Friday, 4 February 2022

Newport, Nice Or Nasty? (Part 2)


Although fflecsi is run by Newport Transport, it actually isn't. It is a Transport for Wales "initiative" using the usual App-based system tried and tested (and mostly failed) elsewhere. Its start-up in Newports was slightly different in that three City bus services were withdrawn from "normality" (due to Covid - yeah, right) and replaced by fflexi services, even using normal buses!
The initial areas were kindly mapped out in a blog by Roger French.
Routes 1/1B serving Rogerstone, 11A/11C serving Allt-Tr-Yn and Brynglas (shown in the map above) and 26A/26C serving St Julians and Old Barn Estate (see map below) with links to the town centre, were all withdrawn in their traditional format and replaced with a fflecsi option instead.
The service has now been significantly expanded.
Newport Transport give details
 of how it all works on their web site, but for full info you need to download the App. fbb hasn't!

On the app, use the pointer or type your address to choose your departure and destination points within the fflecsi area. The app will then schedule your bus for you and indicates your pick-up point. You will receive a text message (SMS) confirmation on your journey. 

On the phone, the call centre advisor will take your booking and will confirm it back to you.You will receive an automated call approximately 30 minutes prior to you ride to confirm the time and pick up point. 

You can also schedule a return or other journeys up to seven days in advance. This is the perfect solution for commuters to leave their car at home and enjoy a hassle-free ride. 

Note that if you leave close to a regular bus stop, you will be offered a timetabled service if it provides you with the fastest pickup and journey time. 

Travel - Head to your pick-up point in plenty of time and be ready to start your bus journey, Your pick up time might be a bus stop, but not necessary. This will be indicate on the app or by the call centre agent.

Pay for your fare on the bus

As the Newport fflecsi is operated by Newport Transport, the fares are the same as Newport Bus fares and all tickets are valid on the fflecsi and the scheduled Newport Bus services

You would think Newport residents would be thrilled. Demand Responsive AND electric buses on proper routes. Sounds very strong for "customer service".

So why that headline?
Before fbb looks at what the trouble is/was, it is worth remembering that a good "bus story" is dead easy for the Fourth Estate. You only need to round up a small clutch of grumpy housewives and amongst them will be enough to fill a whole article.

Indeed, fbb has documented "bus stories" where the reporter has gathered together a posse of prolific protesters at a bus stop to show how bad things are. Often those protestors are not even bus users!

But here is an expurgated version of the Wales On Line article.

Some Newport residents have branded the city's bus services a "disgrace" citing a lack of information on timetables, infrequent services and drivers not having information on arrivals.

A number of bus users have reported issues while trying to get buses from the city centre in recent weeks. These include electronic timetables not working, paper timetables not being available and little information from drivers and staff on when buses are coming.

Carol Gray, 65, from Lliswerry said she went into town on Saturday, January 15 and experienced issues trying to get home afterwards.

"I have some health problems and can't go into town on my own," she said. "So on the day I went in with one of my granddaughters and we had a nice wander around the shops and got a coffee.

"Afterwards on Saturday afternoon we went to get the bus back. We sat in the bus station for between half an hour and 45 minutes but no buses to Spytty/Moorland Park came.

Moorland Park is housing ...
... Spytty is Tesco et al ...
... and the route serves Aldi and Coleg Gwent.
The route is only half hourly, so one delayed or failed bus could have explained all!
"The screen on the wall that normally shows the times of the buses was not working. Sometimes when it isn't they have paper timetables instead, but there were none.

She said it was a "disgrace" that there was so little information at the main city bus station and that passengers seemed to have little choice other than using the mobile phone app.

"I'm 65 years old and I'm not au fait with mobile phones," she said. "I have one but I don't know how to use it, I can't use apps. But I shouldn't have to go on my phone to find out the times of the bus when I am in the bus station.

She has a point. Would she have fared better with a printed timetable?

Bev Reardon also lives in Lliswerry and said she had been having issues using bus services. She has a free bus pass but said she "rarely" uses it due to the uncertainty around when buses will arrive.

Bev said she knew of people who had been forced to give up long-term jobs because they could no longer get buses at a reasonable time of the day.

"I've walked home over the river front [from town] because you never know what time the next bus is. There's never a paper timetable up so unless you have got a smartphone to look them up, you're lost. It's absolutely appalling.

"A lot of people don't use apps. They will say people aren't using the buses and that's why there aren't more services, but people aren't using the buses because they aren't running [often enough]."

Sophie Booth lives in Somerton and said she used to work in a restaurant in the city centre.

She said services used to be quite regular (she means "frequent") and although she doesn't need to go to town regularly anymore, she said she had noticed a big change in bus frequency more recently.

"I have definitely noticed a change since the pandemic," she said.

"You have got no information unless you go online. The electric timetables at the main bus station are rarely working and neither are the ones at the other bus stops around Newport.

Nuffin To Do Wiv Us, Mate

A Newport Transport spokesman said: "The facilities, equipment and infrastructure at Newport bus station are owned and maintained by Newport City Council to which all bus operators pay to depart from.

"We have provided timetables (they mean departure lists) on each stand. We have not produced paper timetables currently as timetables have changed frequently and can be subject to short notice changes due to changes in Covid regulations. This would lead to significant waste of resources and paper affecting the environment. (Twaddle!)

"Once we have confidence that short notice changes are not required, we will return to providing up to date timetable leaflets. However, during the Covid pandemic we have developed a mobile app that provides ‘realtime’ information including letting customers know how busy services usually are. Customers can also download timetables from our website directly to mobile devices or print out at home should they wish.

If they can be printed out at home, then they can be printed out at HQ for distribution. The cost is minimal!

Here is the PDF timetable (extract only) for the half hourly 42/43 (referred to above) ...
... and the very inconvenient every 40 minutes on Saturdays.
So if Carol (above) were travelling on a Saturday, and if she were applying the usual exaggeration, that the press seem to enjoy and print as truth, her anguish, although well-felt, may just have been a little over done.

Who knows?

There are also two route maps ...
... for what is really one route ...
... going both ways round a complicated terminal loop. One sheet of A4 run off on a photocopier would be better than nothing, surely.

But as a real treat, you might get an electric bus!
Not much help to Carol if she cannot find out when the buses run!

And It's Not Our Fault Either!

A Newport City Council spokesperson said: "The council is working to upgrade the systems used for the electronic timetables. This is following our previous system supplier leaving the market.

"Once we have a new supplier in place, we will begin rolling out the upgrades. We are hopeful that this will rectify any recent issues with the timetables that passengers may have been experiencing."

Of course, if somebody issued printed timetables, the lack of electronic stuff would have been less of a problem.

Also, don't you have a lad with a screwdriver who can fix your IT? If you don't, you should have.

Apps and On-line may be useful to some, but an awful lot of the more regular customers can't be bothered or don't know how.


fbb guesses that printing timetables would be a great deal cheaper that "developing an App"!

 Next Variety blog : Saturday 5th February 


  1. I don't have the up to date knowledge of the rest of the country, but looking around in my corner of the South-East, it certainly seems that the bus networks are falling to pieces, and
    Covid is the final nail in the coffin. If there are exceptions (and it's a big if) it just proves the rule.

    1. You're right there, smurfuk. In my area a subsidiary of one of the big groups has just given notice on all its council contracts, and added that they are working on de-registrations for several commercial routes. And this is an operator which does well with roadside publicity accompanied by branded flags, issues printed timetables and has a travel shop in its main town.