Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Flight of the Falcon Part Two

Bristol to Plymouth : Plymouth to Taunton
Before we take our next rides, here is a note from a blog comment writer added to Tuesday's blog.
Pee is for Publicity? (Groan)

But, with no chance to explore or photograph, fbb is leaving the "Cabot Circus" stop at 1040, ten minutes late. Traffic at The Centre (again) ...
... meant a 12 minute late arrival at the airport where two boarded. This took our load into double figures! Further slowness behind a speeding hearse meant we were now 15 minutes late all along the way. Interestingly a couple joined us at Cullompton to travel to Exeter. 

Now here's a snag. Cullompton is 21 km from the centre of Exeter, less to the Honiton Road Park and Ride where the two alighted. Here our driver asked a Stagecoach employee type chum, "Why won't my machine let me issue a ticket from Cullompton to Exeter?"

Possibly because a coach service must not carry passengers for journeys of less than 25 kilometres. Shorter distance fares mean it needs to be a registered bus service; which it isn't. Was the driver being naughty, is Stagecoach being naughty?

The fact is that the service and its fares list is very woolly. 

Brent Knoll is 22 kilometres from Bristol Airport (so not OK?) but the leaflet tells us that "fares to Bristol Airport are the same as fares to Bristol"

Whatever. We dropped off the Cullompton two passengers at Honiton Road Park and Ride ...
... and one other at Sowton Park and Ride. It looks as if the call at two Park and Rides (Parks and Ride???) is forced on Falcon because it is easier to run round a little loop between M5 junctions 29 and 30 than to find somewhere to turn round.
Honiton Road P & R - red pin
Sowton P & R - blue pin

The run on to Plymouth was steady with more enjoyable views of the Devon countryside. Calls at Drumbridges and Marley Head were (a) passenger-less and (b) bus stop-less. Where do you wait?

But we are still running 15 minutes late.

A reminder; arrival at Plymouth is scheduled at 1345, with departure at 1400. If it is the same bus/coach all will be well. But if for some mysterious operational reason, our coach goes home to bed, or for a fuel fill-up, the replacement might leave before we arrive. fbb would be stuck for up to an hour in Plymouth.

But it was the same coach.
8 had to wait ten minutes whilst another very slow crew change was grindingly administered. Just a few precious minutes for fbb to photography the glory that was Bretonside Bus Station and the faded misery that it has become.
Toilets? One dark green plastic hut plonked at the end of the few remaining stands in use. What a dismal advertisement for coach travel. Here is the National Express booking office uninvitingly located in the gloom.
Bretonside is hardly Stagecoach's fault and we are promised a shiny new coach station soon.
The vision was unveiled in 2014.

But it was good to sample the brand new Stage-coaches on this service.
This one, of course, has now "come"!!

The vehicle was comfortable with a few niggles. The panelling rattled significantly at the front end when travelling on rougher roads. For much of the journey there was a noticeable whine from the air-con. It sounded as if some alien force were trying to invade the human brain, X-files style. Later our second driver twiddled some buttons and the whine ceased. 

One fault was more amusing that anything else. In in order to discourage a driver from leaving his cab without applying the handbrake, which could result in the coach rolling forward (or backward) into something solid like a brick wall or something squidgy like a person, there is an alarm on the cab door.

If said door opens with said brake unapplied, sirens go off, bells ring, spikes descend from the roof and a Hawkingesque disembdied voice exhorts the driver to "apply the parking break or you will be ex-ter-min-ated." This happened once on the morning approach to Taunton, once on leaving Bristol and once on leaving Plymouth. It was loud and scary.

But we have the technology.
A folded piece of cardboard (in the good old days it would have been a folded Woodbines fag packet) ...
... is wedged into the door hinge to stop it rattling loose.

Now how much did these coaches cost each?

Which all leaves fbb with one big concern. Can the timekeeping of this service be made to work? The scheduled (off-peak) 15 minutes at each end is tight, very tight; as we saw on Tuesday. The service is currently lightly loaded and holiday traffic has yet to grace the M5. fbb is certain that extra running time will be needed as the service gets busier (hopefully?).

How will that extra journey time affect the viability of the service and its attractiveness to the passenger?
But fbb can highly recommend the service. Do take a ride. You will be well pleased with what it offers and, even with "proper" fares, you will enjoy the price.

 Next bus blog : Friday 19th February 

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