Monday, 18 July 2011

The Axe Man of Seaton

Actually, it's a woman!
Yesterday's blog commented on Southern Vectis' takeover
of Tourist Information on the Isle of Wight.
Last week, information at Cowes was a man with a box of leaflets
sitting outside the closed TIC at a table borrowed from a cafe.
Very professional!
In early blogging days, when fbb was finding his feet (they were stuck on the bottom of his legs!), he enthused about Axe Valley Travel's [AVT] service 899 between Sidmouth and Seaton; "Beer is Best" (read again). Subsequently another AVT snippet introduced "Taken Short in Axmouth" (read again)

On a recent visit to Seaton fbb popped into AVT's depot on Harbour Road ...
... and was invited to step into the rudimentary office... 
...and meet the boss! She is Frances Searle and she gave fbb a brief thumbnail sketch of the company's history.  It began with a taxi business in Axminster, then they obtained a school bus contract. The service from Seaton to Beer was the first proper bus route operated; but when Southern National [its successors? - fbb] pulled out of the route between Axminster and Seaton, AVT stepped in and ran it as commercial service 885.
An old timetable (from the mid 50s) for the Southern National route is available here. This blog is actually about publicity for the 899, the tendered service that now runs between Sidmouth and Seaton.
AVT does not have a web site; how can they possibly manage? And the company does not publish a printed timetable, relying sensibly on the East Devon edition of Devon County's excellent series of books. Unfortunately the May 2011 version of the service 899 pages suffers from very bad pruntign mistooks, which could well be misleading to an innocent Joe Public.  

What is more frustrating is that Devon does not publish any timetables on its web site, so has no way of issuing a correction; except by expensive reprint.

Once upon a time, the county produced a special leaflet in the same series as the "CoastlinX53" and the Sidmouth Hopper ...
... but no longer.

Whilst Devon is a keen "bus county", their timetables do suffer from the disease of hypernotation.  Tables are output for Mondays to Saturdays with column heading notes for day and school "oddities". The 899 from Sidmouth to Seaton shows 21 journeys and 19 of them have explanatory notes! Only two journeys are "normal". This does not make for confident comprehension, neither does it save space.  fbb has posted the relevant table page here, with "oddities" highlighted.

fbb, arrogantly, thinks he could do better. (well, there's a surprise!) The fbb plan would be to remove the Axmouth journeys, which offer poor connections in one direction anyway ...
... and the school trips that do not follow the standard route. Most passengers would tend to avoid school journeys, either because (as noted here) of inherent risk of change, or because of fear of mutilation at the hands of a gang of thugs enthusiastic and lively students ever thirsting for knowledge.
This leaves the core service, still with its occasional exceptions. This is then presented with a Monday to Friday and Saturday panel and, hopefully, all is clear.
Another mystery needs to be resolved. Where is the Three Horseshoes Inn? Alas and alack, that celebrated hostelry and AVT timing point is no more. It is very firmly closed and, as the best house adverts say, in need of some renovation.
There is still a "PH" on some maps, but the inn is only recognisable as such on close inspection. There are three small horseshoes on the right hand shutter and two remaining of the three elephant shoes (?) above the entrance. fbb has replaced this location with the more prosaic Beer Turn B3174, with "Hangman's Stone" as an alternative or even "Kings Down Tail" (a caravan park etc.) as used by other operators.

So, two suggestions to Devon County Council from fbb. Firstly put your timetables and amendments on-line. Then, if the printing is messed up, there is at least one accurate source. Secondly, treat your computer to a slap-up Devon cream tea and gently try to persuade it to output timetables separately for Monday to Friday and Saturday; then we would all, fbb included, make less mistakes. 

Next blog : due Tuesday July 19th  


  1. I remember spending a holiday there in Seaton with my parents about 25 years ago. At that point I had discovered the West Country Rail Rover, and spent my week with the trains rather than my parents.

    Anyway, as the nearest station was Axminster, I remember having to take a bus from Seaton every morning. This was obviously after Southern National ditched the service, as the service was operated using a minibus - entry from the rear! It was a great journey operated by a nice old chap.

  2. Devon CC has its own site for public transport (Journey Devon) with timetables accessed via an interactive bus map. The timetables linked to are usually the operators' own, unless, like AVT, there are none, in which case the county's own are used. It would be great if all counties could use such a useful system instead of presenting people with plain old PDFs.

    So do you think AVT would be better off with its own website and simpler timetables?

  3. Anonybus : the success of Devon's timetable site is apparent in that I have been visiting Sidmouth and using public transport (via the internet) for several years and have NEVER before been able to find the information you have guided me to. Try Derbyshire where there is a clear route to "Bus Timetables" from the home page. Most users can't (and won't) cope with the "twiddlies", me included, we just want to core information.

  4. FBB: I usually just search Google for "(county) bus map" in the hope of finding one. Sometimes that doesn't work which requires delving into county councils' transport pages, with mixed results, but Devon comes up trumps with the first three results on Google.

    Admittedly it is sometimes easier to use Google to look for something on a website than it is to rely on a website's own navigation.

  5. Anonybus: I have prepared a blog of grovelling repentance for my incompetence. (Perhaps not quite!) Because of other "stuff" it may not appear till next week. It is entitled "fbb, Take 100 Lines!"
    Thanks for your useful input.

  6. FBB: Happy to be of service, and hopefully, of some use as well.