Ninety round Glasgow

Monday 2nd September 2019

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I’ve ridden round Birmingham (on both NatEx’s inner and outer circular bus routes); round Leicester with Centrebus; round Coventry before that city’s circular route (neatly numbered 360) got the chop so I thought it was time to take a ride on First Glasgow’s route 90, which almost completes an inner circuit of the city from Braehead Shopping Centre, west of the city centre close to the south bank of the Clyde round to Partick on the north side.

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Route 90 is not one of First Glasgow’s high profile city routes. Running only every half an hour it doesn’t warrant a bright splash of colour on a bespoke route livery; it qualifies only for a grey colour on First Glasgow’s useful colour coded network route map. Most vehicles used on the route today were Wright bodied Volvo single deckers, but I did spot a couple of double decks and one single deck with some vinyl remnants from the old Simplicity branding extolling frequencies of every ten minutes.

While route 90 might not be high frequency or high profile, as I found today, it’s certainly busy.

We left Braehead shopping centre quietly enough at 13:20 with just one passenger in addition to myself, but we soon picked up a handful more as we stopped by the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) – oddly not actually in the bus station itself – but alongside it.

It’s a bit of an endurance to ride the full 2 hour 16 minute journey, especially as we got significantly behind schedule; at one point being around half an hour late. Not particularly for any noticeable reason, just being busy. We finally arrived into Partick bus station, coincidentally with just one other passenger on board in addition to myself, at 16:04 instead of the scheduled arrival of 15:36.

In the meantime 145 passengers had got on at 44 bus stops, stopping at 20 more where passengers alighted. We carried one wheelchair and eight buggies, two at the same time as the wheelchair (one was folded).

Busiest bus stop was Forge shopping centre to the east of the city in Parkhead where 17 boarded while six adults and nine school children heading home got on at a stop in Springburn.

Aside from myself the longest journey undertaken by one passenger was from the QEUH to Celtic Park taking around 70 minutes. There was a lot of short journey lengths indicating the success of a circular route; our maximum load was 24 which was reached on three separate occasions with around 72 different passengers.

It’s an interesting way to observe the quite diverse nature of Glasgow’s inner suburbs and the people who live and work there. I don’t think at any point on the route we were more than 5 miles from the city centre – and that extreme was Braehead at the beginning – most of the route taken is only about 2-3 miles from the centre. . In addition to the QEUH we passed Glasgow Royal Infirmary, as well as Ibrox Park, Hamilton Park and Celtic Park. We passed through areas such as Govan where shopping streets are sadly dominated by shuttered up vacant shops and Hillhead with its well-to-do thriving cafe culture. We also passed a number of nice looking parks including the Botanic Gardens. We crossed the Clyde in the east as well as passing over and under a number of rail lines.

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It was a fascinating afternoon and I learned a lot about Glasgow I didn’t previously know, just from observing.

After a brief refreshment stop in Partick I caught one of First Glasgow’s flagship routes back to Braehead – the high profile route 77 running every 10 minutes from the city centre via Partick and the Clyde Tunnel, to QEUH, Baerhead and Glasgow Airport. It runs every 10 minutes as far as Braehead and half hourly beyond there to the Airport.

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Rather than 2 hours and 44 minutes, the 77 would get me back to Baerhead in just 18 minutes.

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Except I got off at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital to try the Stagecoach operated X19 Fastlink into the city centre via high profile bus lanes.

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IMG_9353.jpgThe branding is a bit lacklustre but there’s been serious investment in bus shelters and real time signs as well as the segregated bus lanes.

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It was an impressive fast ride even through the evening peak and brought an interesting afternoon to an end.

Roger French

A day in Lothian

Wednesday 31st July 2019

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Edinburgh’s a great city to visit and for those of us with an interest in public transport it’s always full of interesting developments, whether it be new low floor coaches on inter-urban express routes, mega-size tri-axle double deckers on city bus routes, buses which accommodate bicycles, new electric trains to Glasgow, new refurbished HSTs to Aberdeen, and growing competition between the regions two major bus operators – all of which I’ve blogged about in the last twelve months.

With more developments on that competitive front in recent weeks I thought it was time to spend a day travelling around West Lothian and see what’s occurring. It proved to be as fascinating as ever.

Route 600

IMG_5036.jpgI began at Edinburgh airport by taking First Bus route 600 which takes a circuitous route to Livingston and Whitburn. This has recently seen a frequency increase from hourly to half hourly and received eye catching branding.

IMG_4980.jpgThere’s a prominent bus stop immediately outside the terminal building dressed in promotional branding for the service despite it being shared with Xplore Dundee’s recently introduced Airport Xpress running every ninety minutes.

IMG_4979.jpgA branded double decker arrived from its previous journey about ten minutes before departure time.

IMG_4995.jpgOnly three or four passengers alighted and I was told by the driver as I boarded through the open door he wasn’t ready for me to board and wandered off into the terminal building closing the doors behind him. At the 10:40 departure time he reappeared.

IMG_5079.jpgI’d tried researching the best tickets to buy for my travels online at home. I never find the First Bus website easy to navigate but under the Tickets tab found some options for day tickets available for purchase on the smartphone app. It looked like I needed a Zone L and M day ticket which by reference to a map under the map tab showed me it would cover the geographic area I’d be in. At £7 this seemed good value so I bought one ready for use.

Nothing on those webpages indicated it wasn’t valid from Edinburgh Airport on route 600; but I spotted that restriction later in the small print on information about route 600. Undeterred I guessed the restriction was only for boarding at the Airport itself so asked the driver if the Zone LM day ticket I had was excluded from the whole length of the route and if not, could I buy a single ticket to where it does become valid.

His communication skills were not the most erudite I’ve encountered and he let it be known it wasn’t valid and that was that and insisted I buy a single to my destination, Livingston, for £7.

IMG_5080.jpgI wasn’t convinced but went along with his unhelpful approach to customer service and we set off with just me on board. As the journey progressed and the 600 took on the characteristics of a rural route through West Lothian my frustration increased as I found the promised usb sockets not working and Wi-fi not connecting.

As luck would have it an inspector boarded during the journey and he confirmed my supposition was right that I should have been sold a single ticket to the first stop after the Airport from where my Zone LM ticket was valid. I made it clear I wasn’t happy to have forked out an extra £7 unnecessarily and he advised me to contact the First Bus head office in Falkirk and they could tell me how to obtain a refund.

I’ve blogged about the impossibility of dealing with ticket enquiries on the phone to First Bus before but I gave it a try out of curiosity but my instinct was right; after navigating two ‘press 1 for etc etc’ menus which pretty much listed the same options twice and hanging on for about five minutes I gave up.

I decided to abandon this bus at Broxburn from where the Inspector told me I could get the hourly 29 to Bathgate, my intended destination after Livingston.

IMG_5103.jpgThe next bus to arrive was the Lothian half hourly X18 (stopping bus Edinburgh to Bathgate and Whitburn) so I jumped on board and activated my Lothian £9 Day Network Ticket on their App which I’d also bought last night and headed off to Bathgate.

Green Arrow

IMG_5116.jpgI wanted to try out Lothian’s latest competitive strike in West Lothian – their new EX1 (Bathgate) and EX2 (Linlithgow) express routes to Edinburgh.

IMG_5120.jpgThese are a significant investment by Lothian compromising eight new Volvo coaches to a unique specification with a centrally located lift for access for passengers using wheelchairs.

IMG_5135.jpgThey have 49 very comfortable seats and offer a very smooth ride. Naturally usb and Wi-fi are fitted.

IMG_5130.jpgBoth routes began on 30th June so it’s early days but I found loadings to be worryingly low for the fifth week. A half hourly frequency is provided on both routes across a 06:30 to 20:00 day (hourly to 18:00 on Sundays).

IMG_5226.jpgBoth routes use the motorway (EX1 on the M8 and EX2 on the M9) for about ten minutes of the approximate 45 minute journey time. Buses run pretty much non-stop into Haymarket and Edinburgh with just three stops observed east of the motorways. This gives an impressively quick journey into and out of the City but it does mean the catchment area is restricted to either Bathgate or Linlithgow.

I suspect the main competition the EX1 and EX2 are pitted against is ScotRail’s trains on both routes but with fast electric trains, comparable journey times are around twenty minutes, although the coach has greater penetration of residential areas particularly in Linlithgow where the route heads off the main road to serve a well-to-do housing area.

IMG_5187.jpgHowever at the City end of the routes Lothian have chosen to terminate the EX1 and EX2 in the West End rather than add resources by continuing through Princes Street to the east side.

The Exchange terminal point is not particularly prominent and even more odd was there being no timetable information for these high profile new routes in the timetable case…IMG_5139.jpg… although the bus stop flag had been updated.IMG_5140.jpgOver in Linlithgow I spotted one bus stop timetable referring to X2 rather than EX2.

IMG_5194.jpgThe coaches didn’t have supplies of timetables on board either and even more bizarre I couldn’t find the timetables on the Lothian Country website – only a dated reference to the new routes ‘being launched’. I’ve subsequently been advised there’s a bespoke Green Arrow website containing all the details, but it seems odd not to include information on the Lothian Country site too, or even a link across.

The new coaches are superb to travel on but I wonder why Lothian didn’t take up the more practical arrangement to incorporate low floor access as Stagecoach have done with their Plaxton built ‘semi coaches’ as I reckon it’ll take quite a time to get a wheelchair on and off through the centre door access and lift.

IMG_5123.jpgI also wonder about the Green Arrow branding as this doesn’t particularly stand out on the coaches and appears an added complication to the Lothian Country brand which is used to describe all the ticket options.

IMG_5121.jpgA tie up with CityLink is highlighted on the coach sides and rear but not mentioned in the timetable leaflet or online so I’m not sure what it actually is.

IMG_5136.jpgI caught the 12:08 EX1 from Bathgate to Edinburgh driven by a very nice driver called Gill who normally drives standard Lothian Country routes but was covering the EX1 and EX2 just for today. I was the only passenger.

Later I caught the 14:55 EX2 Edinburgh to Linlithgow and return at 15:51 but this time there were five other passengers including one who got on by RBS’s extensive offices on the outskirts of Edinburgh all travelling to Linlithgow. It was just me on the return journey though. From what I could see through tinted windows of coaches we passed, these loadings were pretty much typical.

We had a driver changeover in the residential part of Linlithgow at Springfield Primary School on the outward journey with the drivers using a Lothian van from the depot.

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This is certainly another bold expansionist investment by Lothian, and I appreciate its early days, but I reckon it’s going to take a lot of growth to get these two routes to a sustainable future.

Bright Bus Tours

IMG_5146.jpgIn between my EX1 and EX2 rides I sampled the First Bus competitive fight back in the heart of Edinburgh – their newly launched foray into the city sightseeing market under the new Bright Bus Tours brand.

IMG_5145.jpgWaverley Bridge has long been the centre of open top tour buses which until now have all been operated by Lothian despite the plethora of brands and tour variations.

IMG_5156.jpgNow First Bus are aiming for a slice of this lucrative market by offering a cut price (£10 instead of £16) tour of the City. Buses depart every ten minutes on a 75 minute circuit with a multi-language pre recorded commentary. It’s pretty standard open-top sightseeing stuff.IMG_5152.jpgIt was all very orderly and chummy on Waverley Bridge while I was there with both companies flooding the market with street sellers and handing out leaflets. IMG_5168.jpgIf anything I reckon Bright Bus Tours were more prominent in their on brand colours ….

IMG_5165.jpg…. but the established brands seemed to be the more popular with customers.

IMG_5159.jpgIt looks to me as though First Bus will easily capture a slice of this huge market and probably make a small contribution against the pure direct costs, especially as they start winding down around 16:00 with buses returning to the depot, which I assume is over at Livingston adding quite a bit of dead mileage and time.

It was noticeable that First Bus are emphasising price ….

IMG_5166.jpg… whereas this isn’t mentioned on Lothian’s buses…

IMG_5167.jpg… although they have the advantage of prominent comprehensive static displays …

IMG_5151.jpg… with Bright Bus Tours keeping it simple …

IMG_5153.jpgI’m not sure whether Bright Bus Tours will be a commercial proposition in the dead of winter; but by then the sustainability (or not) of the EX1 and EX2 might also be more apparent.

It’s certainly interesting times in Edinburgh and West Lothian.

More in the next blog.

Roger French

A south Suffolk saunter

Friday 26th July 2019

I incorporated Wednesday’s ride on Buckland Buses’ splendid 1929 Dennis on route 250 between Aldeburgh and Thropeness into an enjoyable couple of days saunter around the lovely countryside in south Suffolk.

IMG_4394.jpgOn Tuesday morning I caught the stopping train to Ipswich out of Liverpool Street at 11:04 as far as Marks Tey. It’s impressive to see the efficient use of track capacity on the fast lines out of Liverpool Street since May with a flotilla of trains pathed within minutes including the new ‘Norwich in 90’ only stopping at Ipswich leaving at 11:00; the normal hourly Norwich leaving at 11:02 with stops at Colchester, Manningtree, Ipswich and Diss then the train I caught with calls at Stratford, Shenfield, Chelmsford, Hatfield Peverel, Witham and Kelvedon. This train is followed out of Liverpool Street by a Southend Victoria train and then one to Clacton-on-Sea.

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Added to this efficiency is a three minute connection at Marks Tey to an hourly train on the single track branch line to Sudbury, which I easily made along with about a dozen other passengers.IMG_4395.jpgThis is a lovely branch line which I ranked 85th in my Hundred Best Train Journeys not least because it passes the quirky East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel and Wakes Colne station with the Museum’s trains occupying the southbound platform which hasn’t been used for many years. The other station on the branch is at Bures just outside Sudbury.

IMG_5886.jpgGreater Anglia have sensibly placed a poster at Marks Tey explaining its policy on maintaining connections – the ten minutes allowance covers the stand time of the train on the branch within its hour’s cycle and obviously prevents knock on delays for further passengers – it was good to see this being stated even if the absolute background detail wasn’t fully explained.

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In Sudbury I wandered over to what is called a bus station (at least there are toilets) and three stops with shelters (albeit very grubby) and timetables showing departures. It’s a Go-Ahead Group bus hand-me-down spotters delight with former front line buses from around the Group now enjoying a second life at Group owned Chambers and the independent Beestons.IMG_4399.jpgIMG_4405I enjoyed a ride on a former Scania demonstrator on Beestons operated route 91 to Ipswich and noted it had oddly been fitted with a farebox alongside the driver for exact fares.IMG_4407.jpg This puzzled me for an inter-urban route and as contactless wasn’t yet in operation despite the Ticketer ticket machine displaying the symbol I handed my £5 for the single fare over to the driver who issued a ticket in the traditional way. Beestons didn’t reply to my tweet asking about the farebox and contacless so I am still mystified what the policy is.

IMG_4408.jpgRoute 91 takes 75 minutes for the 21 mile journey via Hadleigh to Ipswich; buses currently run every 90 minutes, but will be changing to two-hourly from the beginning of September, although an improved hourly frequency will be incorporated into the new timetable between Hadleigh and Ipswich.

It’s one of those routes where the first fifteen minutes is spent wandering around the town’s residential streets heading away from the direction of travel, presumably at one time covered by a separate town service of sorts. We dropped about a dozen passengers off with their shopping and sped on to Ipswich with a handful of us left on board. This driver wasn’t hanging around. Once the bus leaves the environs of Sudbury it’s a pleasant run eastwards through the Suffolk countryside. I was particularly impressed with the village of Boxford which looked very attractive and quintessential rural England.

Arriving into Ipswich’s Old Cattle Market bus station at 14:00 a First Bus single decker was just leaving proclaiming it to be a ‘Felixstowe Flyers’ with a high profile promotional flash on the side and in a striking non First Bus corporate livery, which just goes to prove such marketing works, as it encouraged me to change my original plans and seek the service out for a ride.

The attractive timetable leaflet for the 75, 76, 77 and X7 which runs between Ipswich and Felixstowe has helpful maps explaining the route variations at the Felixstowe end and the timetable shows a twenty minute frequency is overlaid with an hourly fast (pretty much non-stop) X7 via the A14 giving a journey time to central Felixstowe of just 35/36 minutes – comparing favourably with 46/48 minutes on the stopping routes.

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Having missed the 14:00 X7 departure I caught the 14:20 all-stops 75 and was impressed with the good load of passengers throughout the route.IMG_4449.jpgWe were a bit late into Felixstowe’s Great Eastern Square, due at 15:06, so I just missed being able to photograph that branded X7 I’d seen at 14:00 in Ipswich heading back at 15:10.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 20.26.12.pngIt gave me a chance to have a look around Felixstowe and particularly the greatly slimmed down rail station, now a shadow of its former past glory.

Great Eastern Square is actually the former station building now converted into small independent retail units with a car park out the back where once trains would have arrived on the tracks. The one platform now left is on the other side of the car park meaning passengers have to walk a fair distance to the main road outside.

IMG_4451.jpgThere’s an hourly train that shuttles up and down between Felixstowe and Ipswich timetabled to take 26 minutes. The 15:24 arrival brought a good load of passengers in and left at 15:28 with another busy train load.

IMG_4455.jpgThere’s plenty of people travelling between Ipswich and Felixstowe – I popped down to the seafront and reminded myself how attractive this coastal resort is.

IMG_4483.jpgIt was approaching 16:10 and I eagerly waited the next X7 back to Ipswich. I was waiting outside the cinema, the stop before Great Eastern Square, and the slightly late 16:00 route 77 picked up most of the dozen or so waiting passengers just as the X7 arrived with just four of us getting on board – not very impressive – and while I was pleased to have a top deck view on the journey back I was a bit surprised not to see the branded ‘Felixstowe Flyers’ bus on any of the other X7 journeys observed later that afternoon.

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One journey was operated by one of the rather smart looking Ipswich Reds branded buses which should now operate route 60….

IMG_4534.jpg… and another by a standard liveried bus…..

IMG_4601.jpgI can only assume vehicles on the X7 interwork with other routes across the late afternoon and evening peak which is a shame to lose the bespoke brand promoting what could be a decent alternative to the train and the all-stops bus routes. And I regret not being able to include a photo of a Flexistowe Flyers branded bus here despite trying to track it down, but I’m indebeted to the Central Suffolk Bus Blog (worth checking out) who included an explanation and recent report that the one vehicle so branded does appear on other routes around the network…

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As a slight digression, it was observed on Twitter after I posted a photo of the Ipswich Reds livery correctly on route 60 that it resembles the livery now being used by First Cymru in Swansea. Here’s an Ipswich reds…

IMG_4430.jpg…and here’s a First Cymru….IMG_3282.jpg…. which only goes to show you can’t keep a good livery down and it makes sense for the First Ipswich/Eastern Counties marketing people to copy and adapt a smart livery from a sister company (for now) in the same Group.

Back to the Ipswich to Felixstowe market … an off-peak day return on the train without a Railcard is £6.10 while a return on First Ipswich is just 30p cheaper at £5.80. The peak train fare is only 20p more at £6.30 with a weekly season at £24.90. On First Ipswich it’s £22 (£21 on an mTicket) for a weekly ticket I’m not sure these savings are enough to tempt rail users to give the X7 Felixstowe Flyers a go. Perhaps some more attractive fare offers and better fleet allocation and branding would help?

 

Wednesday morning was the day to travel to Aldeburgh for my vintage bus ride and I planned catching the First Ipswich route 800 which connects the town’s two Park & Ride sites from the west (Copdock, London Road) through the town centre to the east (Martlesham) every 15 minutes. One journey an hour is extended further east via Woodbridge to Rendlesham adding a half hour trip which effectively means an out of town route is efficiently dovetailed into the Park & Ride service by adding just one extra peak vehicle.

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My 800 left Ipswich town centre at 08:21 and was due in Rendlesham at 09:16 allowing a very comfortable 19 minute connection with the vintage bus leaving at 09:35 to begin its day’s operation with a positioning journey to Aldeburgh.

IMG_4656.jpgHowever despite a modest load our journey got progressively behind schedule and after we hit crawling traffic by Kesgrave High School were over 15 minutes late when we reached the Park & Ride site at Martlesham.

My driver seemed oblivious to the lateness of the journey continuing to drive in a fashion I would describe as ultra cautious and he even left the cab at the Park & Ride bus stop to have a chat with the driver on the bus waiting to return to Ipswich and then wentv to check no one was waiting in the waiting room – even though we were heading away from town, so the chances were extremely remote – he was obviously a very thorough employee and I decided the risk of getting even more late as the journey continued (and getting stranded in Rendlesham) was too great and so decided on a Plan B by bailing out at Melton Station to catch a Greater Anglia train on the East Suffolk line two stations north to Saxmundham where there was a good connection to a First Ipswich 64 to Aldeburgh.

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IMG_4662.jpgMelton is a small station with nothing much to comment on, other than it’s in need of a makeover with all its station name boards looking distinctly faded and unloved. They were barely legible. I’m sure Greater Anglia have it in hand as Saxmundham was sporting smarter signs even though the former station building was still behind barriers following fire damage eighteen months ago.IMG_4669 (1).jpg

IMG_4667.jpgTo cut what’s becoming a long story short, I was waiting for the bus on route 64 in Saxmundham High Street and started to get twitchy that it hadn’t arrived…

IMG_4671.jpg….when I spotted a tweet from First Ipswich advising of a breakdown on the 64. Although there’s no timing point of 09:05 on the journey I was waiting for (it left Ipswich at 08:50), I deduced (correctly) the tweet was referring to my bus, especially as it was now around ten minutes after it’s scheduled arrival, so I took the nuclear option of sourcing a taxi to take me the last twenty minute ride over to Aldeburgh in time to pick up the vintage bus at 11:10.

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And as you may have read I arived in Aldeburgh in time to enjoy a lovely ride on Buckland Buses 1929 vintage Dennis bus and just as we were about to leave an empty First Ipswich bus screened for route 64 arrived which was obviously a replacement for the broken down bus showing how route branded buses can sometimes end up on wrong routes for sensible reasons. And good to see First Ipswich doing their best to recover from the breakdown. But it had been a morning of unplanned events and regretfully missing that forty minute ride on the Dennis from Rendlesham to Aldeburgh.

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After enjoying the vintage ride I headed back to Saxmundham on Border Bus route 521, which takes a circuitous and very pleasant route, (and which I wrote about back in March) …

IMG_1624.jpg… and then to Ipswich on a nice air conditioned Class 170 which made a nice change for the East Suffolk line and a welcome respite from the hot weather.

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Roger French

Three Staffordshire bus rides

Tuesday 9th July 2019

IMG_3432.jpg Welcome to a fourth day of travelling to tick off various ‘to do’ routes, destinations, new buses and trains which began with an early start from Llandrindod Wells on the first 06:18 journey which starts its journey at this lovely station and continues beyond Shrewsbury as a stopping train through to Crewe arriving at 08:50.

It’s quite a trek on a one coach Class 153 and I was expecting we’d get inundated with commuters heading into Shrewsbury and then Crewe for nine o’clock.IMG_3433.jpgIt turned out to be a quiet journey. We’d only collected ten passengers by the time we reached the main line at Craven Arms and picked up just a few more both there and the next station, Church Stretton, before arriving in Shrewsbury for 07:57 so a bit early for commuters; but that’s all you get in the Heart of Wales Line’s limited timetable until a 10:14 arrival (and then 13:32) which is probably too late for being at work. One passenger, along with myself, went all the way from Llandrindod Wells to Crewe but otherwise everyone got off at Shrewsbury and we collected a new cohort from there and the next six stations heading to Crewe.

The Heart of Wales Line is a wonderful experience; I ranked it eleventh in my Hundred Best Train Journeys compiled at the end of last year, and it certainly deserves that placing offering spectacular views, lovely quirky well kept request stop stations, and, as I found yesterday, great bus routes which parallel part of it.

IMG_3439.jpgFrom Crewe I headed south easterly on the line via Stoke-on-Trent to Derby alighting at Uttoxeter as I wanted to travel on three Staffordshire bus routes on my ‘to do’ list: First Potteries route 32 from Uttoxeter back to Hanley bus station in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, followed by route 18 across to Leek, and finally a route operated by Aimée’s, the 109, up to Macclesfield.

This three and a half hour zig-zag trip worked well with good connections and offered interesting contrasts between bus companies, routes, scenery and bus stations.

Taking the latter first, Uttoxeter has a functional bus station with ample room for the four stands around a parking area for the principal departures operated by Midland Classic, D&G Bus, Trentbarton and First Potteries. But I couldn’t help noticing the bus parking area seemed to be commandeered by crews of refuse trucks meeting up for a chat and a break. First there was one, then two and then a third joined in.IMG_3533.jpgHanley has a very impressive bus station with around twenty-five stands in a head-on semi-circular layout with some parking bays for buses laying over on the apron. IMG_3541.jpgIt’s obvious much careful thought has gone into the architectural design of the structure, the practical bus manoeuvring area and the passenger circulating area which is an extremely pleasant space to wait.IMG_3540.jpgIMG_3546.jpg Toilets had changed to being on ‘free vend’ since my last visit and were clean and presentable. There’s a small convenience store/coffee shop, but I noticed a lack of timetables posted on the wall although each departure stand had a screen showing the next three departures, and there were lists posted showing which service departed from each bay in service number order.IMG_3545.jpgThere’s a lovely large and airy unmarked travel office with two members of First Bus staff behind the counter and a display of timetable leaflets including both First Potteries and the D&G Bus booklet.IMG_3544.jpgThere seems to be a good relationship between First and D&G Bus throughout the Potteries. IMG_3613.jpgFinally, Leek bus station; well, let’s correct that from the start, it’s not a bus station, more a collection of poorly marked bus stops or stands along a depressing looking side street (stands are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, then a gap, and then 8).IMG_3615.jpg

Stands 5, 6 and 7 have disappeared as has the waiting room where they once stood outside; that’s been bricked up, but just to tantalise waiting passengers, the sign’s been left in place.IMG_3612.jpg

To finish off the poor image, the timetable displays in a poorly lit, dirty and almost unreadable case aren’t even posted straight. I haven’t seen such poor bus station presentation since, well, um, yesterday as it happens, in Merthyr Tydfil.IMG_3607.jpg

And some people clamour for more public authority control of public transport!

I didn’t get to Macclesfield bus station on this visit as I bailed out at the rail station noticing a late running Cross Country train for Manchester was just arriving, so managed to just catch it, but I’ve experienced the bus station on previous visits and I’d just say it’s a poor, a very poor, imitation of what Hanley has achieved – and much smaller at that too.

IMG_3494.jpgThe 32, 18 and 109 bus routes are very pleasant ones to travel along with some great views across the Staffordshire countryside.IMG_3538.jpgThe 32 wasn’t very busy out of Uttoxeter but we picked up a good load as we approached Hanley.IMG_3537.jpg

Cheadle, the halfway point, looked a very nice town to explore; I must return some time.IMG_3557.jpg

The 18 is one of First Potteries key inter-urban routes running every 20 minutes to Leek with single deck Scanias. Sadly the seats, bizarrely and for no discernible reason, are all branded ‘Scania’ (I can’t imagine any passengers thinking “you know what; I must go out and buy a Scania truck”) ….IMG_3602.jpg…. and must rank even more uncomfortable than the ironing boards in Thameslink trains, and that’s saying something.IMG_3603.jpgWe had a reasonable load as we headed to Leek on the thirty-five minute journey, and although much of the route is built up, there were some great views to see as well.

Finally to route 109, Leek to Macclesfield.

Aimée’s had the makings of a friendly image when I first spotted a bus in the company’s two-tone pink/crimson livery ….IMG_3610.jpg… before spotting the nearside skirt panels.

IMG_3611.jpgThen I thought Leek had a variety of different small independent bus companies…

IMG_3608.jpguntil I noticed all the legal lettering was for the same Aimée’s …IMG_3609.jpg… and most displaying the same advert for taxi drivers for an obviously associated company.IMG_3616.jpgAs you can see Aimée’s timetables for the four routes it runs from Leek were posted behind the driver on the bus I travelled on …

IMG_3617.jpg… and it was a step back in time to see the ticket machine ….

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…. and my driver proudly showed me his original cash bag too.

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We left on time at 13:35 for the fifty minute run to Macclesfield with six on board, aside from me.

There’s a nice direct route north on the A523 between Leek and Macclesfield and I was a bit surprised to see it took fifty minutes for the thirteen miles. A poor average speed of 15 mph on a fast A road.

But to my consternation we headed south, rather than north, out of Leek. It turns out we do a twenty minute tour of the town’s residential areas before heading towards Macclesfield, but tellingly none of the six on board alighted, and we picked no one up except almost at the end of the circuit, within walking distance of the ‘bus station’, two passengers boarded – obviously sensibly avoiding the round-the-houses tour and walking the short distance from the town centre where we’d been twenty odd minutes previously!

This is just the kind of compromise local authorities have been forced to indulge in (mixing town routes with inter-urban routes) to try and save money in their plummeting tendered bus budgets but they end up pleasing no one and upsetting everyone – it just puts off longer distance passengers, and in this case, attracted no local passengers either. This coupled with the appalling bus station really makes all the positivity from well meaning groups such as the bus industry sponsored Greener Journeys and Catch The Bus Week wheezes ring hollow to me.

Shortly outside Leek we deviated on another dog leg to serve the village of Rudyard which cost us another five minutes, but at least two of our eight passengers alighted. Everyone else went to Macclesfield and no one else boarded.

IMG_3627.jpgBut I enjoyed the journey and once again saw some lovely Staffordshire scenery.

From Macclesfield my late running Cross Country train (“20 minutes late due to a late running South Western Railway train in Bournemouth”!!) got me into Manchester Piccadilly just in time to catch one of Northern’s brand new Class 195 trains introduced into service only last week, but I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Roger French

railair takes off from Guildford

Wednesday 3rd July 2019

IMG_2280.jpgBus and coach routes serving airports have expanded greatly over the last few decades with a seemingly constant stream of new initiatives.

I wrote about the recent upgrade to First Glasgow’s route 500 between Glasgow Airport and the city centre last month while over at Edinburgh Airport, Xplore Dundee have started a new route linking Dundee and the airport, First Bus have doubled the frequency of their route 600 linking West Lothian and Lothian Buses now run four different routes serving Edinburgh itself. Down at Bristol Airport, Stagecoach introduced Falcon to and from the south west a few years ago while First improved the local service from Bristol itself.

London’s airports (aside from ‘Southend’ of course!) have also benefited from new initiatives including Stansted where competition has seen a plethora of coach options from various parts of central London. Heathrow Airport has been well served for many years but First Berkshire reckon they’ve spotted a gap in the market from Guildford which they’ve bravely filled with a brand new hourly coach service which started on Monday.

IMG_2276.jpgThe newly branded railair RA2 service joins the long established RA1 from Reading, also operated by First Berkshire, and upgraded with swish new coaches earlier this year (reviewed in a previous blog). Indeed some of the displaced coaches from that route have found a home on this new Guildford service.

The Reading railair route, as the brand name implies, is well known for its handy connections to and from the airport for passengers travelling by GWR train from South Wales and the West Country. The same idea lies behind the new RA2 with passengers using South Western Railway trains from Portsmouth and Southsea on the Petersfield line, as well as Farnham and Aldershot now having a more convenient way to access Heathrow without the inconvenience of going into London and back out again.

The new link also provides a more convenient route for Reigate and Dorking residents using GWR’s North Downs line and changing at Guildford.

Route RA2 runs hourly from around 04:00 to 22:00. The route itself is pretty simple using the A3 and M25 with a short wiggle near Guildford town centre to serve The Chase near to the University of Surrey. Terminal 5 is served but not Terminal 4 and the route’s terminal bus stops are right alongside the exit from Guildford station and in Heathrow Airport’s central bus and coach station. Pointedly it doesn’t serve Guildford bus station.

IMG_E2301.jpgAllowance has been made in the schedule for variable motorway traffic conditions with daytime journeys given 65 minutes increasing to 75 minutes in the peaks. The first early morning journey is given 52 minutes.

The service takes three coaches with a fairly tight ten minute turnaround at Heathrow and a more leisurely 41 minutes in Guildford.

It’s £9 for a single fare if bought in advance by app, online or as an add-on to a train ticket and £10 if paid on the coach. This is in line with the general practice of premium charging for airport fares but also exposes the comparable fare from Reading at a whopping £20 online, albeit that’s for a greater distance.

The comparable single fare on the National Express RailAir shuttle from Woking station is £10.50 single although this reduces to a more attractive £6 if booked four weeks or more in advance.

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I took a ride on the 11:00 departure on the RA2 from Guildford this morning. The coach was already on stand when I arrived at 10:45 with one passenger on board and another just boarding. The driver was chatting to a high-viz wearing First Bus employee who offered me a leaflet when he saw me hovering and taking photographs.

It’s nice to see Surrey County Council have updated the ‘Bus Stand’ (sic) with an RA2 number ….

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…. and there’s a standard RA2 Surrey County Council style timetable with First Bus railair promotional messages in the timetable case.

IMG_2287.jpgI do hope they update the grotty frames alongside though (which I’ve tweeted about for years now). The driver and his high-viz companion thought this was in hand when I mentiond it to them, which if so, really will be a step forward.

IMG_2286.jpgSadly no further passengers arrived before we left spot on time with just the five of us on board (that’s including the driver and his high-viz helper). We passed the bus stop at The Chase slightly ahead of time – eight minutes running time from the station is very generous in the off peak – and I was impressed that we glided by the RHS Wisley stop on the A3 exactly on time at 11:18 as Google maps ominously showed slow going on the M25.

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Most of the journey around the infamous M25 south west quadrant was consequently at a steady 40 mph but we still arrived into Terminal 5 at 11:40 compared to the scheduled arrival time of 11:53 so even in the off peak there’s plenty of slack to allow for motorway delays.

IMG_2309.jpgOur high-viz wearing friend alighted here as we continued around Heathrow’s western perimeter …

IMG_2312.jpg…. and reached Heathrow’s Central Bus and Coach Station eleven minutes ahead of time at 11:54 and the two passengers alighted with me. An overall journey time of 54 minutes – only two minutes more than that best time allowance for that first departure at 03:40!

IMG_2350.jpgIt was an impressive ride; even though the M25 was a bit crowded traffic was at least flowing. However, that road is notorious for its gridlock and I reckon coaches will struggle to keep to time on a busy Friday afternoon and evening as well as negotiating through Guildford’s congested traffic including that section of route by the University.

The interior of the coach, despite dating from 2013/4 was very welcoming and comfortable. A lot more so than anything you get on modern trains these days. There were four tables with forward and backward facing seats and a total capacity of 44.

IMG_2318.jpgThe coach was nice and clean with working plug sockets and WiFi which kicked in after a little time albeit with the usual requirement for an email address to be entered for access.

The key to this route’s success is getting it known among rail passengers on the Portsmouth & Southsea line via Petersfield. Portsmouth passengers already have the Woking RailAir link which has been around for a while and is well promoted, so this new service needs South Western Railway to do its bit by plugging the alternative via Guildford. Interstingly end to end journey times are comparable whether via Woking or Guildford.

South Western Railway is of course run by First Group (in conjunction with MTR Europe) so in theory this should be easy, but the industry is littered with examples of non-joined-up-ness between train and bus so I’m not holding my breath.

The attractive leaflet for the Guildford railair states you can buy a rail add-on: “click or ask for Guildford Railair add-on when making an advance purchase rail ticket or buying from a ticket vending machine or ticket office”. I tried buying an advance purchase ticket online from the SWR website but the only add-ons it offered me were a bicycle reservation or a PlusBus.Screen Shot 2019-07-03 at 19.01.27.pngStill it’s early days and there’s lots of time to get details like that sorted, and the Reading service certainly works well, although that does have a much larger catchment area and the fare is more than double the Guildford price!

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A big accodale to First Berkshire for launching this new initiative and giving a brand new service a go. Good luck

Roger French

 

Elevated views on the 500

Friday 7th June 2019IMG_9924.jpgIt’s been a long time waiting but finally First Bus have allocated much needed double deck buses on their high profile Glasgow Airport Express route 500.

Ten smart new buses began operating the 24/7 shuttle link between the airport and city centre from the middle of April so I was pleased to take a return journey on my visit to Glasgow earlier this week and give the improved service a try out.IMG_9929.jpgIn the world of extreme news release adjectives, First Bus was clearly beyond excited back in April as they launched the new buses. They’re “ultra-low” emission (Alexander Dennis E400 city with Euro VI diesel engines) and have “luxury padded seating” (the seats certainly look bright and were comfy) as well as “new state-of-the-art” wireless charging facilities on both tables and seatbacks (sadly my phone is bog standard wired charged only) and they’re on the “premium” Glasgow Airport Express (it’s certainly not cheap) and will double the capacity on these “popular” services (now that is true, I’ve always found the buses busy, even with standing passengers on the erstwhile single decks on previous journeys).

Mark Johnston, Glasgow Airport’s Managing Director showed he was also on message with more superlatives including raving about the double deckers: “I’m sure our passengers who choose to sit in the upper deck level will also appreciate the elevated views these new models bring”.

IMG_9942.jpgHe’s right, of course, you do get wonderfully elevated views, and why I’m a great advocate of double decks; mind you, it might have been better not to have plastered the graphics over the glass to annoyingly interfere with those elevated views from certain seats.IMG_9938.jpgThere was a time when First Bus and Arriva (when they still ran in Scotland) competed on the Airport run to the city centre, but for some years now it’s just First Bus which greets you with its tented covered bus stand right outside the exit of the main terminal building. One of the most convenient bus boarding points I’ve ever found at a British airport.IMG_9473.jpgA day return ticket on the Airport Express isn’t cheap at £12 (that’s on the First Bus App; it’s £13 from the driver with singles at £8 App and £8.50 driver) but I suspect Glasgow Airport takes a fair cut of that in departure charges.

IMG_9928.jpgThis time I began my return journey at the city centre end of the route so coming out of Central Station I went in search of a bus stop. It didn’t take long to find one in nearby St Vincent Street (I already knew the answer), but I reckon some prominent signs at the station exit might be helpful for transiting passengers unaware of where to catch the airport bus.

An Airport Express 500 was due at 17:50 and I got to the bus stop a few minutes before. The service is advertised as running “from every 10 minutes” and with a journey time of fifteen minutes. 17:50 from a busy Glasgow city centre is probably not the best time to try out the timekeeping promise of a service and indeed no bus arrived until just after 18:05.

IMG_9909.jpgAt the next stop another bus passed us meaning peak hour bunching; once we hit the motorway a stretch of slow moving traffic meant the journey time was inevitable extended to nearer twenty-five minutes.

IMG_9919.jpgPerhaps a more realistic journey time for peak journeys needs advertising for the reassurance of flying passengers who cut things fine, although the small print in the leaflet does explain “Airport – city in just 15 mins*” is “*To Bothwell Street (off peak)”.

IMG_9922.jpgThe leaflet also explains “Service 500 features luxury seating, tables with wireless charging, luggage storage, USB charging at every seat and free 4G WiFi”. The buses live up to that promise and are a great improvement on the single decks.

IMG_9931.jpgMy journey was impressively busy perhaps reflecting the headway gap and it was noticeable the bus that passed us was pretty much empty but helped out at the next stop allowing us to pass without stopping and head off to the motorway and airport.

IMG_9915.jpgMy only disappointment was the “state of the art contactless enabled” ticket machine didn’t like reading my day return ticket QR code from the App on my smartphone; making an off putting beep and red light, but the driver reassured me it was a software issue preventing the machines reading day tickets.

IMG_9932.jpgThere’s an extensive luggage rack on the lower deck and a monitor on the upper deck which on one journey simply played out a graphic of the Airport Express logo, but on my second journey also included some promotional messages which I couldnt make out from a distance. I really don’t know why bus companies bother with these things.

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As I got off at the airport I noticed some “slightly revised” timings had been introduced three weeks ago which no doubt regular passengers were pleased to be advised about but probably went over the heads of the majority of occasional passengers for a “buses from every 10 minutes” service.

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As well as five tables on the upper deck there are three single seats opposite the stairs to make extra gangway room for passengers still with their luggage …

IMG_9933.jpg….and the centre protrusion on the back seat of these buses (an odd Alexander Dennis characteristic) has also been usefully labelled as a handy place for carry-on baggage rather than being mistaken for an uncomfortable child seat!

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After a wait at Glasgow Airport I caught a bus back at 1855 and with a clear run this really did take just 15 minutes to Bothwell Street close by Glasgow Central Station. That was impressive. There are aspirations for a fancy rail based link to the Airport in some quarters; with a high frequency bus route taking just 15 minutes this would be a complete waste of money.

With these new excellent buses from First Bus, a nice bus lane on the M8 into and out of the city centre is all that’s needed now. Job done.

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Roger French

 

 

 

An Anglian Adventure

Thursday 14th March 2019

It began a month ago. A day out to Norwich to travel route 88 via Bungay and Halesworth to Southwold, where I’d catch the four-journey-a-day tendered route 90 which returns to Halesworth via a very circuitous route through some delightful Suffolk villages as well as the small town of Beccles. Both routes were formerly operated by Anglian Bus until the more recent decision by owners Go-Ahead to phase out that company name and brand in favour of neighbouring Konectbus. News had come that Konectbus had given notice to withdraw the 88 from 1st March following a resurgent First Bus competing on the route between Norwich and Bungay and “sustained losses of several million pounds on our Beccles based operations in the last few years”.

Evening and Sunday journeys are tendered by Norfolk County Council with the section of route between Halesworth and Southwold on the 88, as well as the entire 90, being Suffolk tenders so these needed longer notice periods and are continuing until the end of this month (the tendered bit of route 88) or Easter (route 90).

IMG_8602.jpgIntrigued by all this I headed off to Norwich to investigate. In the event things didn’t work out as planned. The journey I planned to catch on the 88 at 1205 from Norwich was cancelled at short notice due to staff sickness meaning an hours delay and a missed connection in Southwold to the infrequent route 90.

I quickly abandoned the idea of reaching Southwold, took the next 88 as far as Halesworth, and returned home by train from there. The enforced delay in Norwich gave me a chance to assess how Konectbus (and the former Anglian Bus) are doing some years on from Go-Ahead’s acquisitions in March 2010 and April 2012 respectively and inspired me to make plans for a longer return visit to further investigate bus operations in this part of East Anglia, which I was able to achieve this week.

This blog summarises my findings.

1. What are Go-Ahead doing in East Anglia anyway?

IMG_1666.jpgIt’s not surprising the wheels are coming off. The post deregulation history of PLC transport groups in East Anglia is not encouraging. First Bus have struggled for years throughout the region. Their Essex operations are down-at-heel befitting the struggling finances. Norwich based operations are looking better than for many a year (and amazingly now seeing off Go-Ahead on the 88) but they gave up on large parts of Suffolk and Norfolk years ago. Stagecoach tried its hand and failed spectacularly with Norfolk Green.

When the talk was a possible sale of municipally owned Ipswich Buses in the early 2010s it may have made sense for Go-Ahead to buy up a few small independents to build a presence in the region in preparation for a bid. A decade on it makes no sense to be running low margin tendered work at all. To be running substantial loss making operations in a largely rural area remote from other Go-Ahead operations is a complete nonsense.

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IMG_8584.jpgWhat’s more, the image doesn’t look good either. On the positive side the Travel Centre in Norwich bus station, staffed by Konectbus, looks smart and offers an impressive display of timetables covering all bus operators in the city, as does the Norwich Park and Ride operation but the state of the Company’s vehicles on other routes is anything but smart and leaves much to be desired.

IMG_8588.jpgWith one exception shown above (indicating the bus wash must have been working), buses were filthy and unattractive. Some were still in Bluestar livery which must look odd to passengers unaware of that award winning sister Go-Ahead company on the south coast. The image portrayed reminded me of a down-at-heel small time bus operator on the verge of going out of business rather than a subsidiary of a well regarded aspirational multi national transport group quoted on the stock market proud of its reputation. Shareholders wouldn’t be proud of this image nor should management.

IMG_8589.jpgIMG_8591.jpgIMG_8595.jpgMy next departure at 1305 on the 88 on my aborted day trip unimpressively left late because the driver failed to turn up on time meaning passengers experienced well over an hour to wait and of course there was a double load to load too, and for a route in its last couple of weeks operation was actually quite a decent load.IMG_8678.jpgIMG_8698.jpgDown in north Essex and south Suffolk Go-ahead owned Hedingham and Chambers (also both acquired in the 2012 Anglian buying spree) present a smarter image but there are odd inconsistencies in corporate livery. Despite my keen interest in these things I was confused what each brand/company was supposed to look like or whether they were supposed to look the same; goodness knows what passengers and potential passengers think. It’s a complete muddle.IMG_1385.jpgIMG_1221.jpgIMG_1103.jpgIMG_1239.jpgIMG_1092.jpgThe Chambers operated 753/754 trunk route between Colchester, Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds seems well run as does the Hedingham run 88 (yes, another 88) between Colchester and Halstead (in a long standing joint operation with First Bus – from the days of Eastern Counties and Hedingham working together) and route 89 between Halstead and Braintree all of which I sampled, but these routes will never be double digit profit margin bankers for a PLC.IMG_1198.jpgMy advice to Go-Ahead is to get First Bus to agree a couple of hundred grand off the price of Manchester Queens Road and throw this lot in as part of a transfer deal. It would make for a sensible ‘Withdrawal Deal’ for Go-Ahead in Anglia. Another exit strategy would ironically be to sell the former independently operated routes back to, err, an independent operator (see below).

2. A mixed First Bus bag

IMG_1809.jpgI mentioned above that First Bus seem to have got their act together in Norwich now looking smarter and presentable. The high profile excel ‘X1’ route at one time from Peterborough to Lowestoft, now split into manageable sections, still brings quality looking buses into Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. While at one time Anglian Bus seemed to be running rings around First Bus on the Norwich, Beccles, Lowestoft corridor nowadays First’s X2 (fast) and X22 (via Loddon) provide four buses an hour (two on each route) making for a decent service which seemed well used on my travels.

IMG_1827.jpgLowestoft has always seemed to be low down the First Bus priority list whenever I’ve visited and this time was no exception.

IMG_1805.jpgIMG_1806.jpgThe hourly route 99 down to Kessingland and Southwold was characteristically operated by ‘W’ registration double deckers dating from 2000 giving a travel experience befitting of the east coast resort’s dated image.

IMG_1787.jpgThe bespoke livery variation used in Ipswich looks smarter than plain First Bus colours, if a bit dull, but with seat backs also branded for these operations I fail to understand the logic of where local branding fits into the First Bus strategy. There was a time Corporate HQ told us it was essential to have a nationwide corporate livery so that buses could easily and cost effectively be transferred around the country as needed (in addition to satisfying Aberdeen’s corporate ego). So what’s with the bespoke seats then?

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IMG_1605.jpgIt would be so much better if those Aberdeen control freaks just empowered managing directors to reintroduce proper local branding and really show what could be achieved in tune with the Anglian market.IMG_1599.jpgSadly First Bus still leave a lot to be desired when it comes to detail. I wasn’t impressed catching the early morning 0615 departure on route 64 from Ipswich to Aldeburgh after initially being reassured to find the bus already screened up and waiting on stand soon after 0600 only to find the driver saunter up to the bus at 0622 and load the six of us boarding, one of whom told me it happens every day. IMG_1590.jpgWe finally left ten minutes late at 0625 but by Woodbridge were already ahead of scheduled time so waited four minutes there, a further five minute wait at Wickham Market and finally arrived Southwold two minutes early.IMG_1610.jpgYou can easily take twenty minutes out of the scheduled time for that journey and stop regular passengers having to wait on a cold windy morning for the bus doors to open at the bus station. I tweeted this experience to First’s centralised tweeting operation; obviously didn’t receive any reply or apology, not even an acknowledgement. Frankly a contemptuous way to treat passengers.IMG_1165.jpgThe general impression of buses around Colchester is poor. Neither First Bus or Arriva’s presence in the town is particularly dynamic and enticing. IMG_1246.jpgThe bright spot is the First Bus run Travel Centre located fairly close to the main departure bus stops in Osborne Street. It contains an impressive display of timetable leaflets and even a network route map displayed on the wall (albeit requiring a minor updating, but at least this was admitted by way of a piece of paper stick to it).

IMG_1248.jpgIMG_1249.jpgWhat would really be helpful for passengers is timetables for routes run by other operators to also be displayed. I didn’t visit the First Bus Travel Centre in Norwich this time, but suspect the same policy holds good there too. It wouldn’t cost anything and would do a huge amount to promote public transport use overall, instead of making it so hard for passengers to obtain information.

First Bus are stepping in to cover the withdrawal of the tendered part of Konectbus 88 by extending their Lowestoft to Southwold route 99 (to be numbered 99A) on to Halesworth and Bungay where there will be connections to their commercial route to Norwich. The wheel really has turned full circle here with First Bus, or Eastern Counties, as it was, now regaining territory ceded to Anglian Bus, acquired by Go-Ahead and now throwing in the towel. Talking of Anglian Bus….

3. Active Anglian Independents

IMG_1075.jpgIMG_7003.jpgEast Anglia is fortunate in having a good selection of quality independently owned small bus companies providing key routes across the region. From the expanding Stephensons in the south of the region to Sanders Coaches in the north and many more in the middle.IMG_7107.jpgIMG_1844.jpgJulian Paterson, formerly of Konectbus now owns and runs the excellent Lynx in West Norfolk while Andrew Pursey formerly of Anglian Bus has started and runs Border Bus. I travelled on two of their three routes during my visit this week, the tendered four-journey-a day 521 between Aldburgh and Halesworth and the hourly (with extra morning journeys making for half hourly) 146 running fast between Norwich and Beccles where it competes with the already mentioned First Bus operated X2 and X22. It then continues to Carlton Coalville and Kessingland on the outskirts of Lowestoft before terminating in Southwold.IMG_1622.jpgThe lunch time journey I travelled on out of Norwich had a good seated load of twenty with around a third getting off in Beccles, half in Kessingland and just a smattering travelling all the way to Southwold. The 521 was less busy. In fact it was dire, which brings me to….

4. Suffolk County Council

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 10.29.51.pngI spent most of my time this week exploring Suffolk as well as in northern Essex with only shorter incursions into Norfolk. Suffolk is a delightfuly county but with many transport challenges not least the very low density of population. Aside from Ipswich and Lowestoft and their environs, and the smaller market towns of Beccles, Bungay, Bury St Edmunds, Halesworth, Saxmundham, Stowmarket, Sudbury and Wickham Market, away from the coastal communities of Aldeburgh and Southwold the county is characterised by hundreds of tiny hamlets connected only by circuitous narrow country roads. The rural transport challenge for the county is therefore huge, not helped by Suffolk deciding to save 20% of its £1.7million budget from April.

I read about discontentment with proposals to withdraw some off peak journeys on routes 112/113 which run from Diss (just over the border in Norfolk) to Ipswich operated by Galloway Travel Group (who run extensive coach tours and excursions as well as some local bus routes).IMG_1485.jpgApparently off peak journeys are at risk but I travelled on one of the few peak hour journeys leaving Diss at 1655 and arriving Ipswich at 1808. A deadly quiet Diss bus station is pictured above at 1645 approaching the evening peak. Three passengers boarded with me at Diss all travelling to the village of Eye just thirteen minutes south. For the next hour and four minutes until we reached Ipswich it was just me and the driver.IMG_1561.jpgIt’s not cuts to rural bus routes leaving passengers isolated, its passengers deserting buses leaving the buses isolated and running empty. My journey on the Border Bus operated tendered route 521 at 0855 from Aldeburgh to Halesworth was similarly sparsely loaded.

IMG_1631.jpgWe travelled empty all the way to the hamlet of Benhall Green where at 0929 we picked up four passengers and dropped them off five minutes later in Saxmundham picking a Mum and child up there and dropped her off seven minutes later in Yoxford. The rest of the journey taking around an hour was just me and the driver.

IMG_1857.jpgThe journey on the Konectbus 88 (soon to be a First Bus 99A) between Halesworth and Southwold at 1023 had just two passengers on board while the afternoon peak journey on route 90 leaving Southwold at 1638 travelled all the way to Halesworth via Beccles (a journey of 1 hour and 17 minutes) carried just two other passengers besides me and the driver and then only between the hamlet of Willingham and Beccles – a journey of around ten minutes. Border Bus have announced they’ll be stepping in to run partial replacements for the withdrawn 90 with new services 522 and 524 but with paucity of numbers travelling it’s a bleak future. Unsurprisingly a significant role is played by community transport in this region.

5 Community Transport

IMG_7310.jpgIt’s interesting to see up in West Norfolk one of the beneficiaries of the Stagecoach pull out in Kings Lynn has been West Norfolk Community Transport (WNCT) who’ve expanded their ‘Go to town’ branded bus routes, which now provide a significant part of the town’s bus network. It’s also interesting to see Ben Colson who owned and ran Norfolk Green heavily involved in WNCT who, with the already mentioned Julian Paterson and Andrew Pursey are three key people in making the Anglian bus scene a success. It also shows you can’t keep a good busman down; they just pop up in another exciting bus venture. Indeed Andrew also volunteers on the Committee of the Beccles and Bungay Community Transport who I had the pleasure of spending the whole of yesterday morning with travelling around their Wednesday only three rural bus routes between Halesworth and Beccles, all using the number 532.

IMG_1868.jpgI’d been recommended to travel on the routes by blogger Steve’s Bus & Train Page on Twitter (@busandtrainpage) and how right he was to encourage me to give them a try. I also found out another Twitter stalwart Tim Miller (@banditman59uk) is a relief driver for the route when regular Mick has a day off.

Driver Mick is a real gem. His knowledge of Suffolk is impressively huge. Being a local lad he regaled me with fascinating insights and information about the area as we travelled around.

IMG_1861.jpgThe Wednesday only route 532 really is a ‘lifeline bus service’. Yesterday around a dozen people travelled on the first journey from Laxfield, Heveningham and Huntingfield north into Halesworth for a morning’s shopping and other commitments. Two stayed on the bus for the next journey which runs via Brampton, Willingham, Sotterley, Wrentham, Rushmere and Mutford to Beccles which I joined. IMG_1865.jpgA lovely couple boarded along this part of the route with the husband helping Mick out to provide a commentary by adding historical background to the sights we passed – which were mainly churches – an amazing number too – all told, we passed 21 churches yesterday morning, some with just a few houses nearby. The one pictured below, a paticularly fine example, at the end of the route in Laxfield. As you can see, even the cars park in a colour coordinated way, the village is so pretty!IMG_1884.jpgAfter dropping our four shoppers off in Beccles from that trip it was time for Mick’s third run of the day back to Halesworth via even more tiny micro hamlets and churches (and the odd water tower) including Ilketshall St Andrew, Ilketshall St Margaret, St Peter South Elmham, All Saints South Elmham (you get the idea this used to be a very religously devout area!) and finally Rumburgh and Wissett; we picked up four regulars along the way who all had an hour and twenty minutes in Halesworth before return time, while we continued back to Laxfield to take ten passengers back home who’d come in on the first journey, bringing one regular back into Halesworth on the return.IMG_1875.jpgMick was off back to Beccles via the All Saints route but I left him there having completed the full circuit and having thoroughly enjoyed it too. One of the regulars who boarded in Wissett followed me into the library at Halesworth to find out more about why on earth someone from Brighton was riding around Suffolk’s rural countryside and we got chatting about the problems of rural buses and her concerns at being stranded if Suffolk County Council were to cut this vital once a week route. Apparently it’s up for review soon as the conract ends in the summer.

Encouragingly this minibus had carried the most passengers of all the tendered bus routes I’d travelled on during the last few days and I do hope her fears can be allayed. Suffolk County Council should be well pleased with the support the ‘BACT’ community transport receives from passengers as well as the great personal service Mick provides. Long may it continue. It’s a good example of how buses can continue to provide deep rural transport without the need to come up with new fangled ideas like app based DRT – just fund and run a scheduled low cost once or twice a week community minibus. Sorted.

Indeed the town route 511 in Halesworth is also operated by Community buses, this one by the locally based Halesworth Community Transport.IMG_1887.jpg

6. A couple of final thoughts

Firstly Suffolk County Council are reportedly considering saving £100,000 by ceasing to update and post bus stop timetables and information. This would be a huge mistake. Such information is vitally reassuring particularly for strangers like me to an area. Suffolk’s presentation is excellent – don’t change it.

IMG_1859.jpgSecondly there’s a vital need for East Anglia to follow Kent/Surrey/Sussex’s lead in establishing an all bus operator day ticket like the latter’s Discovery ticket. With a variety of small bus companies and a few larger ones (Ipswich Buses, First Bus and Arriva) it really would make for a passenger friendly way of travelling around rather than having restricted ticket availability to each operator. You need every passenger you can get – don’t make it hard. Perhaps Suffolk County Coiuncil could initiate discussions on such a proposal?

Roger French

 

 

 

 

 

The m1 arrives in Bristol

Sunday 6th January 2019

Today saw the launch of the third route in Bristol’s metrobus trilogy: the m1. And this is the biggy. Route m3 was first out of the blocks last May between Emersons Green and the city centre using a new bus only exit off the M32 for easy access to the University of West of England campus. This was followed in September by the former Long Ashton Park & Ride service rebranded and renumbered m2 and diverted to use some new fancy bus only roads and completely unnecessary guided busway sections (reviewed here).

In reverse number order, we now have the m1. From the gigantic leisure and retail park just off the M5 known as Cribbs Causeway in north west Bristol the m1 runs via Bradley Stoke in the north east and the University of West of England to the city centre then via Bedminster and Hengrove to terminate outside South Bristol Community Hospital having taken a whopping 85 peak minutes for an end to end journey. A Monday to Saturday 10 minute frequency impressively runs from 6am right through to 1am (20 minutely on Sundays). The extended peak running time means at least fifteen buses are needed to run the route.

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South Bristol Community Hospital, Hengrove

Uniquely the route is being operated by Bristol Community Transport (BCT) under a fixed cost contract to First West of England who are taking the revenue risk. BCT is part of CT Plus which in turn is part of the expansive HCT Group (a social enterpise formerly known as Hackney Community Transport) who specialise in fixed contract operations. This arrangement is a win-win for all concerned. BCT get an extensive contract with no risk; First West of England get to develop revenue on a high profile new route overlaying their extensive Bristol city network rather than competition from a third party, and I suspect First are paying CT Plus less than if they’d operated it directly, and the local authorities, who have backed the metrobus concept and funded all the infrastructure, get an integrated package and their vision of a better quality bus service to tempt motorists out of their cars. With First West of England’s recent difficulties with staff shortages it’s also a sensible arrangement to contract out a significant resource uplift such as the m1.

It all sounds like a sensible arrangement with local operators working pragmatically together playing to their strengths and local authorities putting they money where their vision is. And the evidence is metrobus is working too. Coinciding with the m1’s introduction this week, a new timetable is being introduced on the m3 with peak hour with-flow express journeys (numbered m3x) using more of the M32 and shaving eight minutes off the journey time, due to overloading from Emersons Green and the Science Park.

I had a ride up and down the m1 today; it was encouraging to see so many people giving the new route a try (many buses ran full), and noteworthy how many families with young children were travelling. Extra buses were drafted on to the route to cope with the numbers travelling, helped by a first day free travel promotion – just the kind of thing to get people trying a bus route. I overheard many positive comments about the bus interiors and the service in general and I’m sure this bodes well. The interiors are nothing plush, but very smart, very comfortable and very practical. The usual usb sockets and wifi are available but sadly no next stop announcements were working on the buses I travelled on although I’m told they were working on other buses – no doubt some teething issues.

I’m always puzzled why some bus companies still go for large screens which block the forward view and the ones I saw weren’t providing anything useful – other than a reminder to exit via the rear doors which was displayed only once the bus had stopped.

Overlaying fifteen buses on to an already comprehensive city network without damaging profit margins is risky, but James Freeman, the well experienced managing director of First West of England, told me initially no reductions are being made to routes which now face competition from metrobus until things settle down. This is a very wise strategy as the m1 takes a different route to existing First buses at both ends of the route as well as a different route into the city. In Hengrove confusingly, existing buses into the city centre serve the opposite side of the road, and in one case (the 50A) is quicker than the new m1, so it will be interesting to see how the market reacts to this new high profile entrant. I suspect there’ll be both abstraction and generation and hopefully the latter will exceed the former (and by some margin – to cover fifteen buses!).

Confusingly some bus stops in Hengrove are served by traditional First bus routes but not the m1; the lady photographed above was politely advised by our driver who stopped to explain the situation.

The m1 serves the University of West of England, including the exclusive access to and from the M32, so the northern section of the route has a ready market especially as the m3 has shown, students are a great market to attract and respond in large numbers to improvements to bus routes.

Despite extensive stretches of bus lanes, the m1 running time has been expanded at peak times to cope with Bristol’s notorious traffic congestion. This is sensible, as even today, albeit with first day teething problems as drivers and passengers got used to the new arrangements, on one journey I travelled on we lost fifteen minutes on the northbound journey between Bedminster and the city centre, not helped by a delayed five minute driver handover – and at a bus stop not served by metrobus (not good!).

As with the m2 and m3, no tickets are sold by the driver. Every stop has a pod with clear instructions how to buy a ticket or to use a smartphone or smartcard.

The fleet of buses on the m1 are powered by gas. A nice touch, but I’m not convinced many passengers notice, and even if they did, it would make a difference to their travel arrangements. But it’s good to see alternative propulsion sources continue to be trialled.

All in all an exciting development and congratulations to all involved. It’s certainly worth a trip to Bristol to take a look.

Roger French

The battle for West Lothian

Wednesday 28th November 2018

A right royal bus battle is underway in West Lothian with more salvos being fired this weekend.

At the beginning of August First Bus gave their extensive network based on Livingston a good old sort out introducing a simplified route pattern offering quicker journeys and new links into Edinburgh’s city centre and airport. It left a few gaps but none, it was claimed, that were well used. Meanwhile Lothian Buses, under its Lothian Country brand, decided to not only fill those gaps but also expand its western flank into Livingston and onward to Bathgate, Armadale and Blackridge with new competitive routes challenging First’s new network.

I’d read all the PR spin from both companies about the changes so thought I’d pop up there yesterday and take a look to see what’s occurring. I sussed something was afoot earlier in the summer when I spotted the virtually anonymous branded bus pictured below outside Edinburgh Park station – the terminus of the former First Bus Service 21A – part of the convoluted network that’s now been much simplified.

This is no David and Goliath battle as I recently saw in Guildford; First Group may be a multi-national multi-modal giant but it has a huge financial debt burden round its neck from past follies meaning any network developments are forensically scrutinised while Lothian Buses is hardly a minnow – they’re in Scotland’s Premier League of bus operators by size as evidenced by recent phenomenal expansion…..taking over First Bus routes ceded in Mid and East Lothian; taking over a former Stagecoach route to Queensferry and quadrupling the number of airport services they run in addition to its long established extensive network throughout the city and significant sightseeing operations. This latest expansion has been introduced in three phases beginning in August with the latest route introduction commencing this weekend, with some new all night journeys on another route on Saturdays.

On Sunday the Lothian Country network will have grown within just fifteen weeks from nothing to operating five major routes with a peak requirement of thirty vehicles meaning additional annual costs looking for new revenue north of £3 million. Quite a task, particularly when, on the whole, First Bus do a good job in this area and the recently revised network has been a positive development. To use a TV quiz show analogy, this is not The Chase where the all conquering Beast or Governess trounce aspiring contestants, this competition is more akin to Pointless – in every meaning of the word.

IMG_4997First Bus may have retreated in recent years from many areas across Britain and still struggle in others but I detect renewed energy in Scotland under the leadership of the impressive and much experienced Andrew Jarvis. I don’t see First Bus waving the White Flag in West Lothian whatever Lothian Country may wish.

Many of First’s buses are branded with the long established West Lothian brand in a rather smart two tone dark blue livery but there’s evidence of work in progress to introduce a new brand for the two main Edinburgh corridor routes 23/X23 and 24/25 to a similar scheme now becoming familiar in many parts of the country.

It’s unfortunate that in the meantime, just when First should be making maximum impact, there’s a bit of a hotchpotch of double decks and single decks in various liveries on the network and route branding is far from effective, but I’m sure it’ll all look good when repaints are completed – as can now be seen in Bristol for example.

If there’s evidence of exciting initiatives locally, there’s the usual shortcomings from First’s all dominating centralised overhead operations including their usual unhelpful website and mobile app where you need a degree in computer software to find the information you need. For example prices of day tickets involves far too many clicks to work out zones and options – and after all my searching I couldn’t find the ticket I wanted to buy on the mobile app – the £7 day m-ticket for both Edinburgh and Livingston zones so I had to buy it from the driver at the higher price of £7.50. Not ideal when you’re dealing with intensive head to head competition where prices should be well promoted, never mind unavailable.

Lothian Country have more or less matched First’s headline ticket prices although this being Lothian there’s their usual inflexibility disallowing customers wanting to buy a single m-ticket (the only bus company that insists on a £10 minimum purchase) and while they’ve bundled the purchase of day tickets into attractively priced offers (eg their equivalent to First Bus £7.50 day ticket can be bought five for £25 or twenty for £95) their use is restricted: “m-ticket bundles can be used on any non-consecutive days within 180 days” – get your head round that one!

Both operators use an exact fare cash box system on board and Lothian are working hard to play catch up to First Bus who’ve offered contactless for a while – contactless readers are installed on Lothian’s buses but not yet activated. Not being able to buy the £9 all Lothian day ticket (including Airlink which I wanted to use later in the day) on my smartphone app and unable to use contactless on the bus, I ended up having to stuff a £10 note into the farebox for my £9 ticket (hence the inclusion of my wallet in the second photo below!). So for both operators I ended up paying over the odds for my ticket! So much for competition making for keener prices.

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I won’t bore you with describing all the competitive hot spots in detail but in summary there are three main markets – Edinburgh to Livingston by two different routes; within Livingston itself; and between Livingstone and westward to Bathgate, Armadale and Blackridge. There’s also a market for cross Livingston traffic – eg Bathgate to Edinburgh (and both First’s established and Lothian Country’s developing networks are designed to provide such journey options) but make no mistake rail dominates that market with frequent trains taking a fraction of the time on two electrified lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow (one via Bathgate through the north of Livingston and the other via Shotts, to the south of Livingston). I haven’t seen such a large car park at a station as at Bathgate for a long while and unlike when Google peered down on it, when I went by yesterday it looked very full.

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The epicentre of this competitive spat is Livingston. It lies 15 miles to the west of Edinburgh (30 miles east of Glasgow) and has a handy nearby access to the recently completed M8 linking both cities. It’s Milton Keynes on steroids; not least its ‘Town Centre’ which is a huge complex of shops, restaurants, cinema and ‘leisure’ options and over one hundred ‘Designer outlets’. Buses use the north/south road about a third of the way along in the aerial photograph below. Facilities for buses and passengers are basic and functional offering the usual contrast with the polished floors and commercial ambience inside the shopping centre. There are real time signs at each departure bay and an ability to wait under cover on the west side with smaller shelters at each stop on the east side.

Built in the early 1960s Livingston’s twelve residential districts surrounding this monolith of a ‘town centre’ have been commendably designed around cul-de-sac type roads with plenty of pedestrian walkways providing links to distributor roads (shown in yellow below) making for fairly sensible bus route options but the car inevitable dominates thanks to over-sized car parks around ‘The Centre’ offering cheap parking.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.21.27First’s revamped and simplified network serving Livingston has retained long established route patterns which obviously reflect passenger travel patterns, so it’s a bit surprising Lothian have chosen to run different route patterns which while having the advantage of offering new journey opportunities, on the downside can seem somewhat circuitous and I have doubts whether the demand is really there for such links. For example my journey on the half hourly X27/X28 took around 45 minutes from Bathgate before reaching Livingston’s ‘bus station’ followed by a futher 55 minutes for the journey to Edinburgh.

As we toured around Livingston’s residential districts it was noticeable how many people were opting for the First Bus in front (in one district it was a 23, in another a 26) although Lothian Country seemed to do well picking up passengers from the huge St John’s Hospital complex.

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First Bus’s main 15-minutely route from Bathgate (Service 25) takes a quicker 33 minutes to reach Livingston and First runs an hourly X23 journey to Edinburgh taking 56 minutes while four buses an hour on the 23 or 24/25 take 64 or 66 minutes via two different routes.

For those that like maps, and who doesn’t, here’s the revamped network run by First Bus:

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 11.12.03and here’s the network run by Lothian Country (note the wiggly [light blue] route of the X27/X28 through Livingston mentioned above):

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.37.37to which the latest route, the half hourly X18 joins this weekend which interestingly bypasses Livingston completely and provides a direct link from Armadale and Bathgate into Edinburgh, something First Bus don’t provide:

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.40.11But the journey time from Armadale Station to Edinburgh is 90 minutes which compares unfavourably with the train’s 38 minutes, and I wonder if there’s enough demand for shorter hops along such a route. No doubt time will tell, as will the assessment of how this overall additional thirty buses on to the West Lothian bus network fairs. It’s certainly a bold move, and something the industry has not seen on this scale for many years.

As I observed in the case of Arriva’s challenge to Safeguard in Guildford last week, the incumbent operator has an advantage over any interloper if they’ve built up loyalty and familiarity. Admittedly I travelled off peak yesterday, but fifteen weeks on I would have expected to see buses busier than they were if this is going to be a financially sustainable operation for Lothian. I suspect it won’t be.

Roger French

PS Coming soon to this blog …. My Hundred Best Train Journreys 3 – don’t miss it – an amazing collection of another thirty fantastic journeys, these ranked 31-60.

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