Wednesday 15 February 2023

A Nostalgic Look Back to 1996 (2)

 First Bus Dies In Devon!

Keith Shayshutt's excellent volume details what it says on the cover - working timetables for Western National in their Devon Division. Whilst this is mainly services based in Plymouth, the WN network did spread much wider, but for comparison purposes, fbb with stick to samples of longer distance services from Devon's second principal town! Sorry, Plymouth, we know you don't like to be tagged as second to Exeter, the County Town!

But the Plymouth map from Stagecoach, successor to First Bus, offers very little opportunity for travel further afield.
The map is a bit weedy for our weary eyes, so fbb will look at the Plymouth city network plan for stuff going into areas of delight and mystery. And there ain't much at all.
We met route 3 from Stagecoach yesterday at Plymstock, but we now see it is an hourly service to Kingsbridge offering a connection with the 93 on to Dartmouth. In 1996 is was an hourly 93 all the way.
This is how it once was ...
... a picture from a Kingsbridge "running day" in 2019.

In todays version, both 3 and 93 are hourly BUT ...
... you have a 15 minute wait in Kingsbridge adding significantly to the time cost of through journeys.
Not the best way to encourage longer distance travel.

The former main road towards Exeter offers a wider selection ...
... which bears little resemblance to the 1996 collection.

First's service X80 ran to Torquay.
Even before First's feeble capitulation, Stagecoach was on the attack with a route called simply "Gold". fbb went to the launch, complete with human statue in, erm, Gold!
And there were yummy cakes with edible labels and sort-of gold icing.
First Bus just walked away, cancelled their X80 and began plotting their total retreat! Stagecoach's service still runs every hour.
In 1996 WN ran to Ivybridge and on occasionally to Newton Abbot.
The "new town" (?) of Ivybridge proved difficult to serve. Plymouth City bus now runs its service 20, via Plympton or Plymstock.
There are wiggles a-plenty at Ivybridge itself ....
... with each route running hourly.
It is a better service than WN ever operated.

Before taking over from First, Stagecoach introduced an express service between Plymouth and Exeter. From memory (unreliable) the X38 began with a blaze of glory running every hour. Smart coaches were the motor of choice.
But it was not long before cut backs began and today;s X38 is a very poor shadow of its original intention.
Anything with a wheel at each corner seems the vehicle allocation policy. Five journeys Mon to Sat and three on Sundays is all that you get.
It does call at Ivybridge as does "Gold", of course!

Which leaves us with the Falcon ...
... which, apparently doesn't serve Plymouth ot Exeter for that matter. It does appear on the maps, but there is no obvious route to the timetable. It runs fast via the dual carriageway "new" A38 ...
... not leaving the main drag to bother woth the lokes of Ivybridge!

It runs hourly seven days a week from 0100 to 1900, then 2100 and 2300.
It doesn't really provide for local traffic unless you really want to go from Lee Mill to Drumbridges roundabout, neither does it serve the centre of Exeter. fbb rode it from Taunton to Bristol, Bristol to Plymouth and Plymouth to Taunton in its early days and in one day. But he soon recovered.
The coaches looked really good once - until they succumbed to motorway maintenance yellow!

First Bus does creep into Devon with the service 30 from Taunton to Axminster and the Jurassic Coaster from Axminster to Weymouth. 

Back in 1996 WN was operating a substantial network around Totnes, Dartmouth and Newton Abbot, all of which has gone, again mostly to Stagecoach. First's North Devon network succumbed to Stagecoach competition but First soon sort of sold out in more ways that one!

But back in 1996 WN was running from Plymouth to Barnstaple!
The through service no longer exists but Dartline (i.e. GoAhead) runs the 118 between Tavistock and Okehampton ...
... and Stagecoach 317 will get you from Okehampton to Bideford - which is close enough?
And before our readers complain about fbb's ignorance, note that former WN services into Cornwall (except yesterday's Saltash locals), are all in the hands of Go Cornwall, GoAhead's contract to run everything in the county (more or less) except First's commercial services.

Generally speaking, these have reverted to something more like their 1996 equivalents ...
... but undoubtedly at an unsustainable cost for the Cornwall council taxpayers. There will be tears before bedtime in many of these communities.

But in a couple of subsequent blogs, fbb will look at some of the "oddments" services to rural areas, operated by WN in 1996 but tendered to various companies today.

It is actually quite surprising how much of these services remain. There is still a service to Buckland Monachorum, for example!
It is, of course, run by GoAhead in the guise of Plymouth Citybus!
So, tomorrow, some unusual backwater buses then (1996); and now (2023).

Plus a bit more from fbb's Frustration Infuriation Situation; all to do with LEDs.

Puzzle Picture
Where was this? And a clue?
Or maybe not!

 Next Nostalgia and High Light blog : Thursday 16th February 


  1. X38 was started by NBC in around 1982. To get a Falcon timetable on the Stagecoach site, enter FAL.
    Not sure how they expect people to know that, though but I guess most people seach Google directly with key words or 'south west falcon' - the timetable is easy to find but it's not where one would expect fo find it (it's under promos and offers).

  2. First (in its "Buses of Somerset" guise does still have a couple of other excursions into Devon. The X22 runs five times a day between Taunton and Tiverton via Uffculme and Willand (plus a college journey to/from Cullompton); whilst the 25 runs five times a day between Taunton and Dulverton, slipping into Devon to serve Shillingford and Bampton. Needless to say, neither runs on Sundays.

  3. At Kingsbridge 3 and 93 work as a through service today - so no change. The wait is only 10 mins where as it used to be 5 mins - to improve reliability.

    Torbay to Plymouth - It is quicker by train change at Newton Abbot and more comfortable - GW timetable D4 gives the full train service - its advertised by train.

    The X38 suffers because it is quicker and better by train. Cost is not an issue for most.

    Gold runs every 30 mins and since October no longer runs from Paignton to Torquay in preference to the 12 frequency.

    Falcon is an express coach service with its main market Bristol Airport - It does not want local traffic. The airport is busiest from 06:00 to 07:30 and hence the all night Falcon.

    WN may have run Plymouth to Barnstaple, but only 1 a day went right through - the rest was a mess of individual part runs which was so typical. Today you get regular service over the sections which people use - the overall network is not the same, so some sections are less served and others more.

  4. You've not mentioned First's Dartmoor Explorer! Two return trips daily in Winter; Gunnislake/Tavistock - Princetown - Mortonhampstead - Exeter.