Tuesday, 3 August 2021

New Route And Doughnuts (2)

How New Is New?

We are exploring the new Stagecoach Kent X3 and X4 services which started yesterday. They run from Canterbury to Faversham, on to Sittingbourne and then Maidstone. From yesterday's blog readers will have gathered that from Faversham to Sittingbourne the obvious direct link is by train.

But at the back of fbb's slightly less agile brain was the belief that something was missing. That something was an hourly Arriva service on route 333.
It was withdrawn way back in January amidst a vehement protest from the local press.

The Arriva 333, which runs between Faversham and Sittingbourne, was axed as of Monday, due to a “lack of customer demand”.

Arriva’s head of operations for the south, Chris Berry, said: “Our routes reflect customer needs and the 333 service is particularly underused.

“The discontinuation of the 333 service will improve efficiency on the remaining bus routes, which will continue to provide a reliable service for customers.”

The hourly service stops at numerous villages en route, including Teynham, Norton, Bapchild and Ospringe.

The announcement has been met with disappointment by some, who think the bus company has made a rash decision.

“Arriva should make this a temporary discontinuation,” passenger Lynne Reynolds said. "This service was well used before the pandemic and it is a very short-sighted move."

“The only reason the service is not being used at the moment is due to the Covid restrictions and the government’s request that public transport is only used as an absolute necessity."

“There are many people who used this service, myself included, who cannot drive and are longing to use the service again as soon as we are able to.”

“It will have a dramatic impact on communities along the A2 like Bapchild, Teynham, Norton and Ospringe, which will all see their bus services reduced or lost and cause school students, parents and others reliant on local buses particular inconvenience."

When will politicians, passengers and pundits ever learn that bus companies are selling a product, no different from a can of beanz. If there aren't enough buyers for the product, they cannot afford to sell it - unless, of course, somedbody else will pay (subsidy) or another company thinks they can do a better job.

It does seem odd to withdraw a bus route when the Government is paying for most of it, but Arriva is struggling nationally and maybe they heard a rumour about the impending arrival of Stagecoach and decided to cut and run early!

There are other buses between Sittingbourne and Teynham but the new X3/X4 fills the gap betwond.
So, back to the X3/X4.

The very competent "Bus Atlas" Map 6 already shows the new route, but, what a surprise, Stagecoach's maps do not!
A dotted line (for occasional journeys) runs beyon Faversham, but otherwise the map, and thus the service before yesterday's change, just links Canterbury and Faversham, either as 3 ...
... or a 3X,
But there are a few wiggles. Helpfully, Stagecoach was showing the old set of times and the new service pattern on the same web page; thus promoting passenger confusion. 

So here is what it was:-
We have an hourly service 3 via "the villages" ...
... which nestle happily on the old A2; e.g. Boughton, Dunkirk** ...
... whilst the 3X whizzes along the A2 Boughton bypass.
Various journeys also provide a local service within Faversham e.g. to Bysing Wood, Kiln Court and Oare.

Bysing Wood ...
... and Kiln Court ...
... are both new-ish developments to the west of Faversham.

Oare was once a quaint and fairly isolated village ...
... with a creek ...
... and lots of ugly industrial buildings encroaching on the edge of town. It looks as if the terminus at Colegates Close ...
... involves one of those now-rare omnibological activites, namely a reverse!

Now we take a look at the revised pattern operating from yesterday.
There are still two fast buses every hour and one via "the villages" with Bysing wood and Oare being served with a similar frequency to the previous scheme,

But look at Kiln Court. It still had a bus every 30 minutes, but has lost its through hourly link to Canterbury. Now a driver has the dubious privilege of trundling up and down between Faversham and the estate every half an hour. Kilm Court now has a one bus shuttle service to connect with X3 and X4.

That will go down a bundle with those who used to travel to Canterbury! It also seems an expensive way to serving Kiln Court.

Unfortunately, but typically, Stagecoach has messed up its web site. Search for service 3 ...
... and you are told it goes to Maidstone - which it doesn't; but you get (as above) the full servuice of everything between Canterbury andf Faversham which is what the header for route 3 should show.

If you search for X3, you do get the new table ...
... which is very much a "summary" aimed at through passengers.

Please, Stagecoach, can we have some good quality up-to-date maps? fbb will draw you one for a small fee!

Traveline, again unhelpfully (but that's "sustainable" computer systemns for you) gives you X3 and X4 as separate tables ...
... and the 3 without the shuttles.
fbb did try (honest) to find a Traveline table for Faversham to Kiln Court, but the closest he could get was ...
... Cribbs Causeway near Bristol! Well done Traveline.

Certainly not as helpful as something designed and input by a real bus user.

One way or another, this is an interesting project which has probably "cost" three extra buses every hour. That is quite an investment in "Building Back Better" even if it is underwritten by HMG.

Surely it will hurt Arriva between Sittingbourne and Maidstone; this is the Arriva who have just closed down their depot at Sheerness ...
... and sold Yorkshire Tiger to Transdev.

How long will it be before Stagecoach takes over more of the blue boys' buses?
It would not surprise fbb to see Uncle Brian's weedy liveried buses trundling around the Isle of Sheppey in a few months!

** Dunkirk : No one seems sure why Dunkirk (Kent) is so named. The usual theory is that there was a house on or near the A2 called Dunkirk owned and/or built by a Flemish bloke who lived in Dunkirk as in WW2 evacuation.

Goodbye to the Plastic Pigs

Clas 442 trains began their life on the LSWR main line out of Waterloo. They offered just a touch of quality on a line over-full with standard BR types of train. In one of those weird happenings of privatisation, they became Gatwick Express ...
... where the doors were too narrow and there wasn't enough luggage space.

Then, in theory, back to the South Western to provide premium services once again.

But they didn't work properly and now these fine units are going for scrap. A twitterer posted a video of the last 442 to leave Bournemouth and sail off into the sunset for spare part recovery and then scapping. At the front, a class 66 and a class 73 ...
... then the stock in South Western railway (First Group) boring livery ...
... and a class 73 at the back.
A good train, hard done by under the daftness of the privatised railway.

What a waste!

NOT April 1st!

fbb Failed to Celebrate ...
... but by way of belated compensation ...
... we're "oop noorth" tomorrow!

 Next Leodensian blog : Wednesday 4th August 


  1. Chalkwell have commercially taken on the three main island bus services 360, 361 and 362 (with some route and timetable changes). Also commercially the 367 to Warden Point which Arriva had operated under contract to KCC.

    There was then the surprise announcement last week that Chalkwell would also be operating a 'new' island service aimed at visitors three days a week - which also had an evening operation on Fridays and Saturdays (funded by HMG through funding to Swale BC).

    I think the Arriva 334 requires six buses and also still (at present) have three smaller buses on Sittingbourne town services (347). The depot currently remains open until at least September on the basis of Gillingham depot being responsible for maintenance and Maidstone for operational matters).

    I do wonder how Arriva and Stagecoach can justify four buses per hour between Sittingbourne and Maidstone, when the old 333 struggled to be commercial once an hour?

  2. For those who may be interested, X3 operates with deckers, while the X4 bifurcation via Ospringe requires single decks on this service due to the low bridge near Faversham station…. let’s hope they keep them sufficiently separate in service!

  3. The features on the Electrostar ceiling are in fact the aircon vents and are apparently thus shaped to reduce draft and noise. Clever bit of design from the area when trains were still designed with the passenger in mind.

  4. Typo above - era not area!