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

Ticket for a tenner

I’ve just spent a brilliant few days enjoying the scenery in an area stretching from Gloucestershire through mid Wales to Swansea.

The Black Mountains, the Forest of Dean, the Brecon Beacons, the Heart of Wales and the Gower are all delightful and so much more so from the vantage of a bus and train window.

My plea to bus companies – please review your day ticket offers and check whether they’re being effectively promoted to your leisure travel customers such as me. Chances are they’re not.

Stagecoach Wales have a one day Explorer at £8.30 which extends from Porthcawl as far east as Hereford while neighbouring Stagecoach West have a one day Explorer at £7 which extends west from Hereford as far east as Oxford.

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My Day 1 journeys straddled the boundary between these two adjacent ticket areas. I started at Abergavenny and travelled via Brecon to Hereford and from there on to Gloucester. Did I need both Explorers or was one enough? I showed my £8.30 ticket to the Gloucester bound driver at Hereford. Fortunately she just seemed happy to spot the word Explorer. I saved myself £7.

Explorer

It really is time to do away with these artificial boundaries for Explorer type tickets which reflect Company operating practices rather than customer needs. I’ve suggested for some time there should be a national £10 day ticket issued and accepted by every bus company – what a super sales messsge that would be. OK, perhaps with one or two exceptions for premium or long distance journeys: eg Thurso to Inverness, but otherwise a simple and effective sales proposition.

Meanwhile there’s no excuse for neighbouring Stagecoach companies not to be promoting one ticket price across a wide area; after all, no one is going to bus it from Porthcawl to Oxford in a day (although now I think about it I’m tempted: it takes around ten hours) but criss crossing a border, as I did, is much more likely, especially in a scenic area such as Gloucestershire to Monmouthshire/Powys.

The same issue impacted my journeys on Day 2, travelling on Stagecoach routes west from Gloucester through the Forest of Dean back to Hereford then continuing into Powys on a Sargeants route to Llandrindod Wells followed by TrawsCymru to Newtown. I paid for single tickets on both the last two journeys as I was unaware there’s an £8 Powys Explorer ticket – how would I know? There’s no mention of this attractively priced ticket on Sargeants’ or TrawsCymru’s websites nor Powys Council’s site which seems to be in a complete state of flux.

I found out about it on Day 3 when the driver of the Celtic Travel X75 from Shrewsbury to Llanidloes recommended it when I asked if there was a day ticket; and I wasn’t even in Powys at the time!

On Day 4 I’d repositioned to Swansea to explore the Gower using New Adventure Travel’s (strangely branded as N.A.T.) tendered bus network. I’d seen nothing to promote a day ticket on their website (nor is there any reference to one in their printed timetable booklet) but I spotted a poster in Swansea’s Quadrant bus station promoting a great value ticket for £7.50.

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It seemed just the job, but when I asked the driver for a day ticket he quickly established I would only be travelling in the Gower rather than needing the whole of Swansea so sold me a more attractively priced Day Ticket at £5.20.

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These are great value tickets but they really do need promoting more, as does the whole wonderful bus network across the Gower.

The TrawsCymru website gives details of a £10 day ticket available across the extensive geographic network from Cardiff to Caernarfon. It seems a small step to make that the default ticket for every bus in Wales …… and England …. and Scotland.

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Finally another example of ineffective price promotion is the TrawsCymru free weekend travel scheme, now in its second year. There’s been impressive infrastructure investment by the Welsh Government to promote the TrawsCymru network recently but nowhere is there a mention of this amazing weekend free travel deal. You’d think something so astoundingly attractive for visitors and tourists would be shouted from the rooftops; yet not a dicky bird of a mention at bus stops, shelters, whizzo electronic totem pole thingies, or on board buses. Quite extraordinary.

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Interestingly the scrolling messages on the internal screen inside the TrawsCymru bus I travelled on enticed passengers to ring Traveline Cymru, but gave the premium rated 0871 number rather than the 0800 freephone number exclusively available in Wales/Cymru.

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So, have free travel, but don’t tell anyone; have an 0800 freephone number but instead promote a premium one. You really couldn’t make it up!

Roger French      16th August 2018