Category Archives: TrawsCambria / TrawsCymru

Topics relating to the Welsh Government funded long-distance bus network for Wales.

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).

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.

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.

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.

The Core Conundrum

TrawsCambria has a hole at it’s core. A key function of the network the Welsh Assembly Government created around 2004/5 was bridging the gaps in Wales’ rail network. Four of the network’s six routes, at least in part, mirrored long-lost rail links:

  • X32 Bangor – Caernarfon – Porthmadog – Dolgellau – Aberystwyth
  • X94 Wrexham – Llangollen – Corwen – Bala – Barmouth
  • X40 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Lampeter – Pencader – Carmarthen
  • 704 Newtown – Builth Wells – Brecon – Merthyr Tydfil

Of these missing rail links (listed in bold above), the one that has attracted the most calls for re-opening is probably Carmarthen – Aberystwyth. Thus, the X40 was a core route of TrawsCambria and this is evidenced by the fact it carried more passengers than any of the other TrawsCambria routes. However, the X40 is no more, having fallen victim to Arriva’s CymruExpress operation, which itself is now gone. The TrawsCymru TC1 service, intended to replace and enhance the X40, has not yet materialised, leaving a hole at the core of TrawsCambria/TrawsCymru.

40 service bus in Aberystwyth
Arriving From Carmarthen: a Lewis’ Coaches 40 service approaches Aberystwyth
Instead of the X40/TC1 we have two normal services, the 40/40c. This is actually one through service, with a change of service number at Lampeter. The 40/40c service largely follows the intended route of the TC1 but with standard buses rather than the high-specification TrawsCymru ones. The obvious solution is to steal back the six new buses ordered for the TC1, but the current route takes 2hrs 15mins to get between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. That is rather slow, compared to the car, exceeding the recent recommendation (in the Winckler review) that TrawsCymru services should not be more than 50% slower. But what can be done about it? Not a lot, it seems; the 40/40c is already faster than the X40, after most of the detours were removed under Arriva’s CymruExpress.

Bus on service 40 at Aberaeron Alban Square
Eclipsed by the car: First Cymru Wright Eclipse on the 40 service
The only detour remaining is that to Pencader, but removing that would mean finding a replacement bus service for Pencader. This could easily end up doubling the overall running costs and might only have a small impact on the overall journey time. With no other detours, the only thing left to do would be change the entire shape of the service to make it more direct. That would mean missing out Aberaeron or Lampeter, possibly both. The reduced revenue that would result would almost certainly make such a proposal unworkable.

Is it time for plans to be drawn up for a new express rail link between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth? That would allow the 40/40c to remain as local bus services, eg. making detours to Pencader? Meanwhile, the Welsh Government look like they are planning to upgrade the 40/40c to a TrawsCymru route in June or July, ignoring the Winckler review advice that TrawsCymru services should avoid detours.

Good thinking but…

Better late than never… The Welsh Governent has finally published the TrawsCymru review they commissioned Dr Victoria Winckler of the Bevan Foundation think tank to produce.

TrawsCymru Logo
TrawsCymru logo (from the TrawsCymru website)

The report contains some good recomendations, for example pointing out the need for improved facilities at bus stations. It also states that ideally the journey time for TrawsCymru services should be no more than 33% slower than by car, and never more than 50% slower. That ties in with what I have been saying about the Aberystwyth – Cardigan route (X50 versus 550). The X50 is arround about the 33% mark, the 550 takes 1h 54mins. It wasn’t included in the review, but that’s 84% slower than the car journey time for Cardigan – Aberystwyth given in the review report (via New Quay but not Aberporth would be 61% slower than the car).

The review also made a good attempt to define the purpose of the network:

“It should provide medium- to long-distance bus services (of more than 25 miles) between towns and substantial communities”

And now for the BUT
When it came to the details, Dr Winckler appears to have forgotten her general recomendations. Included is support for the T9 (Cardiff Airport Express) service and the T(C)5 (the proposed 412 + X50 combination service). In my view the T9 is out because, at arround 10 miles, it is hardly long-distance. Also, to be pedantic Cardiff Airport is not a community.

412 service in Fishguard - Optare Excel
Smart But Slow: The 412 service at Fishguard
The problem with the TC5 is time. Like the 550, this route was not featured in the journey time comparison table published in the review. I’ve estimated the car journey time from Cardigan to Haverfordwest at arround 40 minutes. The 412 bus service, which would be part of the TC5, goes via Fishguard. Therefore, it does Cardigan – Haverfordwest in 1hr 27mins or 1hr 19mins, depending on whether the trip you happen to be on makes the additional detour to Trecwn. If you thought the 550 was bad at 84% slower than the car, the 412 will give you nightmares. On the faster trips, it is 98% slower than the car. The even slower journeys (via Trecwn) take 118% longer than the car.

EDIT: updated URL to Winckler to point to a local mirror, since the Welsh Government have moved or removed the report.

Aberporth All Over Again?

Sunrise in Ceredigion, seen from a bus
Sunrise or sunset?

Arriva wrecked TrawsCambria and blocked TrawsCymru. Will their withdrawal mean a brighter future for Wales’ long-distance bus network?

The council’s press release suggests great news:

I am delighted that we can announce replacement services on the 40, 40C and 50 routes. Whilst the 40/40C service between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen will be very similar to the current service, I am particularly pleased to announce that the 50 route between Aberystwyth and Cardigan will now be a greatly enhanced through-service that will avoid the need to change in Synod Inn. We have also negotiated through-ticketing between the different companies operating the 40, 40C and 50 services.

And that indeed is good news, although changes at Synod Inn haven’t been necessary since Richards Bros extended the 550 from Synod Inn to Aberaeron, at the cost of making Cardigan – New Quay journeys even more impossible.  However, I fear there is a devil in the details. This devil will hopefully be revealed by an explanation of the title of this article.

Going back to the 2007/2008 academic year when I started using buses, the TrawsCambria service south of Aberystwyth consisted of:

  • X40 to Carmarthen (essentially hourly, with occasional extension to Swansea/Cardiff), operated by Arriva Aberystwyth and First Carmarthen
  • X50 to Cardigan (direct), 3 or 4 services each way, plus a few more between Aberaeron and Cardigan ‘connecting’ with the X40, operated by Richards Bros
  • 550 to Cardigan via New Quay and Aberporth, hourly as far as Synod Inn extending every two hours to Cardigan. Operated by Arriva Aberystwyth except a few journeys (principally the last two evening services) worked by Richards Bros. The full trip would take about half an hour longer than the X50 thanks to the diversions round New Quay and Aberporth.

I’ve always been of the opinion that it was a mistake to include the 550, at least the section south of New Quay, in the TrawsCambria network. It was an important local service, but for TrawsCambria the indirect route to Cardigan has to make the service unattractive for long-distance journeys. I spoke to Proffessor Stuart Cole at the TrawsCambria network consultation, objecting to the idea of the network being renamed TrawsCymru. His reply was that the TrawsCambria brand had some baggage. I can only assume he was referring to the 550 and the lack of toilet facilities for the long-distance Aberystwyth – Swansea/Cardiff runs.

As far as long-distance travel is concerned, I believe the X50 should have run through to Aberystwyth more frequently, roughly every two hours throughout the day, and the 550 should have been just another local service.

Now though, it seems it is Aberporth All Over Again, with the direct X50 service being cut to one service each way (southbound in the morning, returning in the afternoon). This allows Arriva’s aborted 50 service to be replaced by an hourly service between Aberystwyth and Cardigan via New Quay (and Aberporth on alternate journeys). Weirdly, in a move that will probably confuse some who won’t know which services go via Aberporth and which is the one that still avoids New Quay, all services will now be given the X50 number.

I hope this is left as a local service and doesn’t become TrawsCymru, because that would be adding the baggage of slow, indirect, journeys to the brand again. Another threat to the TrawsCymru brand is the proposed extension south from Cardigan to Haverfordwest. Again this great news on the face of it, since connections to/from Haverfordwest in Cardigan have always been largely non-existent. However, another Aberporth-like-devil lurks in the details of this proposal. The current service between Cardigan and Haverfordwest, the 412, takes a rather indirect route itself, going via Fishguard, Trecwn (on some trips) and Mathry Road. Yet it doesn’t serve either of Fishguard’s rail stations (actually in Goodwick, not far from Fishguard).

A much better prospect for TrawsCymru, in my view, would be to bring back the direct X50 service and extend it to Fishguard Harbour station for rail connections.

To end on a positive though, as a local service things are much improved today compared to last week with Arriva’s services operating, since you can now go from Cardigan to New Quay by public transport, and you don’t even have to change bus.

End Of An Era

December 21st (2013) was the end of an era for bus services in Ceredigion. The following is my travel report on the day.

Soon after 6pm I arrived at Aberystwyth station to catch the final 18:15 Aberystwyth to Cardigan X50 service.

Optare Tempo YJ55BKE in Aberystwyth
Departure Time, YJ55BKE stands ready at Aberystwyth with the final 18:15 X50 service to Cardigan.

I thought it rather fitting that the vehicle used was YJ55BKE, one of the two Tempos ordered and route-branded for the X50 service. I think this is only the second time I have seen an X50 vehicle on this service (the timetable means the two buses were not sufficent to cover both this working and the two evening full-length 550 runs, so other vehicles have had to substitute). I took this service as far as Aberaeron, passing the Arriva Pulsars on the final northbound 50 service and the penultimate northbound 40 service.

At Aberaeron I alighted to await the final CymruExpress 40 service to Aberystwyth.

Aberaeron Christmas X50
Merry Christmas? The final evening X50 service to Cardigan, with Aberaeron’s christmas lights in the background.

YJ55BKN, once an Arriva-liveried Tempo on the TrawsCambria 550 and X40 but now part of Richards Bro’s fleet, passed on the 17:36 Cardigan to Aberystwyth 550 service (which due to regulations on service length now changes to X50 at Aberaeron). Perhaps this distracted me enough to miss Arriva’s final CymruExpress 50 service, the 18:15 from Aberystwyth. Either way, I did not see that service so I wonder if Arriva failed to run the final 50 service. While I was waiting, one of the Arriva Pulsars came up from the New Quay direction running Out Of Service. Since it wasn’t stopping I only had time to catch part of the number plate.

Final Arriva 40 bus, Aberaeron
The last Arriva 40 arrives at Aberaeron

I spent some of the rather long wait for the 40 taking photographs of the Christmas lights on Alban Square. The final 40 service finally arrived, rather ungloriously formed of V580ECC (complete with the old-fashioned bus seats which I believe are now largely confined to Northern Rail’s Pacer fleet). As I boarded, the driver realised I was out to ride the last 40 service, my camera was probably a dead give away. Then he asked, “it’s a shame isn’t it?” I think my reply was “In a way, yes.”

Onboard the last 40 service
Retro Seats: onboard the last 40 service

What I meant was, it’s a shame the bus depot in Aberystwyth is closing, and it’s a shame some of the staff Arriva have made redundant may be unable to find alternative employment. However, I’m not sorry at all that Arriva have left the area, their policies have been obstructive in the aims of providing a good overall public transport service and at times they have displayed incompetence. I stress that I attribute these problems to the distant management, the local staff are probably completely blameless and had they been employed by the local independent operators instead of Arriva I’m sure we wouldn’t have had these problems.

End of the line
End of the line: the last Arriva 40 at Aberystwyth

At Aberystwyth, after taking some photos of the last 40 at the station, I quickly dashed over to the Arriva depot to see if I could photograph the fleet. It was however too dark and the photographs didn’t come out well enough. Then it was time for a lift home by car, passing ex-Arriva (now Richards Bros) Optare Tempo YJ06YRZ (heading into Aberystwyth on the final 550 service) as we left the town.

Off into the night
Off into the night: YJ55BKE departs Aberaeron for Cardigan on the last direct evening service

EDIT 1st Jan 2014: added photographs from the day

Fall Of The Flying Buses

Arriva 40 and 585 services in Aberystwyth
Departures: an Arriva CymruExpress 40 service at Aberystwyth bus station. The 585 service in the background will continue until February and be Arriva’s last Aberystwyth service.

Rejoice! CymruExpress is dead. Right now (21:18 on December 21st 2013), the CymruExpress 20 service should be pulling into Aberystwyth, marking the end of Arriva’s obstructive CymruExpress operation in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire.

Some time ago, on my now extinct previous blog, I wrote a post titled ‘Arriva Orders Flying Buses’. The story was that Arriva Buses Wales published a timetable for new services out of Aberystwyth, branded CymruExpress, which commenced operation on February 26th 2012. These services replaced the former TrawsCambria 550 (Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – New Quay – Synod Inn) and TrawsCambria X40 (Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Lampeter – Pencader – Carmarthen) services.

As the brand name suggested, the new services known as 50 (replacing the 550) and 40 (replacing X40) were timetabled faster than their predecessors. The 50 was timetable 8 minutes faster than the 550 northbound (3 minutes faster southbound). The futility of this timetable is perhaps illustrated by the fact today’s (December 2013) 50 service is timetabled to do the northbound trip only 1 minute faster than the old 550.

Arriva 40 service at Aberystwyth bus station
Arriva CymruExpress. Going… Going… Gone!

The real motivation for my ‘flying buses’ tag however was the 40 service. Whereas the old X40 service had been timetabled to do the journey to Carmarthen in over 2hrs 20mins, the 40 was timetabled to take a blistering 1hr 55mins. This included an allowance of just two minutes between Carmarthen’s bus and rail stations, something that I believe would only be achievable on a regular basis if you could fly across the river. To be fair, the 40 does take a more direct route than the X40, but even so northbound buses were frequently over five minutes late by the time they reached Aberaeron. This meant passengers off the services from Cardigan, who were supposed to have a connection into the 40 to Aberystwyth, had a very long wait on Aberaeron’s cold, cigarette smoky, bus stop.

Again, Arriva have been forced to back track, the southbound service now runs direct to the rail station in Carmarthen, with the bus station only served northbound. The northbound journey time is now a much more realistic 2hrs 10mins, although it still isn’t quite reliable. I’d say it should be 2hrs 15mins, and sure enough the service contracted to replace the 40 from Monday to fill the void left by Arriva is timed at 2hrs 14mins.

So, one cause for celebration is that services should be more punctual following Arriva’s departure. Furthermore, Arriva launched CymruExpress commercially while the Welsh Government and local councils were out to tender for a new TrawsCymru service, the TC1, to replace the X40. That would have brought six new buses and a 6am to 8pm service to the corridor, but had to be abandoned due to Arriva’s commercial actions. This ripped a gaping hole in the TrawsCambria/TrawsCymru network, removing a core route. While the six new buses have been diverted to other TrawsCymru routes, Arriva’s departure offers hope that TrawsCymru will now be able to return to the corridor in future.

Last 40 service in Aberystwyth
End Of The Line: The very last Arriva 40 service arrives in Aberystwyth.

Additionally, those ‘connections’ in Aberaeron to get you from Cardigan to Aberystwyth, which Arriva held a strong disregard for (with frequent timetable changes breaking the connection), will be a thing of the past from Monday. Richards Bros will be running a service replacing Arriva’s 50, which will be extended through to Cardigan as part of Richards existing 550 service.

So, great news all round then, apart from the Arriva drivers who will lose they jobs as a result of Arriva leaving Aberystwyth? Well, not quite. I hope to explain on Monday.