Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Only Way is Clacton (Essex) - 1

It used to be said that the more "refaned" holiday makers would sojourn at Frinton-on-Sea ...
... where, according to reputation, there were no pubs. Technically true - but there were bars in hotels and at the goff club! But in year 2000 the "Lock and Barrel" opened. Shock horror.
Meanwhile, the "lower orders" would enjoy a knees-up at Clacton ...
... where there is an adequate sufficiency of licensed premises.

It is not true to say that, on 29th July, First Bus handed over all its Clacton local services to GoAhead's Hedingham and District.

Just most of them. What remains with First is former service 7 and 8 to Frinton and Walton on the Naze. (And there it is, "The Naze", a sticky-out bit north of Walton).
Thanks to a comment writer, fbb has been able to find the new map and new network booklet on-line, but correspondent Keith had previously explained all. Ta muchly!

Hitherto, there were two buses every hour between Colchester and Clacton, numbered 74 (74A on Sundays) and 76A (but plain 76 on Sundays). From 29th July this has been increased to three buses an hour, viz 97, 97A and 98.
These are extended across Clacton to Walton replacing the 7 and 8.
So why, on these new maps, do we still have 7, 8, 74A and 76? Again Keith comes to the rescue and then asks a pertinent question.

The "old" numbers refer to evening and Sunday journeys tendered by Essex County Council, but as Keith argues, surely these journeys should carry numbers appropriate to the new network? Presumably, fbb surmises, it would mean issuing new tenders, cancelling the old and a huge amount of hassle all round.

Or Essex could have agreed with First that the numbers should be changed, notwithstanding!

Far too simple. It is far more important to keep the paperwork right than it is to help the befuddled passenger.

OK, 7 and 8 have been replaced by 97, 97A and 98. What about the rest?

 Service 1  St Osyth Beach
This is, fbb presumes, a summer season service, terminating at caravan and chalet camp sites on the coast beyond the village of St Osyth.
Being seasonal, it doesn't appear in First's February booklet and fbb awaits the help of his many correspondents to cover its history. Once it was Eastern National service 100!
Now Hedingham.

 Service 2  Mistley
This was run by First on tender and is now operated by Panther Travel.
The company operates coaches and a number of other tendered services as well as acquiring the Clacton 2 from the end of July.

 Service 3  Harwich
This is the first Hedingham absorbtion from First. Hedinham are running much the same timetable as First at not quite an hourly frequency, every two hours on Sunday.

 Service 4  Jaywick - Clacton - Great Clacton ...
... at which point the 4 and 4A bifurcate (oooh, nasty!) whizzing off in different directions. The timetable is a bit of a challenge ...
... and would have been better split up and shown in the two different directions. But no doubt what was printed was what was on the confuser, so thus it had to be - confusing.

Hedingham's version is different. At the Jaywich end it is combined with journeys on their X76 which existed before the First withdrawal. There are still four buses an hour to Jaywick, but the timetable is less easy to follow.

 Service 5  Flatford Drive
First's timetable was unhelpfully presented (that danged confuser again?) with no timings shown for the 5A variant on the way back to town.
Full marks to Hedingham for getting it right!

 Service 6  Point Clear
First ran every 30 minutes to St Osyth village and on westwards to Point Clear.
A small community dominated by yet another Chalet park ...
... it lies across an inlet from Brightlingsea. There is a ferry ...
... but fbb could find no times. Hedingham's route 6 is similar ...
... with a bit of tweaking and a slightly revised timetable from 2nd September.

But there is one significant difference between Hedingham's network and that which it replaced. At school times the service often collapses as Hedingham's buses bumble off to carry loads of happy schoolkiddies. Service 4 and 4A is an extreme example/
Each yellow panel is a part of the full service which doesn't run at school times.

fbb does wonder whether this is a good business plan long term. Does Mrs Miggins of Great Clacton find it easy to remember (a) whether he bus will run and (b) when school terms actually are? There were no such incursions to the regular pattern when First Bus was in charge.

But this "event" begs a serious question. First has a predilection for backing out of anything that does not make an "appropriate return" i.e. it makes less than a proper profit (however that might be defined). So what magic might Hedingham have that can change this around? Are they going to be able to attract additional "bums on seats?
Others might suggest that Clacton's new-ish depot put too high a burden on the fragile town network so both had to go. The reduced First Bus scheme is worked from Colchester.

Hedingham's HQ is a Tollesbury ...
Plenty of "light running"?

First's now deceased booklet was an excellent production.
Have Hedingam matched this quality?

Or maybe we will see a noticeable trimming from the new management in the very near future?

Talking of a Hedingham trim ...

More from Essex tomorrow!

 Next T O W I E blog : Wednesday 29th August  


  1. Hedingham has a large depot in Clacton, in Stephenson Road.
    Its practice of wider headways on schoolday afternoons is widespread across the UK, and is a very sensible way of trying to keep marginal services going. Footfall in many town centres is pretty low at that time of day, with many adults - parents and grandparents - involved in child collection/child care duties. And quite a few of the Mrs Miggins generation will be back at home watching the TV.
    Hedingham's 5 is not quite right - while it identifies that the 5 is different to the 5A, the stop is not in Tyler Drive but at Bluehouse Drive (as clearly shown on the First map). It has generally eschewed using NaPTAN stop names, so few of the stops match what is shown on the flag or on all the mapping systems, including Google. First's 5/5A wasn't perfect in presentation, though the map extract does show it only operating in one direction.
    The Brightlingsea ferry timetable can be found on the county council's specialist website, www.essexbus.info/pdf/BF_BF1.pdf

  2. I can't speak for Essex CC, but in my former employer's contracts a change of service number was dealt with by a single sheet of paper and two signatures.

  3. Shieldsman is quite right. Fitting in a number of services around the schools workings is a very pragmatic step. In the morning, loadings are lower as the pass waving denizens (of which there are many in Clacton) are loath to spend their pensions, preferring to wait for 0930 to use a free pass scheme that they have (not) paid into.

    Similarly, many are back in the house and watching Countdown by the time late afternoon comes round and, of course, this is part of the way that Hedingham are trying to make these viable.

    FBB has, of course, failed to do his homework sufficiently. Hedingham's HQ is and has not been Tollesbury; that depot closed in 2016. As Shieldsman states, Hedingham have maintained a Clacton depot for many years so dead mileage will be minimal.

    The hard truth is that there's probably little justification for two depots in the town, so First have cut their losses (and yes, it has been reported to have been loss making for a while). Hedingham, who have been suffering as much if not more so in Essex, have stepped in to replace at a marginal cost, so it contributes to their fixed overhead.

    FBB must know these financial realities so not sure why he feels the need to say otherwise.

    1. As posters rightly say Hedingham are taking sensible and usual commercial action to achieve a sustainable network, as operators would anywhere else in the country.

      Why didn't First Essex though, not just in Clacton but throughout their operating area? They don't seem to bother with the obvious measures to make the best use of resources, for some strange mysterious reason. Perhaps they don't expect to be around for long enough, either?

    2. Erm....three things

      Surely if First are making these sort of decisions, perhaps it is because they are looking to be around.

      Secondly, they are redeploying resources to try to push out Hedingham where they don't want them and let them have Clacton.

      Thirdly, there's no guarantee that Hedingham can make these work and, it should be noted, that Hedingham have chopped a number of vehicles from their PVR in order to accommodate these new operations.

      But hey, why bother with a rounded, considered view when we can indulge in some First kicking.

    3. I suspect that is exactly the local First strategy. They have strengthened Colchester, and it's right.
      But perhaps there is no guarantee their enhancements will work either, no more than Hedingham; and, like the latter, they've had to do it at the cost of resources elsewhere in First Essex too. But both Arriva and Stephensons have managed to make former unviable peripheral First Essex operations work, so hopefully Hedingham will be able to do so too.

  4. I suspect the whole of Essex is a legacy operation for First, and they'd get shot of it tomorrow if they could. Clacton's problems were symptomatic of their problems in any other of the towns in which First Essex operate, though without any competition in mid-Essex, which makes it the worse of the lot since they can get away with anything with nothing to keep them honest. At least Hedingham (Go Ahead) were willing to step up to the plate. No-one else can probably afford to, frankly, though I suspect they're just waiting for First to commit hari-kari. How much are their depots worth as housing sites, the lifeboat for every other failed business in the south-east? They had a willing buyer for Clacton, though for a refuse depot so no controversy. The offer must have been irresistible.

    1. And if Basildon's town centre redevelopment ever gets off the ground, before town centres all become redundant, then First's bus station sitting in the middle is worth something; and it's a liability they'd give their right arm (and more) to be rid off. At the right price, of course! It's that waiting game, again. The locals are just fed up of waiting!