Merry Christmas everyone…
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
It is not possible for the bus services between Aberystwyth and Aberaeron (the 40 and X50 services, at the time of writing) to connect with the trains at Aberystwyth. At least, not if you want to a regular interval timetable that is useful to other potential passengers.
Trains normally arrive in Aberystwyth at 20 minutes past the odd hours and depart 10 minutes later. If we assume that Aberystwyth station has a waiting room (it doesn’t, not yet anyway) then 15-20 minutes seems to be a reasonable time to allow for connections. If we use 15 minutes, the bus would need to arrive at quarter past (xx:15) and depart at xx:35. For 20-minute connections, the bus would arrive at xx:10 and depart at xx:40. With an every-half-hour service between Aberaeron and Aberystwyth, this means departures from Aberystwyth would be xx:05 and xx:35 or xx:10 and xx:40. The latter is actually the case at present.
The problem is that these times are not great for passengers wanting the X50 service (the one which departs at xx:10). Most university lectures finish on the hour, and getting down the hill to the station in 10 minutes is a tall order. It can be done, but you have to be fit and hope your lecture does not over-run. If the rail connecting buses were at xx:35, the result would be an even more useless timing of xx:05 for the other service. I imagine, many workers in the town also finish on the hour.
There’s another problem, too. Even supposing you don’t care about the university, the 40 route (to Carmarthen) takes 2hrs 15mins. Out and back would therefore take the bus 4hrs 30mins, so if you want to run an hourly service with five buses you only have half an hour to play with between trips. Arriving at Aberystwyth at xx:10 and departing at xx:40 would use all of that half hour, meaning the bus would have no waiting time at the Carmarthen end. This wouldn’t be good for delay recovery on the buses.
And retiming the trains probably isn’t possible, as they run through to Birmingham and have to slot in on the busy line between Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Plus, there’s little reason other than bus connection to want to retime the trains at Aberystwyth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today (Saturday December 21st 2013), Arriva Buses Wales will withdraw most of their services in the Aberystwyth area. This includes the 20 to Cardiff, which is supposed to be a coach. It departs early in the morning, returning in the evening.
Adverts for the Cardiff route.
Now though, another poster has appeared. Stagecoach will operate a service to London on selected days of the week, starting on Thursday 9th January 2014. This will also depart early in the morning, with the return service arriving so late in the evening that it’s actually early next morning.
Like the Y Gerallt Gymro (Gerald for short) premier train service from Holyhead to Cardiff this service is only available for return trips in one direction. There are no mirror workings (from Cardiff to Holyhead/Aberystwyth in the morning and heading to Cardiff in the evening). Unlike ‘Gerald’ however, the coach service will run at weekends.
When this post is published, at 18:05 on 15th December 2013, the Arriva 40 service should arrive into Aberystwyth bus station, assuming it is on time. If I am correct, this will be the very last Sunday bus service in Ceredigion. Next Sunday, the only public transport in the county will be the rail line north from Aberystwyth and a single journey each way on the 701 coach service to Cardiff.
Please comment to correct me if I’m wrong, but I do think there are no other Sunday buses in Ceredigion.