Category Archives: Buses

A Taste Of Freedom

Surprising news that came to my attention on Thursday (6th July) has cut through my backlog of partly-written blog posts and given me something I can cover quickly.

TrawsCymru T1 bus service at Aberystwyth bus station
Fountain Of Freedom: Aberystwyth bus station (pictured, with a T1 service present) is a hub for TrawsCymru services, being served by 5 of the 8.
This week (3rd – 9th of July) happens to be ‘Catch The Bus Week’ 2017 and the Welsh Government have come up with a surprising scheme to encourage people to do just that; catch the bus. Today (Saturday 8th July) is the first day covered by the new initiative, which is to make travelling on TrawsCymru network free of charge all weekend.

Wright Pulsar bus in TrawsCymru T5 livery at Haverfordwest railway station
Ready To Give Free Rides: Wright Pulsar at Haverfordwest waiting to form a TrawsCymru T5 service to Cardigan.
That’s right, free weekend travel on all 8 TrawsCymru services, including the Cardiff Airport Express and the occasional long haul from Aberystwyth to Cardiff. It isn’t just this weekend either; free weekend travel on TrawsCymru is being offered on a trial basis ‘until further notice’ although according to the poster I spotted on Thursday the offer excludes bank holidays (not sure if Easter Sunday counts as a bank holiday). The Welsh Government Website states that the pilot will run until at least May 2018.

TrawsCymru T9 (Cardiff Airport Express) at the airport
In On The Action: The Cardiff Airport Express is officially part of the TrawsCymru network and therefore included in the free travel pilot.
Perhaps even more surprising than the introduction of free travel at weekends is that the Carmarthen-Cardiff section of the T1C Aberystwyth-Cardiff service is included (in the last phase of TrawsCambria, the X40 service did not except the Concessionary Travel Pass, which gives free travel on all bus services in Wales for the elderly and disabled). While I welcome this initiative in the main, the waiving of fares on the Cardiff Airport Express is a bit of a disappointment, but not because I think making the service free (even if only at weekends) is necessarily a bad idea. Rather, I’m disappointed because it suggests that the Welsh Government are still treating it as a normal TrawsCymru service, when I would much rather it be its own thing (because it has very little in common with the rest of the network; isn’t long-distance for example).

Fishguard Facilities…

…And ‘Connections’

As the Welsh Government’s consultation on the next Wales & Borders rail franchise draws to a close (ends 23rd May 2017), so to must my series of posts regarding issues that I hope the new franchise will address. In this instalment, I discuss some of the problems with station facilities and bus-rail integration, using examples from Fishguard. The consultation on improving bus services in Wales, due to end on 31st May, might also be relevant to this discussion.

Continue reading Fishguard Facilities…

Clear Direction

First Cymru bus in Haverfordwest
Time Of Change: A photo from autumn last year of a bus working one of the services affected by today’s new regime
Today, 3rd April 2017, a number of bus service changes are taking place in Pembrokeshire. Actually, First Cymru’s new timetable booklet is dated as running from 2nd April (yesterday), but since the Sunday bus network is a woeful ‘nothing at all’ the effective date is today. When this post is published however, I will not be in Wales. Today, I’m returning from Norwich on one of my railway exploration holidays, so I planned ahead. On Friday 24th March, it happened that my father wasn’t coming into work so I went by bus. With the new timetable coming up, I decided to take a camera to get pictures for this post; and a story developed.

The first leg of my journey was uneventful. I reached Haverfordwest as planned and waited for my next bus, which I photographed; the 349 service to Monkton, calling at Picton Place, County Library, Dew Street, Horsefair (Tesco), Merlin’s Bridge, Johnston, Honeyborough Roundabout, Cleddau Bridge, Pembroke Dock, Pembroke and Monkton. To me, this was the ‘349b’ service, although First referred to it simply as ‘349’. The first five places listed were reached without mishap, but by the time we reached Johnston an alarm had sounded on the bus. The driver pulled over and cut the engine; after a short wait he restarted it and we continued. Not for long though; the alarm soon returned and we were parked in a lay-by-type bus stop in Johnston.

Failed First Cymru bus in Johnston
Broken Down: the failed 349(b) in Johnston
The driver phoned ‘the engineer’, stating that the alarm had been accompanied by loss-of-power. We waited until the engineer turned up; I was hoping they would send a replacement bus (as Richards Bros have done once or twice when I’ve been on one of their services that suffers a breakdown) but it was just a van. Although an annoying delay to my journey, which made me even later for work (as I pointed out to a fellow passenger who asked, I’m ‘late’ for work anyway whenever I go by bus), the failure gave me the opportunity to collect additional photographs which I would have otherwise been unable to obtain, and are preferable to the rather dull picture I took back at Haverfordwest bus station.

First Cymru bus in Johnston
The real 349: the Tenby bus approaches our failed Monkton one
With no replacement bus provided, we were instead forced to wait for the next service, due to leave Haverfordwest half-an-hour behind our failed bus. We had already spent almost that long stationary, so it wasn’t long before the second bus arrived; the ‘349’ to Tenby. To me, this was the ‘349a’. The driver from the failed bus told the other driver that nobody was trying to get to Monkton, which the ‘349a’ does not serve; and off we went leaving the engineer, the stricken bus and its driver behind. It wouldn’t be the last we saw of them.

Milford Haven from the bus at Neyland
Unexpected View: the Cleddau estuary seen from the bus at Neyland during the detour
The reason I have my own ‘349a’ and ‘349b’ designations for these services will now become clear (although, if you’ve read my 3-part 2016 series on bus route numbers, you might guess where I’m going with this). It is also why I had hoped a spare bus would be found. At the Honeyborough roundabout, our ‘349a’ turned right, rather than heading straight-on to the bus stop as the ‘349b’ would have done. These are clearly different routes, which is not what First (by calling both ‘349’) would have had you believe. The right turn takes the 349(a) into Neyland, which is not served by the Haverfordwest-Monkton service. After looping round Neyland, we came to the Honeyborough roundabout again; this time heading out to the bus stop. Lo-and-behold, sitting there was our errant ‘349b’, with engineer’s van. By not going via Neyland, it had overtaken us but had obviously failed again so I was no later into work than if I had stayed with it.

Pembrokeshire County Council bus service change of operator notice
Reassurance: Pembrokeshire County Council notice on our failed bus, stating that the 381 service will continue
With the story (almost) complete, I finally get to the news. Haverfordwest bus station is to see a reduction in services, with outward services to Milford Haven (302), Johnston (the Tenby and Monkton services discussed above) running direct from Withybush Hospital to Picton Place (Iceland), missing out the bus station. The bus station is still served in the other direction, heading towards Withybush Hospital, with the Monkton services extended there rather than terminating at the bus station. First’s information might lead some to believe that Pembrokeshire is suffering a major bus cut, since they describe the 381 service (Haverfordwest-Tenby via Narberth and Kilgetty) as being ‘cancelled’, with the last day of operation being Friday 31st March. In reality, that service has been taken over by Taf Valley Coaches, as the Pembrokeshire County Council notice on the First buses I took in the story states.

First Cymru bus poster
Service changes: First’s poster on our failed bus
The headline however is that, from today, I will no longer have to call the two ‘349’ routes ‘a’ and ‘b’, because the direct Monkton service will now be known as the 348, while the original 349 (via Neyland to Tenby) remains the 349. A little victory for me (I probably can’t claim any credit for it, but it feels good anyway); now how about bringing back the 550, 50 and 412 designations and sorting out that colossal amalgamation which is the TrawsCymru T5?

Going back to the story, given the huge delay to the ‘349b’ service I was concerned that the service might not recover punctuality all day, jeopardising my ‘connection’ on the return journey. Somehow (perhaps by cancelling a trip?) it seems First did get the ‘349b’ running on-time again (or reasonably close to it), because my journey home went smoothly.

Cloudy, With Heavy Detours

Photo of bus-stop X50 branding with TrawsCymru T5 timetable
Rebranding Exercise: the logo of the former TrawsCambria X50, together with a timetable for the TrawsCymru T5
It’s that time of year again; January the fifth, the anniversary of the launch of the TrawsCymru T5 service (which runs between Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest). Last year, to mark the first birthday of the service, I criticised the use of the single service number ‘T5’ on what is really a collection of different routes. This year, I will explain why I believe that only one of those routes deserves the ‘TrawsCymru’ tag.

In 2010, a consultation was held regarding improvements to what was then the TrawsCambria network, which at the time consisted of the following services:
X32 Bangor – Porthmadog – Dolgellau – Machynlleth – Aberystwyth
X40 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Lampeter – Pencader – Carmarthen – (Swansea – Cardiff)
X50 (Aberystwyth) – Aberaeron – Cardigan
550 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – New Quay – Aberporth – Cardigan
X94 Barmouth – Dolgellau – Bala – Llangollen – Wrexham
704 Newtown – Llandrindod Wells – Brecon

Having already read rumours that it was planned to rename the network TrawsCymru, I spoke up in favour of retaining the ‘TrawsCambria’ brand when I visited the consultation roadshow. Professor Stuart Cole’s reply, as I have written before, was that the old name had some ‘baggage’. He may have meant there were intellectual property difficulties with using it (the TrawsCambria name might belong to Arriva, I’m not sure) but my preferred interpretation is that he felt passengers had negative experiences tied up with the TrawsCambria name.

TrawsCymru T5 bus in Haverfordwest, with branding showing place names from along the highly indirect routes
Failing To Keep It Clean: TrawsCymru T5 bus in Haverfordwest, with branding showing place names from along the highly indirect routes
The logical thing therefore, in my opinion, is to ensure the new brand is a squeaky clean example of a top-notch long-distance bus service.

If I recall correctly, the consultation suggested moving to a limited-stop coach network as one of the options. While a limited-stop direct service would be ideal for long-distance passengers, in many cases the TrawsCambria services were the only public transport available. My response to the consultation thus included the proviso that limited-stop services should not come at the expense of bus services which stop anywhere. This comment was echoed some time later by Dr Victoria Winckler, who the Welsh Government commissioned to review the network; the need for speed does not outweigh the need for a bus service.

TrawsCymru T1 bus (foreground) with TrawsCambria liveried bus in the distance
Change Of Brand: TrawsCymru T1 bus (foreground) with TrawsCambria liveried bus in the distance
But, if you’re going to have a flagship brand, that brand has got to stand for something, otherwise what is the point of creating that brand? I don’t think anyone has done that with TrawsCymru; if I recall correctly there were requirements for TrawsCymru livery, free WiFi, smartly uniformed staff and minimum legroom in the invitations to tender for several TrawsCymru services, but most bus operators have services with most of those things anyway. The legroom requirement might have been a Unique Selling Point, but either it was ignored or the value specified was the same inadequate legroom found on most normal buses (I must get a tape measure and check one of these days). More relevantly, there appears to be no criteria for deciding which routes should be branded TrawsCymru. Dr Winckler’s report put forward one view which I had come to myself by that point; that TrawsCymru services, while not being limited stop, should avoid detours.

As I have posted previously, Dr Winckler felt that TrawsCymru journey times should ideally be no more than 33% slower than by car. Again, as I stated before, the 412 and 550 services (which have now been merged into the TrawsCymru T5) flouts this recommendation to a serious degree. The TrawsCymru website has the cheek to call the T5 a direct service, but a service which travels via New Quay, Aberporth, Fishguard and Mathry Road to get from Aberystwyth to Haverfordwest cannot be taken seriously as a realistic alternative to private cars. Even the faster journeys which omit Aberporth are too slow; Cardigan to Haverfordwest via Fishguard is a lost cause for end-to-end competitiveness and likewise (to a lesser degree) Aberystwyth to Cardigan via New Quay is a big detour.

Of course we need all those detouring services; the need to provide a bus service to as many places as possible trumps end-to-end speed, but such services cannot be sold as a useful long-distance travel option, so why are the Welsh Government trying to do so by branding them as TrawsCymru? If we can’t afford direct services IN ADDITION to the slow ones, then we should wipe the TrawsCymru brand away and just run local buses.

TrawsCambria X50 bus in Cardigan, note the branding on the bus does not include New Quay, because the route didn't.
Much Missed: TrawsCambria X50 in Cardigan, note the branding on the bus does not include New Quay, because the route didn’t.
Of course, I am largely repeating myself here; previous blog posts have covered this topic (this one, for example). I think however that this is the first time I’ve gone over it in detail since the T5 launched and confirmed that yes, they did go ahead and do exactly what I had been hoping they wouldn’t; the major detours of the former 550 and 412 service have been included in the TrawsCymru network.

Aside from WiFi, TrawsCymru means nothing more than TrawsCambria did; the new brand is tarnished at least as much as the old. In fact, if anything, the problem is worse. While TrawsCambria included the 550, which should always have been just a local service, it did at least also feature three or four direct X50 services each way daily between Aberystwyth and Cardigan avoiding New Quay (with direct short workings between Aberaeron and Cardigan in addition); the T5 has just one direct journey per day in each direction between Cardigan and Aberystwyth. Plus, TrawsCambria never included the service between Cardigan and Haverfordwest (via Fishguard), which may well be the most indirect bus service in Wales (it takes almost twice as long as driving); TrawsCymru does.

‘The most indirect through service in Wales, at twice the travel time of driving’, hardly a great advertisement for TrawsCymru is it? The only part of the T5 which deserves to be TrawsCymru is the sole remaining direct service between Aberystwyth and Cardigan, without the extension to Haverfordwest (there is, I think, a possible extension south of Cardigan which might work, but that’s a story for another day (maybe 5th Jan 2018!).

Saved By The WiFi

We Wish You A Merry Christmas… There hasn’t been much to be merry about recently, so to avoid another rant I’ll put out a mini travel report with a happy ending.

Twenty days ago (5th December 2016), I left work in a hurry. I had just realised what the time was; I normally leave a few minutes sooner if I’m aiming for the bus I was intending to catch that evening. Thanks to quite a bit of running, and the bus being slightly late, I caught it.

TrawsCambria bus at Aberaeron with Christmas lights in the background
One from the archives: I couldn’t find a photograph relevant to the story, so picked one of a TrawsCambria bus with Christmas lights in the background
Later in my journey, while changing bus, I got out my mobile in order to phone home and arrange my lift from the bus stop. It wouldn’t turn on; it would light up and make the right (horrible) start-up noises, but then the screen would be blank. On about the third attempt I noticed that, just before it went blank, it would say ‘recharge battery’ or something to that effect.

Oh blast, I thought; either I had forgotten to turn the thing off last time I used it or it had turned itself on without me realising (it has a habit of doing that, if I lean on something in the wrong place the power button can be ‘pressed’, for this reason I try to remember to leave it at home if going to the theatre/cinema). Given the time of year, it would be too dark to walk home from the bus stop (had this happened in the summer, I’d probably have walked).

Fortunately, I had recently replaced the battery on my laptop with one that works, so it had some charge. That, in theory, would give me the means to send an e-mail in the hope of arranging my pickup; but would I be able to connect to the internet? My next bus was a TrawsCymru T5 service; TrawsCymru services are supposed to have WiFi, I could be in luck. But would the vehicle be one of the TrawsCymru fleet, or a stand-in due to a failure? Even if the booked bus arrived, would the WiFi be working?

Thankfully, the bus that turned up was one of the WiFi equipped TrawsCymru branded ones. Once seated, I nervously tried to connect; and BINGO it worked. I managed to get a message through and somebody was there to collect me, all thanks to TrawsCymru’s WiFi. There’s the happy ending. If you want to leave it on a happy note, don’t read the following paragraph.

Now what if my laptop battery had been flat too? Some of the TrawsCymru vehicles have power sockets, but most don’t and even the ones that do have very few (and I don’t think they work, although it’s years since I last tried one).

Summer Sunday Surprise

TrawsCymru T5 Optare MetroCity bus in Aberystwyth
Now snappable on Sundays? I took this photo on a weekday last year, but it should now be possible to take similar on Sundays.
There’s some good news today (29th May 2016). Today is a Sunday, and for the first time in many years Cardigan will be served by a mainline bus service (in recent years, the only Sunday buses in Cardigan have been the coastal path walkers’ buses, which only run on Sundays in the summer). However, there still won’t be any bus services in Cardigan on Sundays during the winter, since today’s new Sunday services are only operating from the last Sunday in May to the last in September. The new Sunday timetable will also run on bank-holiday Mondays, again until September.

So, what is Cardigan’s new summer Sunday service like? The answer is that there are three journeys to Haverfordwest and back, three to Aberystwyth and back and two shorter workings, one to/from Newport and the other to/from Fishguard. Two trips in each direction appear to be through services between Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest (whether or not they actually require a change of bus in Cardigan, as I believe is often the case with the Mon-Sat T5, I’m not sure).

As you would probably expect, these services are advertised under the TrawsCymru T5 banner, but unlike the rest of the week the Sunday T5 appears to operate a fixed route, with all the Aberystwyth workings travelling via both New Quay and Aberporth. Really then, north of Cardigan this is the old TrawsCambria 550 in disguise. Confusingly, with the services to Haverfordwest the timetable doesn’t indicate whether Trecwn and Mathry Road are served.

Disentangling The Distortion

In the third (and hopefully final) part of my series on blanket route numbering of bus services, I present proposals for sorting out the problems described previously.

X50 and 550 route logos on bus stops
Comparative Clarity: there used to be two Cardigan-Aberystwyth route numbers, which clearly distinguished most workings
To start, I will continue using my example of the mess north of Cardigan with the X50, 552 and 554 local services and the TrawsCymru T5 service. In this area, I would suggest the following routes, any of which could have short workings if necessary to appropriate service frequencies:

  • Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Cardigan – Fishguard (direct services only). These would be the only TrawsCymru services, personally I’d call it the TC5 rather than just T5. If you don’t want the college-days-only short working between Aberaeron and Cardigan branded as TrawsCymru that could be known as the X50 all by itself
  • 50 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – New Quay – Cardigan
  • 550 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – New Quay – Aberporth – Cardigan
  • 552 New Quay – Llangrannog – Tresaith – Aberporth – Mwnt – Gwbert – Cardigan (Cardi Bach route)
  • 554 Beulah – Tresaith – Aberporth – Cardigan

With the above, for example, passengers from Aberporth to Penparc would have a clear choice of 550 or 554, they would know the 552 goes via Gwbert and is not for them. People bound for Gwbert from Cardigan would know they need a 552, and passengers for Aberporth would be able to see ’50’, ‘X50’ or ‘TC5’/’T5’ and know they needed to wait for a 550, 552 or 554. There are probably many more examples of the improved clarity this would bring. Admittedly Llangrannog’s once-weekly fast(ish) service to Cardigan would have to become a normal slow service via all the beaches, but nobody with a choice of mode is going to rely on such an infrequent service. Also, the one journey between Beulah and Cardigan via Gwbert would be re-routed via Penparc, meaning Beulah-Gwbert journeys would always require a change of bus, but that’s not likely to be a popular flow and an extra 552 (probably a short working between Cardigan and Aberporth/Tresaith) should be put in to maintain service levels at Gwbert.

X50 Optare Tempo bus in Aberystwyth
New Quay or not? The branding and destination blind suggest not, but in 2014 most X50 services did go via New Quay
The above is just to show it should be possible to solve the problem, but how to avoid the creation of blanket service numbers in the first place? I don’t think a hard-and-fast rule is possible, since an application of common sense is required. For example, there are two different routes that buses may take through Penparc, and some buses detour via Aberaeron school. I made the decision that the routes are not significantly different, with all points being within walking distance of the main route. Essentially, there needs to be a basic guideline but with a single mind to make a personal judgment. The person best placed to do this would probably be the Traffic Commissioner for each area. Bus services must be registered with the Traffic Commissioner, so they could be responsible for judging whether routes are significantly different, and preventing registration of services which would lead to a settlement being served by more than one ‘significantly different’ route with the same number. If they receive a registration which conflicts with this policy, they would instruct the operator(s) concerned to use a different number (or numbers).

What are service numbers for?

Blured photo of bus on T5 service
Blurred Direction: TrawsCymru T5 service
Earlier this month, I criticised the TrawsCymru T5 for having a blanket service number covering at least six different routes. As I alluded to at the time, it isn’t just the T5 that makes the number on the front of the bus (often displayed on the side and rear too) seem pointless.

The TrawsCymru network is a serial offender, despite the branding on buses and the route map on the website suggesting all the services are simple one-route affairs. Of the six services, only the T9 is as straightforward as the marketing suggests (and even then it is misleading, because the T9 has a circular route through Cardiff so you can’t realistically use it from Cardiff Central to Cardiff Bay). As for the others:

  • The T1 is five routes, with the main service alternating between Pencarreg and Llanwnnen and a few of each of these omit the detour via Pencader. The fifth route has just one working per day, according to the timetable it takes the old slower route from via Cribyn (and misses out the Morrisons store in Aberystwyth)
  • The T2 has a slower journey via Groeslon and Garndolbenmaen, and Comins Coch is served or omitted seemingly at random
  • The T3 seems to be about three routes, with several villages (Cynwyd, Llandrillo, Llandderfel and Llanuwchllyn) omitted on selected workings
  • The T4 timetable shows three routes, since one trip goes via Bronllys, Talgarth and Three Cocks and some via Boughrood
  • The T5 is six routes, at least, as detailed previously

Inaccurate route banners for T1 and T5 at Aberystwyth bus station
Lies: the TrawsCymru T1 and T5 shown as single routes on bus stop branding.
Remember, I’m not suggesting that a wide range of routes is necessarily a bad thing, just the practice of giving multiple routes the same service number. In the case of the above, one route should be picked for the TrawsCymru designation to avoid cluttering the TrawsCymru numbering convention. The others should continue as ordinary local bus routes.

I don’t know the answer to the question posed by the title of this post, but I would have thought the purpose of a route number is to identify the route a bus will take to reach the final destination displayed on the front of the bus (often on the side too). A blanket service number as used by the above TrawsCymru services doesn’t do that. Examples of the confusion the blanket numbers can cause were given in the earlier post, and the practice isn’t limited to TrawsCymru.

Enviro 200 bus on 554 service in Cardigan
Messy in more ways than one: a rather mucky bus on the multi-route 554 service
A long-running First Cymru service in south Pembrokeshire is the 349 between Haverfordwest and Tenby via Neyland, Pembroke Dock, Pembroke, Manorbier, and Penally. Apart from one early-morning service omitting Neyland and Pembroke Dock (probably just a positioning move) it was a single route. However, on the 3rd January (2016) First changed all that. They cancelled another of their routes (the 355) and introduced a new route, Monkton to Haverfordwest via Pembroke and Pembroke Dock. Thus, it provides a faster service between Pembroke and Haverfordwest, by avoiding Neyland. The problem is that this new route has been given the same service number as the Tenby service (ie. 349).

I believe the 349 (and the now-cancelled 355) are commercial ventures on the part of First, and TrawsCymru services are of course specified by the Welsh Government, at least in part. Local-authority specified services aren’t immune either though, heading north out of Cardigan there is another mess.

Cardigan Finch Square with 4 buses present
Bus route maze: a range of services preparing to leave Cardigan, including the inconsistently routed 552 service.
As I may have mentioned last time, the residual ‘X50’ services between Aberaeron and Cardigan, despite making only three trips, manages to cover all three main routes (direct, via New Quay, and via New Quay and Aberporth). There’s also the 554 (to Beulah, usually) and 552 (coastal routes to New Quay) services.

The 552 varies its route depending on what day of the week it is. It used to have two trips as far as Llangrannog on Tuesdays & Fridays, one via Aberporth and the other via Bleanporth and Brynhoffnant. It ran through to New Quay just once a week, on Wednesdays. Some of the five workings each week served Llangoedmor, others didn’t etc. Now, the service is known as the Cardi Bach* and the short workings to Llangrannog (still via Brynhoffnant and Blaenporth vice Aberporth on one of the two trips) are Thursdays only.

Another 4 buses at Cardigan Finch Square
Via where, exactly? The 412 might be displaying ‘via Fishguard’ but the 412 always did that, was this particular working going via Trecwn? We can’t tell. Likewise the 554, Beulah via Aberporth yes, but via Gwbert too? Use meaningful route numbers, please.
The rest of the week** the service basically follows the old service 600 Cardi Bach timetable, travelling via Gwbert and Mwnt (the old 552 travelled via Penparc, as does the current Thursday service) and several beaches not otherwise served. Like the 552, the 554 also apparently cannot make up its mind whether to serve Penparc or Gwbert. The full length workings (Cardigan – Beulah) on the 554 go via Tresaith (another place that is served by some 552s but not all), but some short workings don’t and one of these is done in a circular manner, taking in Bleanporth. This part of Ceredigion’s bus network is such a mess that I’ve probably failed to explain it cleanly. Hopefully my suggestion of how to tidy it up (coming in a future post), will be clearer.

* the walker’s bus for the southern part of the Ceredigion coast path, which previously had the service number 600
** all six days in summer, Friday and Saturday only in winter

Blurred Direction

A year ago, I commented on the introduction of the TrawsCymru T5 service. I was very critical of the service, and promised further posts detailing the problems. However, it’s the service’s first birthday today, and I still haven’t done so. I’m not promising I’ll ever get round to completing the lot, but here’s the first part of that detailed coverage.

Blurred Direction
Completely Blurred: TrawsCymru bus
‘What are service numbers for?’ That’s a question raised by the T5 (and several local services in the area, but that’s another blog post, again if ever I get round to it). This particular problem is that the ‘T5’ is a blanket designation of a number of routes.

In my travels between Cardigan and Aberystwyth before the introduction of the ‘T5’, I witnessed at least three cases of passengers being confused as to where buses would take them. At least two of these were in 2014, when the ‘X50’ timetable between Cardigan-Aberystwyth was much the same as today’s ‘T5’. One of these was evidenced by some passengers, who obviously expected to travel to somewhere on the detour via Aberporth, jumping up from their seats in surprise as we passed the roundabout which leads to Aberporth without turning off. I seem to remember the driver let them off next to the roundabout, but they’d have had a long walk to Aberporth. Like the ‘T5’, 2014’s incarnation of the ‘X50’ was a blanket designation, covering all Cardigan-Aberystwyth services. I’ve not been travelling to/from Aberystwyth regularly since before the ‘T5’ started, so I’ve not had the chance to observe further confusion. In the more-distant past, things made more sense as there was a ‘550’ service via New Quay and Aberporth and the ‘X50’ was generally direct. However, it wasn’t perfect, some trips served only one of the two (ie. New Quay or Aberporth) and they didn’t have a special service number for those. The third of my observations was such a case, passengers for Aberporth had let an ‘X50’ which went via Aberporth but not New Quay go without them, assuming it didn’t travel via Aberporth. They would have had a wait of well over an hour for the next ‘550’.

Haverfordwest bus stop departure board
The bus stop information doesn’t help: LED sign at Haverfordwest bus station, showing no information of via points
Of course you have to draw the line somewhere, giving the very occasional detours to Aberaeron school a separate route number would only muddy the waters (the school is under 500 metres from the main Alban Square bus stop in Aberaeron), but I believe detours as major as Aberporth and New Quay need to be clearly identified.

Returning to the present, the days of services via Aberporth but not New Quay are gone, perhaps because nearly every service has gone via New Quay since December 23rd 2013. On the other hand, whereas the 2014 ‘X50’ was only a blanket north of Cardigan, the T5 has extended the blanket numbering to Pembrokeshire. As a result, there are now no less than six significantly different routes under the ‘T5’ umbrella.

  1. Cardigan – Fishguard – Haverfordwest
  2. Aberystwyth – Cardigan – Fishguard – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest
  3. Aberystwyth – New Quay – Cardigan – Fishguard – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest
  4. Aberystwyth – New Quay – Aberporth – Cardigan – Fishguard – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest
  5. Aberystwyth – New Quay – Aberporth – Cardigan – Fishguard – Trecwn – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest
  6. Aberystwyth – New Quay – Cardigan – Fishguard – Goodwick – Trecwn – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest

Of course, there are also short workings of most of these routes. In a sane world short workings wouldn’t be a problem, since the destination sign on the front of the bus would show how far the bus is going. If you want something past there you would either don’t get on or, more likely, ask the driver if there will be a connection for wherever you want to go. But this isn’t a sane world, bus operators have to abide by more-stringent regulations for working longer-distance services, so services like the T5 are registered in sections as shorter services to avoid these regulations. The result is a T5 departing Haverfordwest will probably say Fishguard on the front even if the bus continues to Cardigan. Cue more asking the driver if the bus goes to Cardigan.

Aberystwyth bus station T5 branding
Misleading branding: T5 banner at Aberystwyth bus station suggesting a single route (including New Quay)
Going back to the list of six routes, some of these are only once a day, for example the one that doesn’t go via New Quay (that’s one in each direction). New Quay is even included in the route branding for the service, so perhaps there’s an even higher risk somebody will turn up for that one expecting to go to New Quay. They’d be in for a shock, and that trip (in my opinion) is the only part of the service which deserves a TrawsCymru tag. That’s yet another story though.

Bank-Beating Buses!

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Richards Bros, and presumably one or more of the Welsh Government, Pembrokeshire County Council and Ceredigion County Council are giving us a present this Christmas. And the nature of this present? The TrawsCymru T5 will run on Bank Holiday Monday 28th December!

TrawsCymru T5 Wright Pulsar bus
Flower Pulsar: One of the Newport-based vehicles used on the TrawsCymru T5

The timetable is not the full Monday-Saturday timetable, but given that the 28th is a Bank Holiday we’re lucky to get any service at all. There will be three services from Cardigan to Haverfordwest, one of which will either run through from Aberystwyth or provide a connection. These three services then return to Cardigan, to with connections or through running for Aberystwyth. The balance is made up by a second Aberystwyth to Cardigan service, arriving at 19:27 after the last southbound service (an 18:25 to Newport, presumably returning a bus to the depot there) has left. Finally, the first journey in the morning is a 07:25 from Newport to Cardigan, balancing the aforementioned 18:25. As might be expected, the same indirect route (via New Quay, Aberporth, Newport and Fishguard) taken by the majority of T5 journeys is used. As welcome as the service is, this means that I still consider it to be a misuse of the TrawsCymru brand. There is no mention of whether Trecwn and/or Mathry Road will be served.

The timetable is dated as applying to 28th Dec 2015 only, but its existence does present some hope that we may see further Bank Holiday T5 services and perhaps Sunday T5 services in 2016.

A Couple Of Castles

Photoshop image showing steam locomotive outside Cardigan Castle
A Couple Of Castles
Today, April 15th 2015, Cardigan Castle will open to the public after alot of work preparing the site. GWR Castle Class steam locomotive 4087 ‘Cardigan Castle’ is on-hand on the ‘Cardi-Bach’ heritage railway across the river from it’s stone namesake.

OK, so the stuff about the steam loco and heritage railway isn’t true (well, it is April, even though I missed the 1st by some margin), but that’s what the image, which I’ve produced using Photoshop to mark the occasion, is meant to represent. The image is wrong for many reasons, which I won’t list here (feel free to have a go yourself, but you’d be better off commenting on the photo on Flickr as I’ve loads of spam comments to clear up on here), but in this case, do many wrongs make a right?

On a more-serious note, the local newspaper is stating a prediction of 33,000 visitors to the (stone) castle in its first year. I make that 90 per day on average, or getting on for 8x the population of Cardigan; alot of extra traffic on the roads if they come by car. If they come by bus, that’s equivelent to two full buses, with a few standees on each. There is, of course, not really a railway link to Cardigan anymore, so the train won’t be taking the strain in this case.

Blunder Bus

Good morning? …

TrawsCymru Optare Tempo bus
Duty Awaits: YJ06YRZ, one of three vehicles painted in TrawsCymru livery some time ago for the T5 service that has only just appeared.
Not really. Today (5th Jan 2015) sees the launch of the TrawsCymru T5 service between Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest, replacing a number of existing services. There are two good things about this service:

  1. Richards Bros has the contract
  2. The need to change bus in Cardigan is reduced

There are, however, also alot of bad points:

  1. The application of ‘T5’ number covers six different geographical routes
  2. The residual ‘X50’ local service the T5 leaves behind also covers several geographical routes, which are also confused with the 552 and 554 local services
  3. The route contains many major detours from the direct route between Aberystwyth, Cardigan and Haverfordwest, which are likely to impact on the brand image of the TrawsCymru network
  4. Despite all the detours, including operating via Fishguard, the service fails to serve Fishguard Harbour railway station for connections with Cardigan’s nearest rail service
  5. A number of timetable niggles, of varying degrees of anti-logic, have not be ironed out from the old services, and one or two new ones have been introduced
  6. New, shorter, buses are expected to be introduced in a few months time, despite the existing fleet having been repainted into TrawsCymru livery at unknown expense

Bus service logos on bus stop
Transformation: the TrawsCambria X50 logo and the TrawsCymru T5 timetable that replaces it
Each of these points probably deserve a post of their own, and I intend to do just that. How long it will take me to complete all that is another question.

Update: as promised, I have started detailing the issues listed above in their own blog posts. The series is as follows:

  1. Blanket service numbers are covered in a series of articles:
  2. This is really the same issue as item 1. above, and is covered in the same series of posts
  3. The issue of detours is covered in Cloudy, With Heavy Detours
  4. All in good time
  5. Patience Is A Virtue
  6. Good Things (will hopefully) Come To Those Who Wait (eventually)

Sans-Sundays

Merry Christmas everyone…

Unbranded TrawsCymru Optare Tempo buses in Aberystwyth
Set to gain branding: TrawsCymru livery on the Cardigan-Aberystwyth service
Unfortunately, I’ve nothing in the spirit of Christmas cheer to post, and haven’t time to cover a full story right now. A few months ago, an ITT (Invitation To Tender) was published for a new TrawsCymru service, the T5, to replace part of the current X50 service between Cardigan and Aberystwyth as well as the 412 service between Cardigan and Haverfordwest, creating a through service between Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest. There are all sorts of reasons why this is a bad idea, which I hope to detail soon, but for now I just want to focus on one issue. The Sunday service.

In the ITT, there were to be three journeys in each direction between Cardigan and Haverfordwest on Sundays, and two between Aberystwyth and Cardigan via New Quay and Aberporth. One journey southbound would be a through Aberystwyth-Haverfordwest service, and two of the northbound journeys would also have run the full distance. This would have required two vehicles, with a third working an evening trip from Aberystwyth to Synod Inn and back, via New Quay. This service would have been a rather scant one, but still alot better than nothing which is what we have at the moment. Unfortunately, the T5 timetable has now been published, and even the planned scant Sunday service has failed to materialise. Sundays will conntinue to be devoid of public transport in New Quay. Cardigan, Newport and Fishguard will also have no buses or Sundays, except for the Poppit Rocket coastal bus (which only operates on Sundays during the summer holiday season, the rest of the year it only operates Thursdays and Saturdays).

Sunday Returns

Great news. You can catch a bus in Ceredigion today!

So what? you might think. Today however is August 3rd 2014, a Sunday. Since December last year, Ceredigion has (I believe) been completely devoid of bus services on Sundays. If you wanted to cross the county by public transport, your only options were the 701 coach (Aberystwyth to Cardiff) or the county’s rail link (Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury – Birmingham).

TrawsCymru T1 Enviro 200 bus in Aberystwyth
Arriving in Aberystwyth – T1 from Carmarthen
The new TrawsCymru T1 timetable, starting today, however includes Sunday journeys. So, Sunday buses have made a (very limited) come back. The Sunday timetable, just four trips each way, is rather scant compared to the hourly service that will operate the rest of the week, but it’s a start.

Less positive is the T1’s page on the TrawsCymru website. This claims that:

The TrawsCymru T1 service is your direct link between Aberystwyth – Lampeter – Carmarthen offering high quality, environmentally friendly travel and value for money fares.

It is the “direct link” statement that I call into question. The T1 replaces the 40/40c and, as such, follows the same indirect route. Actually, to be honest it isn’t quite the same route. The T1 is actually two routes, largely the same but with alternate trips serving some of the villages which were not served by the 40/40c. Anyway, Aberaeron and Pencader are still served, meaning it isn’t a direct route and still takes well over 2hrs end-to-end. The page also claims Better connections with rail services at Carmarthen and Aberystwyth Rail Stations. I don’t know about Carmarthen, but the times at Aberystwyth are the same as the 40 service it replaces and, as I’ve said before, it isn’t really possible to make it connect with trains at Aberystwyth anyway.

Invitations To Tender (ITT) have been issued for two further new TrawsCymru routes, the T2 (Aberystwyth-Bangor) and T3 (Wrexham-Barmouth) and these also include a Sunday service. Perhaps then, things are looking up for a 7-day bus network, but apart from that the TrawsCymru brand is looking a bit weak.

EDIT 11th August 2014: added photograph

Muddling Map

Bwcabus area map April 2014
Confusion Contribution: The new Bwcabus area map.
The new Bwcabus area map creates a double whammy of confusion. Bwcabus is, of course, primarily a demand-responsive service, you have to telephone in advance in order to book your Bwcabus journey within the designated area. As the map shows there are also ordinary bus services operating within the area and others which skirt the edges. Bwcabus will connect with these fixed bus routes for passengers wishing to travel beyond the area.

I like maps, but this new Bwcabus one is, in some respects, inaccurate and misleading. The first problem is that there is no distinction between the mainline bus routes which operate six days a week, with reasonable frequencies, and services that run only two days a week. The second is that the 551 service (which runs once a day during college terms only) is absent entirely. My inspiration for this post however is the third problem.

The third problem is that it reinforces the confusing situation which was created by merging the X50, 550 and 50 services into one. It used to be that the X50 and 550 both ran between Cardigan and Aberystwyth, via different routes (the X50 direct along the main road, the 550 via New Quay and Aberporth). The 50, introduced by Arriva, operated from Aberystwyth to Synod Inn via New Quay. Now however all three routes are titled X50, with all but one service in each direction travelling via New Quay, around half of which also serve Aberporth. I have already seen passengers for Aberporth on the X50 realise, as we sped past the junction for Aberporth, that they were on the wrong bus. I don’t know whether they walked to Aberporth (well over a mile) or waited an hour for a bus that did actually go via Aberporth).

Wright Pulsar bus in Aberystwyth on X50 service to Cardigan
Does this go via Aberporth? – X50 service to Cardigan (Welsh:Aberteifi) in Aberystwyth
And now this new Bwcabus map shows the X50 as a single line, with both Aberporth and New Quay shown as part of the route. Blaenannerch and Blaenporth (which are served by the X50 when it misses out Aberporth) do not appear on the map at all. There is also nothing to warn passengers for Aberporth that not all X50 services pass through Aberporth and also no indication that there is still one service which doesn’t go via New Quay. This new ‘X50’ route needs to be broken up into separate services again, X50 for the direct route between Cardigan and Aberystwyth, 50 for Cardigan-Aberystwyth via New Quay and 550 for Cardigan-Aberaeron/Aberystwyth via Aberporth and New Quay.

For now, if you want a bus to Aberporth, or New Quay, check the timetable. The maps and service numbers will mislead you.