Friday, 30 May 2014

Gloom in Gwynedd as Padarn Pops

Padarn Bus, one of North Wales's major operators, is to close tonight, reports BBC News. The Daily Post explains that arrests over fraud allegations have created turmoil and put the local council on alert that the company might be about to cease trading.

Gwynedd Council have now issued a press release confirming that Padarn will stop running from midnight tonight. The council is now looking to issue last-minute contracts to find other companies to operate those routes that aren't already covered by other bus services.

Many tourists could be affected as Padarn run the popular Snowdon Sherpa network of sightseeing routes. Anyone planning to use a bus route that was operated by Padarn should check with Gwynedd Council before travelling.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Council Check: West Yorkshire Metro

This week, we take a look at how Metro promotes bus travel in West Yorkshire on behalf of that county's city and borough councils.

Where do the buses go?

A series of maps cover the whole county. 5 out of 5.


Timetables for all bus routes in the county can be found here. 5 out of 5.


Details of multi-operator and multi-modal tickets can be found here. Plusbus is also mentioned. All that is missing are details of single-operator tickets and of course any information about single ticket prices. 3 out of 5.


Excellent maps and timetable provisions, let down by incomplete fares information. Nevertheless, Metro West Yorkshire scores a total of 13 out of 15.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Council check: Transport for Greater Manchester

Each Sunday we look at the bus information provided by one of our local councils. This week, it's the turn of Transport for Greater Manchester, who provide public transport co-ordination on behalf of the county's councils.

Where do the buses go?

A series of maps covering the whole county, including enlargements of Manchester City Centre, are provided. The major bus stations and interchanges have a separate set of maps showing from which stop each service departs. 5 out of 5.


All in one place and easy to find. 5 out of 5.


Nothing about single fares, but there is a good summary of day tickets, including single-operator, multi-operator and multi-modal tickets. Multi-operator tickets valid for longer than a day are hived off to the System One website, but it is well linked to. Plusbus isn't mentioned, but ought to be, as it offers great value on bus travel when purchased with a rail ticket to or from several locations in Greater Manchester. 3 out of 5.


Good comprehensive maps and timetables, let down by patchy ticket information. The omission of Plusbus is not on. Do TfGM really think nobody wants to know the price of a single fare before they travel? Transport for Greater Manchester scores a total of 13 out of 15.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

To explore or to discover?

Bus operators in and around Aberdeen are launching a multi-operator ticket for the region: the Grasshopper. The Ellon Times has the details.

Multi-operator tickets are a great thing, but they're nothing new. Many of us grew up with Explorer tickets allowing us to travel far and wide, well beyond the reach of our local operator. While the Explorer tickets were introduced by the National Bus Company before privatisation and deregulation, the tickets have survived in some regions, although there can be confusion as to how much the tickets cost and on which operators they are valid. This confusion has led to many Explorer schemes disintegrating as operators fail to promote the availability and passengers err on the side of caution, choosing a different destination or mode of transport instead.

One of the most confusing Explorer schemes has been in the South East, covering Kent, Sussex and Surrey. There you have different prices depending on who you buy your ticket from and in some cases, different validity, even though the ticket carries the same name. That is changing from 19th May as Explorer becomes Discovery.

It's currently only being promoted by Go Ahead's Brighton & Hove and Metrobus subsidiaries, but they say that it will be valid on a long list of operators including Arriva and Stagecoach. Let's hope it simplifies a very unnecessarily complicated product and allows it to perform its function: attracting more people to bus travel by allowing them to explore, er I mean discover, a wider region.

So which Explorer tickets are still available? Here are the ones I know of. Please leave a comment and let us know if you know of any more.

  • Intalink Explorer - Largely promoted by Hertfordshire County Council but valid beyond the county borders on some operators. Also available in a weekly version.
  • Explorer North East - One of the better promoted tickets, co-ordinated by Network One and valid from Berwick down to Scarborough and across to Carlisle.
  • North West Explorer - Stagecoach only, but valid across a wide area, from Chester to Dumfries and across to Newcastle. Excludes Greater Manchester. Exact validity area varies according to which Stagecoach subsidiary's website you view.
  • Bluestar Explorer - Valid across Go South Coast's brands, including Bluestar, Unilink, More, Salisbury Reds and Damory. Confusingly, the rest of GSC call this ticket the Dayrider ABC, but it has exactly the same validity. Years ago it also used to be valid on other operators to the East of Southampton but that has gradually been reduced.
  • Explorer South West - Stagecoach only, plus some routes that are supported by Devon County Council, but Stagecoach don't tell you that.
  • Norfolk Green Explorer - This Stagecoach subsidiary says this ticket is also valid on Go Ahead's Konectbus, but Konect's website doesn't carry any mention of this.
  • FirstDay Explorer - Another name for the FirstDay South West, but publicity says it is only valid between Bournemouth (unserved by First) and Exeter. Not valid on any other operators' routes.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Council check: Network West Midlands

The county of West Midlands is governed by its constituent unitary councils, but public transport is overseen at county level by Network West Midlands, formerly known as Centro. Let's look at how well they promote the buses in the heart of England.

Where do the buses go?

There is a comprehensive bus map for each of the six cities or boroughs in the county. In addition, some of the major interchanges have London-style spider maps, such as this one for Erdington. Nice and clear. 5 out of 5.


There's a timetable search section that allows you to find a timetable by route number, locations served or operator. The only thing it doesn't seem to do is provide a PDF timetable, but most of the operators' own sites do that, as does Traveline. 5 out of 5.


This page has details of all of the county's bus operators and for those that accept the Swift smartcard, tell you how much a single journey is. Sadly that doesn't cover the majority of bus routes in the West Midlands, but at least it is a start. This page gives details of the multi-operator nBus tickets and the range of multi-modal nNetwork tickets. Plusbus tickets aren't mentioned, which is a shame because those issued with rail travel to/from several locations in the West Midlands, are valid throughout the entire county, making them excellent value for money. 3 out of 5.


Excellent maps and easy-to-find timetables, but the incomplete nature of the fares information lets the West Midlands down. Network West Midlands scores a total of 13 out of 15.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Warrington shake up / Bristol defence / Brynmawr bickering

Big changes are on the way in Warrington. The Warrington Guardian tells how municipal Network Warrington is having having its biggest network shake-up for years. The changes take effect from 2nd June.

It's good to see First standing up for themselves and the bus industry in a positive way with a letter to the Bristol Post, challenging the mis-perceptions of a Yate pensioner who had previously written to the same paper. A lot of criticism of the bus industry is justified, but some of it is not, so it's great to see some of the myths being constructively busted. First haven't always had the best reputation in that part of the world, but several initiatives over the last couple of years, such as the Bristol fares review, have shown that they are serious about providing a better service.

Councils and politicians in South Wales are picking up the pieces after Stagecoach's decision to close their Brynmawr depot and axe several routes. The South Wales Argus quotes Assembly Member Alun Davies as saying that he doesn't believe the reasons given by Stagecoach for the closures. The reason Stagecoach gave was that cuts by the Welsh Assembly Government to financial support for the country's bus services in general have made the company's Brynmawr operation unviable. Davies claims that his request to see financial figures to back up Stagecoach's decision to close Brynmawr has been refused by the company.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Council check: Transport for London

OK, it's not strictly a council itself, but it does co-ordinate the capital's public transport on behalf of the 33 local councils of Greater London. Using the same criteria we apply to elsewhere, let's judge Transport for London's provision of bus information.

Where do the buses go?

A series of comprehensive maps showing all bus routes across Greater London are provided. There is also an interactive Google Maps thingemy. The useful spider maps can still be found on the old TfL website, listed by borough. For such a complex network, it's surprisingly easy to find out which bus route you need. 5 out of 5.


You can see live real-time departures for any bus stop on the TfL red bus network, even for stops outside of Greater London on routes that cross the border. Traditional timetables however are not available from TfL. To be honest, most routes are so frequent that no timetable is needed most of the time anyway. But there are routes and times of the week when a traditional timetable would help things. Traveline provides full timetables for routes that cross the Greater London border, but TfL don't tell you that. For routes wholly within Greater London, Traveline provides stop timetables. This third-party website provides the full timetables on an unofficial basis. 4 out of 5.


Here's where regulated London really scores compared to the rest of the country. As this page tells you, there is a flat fare on London's buses of £2.40 if paying by cash or £1.45 if paying by Oyster or contactless bank card. The daily bus fare cap on Oyster is £4.40. Bus travel is also included in TfL's zonal daily price caps if you are also using Oyster to travel by tube and/or train. There's no trying to pressure sell you a day ticket when you only want to make one journey and there's no secrecy about the price of making a simple single journey. 5 out of 5.


Maps are comprehensive and easy-to-find. The spider maps could be less hidden, but are still there and go a long way in clarifying London's complicated network. Fares information is simple, clear and complete. Whatever journey you are about to make by bus, TfL make it easy to find out how much it will cost you. Where TfL falls down slightly is the lack of full timetables for its bus routes, but these are available elsewhere if you know where to look and are compensated for by the quality of the live bus stop departures information that is freely available. Timetables would have given TfL full marks, but as it stands Transport for London scores a total of 14 out of 15.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Change and pay again at West Meon Hut

Passengers between Winchester and Petersfield on schooldays will soon have to change buses and risk being stranded for 2 hours at West Meon Hut, the junction of the A32 and A272, with only a petrol station and a gastro-pub which has mixed reviews for company. The actual village of West Meon is one and a half miles to the south. The situation in the Meon Valley highlights a lot that is wrong about the way buses are run and regulated in this country. Let me explain...

Today, route 67 connects Winchester with Petersfield, serving many villages along the way. It is currently a through route operated by Velvet with most journeys being subsidised by Hampshire County Council.

Extract from Hampshire County Council's bus map

But Velvet are pulling the route as of 12th May. This is the notice on their website:

What happens next? Stagecoach have chosen to run a few commercial journeys, but only on schooldays and only between Winchester and West Meon Hut. Maybe they were gambling that Hampshire County Council would give the (for now) temporary contract for the rest of the route to them. If so, it hasn't paid off for anyone. HCC have awarded the contract for the rest of the route to Xelabus.

This contract is for full journeys for much of the time, including Sunday journeys funded by the South Downs National Park, a big step forward for the route. But it has to leave gaps for Stagecoach's commercial weekday service, which only covers part of the route. This means through passengers on most daytime journeys on weekdays will need to switch at West Meon Hut between a Stagecoach and a Xelabus. The new situation is explained very clearly by Velvet and Xelabus, both coincidentally based in Eastleigh.

This is from Velvet's advice PDF:

So Stagecoach tickets will be accepted by Xelabus, but Xelabus tickets won't be accepted on Stagecoach. If competition legislation is the cause of this situation, surely it's time that legislation was changed. 

A schoolday passenger from Petersfield will now need to pay Xela to get to West Meon Hut and then pay again on the Stagecoach bus in order to continue towards Winchester, certainly costing more than if they could get one through bus. There's no multi-operator ticket to fall back on: Solent Travelcard's zone excludes the 67's route.

Philip Blair, Xelabus's Managing Director has acknowledged on our sister blog, Southampton Bus Update, that the situation isn't ideal, but highlighted that Xelabus will be accepting return tickets issued by both Stagecoach and Brijan Tours (who operate the 17 service, two days a week between Petersfield and Bishops Waltham via West Meon).

This situation occurs against a general background of Velvet withdrawing routes, with Xelabus stepping in to replace them. Xelabus were ready to buy Velvet back in March, but pulled out at the last minute. Read the full story on that episode over on Southampton Bus Update.

The state of the 67 could well change again from 30th August, as the contract between HCC and Xelabus is only temporary.