circuit with Ingleton visited first on the 1010 (80) from Lancaster.

Stagecoach 81 links Lancaster with Kirkby Lonsdale while…..
…. the less frequent 80 links Lancaster with Ingleton, but the last journey back is at 1325

Here are some suggestions for the bus companies and local authorities on what works and what could be improved. Consider it a free bit of consultancy to grow the market and earn a bit more revenue.

Hats off to Lancashire County Council for reinstating the Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire 582 journeys beyond Kirkby Lonsdale to Lancaster earlier this year in March. Quite contrary to the cuts happening elsewhere. It brought buses back to the villages of Arkholme and Gressingham (and every 2 hours at that). I travelled that route earlier in the year and especially remember the narrow Loyn Bridge crossing over the River Lune – it’s a definite ‘driver of the year moment’.

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I mention this as point no 1 is there’s scope for some joined up promotion of the 80/81 with the 581/582 rather than the two separate leaflets produced by Stagecoach and Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire. It just seems obvious to me to cross reference these publicly funded bus routes and show a combined route map. Without this, and without a network map of either Lancashire or North Yorkshire prospective passengers will be oblivious to the possibilities.

The missing link in the Stagecoach 80/81 leaflet

Whch brings me to point no 2. Leaflets for the 80/81 and 580/581/582 (called the Craven Connection) are impressively available but only one place had both – well done Lancaster Visitor Information Centre (VIC). The 80/81 leaflet was available in the lovely Stagecoach Travel Shop in Lancaster bus station (and its very helpful staff member, Ann) but nothing for the 581/2 while the 581/2 leaflet was available in both Kirkby Lonsdale and Ingleton VICs but nothing for the 80/81.

A well stocked Lancaster VIC
A not so well stocked Ingleton VIC – no Stagecoach timetables, nor in Kirkby Lonsdale either

Thirdly the timetable case outside Ingleton Community Centre/VIC only has the 580/1/2 timetable displayed (as well as the Sunday Dalesbus 881) but crucially not the 80. I expect this might be because the former is a NYCC matter and the latter is funded by LCC.

The NYCC Ingleton bus stop missing the LCC funded 80

It’s good to see timetables stuck up in the window of the Ingleton VIC for every service – I’m sure that being an initiative of the very friendly and helpful lady who looks after the shop there.

Fourthly is the old chestnut of not having an all operator day ticket. Come on Lancashire/North Yorkshire if it can be done in the south east of England I’m sure you can organise something too. Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs have various Dayrider/Explorer options for their routes and Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire has a day ticket for its routes so it shouldn’t be beyond the considerable skills of those highly regarded companies to get together to make it easy for passengers.

My fifth suggestion is to Lancashire County Council and Stagecoach regarding that rather unhelpful early last journey from Ingleton on the 80 at 1325. There’s a Stagecoach bus arriving Ingleton at 1521 which appears to go dead to Kirkby Lonsdale for one of the two schoolday 81 departures at 1541/1545 or just the one on non schooldays. Why not run this in service from Ingleton at 1525? Also promote the later journeys on the 581/2 at 1558, 1758, 1858 and 1958 in the 80/81 leaflet making it clear there are other options.

Finally I’d suggest promoting the 5/6 journey a day Stagecoach route 567 from Kirkby Lonsdale to Kendal in the mix as this, with the more frequent and infamous 555 (Kendal to Lancaster part) offers extended circular journey opportunities.

It’s all about making it easy for potential passengers and growing the market for leisure travel.

Roger French           6th September 2018

Bristol’s latest metrobus m2 begins

The second of the three new metrobus routes began operating in Bristol yesterday. The m2 links the Long Ashton Park & Ride site (south west of the city) via some impressive newly constructed exclusive busway road to the city centre where the bus does a large anti-clockwise circuit.

It’s been controversial and way behind schedule. This route’s £50 million budget is part of an overall £200 million scheme being overseen by Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucester Councils.

I’m not complaining about the high cost though; compared to rail schemes or roads it’s virtually petty cash and it’s good to see buses receiving impressive infrastructure investment.

First West of England has bravely taken the route on as a commercial proposition and I reckon they’re going to have their work cut out to achieve the elusive double digit margins City analysts demand of PLCs.

Unlike route m3 which began in May serving the busy University of West of England campus at the route’s southern end (north of the Uni is a bit barren) the m2’s main objective is bringing Long Ashton Park and Riders into the city centre. There’s not really much else to it.

Helped by well over a mile of new exclusive busway buses bypass any traffic congestion until they’re close to the city centre. That’s good for journey time and timekeeping (28 mins to Broadmead/22 mins back again) but not so good for picking up other revenue potential.

The circular city centre route has proved controversial as many commuters have complained the new circuit means a much longer walk to their workplace than the previous 903 service, but I’m sure such criticism will die down once the new arrangements become familiar. There are always winners and losers and a circular routing does make sense for Bristol’s central road layout.

The £4 First Bus day ticket is good value and can be used across their network with longer period tickets also available as are First’s M-ticket range. Despite this it’s surprising there’s only one ‘iPoint’ ticket machine at the Park & Ride terminus. As metrobus drivers don’t handle fares that’s surely a recipe for frustration with queues building up at busy times with a bus about to leave. Considering the investment in these ‘iPoint’ totems along the routes, even at quiet stops (on both sides of the road) this seems very shortsighted and penny pinching.

I also see the frequency is only every 20 minutes before 10am on Saturdays and would have thought that’ll be unpopular in the busy weekends leading up to Christmas. Otherwise it runs every 10 minutes at peak times. 12 minutes off peak and 20 minutes in the evenings.

Astonishingly the Park & Ride is closed on Sundays and route m2 doesn’t run! That is a bizarre omission.

The busway has sections of guided track which, just like in Leigh in Greater Manchester, are completely unnecessary. I suspect it may be to do with getting grant funding from the DfT that required a certain percentage of route to be ‘guided’, if so it’s bureaucracy gone bonkers as it slows the bus down, costs more to build and operate when there’s no issue with available road width.

The route serves Ashton Gate stadium but buses won’t stop on Bristol City home game days as capacity is a problem.

It’s also advertised as serving Temple Meads Station but not via the bus stops right outside nor on Temple Gate at the bottom of the access road but to the side in Temple Way accessed through the station’s side entrance/exit. In the event the connection to the station is a bit tenuous as, other than people like myself, few arriving by train would want a bus to a Park & Ride site on the city’s fringe and there are plenty of other buses to the city centre from right outside the station or on Temple Gate. It’s a shame the m2 bus stop in Temple Way hadn’t yet been updated from the former 903.

Despite these shortcomings Ashton Gate stadium and Temple Meads are highlighted in the route’s inflation leaflet.

There were copious supplies of the leaflet available at the impressive Park and Ride kiosk along with other facilities.

The buses are functional and comfortable rather than luxurious and are clean and well presented. The livery is a bit drab and doesn’t really excite.

The bus stop facilities along the route are excellent, if anything, a little over the top but better to over provide than under.

If I didn’t fancy using First West of England’s smart newly branded Excel excellent bus routes but instead was an ardent motorist living in North Somerset with commitments in central Bristol I’d definitely use Long Ashton’s Park and Ride car park and hop on an m2 bus into the city centre. It beats sitting in Bristol’s notorious congestion.

It remains to be seen whether sufficient people will do likewise to make it viable. Certainly every effort’s been made to make it an attractive option and well done to all concerned.

If you’re down Bristol way soon give it a try – it’s free on the last two Saturdays this month.

Roger French 4th September 2018

I Didn’t Get Gett

Having been plagued for some weeks by marketing emails from the London black cab App organisation called Gett, I finally relented yesterday and headed up to London to use up the £10 credit (with an expiry of 31st August) they’d recently added to my account in a last ditch attempt to entice my return custom. It wasn’t as if I’d been much of a customer, having made one solitary journey back in October 2017 to try out the new peak hours only ride-sharing Black Bus 1 route between Highbury & Islington and Waterloo they’d just introduced amid much fanfare with partners Citymapper who’d worked out there was latent demand on that corridor from the enquiries they’d been monitoring on their Journey Planner App.

I thought I’d replicate my Black Bus 1 journey and see if once again I’d be sharing the intimacy of a black cab with other riders for the bargain fare of £3. I’d not been able to do my usual trip research beforehand as all the Gett App would tell me was I’m in an unsupported area down in Sussex where I live. I’d had a look at the Gett website, but that hadn’t mentioned anything about Black Bus 1 either. So it wasn’t until I came out of Highbury & Islington station at 0842 I could sus out the travel options.

I trotted along to nearby Compton Terrace on the main road just south of the station where I’d waited before and sure enough having entered Waterloo as “where I want to go” at 0844 the Citymapper App listed a taxi icon among the options (as it had done before) showing an arrival in 5 minutes and with a journey time of 45 minutes (taking 50% longer than the tube options).

I clicked it, got an encouraging ‘Book & Go’ clickable icon over a map with reassuring reference to my Smart Ride not costing the expected £3 but would be a freebie at £0.

I clicked that only to be stumped by payment options of Apple Pay or “Add Credit Card”.

I decided to add my credit card details despite that £3 fare being reassuringly struck through and then received confirmation at 0845 it was “Using £3 from your credit” and the “Driver arrives in 16 min”.

As a bit of a novice at this game I had wrongly assumed with those messages I’d done all I needed to do. It turns out I hadn’t; and despite not wanting to use Apple Pay, I needed to find another icon to “pay’; even though I had a fare of £0.

But there was I thinking I was all good to go, especially when I rechecked at 0847, as within only those two minutes the screen had updated to “Driver arrives in 2 min” and what looked like a fellow passenger appeared alongside me also staring intently at her phone.

She confirmed she’d also booked a ride and within a minute an anonymously branded black Mercedes people carrier appeared.

The driver was a bit perplexed to find two of us, and establishing we weren’t a couple he confirmed I wasn’t booked with him and needed to wait for another driver.

Clicking back on the Citymapper App showed a wait for another driver of another 15 minutes so I decided to interrogate the Gett App instead; after all they were the people who’d gifted £10 credit to me and were so keen for my return custom. In fact it puzzled me how Citymapper knew I had credit as I’d had no communication from them.

The trouble was the Gett App, like the website made no mention of Black Bus 1, and I appeared to be booking a standard black cab to take me to Waterloo.

Even more consternation as there was no mention of my credit and instead wanted me to pay with my credit card; although it did make reference to me getting “£10 off this ride” with my “coupon”.

Not being a black cab user I feared for my bank balance for such a long journey if I went through with the transaction, but decided to give it a go, only to be told the expected arrival time of a driver was another 15 minute wait and with an expected arrival time in Waterloo not until 0953 which was 57 minutes away.

As by then it was 0856, this seemed a very long time away, so after a three minute cogitation, at 0859 I decided to abandon this smart ride-share gig altogether and instead plump for a traditional ride-share gig, the humble TfL red bus to take me to Waterloo.

Despite battling with some of London’s usual peak hour congestion, we arrived in Waterloo at 0941 comfortably ahead of Gett’s prediction had I used them, and it only cost me £1.50.

I still have no idea what the relationship is between Gett and Citymapper  and how my £10 credit appeared on Citymapper. It would seem Gett no longer run a BlackBus 1 for £3  and just run traditional black cabs but Citymapper contract an anonymous ride share company to do so instead but not marketed under that Black Bus 1 brand. The whole experience was confusing and I was reassured traditional bus, tube and train are still the modes of choice for me and I won’t be disrupted.

Roger French                           1st September 2018

I Gave the Bus A Chance

I arrived in Liverpool yesterday lunchtime to try out Arriva’s new Click service and soon spotted the awful ‘Say Yes To Bus’ bus with its gaudy contravision vinyl, passing by on route 53.

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‘Say Yes To Bus’ is a campaign funded by partners in the ‘Liverpool Alliance’ with the laudable objective of encouraging bus travel across the Liverpool City Region.

A marketing agency called Agent Marketing is running the campaign. They tweet under the Better_By_Bus handle and as well as ‘Say Yes To Bus’ have come up with the ‘Give Bus A Chance’ slogan.

Agent Marketing boast they ‘help develop brands through insight and collaboration’. They ‘connect people through a unique, united, multidisciplinary approach to marketing. In this era of constant change we do whatever’s absolutely necessary to help you transform and unleash potential.’

Sounds impressive; so I thought I’d test how the potential for bus route 53 is being unleashed at Liverpool’s Queen Square bus station during last night’s peak period.

In the event I whiled away a happy 90 minutes from around 4.30pm to 6pm observing and waiting. Here’s what I saw. I was also hoping THAT bus would come along to test out those ‘clear views’ from the interior!

Route 53 is jointly operated by Arriva and Stagecoach running every 7-8 minutes between Liverpool’s Queen Square bus station, Bootle  and Crosby. The timetable has alternate journeys provided by Arriva and Stagecoach.

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It’s a busy route. Arriva run 9 year old single decks while Stagecoach run a mixture of single and double decks, the latter being almost new Enviro 400 vehicles. They look impressive.

It didn’t take long to notice queues building up at the Queen Square boarding point and to realise the Arriva journeys were consistently running late and pretty much on the Stagecoach timings effectively providing two buses every 15 minutes and double the expected wait for passengers. Not really Saying Yes To Bus.

On the first occasion this happened, the Stagecoach bus had hung back at the setting down point at the top end of the bus station but regulars were obviously used to the phenomenon, saw the Arriva single decker getting uncomfortably crowded as it loaded, waited for it to depart and sure enough within a minute the nice gleaming Stagecoach double deck drew up and departed on the tail of the Arriva bus with a handful of happy passengers on board.

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Around fifteen minutes later and a hefty crowd has built up who were visibly relieved to see the single deck Arriva bus arrive at the setting down point further up the bus station closely followed by the next Stagecoach double decker but this time that driver decided the best thing was to head straight off without waiting for the Arriva leftovers at the departure stand.

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Another fifteen minutes; another hefty queue; another Arriva single deck pulls up; another Stagecoach bus immediately behind, this time a single deck too. The Arriva driver decides to share the load and closes the doors after taking around half the waiting crowd leaving the rest to hop aboard the Stagecoach bus.

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Another fifteen minutes; another hefty queue; and this time no sign of an Arriva bus as a Stagecoach single deck pulls up to greet the waiting crowd. Except sure enough it’s almost immediately followed by the Arriva single deck which has a curtailment at Waterloo Interchange just short of the scheduled Crosby destination to try and get back on time. The tables are turned as the Stagecoach driver sets off leaving some of the waiting crowd for Arriva.

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And guess what? Another fifteen minutes and another Stagecoach bus comes first and it’s another smart looking double decker. The crowds are slimming down as we’re approaching 6pm and the main peak is over.

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But where is that Arriva ‘SAY YES TO BUS’ single decker? I’d worked out from my sighting earlier in the day it was due about now.

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And sure enough it came gliding down the bus station but seeing the Stagecoach bus had just pulled away from the stand drove straight by without stopping wrongly assuming no one would be waiting.

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I looked at the man who’d just arrived at the stop and wanting to catch it too. He looked at me with a resigned look. I reckon he was thinking twice about Giving The Bus A Chance. I don’t blame him.

It might make it ‘Better By Bus’ if Arriva paid some attention to the timekeeping of route 53 so the route’s potential really can be unleashed. A full fleet of double deckers would come in handy.

Finally, on a more positive note, I hear Stagecoach sensibly have had no truck with the awful contravision for the ‘Say Yes To Bus’ campaign and instead settled for a more modest single deck side.

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Shame they’ve blocked the view out of the windows with other vinyl!

Roger French 29th August 2018

Roaming round Romsey

Community Rail Partnerships do some great work promoting branch lines around the country; a really good example can be found in the south west corner of Hampshire where the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership promotes the lines between Southampton and Salisbury via Romsey and Eastleigh/Chandlers Ford.

They organise a bus on Summer Sundays and Bank Holidays to connect with trains at Romsey station before heading north up the delightful Test Valley almost following the course of the old ‘Sprat and Winkle’ rail line to Andover.

Best of all this minibus between Romsey and Stockbridge is completely free and provides a car free way of visiting the many popular attractions along the way including the National Trust owned Mottisfont House, Gallery and Gardens, Houghton Lodge and Gardens and Sir Harold Hillier Gardens.

The minibus, driven by a volunteer, is operated by Test Valley Community Transport to the wonderful village of Stockbridge where connections are made to a Stagecoach bus which continues to Andover passing the Museum of Army Flying at Middle Wallop and the Hawk Conservatory Trust at Weyhill and on which a fare is paid.

As well as Romsey and Andover, train connections are also available at Mottisfont & Dunbridge station where the minibus waits for trains to arrive.

Careful thought has gone into compiling the timetable as it provides good connections as well as providing decent times to visit the attractions or take a walk along the River Test and the surrounding countryside.

Having picked up an attractive leaflet giving full details of the route, times and attractions at Romsey station on a visit earlier this year I gave the route a try on last month’s Bank Holiday Monday.

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Reassuringly the bus was waiting immediately outside Romsey station as I stepped off the train and John the driver was standing alongside. He’s a real gem, so friendly and full of information about the local area pointing out many interesting features along the way.

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Waiting outside Romsey station

We picked up two ladies in Romsey town centre (which is well worth a visit) and a man joined us from the Salisbury train at Mottisfont & Dunbridge station but sadly that was all the takers for the journey.

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Making a connection at Mottisfont & Dunbridge station

We waited time in the massive car park provided by the National Trust at Mottisfont House and watched visitors come streaming in in their cars oblivious to the excellent public transport option now provided.

What a shame. Not helped by no mention being made of the bus service on the National Trust website. Houghton Lodge’s website (where our two ladies were heading) is no better ‘plenty of free parking’ nor the Museum of Army Flying but at least Sir Harold Hillier gives a link to Google Maps with preloaded coordinates for the location and a public transport option that brings up the minibus journey … if you know about it and put in the approximate time it runs! Hats off to the Hawk Conservancy Trust though who include full details via a link on their website.

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i was impressed to see Three Rivers had arranged timetables to be displayed at bus stops along the route and supplies were also available on board the minibus, although not on the Stagecoach bus. Sadly Three Rivers’ own website hasn’t been updated recently and still displays the 2017 leaflet and timetable.

Both bus routes pass through some lovely scenery; Stockbridge itself is a delight as are the villages of Amport and Monxton on route 77 – full of thatched roofs and well worth a visit.

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Stockbridge

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This is a great initiative and congratulations to all involved but it’s another example showing just how hard it is to build awareness of public transport options and encourage visitor attractions to take them seriously – even when free travel is provided.

Roger French.          3rd September 2018

Go Gower

I’ve fond memories of living in Swansea, working for South Wales Transport, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s a great part of the country and the Gower Peninsular is a spectacular area to visit with its secluded bays and picturesque scenery. In those days SWT had an outstation in the peninsular’s south west corner at Scurlage running principally two routes: one from Rhossili via the southern bays and road to Swansea, and the other from Llangennith, Llanmadoc and Llanrhidian in the north west along the northern route.

The Gower’s bus routes are now operated by New Adventure Travel, the company bought earlier this year by ComfortDelGro; I recently revisited to see how things are shaping up. It’s great to see a much improved bus network with a range of travel opportunities; but there are some snags, as I found out.

There’s an impressive website overseen by an organisation called BayTrans with lots of helpful information. http://www.swanseabaywithoutacar.com may be a bit wordy for a website, but it does what it says on the url; giving information about bus routes, tickets and best of all a map. Sadly it’s a bit short on detail, but that may be deliberate to avoid costly updating if things change.

Impressively copies of the colourful brochure ‘Adventures in Gower … without a car’, complete with colour map, are available at the high profile information desk as you arrive by train inside Swansea Station.

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Although no bus times are included in the brochure there is a separate A5 sheet listing departures  from Swansea’s impressive Quadrant Bus Station (revamped since my day – it originally opened soon after I arrived in 1979) to the main destinations in Gower, as well as along the Mumbles coast. Sadly it doesn’t show times for return journeys, so is somewhat limited in its usefulness, but on the plus side it was available both at the rail station and from the Travel Centre manned by First Cymru in the bus station.

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A handy departure list to get to the Gower, but not so helpful for returning.

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Swansea’s impressive Quadrant bus station with bus information counter

The brochure gives incomplete details about tickets including a day ticket for buses on Gower, an off-peak version available just on western parts of the routes and another one covering First’s buses all over Swansea city. Regretfully what looks like a new ticket, promoted on a poster I spotted in the bus station, covering buses in the city and the Gower isn’t included in the leaflet. Prices shown in the brochure as at April 2018 are now out of date, which is a shame, but there is a warning prices are “subject to alteration”. It also explains family tickets are available and there’s reference to the more extensive Explore Wales/South Wales passes but no further details of these are included.

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A poster advertising Explore Gower which is not in the brochure, but tickets options in the brochure aren’t mentioned on the poster.

The most useful page of the brochure is the coloured map depicting the routes operating on Gower including what must be a costly to operate, but highly useful, shuttle bus (route 115) which connects the southern (118 and 119) routes around Rhossili, Port Eynon and Horton with (route 116) the northern destinations of Llangennith, Llanmadoc and Llanrhidian (shown as brown on the map).

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The colourful map inside ‘Adventures in Gower without a car’ leaflet

It was also impressive to see little route maps posted at many bus stops along the route which also contained departure listings, although not full timetables.

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Bus stop flags within the Swansea city area could usefully include route numbers for the Gower routes – I understand, commendably, this is now in hand and will be very reassuring for visitors.

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Gower routes 118 and 119 also stop here but you’d not know from this flag.

Some careful thought has obviously gone into the timetable compilation; I reckon there are 28 connectional possibilities during a weekday on the Rhossili route alone as well as links to the northern hourly route at Llanrhidian. It means you can easily get from one part of Gower to another despite the limited number of buses; or see much of it within a few hours, which, after carefully studying the timetables on New Adventure Travel’s website  I managed to do in a morning, albeit after an early start.

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Boxes indicate connectional possibilities – by reference to other timetables
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Connection between the 115 and 118 at Scurlage
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A three bus connection between routes 115, 116 and 119 at Llanrhidian

It was a shame copies of the actual timetables are not more readily available; either at the rail station or the bus station; both seem an obvious distribution point for those of us without a car. Having travelled on an early morning bus from Swansea down to Rhossili and enjoying a bit of stand time at the terminus, I was pleased to spot a handful of rather damp inflicted timetables by the windscreen of the bus so grabbed one to help monitor journeys for the rest of the morning.

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Timetable leaflets spotted, but sadly rather damp from the windscreen
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The rather damp timetable leaflet with confusing valid from dates

This was just as well, as although two of the connections I observed worked perfectly, the third between route 115 and my returning 119 bus to Swansea fell apart with the former disappearing on time leaving two other passengers and myself with a distinctly disconcerted wait for twenty minutes for the late running 119, which the driver explained when he eventually arrived, had got delayed due to following a tractor which didn’t strike me as being entirely the cause. I’d tweeted N.A.T. enquiring whether the bus was on its way, but sadly no response was received.

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At last the 119 arrives, 20 minutes after the connection was due

The problem with connections that work on paper is that in practice, they may not work. Indeed, when we arrived back in Swansea still twenty minutes late and with only five minutes stand time before the next journey back to Rhossili and a good number of passengers waiting to board; the bus inevitably left even later and connections planned for that journey, and more, later in the day would also fail. That’s not good for encouraging passengers and giving confidence connections will work. I couldn’t help think that on a busy day with lots of traffic clogging up Gower’s narrow roads, it would be quite common for timekeeping to be disrupted and the knock on effect to these connections.

But, compared to forty years ago the journey possibilities are quite amazing. Sundays in particular has a greatly improved service compared to how I remember things. Even on a visit about five years ago, I recall there being only a limited number of departures on Sunday, albeit packed full of visitors.

This time, it was a little disappointing to see buses relatively lightly loaded on a sunny weekday morning in the school holidays in the middle of August, so perhaps a more effective distribution of New Adventure Travel’s timetables would help supplement the colourful brochure from BayTrans.

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I gave some feedback via Twitter to N.A.T. but despite their pledge (which you might just about be able to make out on this on board notice) I didn’t receive a reply.

Roger French       23rd August 2018