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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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!
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.
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:
Richards Bros has the contract
The need to change bus in Cardigan is reduced
There are, however, also alot of bad points:
The application of ‘T5’ number covers six different geographical routes
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Blanket service numbers are covered in a series of articles:
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).
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.
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.