A Changeover in the Scottish Borders

Over the weekend, I was in Scotland for a few days and went for a few walks through the hills around Peebles and Broughton. Because, I had based myself in Edinburgh, I was making use of the X62 between there and Peebles and checking on my options before I left home revealed a change that happened last month.

Now that First has been released from the obligations previously imposed on it, it has been retrenching in the Scottish bus market. This has seen it exiting East Lothian with Lothian Buses setting up two subsidiaries to replace the withdrawn services, Lothian Country Buses and East Coast Buses. In the coming weeks, the former is set to be merged with the latter and some service improvements are coming too.

Within the last month, First also exited the Scottish Borders with West Coast Motors taking over their operations. This has resulted in the formation of new company is called Borders Buses and has taken over all routes previously operated in the area by First. For now, timetables and fares are unchanged but Borders Buses can change things as it sees fit once it has settled into its new role. Some buses have been hired in from First until replacements are introduced though there already are some new white vehicles operating under the new fleet name. In addition, some buses from Perryman’s Buses also see service on Borders Buses routes and that is another part of the West Coast Motors group so the Campbeltown based parent company is not new to this part of Scotland.

The result of all the changes is that West Coast Motors has moved its interests from Argyll and Bute, Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands not only into the Borders but also into Northumberland. It has come quite a way from its Argyll heartland so it will be interesting to see how it goes now given that the recently reinstated Borders railway between Tweedbank and Edinburgh is having an impact.

Update on 2017-04-20:
Buses magazine reports that the operations of both Perryman’s Buses and Borders Buses are to be merged with the latter name persisting. So far, there is little sign of that apart from legal lettering on buses showing the same postal address.

Disruption in Scotland

Scotland still is catching the brunt of storm force winds and heavy rain as I write this. Bridges are shut (Tay, Erskine and Forth) and public transport services heavily affected. West Coast Motors are not running buses in Oban and Bute; the latter being due to a power failure. Sticking with the west of Scotland, the last Scottish Citylink departure for Fort William has been cancelled and that tells its own story. Glasgow and Edinburgh too have seen service changes as operators struggle with the weather. Even with that, most services seem to be running and keeping an eye on announcements from the likes of First Glasgow or Lothian Buses would be no bad idea.

Trains do not seem to have got too badly though there were some line closures around Glasgow earlier. Nevertheless, tomorrow will see the aftermath of what is battering Scotland so things may not be operating as smoothly as usually is the case. After all, there has been some structural damage done to buildings and infrastructure with a wall falling on a car in Aberdeen. At times like these, the only hope that can be expressed is that everyone is safe.

Update: National Rail Enquiries have on their website a page describing train running in the current adverse weather conditions. It looks as if there is more disruption than what I suggested above, such as between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. There’s quite a list of cancellations there with services such as the Caledonian Sleeper from Fort William and local ones around Glasgow being examples.

Update 2012-01-03: Yet another storm has hit Scotland again and with much the same effects too.

Should We Have More School Holiday Timetables?

Last week, the 18:39 130 bus service from Wilmslow to Macclesfield was early both nights that I happened to use it. It was an observation that set me to thinking whether we need a change of timetable for those times of year when the schools are not open. After all, it’s amazing quite the difference on the level of road traffic that you see at mid-term breaks compared the times leading up to and following them.

Some operators who mix in schoolbus services with their normal passenger workings do have different times of operation according to school term times and holidays. If you want some good examples of that, just take yourself off to the remoter reaches of Scotland. Argyll, Lochaber and Skye especially come to mind and it’s all down to the sparse population densities caused by history and geography.

Around more populous parts like Cheshire, it’s a different story because bus companies are not as dependent on schoolbus contracts for their businesses as happens around Argyll. You get the same service level for normal passenger workings regardless. What is the point of my piece is that variation in traffic levels have such a variation in bus journey times that I am left wondering if learning how timetables could be changed might be a good idea. There was a time when the I blamed the school run for all of this but I now recognise that there is more to the quietening of roads of this. In fact, it seems that timing of holidays from work by parents makes up the greater share of this.

Having different timetables for school term and holiday times sounds like causing a certain amount of upheaval for passengers but there are precedents for this in the form what is offered on bank holidays and around Christmas and New Year (sorry to mention those at this time of year, by the way). We have become accustomed to having different bus times for those occasions so why not have them more widely so long as bus companies don’t go using the exercise to curtail bus services as well. There is logistical overhead in doing this and some thought is needed when it comes to providing the timing information at bus stops. However, this is the sort of thing that goes on already and harmonising the term and holiday timings might even make it easier for the travelling public. These days, we have internet journey planners in the Traveline too and there’s also the ongoing GPS tracking of buses. All in all, the more that I think about instating school holiday bus timetables, I start to wonder if it hasn’t been suggested before.

Rest and Be Thankful

I was up in Scotland over the weekend and got the chance to embark on a walk from Tarbet to a place called Rest and Be Thankful at the top of Glen Croe in Argyll.  The full account of that excursion is best left for my hillwalking blog but it is sufficient to say that I got a few hours of sun on what later turned into a day on which nigh on incessant rain could attenuate one’s enthusiasm.  Even with the soaking, it was still a good day out.

The name “Rest and Be Thankful” needs a spot of explanation given how odd it might appear. As far as I know, it dates from the days when cattle were routinely drive from the Highlands to the markets in the Lowlands. The place it describes is at the top of pass lying between Cairndow and Arrochar. Doubtless, a rest was needed after the ascent from the former and that may have something to do with the naming of the place. The fact that it could be sort of place where you might linger on a good day helps the understanding. Somewhat surprisingly given all of this, no one has ever thought to build an inn up there, particularly given what drovers enjoyed for their recreation. To this very day, the place is bereft of any facilities apart from a car park frequented by a canny mobile takeaway. I suppose that some would object to there being anything more than this so as to leave the area as near unspoilt as is possible with Forestry Commission plantations everywhere.

My real reason for mentioning Rest and Be Thankful on here is because of the bus stop arrangements. Though the possibility of hailing a Scottish Citylink 926 or 976 anywhere along its route so long as the stopping place is a safe one, the A83 makes the operation tricky with all of the said road’s twists and turns as it weaves its way through the hills. That is partly the cause of Glasgow bound coaches stopping using a lay-by at the other side of the road. Anyone embarking on a return trip to Rest and Be Thankful should be told of the arrangement but I was ignorant of this because I had walked there and hailed the coach from the obvious side of the road. Because the A83 is busy anyway, I was none too surprised to see where the coach went, even it meant a dash across the thoroughfare on my part. I then got the explanation of the stopping arrangements so I thought that I’d share them here in case anyone plans to do something akin to what I did.

Perhaps confusingly, the 926 and 976 are operated by West Coast Motors in their own livery. This follows a silly bus war last summer following Citylink’s decision to use Parks and Stagecoach in place of WCM, who had the work for quite a while. I have related the sorry tale already but I am glad that an amicable conclusion was reached by both sides. The timetable is back to where it was last winter and it’ll be interesting to see what is planned for the coming summer, though I reckon that the current economic climate could curtail any ambitious plans. Whatever happens, let’s hope that wasteful bus wars can be avoided for the foreseeable future.