Wednesday 16 March 2016

Told You So - Told You So

Daft Decisions Deliver Disaster?
The reorganisation of First Bus Jurassic Coaster services last October was just plain silly. See "A Frustrating Time in Bus-bereft Lyme [2] Derision about Revision" (read again).
Whilst there may have been a commercial justification for creating a half-hour frequency between Bridport and Axminster ...
... observations of Winter loading would suggest that the argument in its favour was weak in the extreme.

But Axminster's gain was Seaton's loss. The long standing Jurassic Coaster service was raped of its raison d'ĂȘtre by reducing through journeys west of Lyme Regis and Axminster.

This deprived, for example, Seaton folk of easy paths to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital at Wonston. The X53 stops at the gates.
But worse still, the journey opportunities eastbound to Bridport and Weymouth were reduced to uselss.
Not surprisingly, loading between Axminster and Exeter have been virtually non-existent. fbb has never seen more than single figures! How to ruin a buys service in one easy lesson. Many people tried to explain to First that this cut-back was commercially suicidal but to no avail.

It gets worse. A two hourly link between Seaton and Lyme Regis became a hotch potch of tendered journeys, again of very little use to anyone.
Local campaigners began to talk about an opportunity for another operator to come in and do a proper Jurassic Coaster. Seaton's new "Jurassic" visitor centre opens this summer; so there is more bus business to be had.

Enter Stagecoach with its new 9A.

Rumours abound that this development, providing an onward hourly service glued on to the end of Stagecoach's existing (but renumbered) 52A, came as a profound shock to First Bus.
In a reply to fbb, boss Marc Reddy said "we have not finalised our plans for the Summer season"; a euphermis for "Stagecoach have caught us on the hop!" But Marc did agree to send the old man the appropriate timetables "when they are ready".

Next in this fascinating tale of incompetence and commercial skulduggery was an email from a regular blog correspondent.

No through journeys and no longer serve Seaton And Exeter!

The silliness of the registration system is that the Traffic Commissioners tell you that something is happening, but they don't tell you what it is. In this wonderful electronic age, there is no practical reason why the published details of registration changes should not include the full timetable. But fbb has sources more reliable than Marc the First Bus boss.
And there we have it. No X53s west of Axminster, a development predicted by fbb as a result of the mismanagement of the winter service.

As the correspondent stated, X53 RIP. And the new timetable confirms this.
X52 RIP. Nevertheless, the hourly Stagecoach service to Lyme Regis does offer the opportunity to change to and from an X51 to Dorchester or an X53 to Weymouth, so some remnant of Jurassic Coasting is at least possible.

But have First Bus really given up the Exeter road? Another piece of the jigsaw dropped into fbb's in-box from an anonymous source.
It looks like a two hourly service via Lyme Regis, Seaton and Beer to Exeter, just like the ill-fated X53 once was!

It also looks like too little too late. The damage has been done. Every two hours does not make for an attractive ride to or from Lyme Regis when Uncle Brian is running his service 9A every hour.

The joy of the Jurassic Coaster was that it offered through rides from Poole all the way to Exeter. Very few folk would want to make the whole through bum-crunching journey (although fbb once did) but there were plenty of "through" options.

Poole to Abbotsbury
Wareham to Lyme Regis
West Bay to Seaton

None of these can now be done without changing. It looks like this.

X54 : Poole to Weymouth every two hours
X53 : Weymouth to Lyme Regis (and Axminster) every hour
X52 : Lyme Regis to Exeter every two hours

And if one leg runs late, your whole schedule and your well-planned day trip is instantly ruined. A superb (?) example of the lack of joined-up Jurassic-ness is that the X52 from Exeter arrives in Lyme Regis at two minutes past the hour and the X53 to Weymouth has left six minutes earlier.

A useful bus service, skillfully ruined.

Jurassic Coaster RIP

Now here's an idea. You have heard of the South West Falcon? Would Mr Stagecoach consider a "Jurassic Pterodactyl", every two hours, limited stop from Exeter to Bournemouth?
It might well work better than First's frustratingly feeble frequency

 Next bus blog : Thursday 17th March 


  1. There is an issue with longer distance services being more prone to disruption because of roadworks, accidents etc. When I last travelled on the Jurassic Coaster, we were stationary for almost an hour as the road was closed to clear up an accident. The bus an hour ahead was in the same queue, and Bridport bus station hosted several buses and many passengers as the First staff attempted to restore order to the chaos. No doubt some of the drivers had run out of hours and were unabe to go on - no operator would have had sufficient spare drivers, especially in the late afternoon, to cover such a situation, one that is exacerbated when such a long route runs out of area far, far away from the company's bases.

    So the general shortening of the routes may well, amongst other things, be an attempt to improve reliability, and retain the core patronage.

  2. Ah yes, those key passenger flows of Poole to Abbotsbury? The idea that hordes of swan obsessed Poolites actually travel from Poole past Weymouth just isn't true and truncating that part of the route makes a lot of sense. MAK is correct to highlight the crippling reliability issues that affect the X53 over such a long route.

    Then we have the comments "It looks like a two hourly service via Lyme Regis, Seaton and Beer to Exeter, just like the ill-fated X53 once was!

    It also looks like too little too late. The damage has been done. Every two hours does not make for an attractive ride to or from Lyme Regis when Uncle Brian is running his service 9A every hour."

    In which case, the X53 (and now X52) would've been fatally undermined anyway. Now, I'm sure the portly patron will say that the reduction of the winter X53 has precipitated the introduction of the 9A. More likely is that this was going to happen anyway - it is a typical Stagecoach ploy.

    However, if the X53 is this apparent goldmine then you ask yourself why First would wantonly seek to destroy it. Perhaps there are two issues? Firstly, winter traffic is thin anyway and secondly, much of it is very poorly remunerated twirly passes. As FBB himself noted yesterday, "There were journeys every two hours allowing a pleasant stay in Reggie, Nick and Grumpy-land and an adequate return schedule; all for nowt on their old bids cards."

    As for the Pterodactyl? I think Stagecoach will have their work cut out with the Falcon's survival!!

  3. 1) The X52 to Exeter does not seem to have been registered along with the others.

    2) The Jurasic Coaster route (X53) was created at the time of the World Heritage area formation. First won the contract for its operation. It was an extra service on top of the existing bus operations.

    3) When the original funding stopped along with funding by South West Trains for the Axminster to Dorchester south rail link the services were to have stopped. Devon and Dorset separately tendered for provision of several shorter routes. However First won all of them and I believe it was then pointed out that the existing through routes were cheaper for the councils and so they survived.

    4) However there are few subsidies available today. Stagecoach has improved its Devon offering. As noted above long routes have operational issues. There are fare implications too. The next season will, I think, actually give most people a better service than they have ever had.

    1. The X53 was affected by accidents but it was/still is also affected by a chronic number of vehicle breakdowns and drivers not showing up causing 2+ hour delays which doesn't exactly drive patronage. In those situations Fist just say sorry about your luck and cancel everything and if you don't have twitter you don't even know. Compare to Stagecoach yesterday when the 60 couldn't get from Chichester to Midhurst due to an accident. Within a few minutes they had announced it would run as far as it could AND they would run an hourly bus direct to Midhurst via a much longer route to maintain the service. Also compare the fares. The X53 fares have spiralled each year to £9-£10 for most single fares of any length now which is insane. The only place it will still get people from is Beer as the 9 doesn't serve there. As for through trips. I have often gone Exeter to Poole on it and I wasn't alone and also many went to West Bay or Abbotsbury or Weymouth but no more. You'd be surprised at the Seaton-West Bay numbers too. Pensioners can obviously just choose the first bus that comes so changing in theory isn't an issue for them (although it adds to the costs for fare payers) but you'd be amazed how many people refused to travel from Exeter on it once the destination was changed from Poole to Seaton due to the splitting as even though it was a through bus people didn't trust that the connection would wait (and actually it wasn't unknown for First to switch buses at Bridport and for the connecting "through" bus not to wait).
      As for Falcon, it's too early to judge but people said the same about Megabus and they look a bit stupid now! You have to at least applaud the innovation..or not if you are so clearly biased towards First.

    2. The X52 has now been registered - separated from the others. It also says hail and ride all the way to Exeter bus station.

    3. Karl - not biased for First nor against Stagecoach, and I hope that the Falcon prospers. I had similar hopes for the Belles Express though! As I say, they have probably a bit to concentrate on with the Falcon before moving on elsewhere. I DO applaud the ambition and innovation of Stagecoach.

      I also recognise the continued shortcomings of First. However, to criticise a two hour frequency when the service has always been two hourly (and had previously satisfied FBB) seems a little inconsistent.

      On Saturday, we were told "There were journeys every two hours allowing a pleasant stay in Reggie, Nick and Grumpy-land and an adequate return schedule". By today, two hourly is a "frustratingly feeble frequency".

      My experience is that Poole to Weymouth tends to be a more insular operation; I didn't mention the Seaton to West Bay and I accept that does have its trade. OK?

    4. Hail and ride in central Exeter should be fun! I'll have to put that to the test!

    5. Fair enough and agreed on Poole-Weymouth where the number of cross Weymouth passengers is usually single figures. I don't understand why they couldn't make the X52 clockface and clearly Bridport-Lyme is just to get the bus to the depot now hence the middle of the day service not running through. The real test will be what happens when the last connecting bus from Weymouth misses the last x52 as that will leave a lot of unhappy punters stranded in Lyme and a 20 minute delay is not exactly unheard of from Weymouth at 1530. It just really frustrates me that First have taken a service that couldn't cope with demand on a 2 hour double deck frequency and reduced it to one that probably could be run with a Solo in such a short time. I agree in Winter it's not so busy but in Summer it is(was) and yet they have destroyed it with poor punctuality, poor reliability and massive fare rises. The risk now is that the diluted X52 drags profits from the 9A and then neither reappear next year. Hopefully Stagecoach are in the 9A extension to Lyme for the long haul and put this summer down to experience as I don't see First returning next year once they've thrown their toys out of the pram this year. It will be interesting to see how the new X51/3 fair as First won't woant to cut those as they must be scared Stagecoach will encroach further. A fast Exeter to Bournemouth/Weymouth coach could be a winner but that's one gamble I doubt Stagecoach will take sadly.

    6. Fast coach services are great in theory but the Falcon benefits from spending most of its time on a dual-carriageway and a motorway. As useful as a fast coach service between Exeter and Bournemouth would be, the reality is that the roads are not suitable - it simply wouldn't be fast.

    7. Actually, in addition to what I said at 15:51, surely any 'fast' Ex-Bomo service would use the A30 via Honiton and miss Seaton. It would probably miss Weymouth too in favour of Dorchester, so wouldn't be that much of an X53 substitute.

  4. As an aside, I notice that First are also breaking the long 21 Taunton Hospital to Weston super Mare service back into its historic sections. Taunton Hospital back into the town network and Burnham to Weston section back to Weston depot of First West of England. This has fare implications as well as local operation. (Currently run from Buses of Somerset, Bridgwater depot)

    1. Given West of England and Somerset have very different fare structures that should be confusing for passengers but help put more money in the coffers as they get concessionary pass credit 3 times for a "through" journey now!

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  6. The 9A deviates through Sidmouth and therefore takes longer. I expect that there is still a market for a Lyme Regis to Exeter bus that does not do this. My bus-pass holding mother, for one, will stick to the First bus because of this, despite the lower frequency.