Topless in Hastings

Friday 31st May 2019

There’s been a welcome resurgence in the traditional open top bus market (as opposed to high profile City Sightseeing) over the last few years with long withdrawn routes returning to their once regular haunts. Yellow Buses resurrected their seafront service in Bournemouth and Boscombe a couple of years ago, as did Stagecoach South West in Torbay. Stagecoach in Kent and East Sussex have also been busy giving open top bus routes a whirl with their route 69 between Ramsgate and Broadstairs now entering its fourth season following introduction in Summer 2016.

I had a ride on it during that first season and it was packed out, as well as suffering from timekeeping problems due to heavy summer traffic especially in Broadstairs. I was also impressed to see such a bargain fare at just £2 a ride. I reckon it was seriously underpriced for the market.

It’s good to see the route has prospered and this year’s season continues right through until the end of September.

Stagecoach tried a second route in the Thanet area the following summer along Margate’s seafront. Route 37 however was not so successful and hasn’t reappeared. Margate itself struggles to regain its supremacy in the seaside market and the 37 reflected that.

This summer sees Stagecoach introduce another open top route over the border in East Sussex. Appropriately numbered 66, the route provides a seafront service from Hasting Old Town past the rejuvenated pier and then inland for a short distance to the Combe Haven holiday park.

It’s operated to the successful Stagecoach formula of an hourly frequency with an hours gap in the middle of an eight hour, single shift duty for a meal break. Route 66 has a day ticket priced at £4.50 with a 30p saving if bought on a smartphone app and up to four children paying just £1 to attract families. That’s a good deal especially as it’s actually the Hastings area day ticket so available in all Stagecoach bus routes in the town. There’s a cheaper standard return ticket on the 66 at £3.50 or it’s £2.30 for one single ride.

The bus has a busy but eye catching livery particularly appealing to children and although I’m normally aghast at operators covering windows in contravision which badly distorts views, in this case the downstairs has been made fun for children who may travel there if it gets a bit too breezy up top, by the inclusion of ‘port holes’ through the contravision. As always though, contravision is controversial, and they’ll be plenty of views about views (and the lack of them).

On the journeys I travelled on earlier today one family braved the fairly breezy ride up top in one direction but took the downstairs option on the return; although I noticed one of the port holes didn’t match up with the raised seats on the offside, which is a shame.

Naturally the most important thing about open top buses is the scenic delights from the top deck and the 66 doesn’t disappoint with most of the 17 minute westbound journey time offering panoramic views of the seafront providing for a very pleasant ride….

….

…. in both directions….. it’s always a shame to see seafronts lined with parked cars and Hastings is no exception.

The western terminus of the 66 is right next to the Combe Haven holiday park, popular with families, so smart move Stagecoach, although it does mean the return journey includes five or six minutes wandering around residential streets in that part of west Hastings by Harley Shute to return to the seafront.

The eastbound running time is consequently slightly longer at 23 minutes, but this still means there’s a handy recovery time of 20 minutes in every hour in the schedule which allows for delays caused by seasonal slow moving traffic along the seafront and a rather convoluted turning arrangement at the eastern end of the route by Hastings Old Town.

With an eye catching livery, open top bus services generally sell themselves as tourists and visitors see the bus travelling up and down the seafront, but it’s good to have a plentiful supply of leaflets at appropriate outlets and on board the bus (the 66 had a large box full of its timetables on board along with other route timetables) and timetables were displayed prominently at all bus stops along the route. It was good to see Stagecoach have ticked that box, including adding them to the pole when the timetable case was already full.

I hope the 66 is a success and well done Stagecoach for giving it a try. As always with routes of this kind, it’s very weather dependant. Let’s hope for a sunny summer.

Roger French