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.