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

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