Additional Services for the Summer in Scotland

During the Jubilee bank holiday weekend, I popped up to Scotland for a few days and, in so doing, learned more about some extra train and coach services that are laid on for the summer up there. Of course, that wasn’t my real reason for going. The chance of getting some dry weather while sampling more of the country’s scenery was the actual motivation.

A copy of ScotRail‘s Insight on-train magazine alerted me to the return of a direct Sunday return train service between Edinburgh and Oban. It leaves the former at 08:10 and arrives at 12:06 having called at Haymarket, Linlithgow, Polmont and Falkirk along the way. It then leaves Oban at 17:11 and arrives back in Edinburgh at 21:09. It hasn’t started yet though and you’ll need to wait until the 24th of this month for the first running. It then continues until August 26th and the return fare is a not that unreasonable £36.

Scottish Citylink offer extra services for the summer season and, unlike ScotRail’s Edinburgh-Oban service, most of these are available now. Ones that stand out for me are service 913 from Edinburgh to Fort William, service 978 from Edinburgh to Oban and service 973 from Dundee to Oban. The 913 and 973 add useful travel connections around Loch Tay as well as adding to the service level west of Crianlarich.

While on the subject of Scottish Citylink, year round services also see their service level increased. For instance, there is a 978 service via Tyndrum between Glasgow and Oban and a 975 shuttle between the latter and Tyndrum where coaches between Glasgow and Fort William are met. Speaking of the the latter, they are expanded for the summer too as are their continuations to the Isle of Skye. While speaking about West Highland coach services, it is worth mentioning that the Glasgow-Campbeltown 926 service is operating as five services each way daily; three was all we got not so long ago.

Though these are the summertime service increases that stand out for me. For instance, there are extra ones running between the Scotland’s Central Belt and Inverness as I discovered on Monday morning. Also, Edinburgh’s festival season in August sees extra late night services between Glasgow and Edinburgh and there are events like T in the Park too. Well, it’s worth spending some time on Citylink’s website to see what’s available because I only may be scratching the surface here.

Apart from the above, there may be other summer only services on offer of which I have no knowledge and Caber Coaches’ service 93 around Loch Tay on Saturdays is one such find. If any come my way, I’ll get them noted because summer passes so quickly. With some of the ones that we have seen, there are those who may see that as a good thing but I’ll reserve my judgement.

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.

Changes that happened while I wasn’t looking

Out of curiosity, I decided to explore the Megabus website for the U.K. and it surprised me to see how low some of their prices were. Apparently, there’s a seat sale on at the moment too so that may explain some of those less than £5. However, it’s easy to see the attraction of what aren’t so infrequent services from Manchester to places such as Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow and London. With the recent increases in train fares, even a ticket costing less than £20 has to look tempting. Is that why the though of savouring their services to see what they’re like has entered my head?

While checking out express coach services, I also decided to take a look at what Greyhound offers to the U.K. traveller these days and it looks as if things have expanded beyond the London services to the south coast of England with which they started. For instance, regular services between Cardiff and Swansea are now on offer with the frequency making them look like the Welsh version of the Scottish Citylink service between Edinburgh and Glasgow or the National Express one between Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. It looks a good move forward and I hope that it’s attracting a good level custom. Also coming within the Greyhound fold is the overnight service between London and Scotland (Hamilton, Glasgow, Edinburgh) that First Glasgow took over from Silver Choice. All the while, it’s south of England tally of destinations increases with Winchester being a recent addition to those like Portsmouth, Poole, Southampton, Bournemouth, Fareham, Ringwood (for the New Forest) and the Isle of Wight. All in all, Greyhound is growing in Britain so there must be some success being had somewhere. Maybe the attractive prices might have something to do with it because I did glimpse a few going for £1 plus booking fee.

All in all, it looks as if express coach travel might be on the up and it would not be a bad thing if a decent network built up in England and Wales, even if it meant travelling with different operators on a single journey. The looming increases in train fares are presenting an opportunity and I wonder if anyone is out there waiting to take it. Now mightn’t be a bad time to spend a little longer travelling in order to save a little cash when it is a scarcer commodity than used to be case a few years ago.

On electronic ticketing

Alternative ways of getting travel tickets have become normal for the airline industry over the past decade and I suppose that the approach was bound to be adopted by other modes of transport too. Possibly inspired by Megabus, National Express and Scottish Citylink have been selling electronic tickets over the web for a while now. In my case, quite a number of trips to and around Scotland have made good use of being able to print out the tickets at home rather than waiting for them to arrive by post. In fact, getting things through the ether of the web has made many a last minute escape a reality.

All of the while that I have been enjoying speedy ticket delivery through my PC, others have been making good use of mobile phone ticketing. On a weekend visit to Fort William, I spotted damp weekend explorers wondering if they had enough mobile phone battery power to show the driver the tickets for a return to Glasgow. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe that National Express does likewise though I cannot anyone actually proffering such a thing on alighting one of their coaches.

More recently, Arriva started experimenting with mobile phone tickets on its buses. The initial pilot must have been successful but it has extended to all parts of their network now with Cheshire having them too. To use the facility, it might be best to have a so-called smartphone in order to go down the mobile electronic route. A recent acquisition of a Blackberry in advance of a change of job set me up nicely. Also, that change of working circumstances means that I need to stick with Arriva for the daily commute when I am not using a bicycle to do the honours. With the latter set-up, I was going to work my way through many weekly tickets. They may make useful bookmarks afterwards but there’s only so many of those that anyone needs.

It was the prospect of cutting down on paper detritus that drew me to giving mobile tickets a go. You can choose daily, weekly or monthly tickets and I chose the middle option for a first trial. There is a need for website registration that sends a message to your phone for verification and a PIN for using the service too. That’s a necessity when you are drawing funds from a credit card to pay for any tickets that you buy; just get rid of that original message for more security. An application was added to my phone to do the required ticket acquisition. Unlike buying a ticket on a bus, you can buy ahead of time and activate on first use so there is no need until the day when you need it at all. Mind you, you do need to keep your phone in working order and I wouldn’t like to be stood in an area where mobile phone signal is weak either. Apart from that and a need to have everything set up in good time, it seems to work so far and I might even go for a monthly ticket next time because of the savings, a rare thing in the world of bus travel. If things continue as they are, the era of paper weekly tickets and their red seals might be behind me. Of course, only time will tell if that comes to pass.

Update 2010-08-03: This morning my Blackberry crashed minutes before the bus appeared so a paper ticket was needed; the Opera Mini browser was to blame and reinstallation (bookmarks needed manual restoration, though) was the cure. Otherwise, there have been some frantic moments trying to get the ticket on screen in time but no driver has rejected the electronic item. In summary, the dalliance with mobile ticketing worked well most of the time. From now on, it might be an idea to start closing down applications on the handheld device instead of suspending them in order to avoid problems.

On an advance in mobile ticketing

Mobile ticketing has been with us for a little while now with Scottish Citylink and National Express offering the option to text tickets to any GSM-enabled phone. Arriva seems to be taking things a step further with GPRS and allowing the opportunity for users to download an application onto their phone that is then used to buy a range of tickets. Following registration, it is the phone that does the work and has the required payment details. It’s all secured with a PIN and nothing is stored on Arriva’s servers. However, you do need a compatible phone and cheapskates like me with old bricks (I have my old Motorola from 2000 in mind here) or even recently acquired inexpensive bog-standard phones (like my Nokia 1661) are outside the loop for this means of buying day, weekly and monthly tickets. You’d think that every smartphone would be part of the offer too but that’s not so. In a way, it’s understandable that iPhone users are not served with Apple’s iron grasp of its App Store but Blackberry users are still waiting too. What this implementation illustrates is the need for a more standard computing environment for mobile phones because their platforms are even more diverse than the desktop PC world that gives me the machine on which I am writing these words. Arriva’s idea is a good one but it’s partly stymied by diversity in technology but that’s not the fault of any transport company.