Most weeks, I commute to work in Pembroke Dock. I haven’t mentioned this before because I don’t use public transport, I travel with my father who drives. Normally, the roads are relatively quiet most of the way, suggesting there is little or no justification for a public transport service on our route to work.
However, the other week the Cleddau Bridge, on the main road between Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock, was closed to all traffic due to high winds. We don’t use this route, partly because the Cleddau Bridge has a toll and partly because it would involve going through Haverfordwest, which would slow us down. A lot of other people do though, apparently, since the Cleddau Bridge closure had forced the council to put men with stop-go boards to control traffic over the narrow bridge at Carew. This is on our route, and normally the traffic is light so we don’t have to wait long for oncoming traffic to finish crossing the bridge before it is our turn.
With the Cleddau Bridge closed however the stream of traffic over the Carew was constant, if the men with stop-go boards hadn’t been there nobody going in the other direction would have been going anywhere, perhaps for hours. This suggests that there is an awful lot of car commuting over the Cleddau Bridge between Pembroke / Pembroke Dock and Haverfordwest on a normal weekday, traffic which perhaps ought to be captured by public transport. This reminded me of one of my wild ideas, and made be think it might not be so wild after all.
The idea is this: create a railway bridge from Pembroke Dock across to Newland and rebuild the railway from there to Johnston, creating a circular Whitland – Tenby – Pembroke – Neyland – Haverfordwest – Whitland rail route around Pembrokeshire. This railway bridge would be lower down, so unlike the road bridge shouldn’t have to close when it gets windy, but you might need an opening section to allow ships to pass through. Yes, it would be hugely expensive, but if the traffic’s there it might actually be worth doing. The biggest problem I can see is getting the track through the town from Pembroke Dock station to the new bridge, I think the line used to continue into the dockyard but I’ve not noticed any evidence of where it ran.
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.
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
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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. 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
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.
‘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’.
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.
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.
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.
In terms of sustatinable integrated transport, the A477 St Clears to Red Roses Road ‘Improvement’ is anything but. I was aware of plans for the ‘A477 St. Clears to Red Roses’ road project, but not that work had started. I was therefore rather supprised a while ago when I learnt that the new road had been openned.
The result of the project was the divertion of a section of the A477 (St Clears to Pembroke Dock) onto a new route of over 4 miles between Llanddowror, near St. Clears, and Red Roses, bypassing both settlements. While motorists probably welcome road bypasses, they are bad news for public transport. To explain why, let me return breifly to the topic of TrawsCymru. The review published relatively recently recomended keeping the journey time down by avoiding detours to serve villages along the route. Local services, such as Cardigan to Aberystwyth via Aberporth and New Quay, are important but are much too slow to attract anyone who has a choice to use the service for an end-to-end journey. However, if the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen service was to ommit Lampeter there would be a significant loss of revenue from passengers making shorter journeys.
The ideal bus route therefore is one which follows the same road as the motorist, without any detours, but still passes through plenty of settlements that help fill up the bus with those doing shorter trips. Bypasses leave the bus providers with an impossible choice, use the bypass and lose the passengers from the town/village bypassed or divert through the settlement and lose the through traffic due to the extended journey time compared to the car. Modal shift in the wrong direction. In my interest of TrawsCymru and my knowledge that the Pembroke Dock rail branch is quite twisty, I have pondered a Pembroke – Carmarthen – Llandeilo – Llandovery TrawsCymru route. To my horror I discovered that, with the possible exception of Milton and Broadmoor, the bus wouldn’t have anywhere to stop and pick anyone up between Pembroke and Carmarthen (unless it made detours) now that the new St Clears – Red Roses section has been built since nearly everywhere has been bypassed.
So, not only has Pembrokeshire’s countryside been blighted by yet another ribbon of tarmac but the transport planners have put another nail in the coffin of sustainable transport. Will they ever learn? Apparently not, now they want to build a bypass for a bypass in the form of the M4 motorway round Newport (the big one in south-east Wales that is). We can only hope that does not go ahead.
The images used in this post are a little different from my normal practice. You can still click them to enlarge, but they are not mine. The photographs are taken from the official ‘St Clears Red Roses’, on Flickr and the map is from the Ordinance Survey, using their online OpenSpace API.
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.