Wednesday 11 October 2017

The Pantomime Season

The planned blog showing some public transport information good news has been postponed to make way for another batch of silly news or plain bad news.
Daily readers of this blog will doubtless remember a recent posting entitled "Exeter's Long Running Pantomime" (the full posting can be read (here), but for those who don't want the fag of re-reading the whole caboodle, here is the last section.
Councillor Edwards ...
... was almost aggressively determined that the old bus station would close as advertised after service on Saturday 28th October, then be boarded up ready for demolition. There are no current plans for its replacement and both developer and builder have pulled out and, as might be expected, the Council has no money to continue with the project.

The local press has recorded comments from Phil Bialyk ...
... chief honcho (for the Council) for the overall project, made a couple of weeks ago.

The station is not fit for purpose and we plan to pull it down, de-risking the site for future redevelopment. This work will make it much more attractive to developers. The on street solution for passengers is ready and waiting, and there really is no point delaying the inevitable. It’s time to say goodbye to this eyesore. We need to get on and do the work necessary to enable the long-overdue redevelopment of this crucial city centre site, and that is what we intend to do.

Bus operators have been busily registering timetable changes and there is significant publicity for the temporary stops littered around the doomed bus station site.

So Monday's news comes as a real surprise - NOT!

Phil again:-

Yes, we always said we would close it, we thought we could carry on and de-risk it. It is about timing, and fresh advice from council officers we hoped to move a bit sooner now it is clearer to me we cannot. It is not the easiest situation to resolve. It is brave decision, and I'll take the flak for it now. I'm frustrated but I am still enthusiastic and I want to run with this.

The bus station will not close at the end of this month!

"de-risk" is a joyously deceptive phrase. What it actually means is something like this. "We have no idea how we are going to get this new bus station built, if at all. So we will demolish it and then someone will have to do something about it."

A common sense decision would be to upgrade the existing bus station (which is "tired") and re-address the question of its surrounding development when (or if) the economic and financial climate become brighter. For not too much cash you could add glazing and platform doors, similar to the existing waiting room ...
... possibly bring the toilets up from the basement area ...
... and provide a more attractive entrance from Paris Street.
A gallon or two of pain and some new signs and the bus station could easily last another twenty years. By which time, we are told (Oh Yeah?) we will all be using driverless cars and buses will be a thing of the past.

But it's the Council that will decide, so ....

Never On Sunday!
It is just a modicum of months ago that the bus service between Axminster, Lyme Regis and Bridport was increased to half hourly on Monday to Saturday, proceeding alternately the Dorchester (X51) and Weymouth (X53). On Sundays an hourly X53 ran via the pretties on to Weymouth.

When fbb visited boss Simon Newport at Weymouth, he was told that the improved timetable was "doing well".

Which is why the service has been cut to hourly between Axminster and Bridport with either connections or extension to either Dorchester or Weymouth every hour with noticeable gaps.

So we have to assume that it wasn't doing well enough. 

But now comes the bombshell.

From 19th November onwards the Sunday service is withdrawn completely. There is no link from the rail network at Weymouth or Axminster to the Jurassic Coast. Axminster and Bridport (total population nearly 20,000) have no buses at all on a Sumday!

The above (modified) publicity poster seems to fit First's current policy! The reason (excuse) is, as ever, the money.

This is what First's web site says:-

Historically, the local authorities provided financial support for X51 (Dorchester to Bridport and Axminster) and X53 (Weymouth to Bridport and Axminster) all year. Due to the current challenging financial constraints, this is no longer the case. First Wessex has endeavoured to maintain the same level of service without any subsidies. However, whilst being able to keep the same timetable from Monday to Saturday, when the majority of customers travel, the Sunday timetables will be withdrawn over the winter.

Erm, not quite. From September 2017 the X51 and X53 have already been reduced by a massive 50% on Monday to Saturday.

Will the Sunday service return for next summer? You have to wonder. 

But if saving money is the order of the day, why are First running two empty round trips from Lyme Regis to Exeter on the now useless X52?
It is reported that this policy is designed to discourage Stagecoach from pushing on east from Lyme Regis (hourly 9A from Exeter) to Bridport.

From the end of October the X52 is extended in Exeter to St Davids Station, so the very few passengers can connect with trains. Wowsers!
If the X52 is profitable, fbb will enjoy a specific snack.
With the Sunday withdrawal by First, now would be an excellent time for Stagecoach to look at a challenging thrust further into Dorset.

As a competitive taster, how about extending service 4 from Axminster to Lyme Regis every hour Monday to Saturday ...
... and, as a try-out, extend the 9A to Bridport on Sundays - it runs every two hours. It would "cost one bus" but might make First think hard about their negative policy.

It is all very well removing a weak Sunday service "for the Winter", but the core of your non-tourist ridership will find other things to do or will simply not travel at all, Winter or Summer. They will be lost for ever.

It is a short-sighted policy and is only likely to make things worse for the company.

fbb has lived at Seaton for over four years during which time there has never been any attempt to promote any of the Jurassic Coast routes in Seaton (pathetic X52) or Axminster (once useful X51/X53). If Tesco were so cavalier with its promotions it would have gone bust years ago!

Or, another thought; maybe First want to get rid of the routes once and for all and are looking for a get-out excuse. "We did everything possible to cut costs, but demand simply continued to decline, so, regrettably ..."

Meanwhile, in Leicester, Arriva has just announced ...

But that is another story. Back to the delayed positives tomorrow.

 Unexpected leaflet blog : Thursday 12th October 


  1. Further east along the coast today's Bournemouth Echo is reporting that Yellow Buses MD has resigned following further losses in the past year.

    1. No doubt very much aided (the losses) by the muddling route number system.

  2. First just don't seem to have ny acumen at all. They had a weak offering on the Torbay - Plymouth X80 service years ago, which meant an hourly service run with any old vehicle. Stagecoach drove First out with brand new Gold branded buses running at a 30-minute frequency. it would be interesting to see them invade east Devon and west Dorset. There must be some sort of a market there, with Lyme and Bridport being devoid of any rail service.

    1. That's not quite true. Stagecoach's first attempt at the X80 with the X45 failed fairly quickly (started because First ran extra X80s between Torquay and Paignton in retaliation for Stagecoach entering North Devon and competing on the 1 and 2). Gold was initially hourly not half-hourly had the good fortune of getting new but surplus Gold buses ordered for a subsequently delayed route conversion elsewhere in the country. This was when First made the infamous 'almost in close-down mode' comment which both Stagecoach and Go-Ahead's Plymouth Citybus unsurprisingly took as a green light to go on the attack. First degregistered the X80 a week after Stagecoach registered Gold, so it didn't take a lot! The two routes only overlapped for a week. Going to a 30 min frequency followed later at the expense of losing the Dartmouth section.

    2. Actually it may have been a two week overlap, thinking about it, not that it makes much odds... but more importantly, what I meant to add is that Stagecoach don't always find things easy - they've been struggling big time with the other two legs of the X80 triangle, the 46 (Exeter-Torquay) and the X38 (Exeter-Plymouth).

  3. The X52 extension to St Davids was presumably driven by the now not-forthcoming closure of the bus station?

    The seasonality of seaside business is well known, and the Sunday service no doubt relies on reimbursement from councils for concessionary pass holders. It is highly doubtful that a figure of less than £1 per passenger journey can enable anyone to run even a service that covers its direct operating costs, let alone make a contribution to overheads. In the case of the Exeter service, it cannot be regarded as a core part of the network, and running a loss leader winter service simply isn't worth it.

  4. I was in Bridport area during the week after he August Bank Holiday. Visiting Seaton TIC on the Wednesday I obtained the Summer edition of the Wessex (First) booklet and also the Jurassic leaflet. The booklet including some dates for when services would finish or change e.g. the 510 (tourist run) 'until 3 September'. Taken at face value all very helpful. The Jurasssic leaflet (issued after the booklet) however has a small footnote on one side indicating that services may change from the 3 September!! Far too easily missed!

    As the local paper carried a front page article about the threatened loss of service 40 to Yeovil I called in at the Bridport TIC to see what information they had. They had the same two items, which one would assume remained current, plus a photocopy of a temporary timetable for the 40. Like many I came out expecting no change in services that coming weekend/Sunday (3 September)!!!

    A local contact advised me that the 510 was in fact 'pulled' a few days early and that there was a shortage of buses and lost journeys on the X services the following week. He now tells me that last Sunday several journeys on the X services didn't operate!!?? Also that there is considerable local angst about the new 40 timetable, which I believe First offered to run whilst Dorset CC sort out a Community Transport replacement for it from the end of the year.

    I do wonder how Stagecoach

    1. I do wonder however how Stagecoach could possibly make a profit on these services

  5. Alan (Northampton)11 October 2017 at 09:59

    A local councillor determined to demolish a bus station which could be refurbished, aided by some numpty on television who comes up with a "mouth of hell" soundbite which every lazy journalist repeats. The replacement facilities are completely inadequate.

    Now where have I come across that scenario before?

  6. Quite agree that Exeter bus station could easily be refurbished. In my opinion it should be listed by English Heritage as a post-war example of a bus station. The former lower coach section could become a much needed car park too

    1. It's the right size and it's in the right location. It's not an eyesore and it doesn't need replacing. Yes, it's become neglected and run-down and could do with a thorough refurb. I hadn't considered it might be worthy of listing but yes, actually, that's not as silly idea as it sounds.

  7. Whenever I hear that somewhere is going to have a new bus station, or a new library or other public amenity for that matter, I inwardly groan because I know it's going to be smaller than whatever it's replacing. So I hope the local authority has a last minute outbreak of sense over Exeter bus station following the latest reprieve.

  8. At least Mr Bialyk is working on this project and not organising bus strikes...........