A troubled campaign?

Within the past week, Northern Rail has launched its Get a Ticket campaign to stop folk travelling without paying. However, it is at times like this that holes in the ticketing system not only emerge but are trotted out by passengers who do not take kindly to being suspected of criminality. Also, it is easy to roll out a campaign without considering what needs to be in place for such a thing to work.

In fact, it is pretty telling that Northern Rail are admitting that buying a ticket at a destination station has to be a fallback for passengers. It would be better for credibility that a few things had happened before the campaign begun. There also will be doubts in the minds of the travelling public as to how seriously to take these things, no matter how hard hitting a YouTube video campaign accompanied by a Twitter one can be.

The first is to install ticket machines at every station on their network, both staffed and unstaffed. If money is an issue, and it is bound to be one, then move machines from stations already staffed by other train operating companies such as Virgin to where they really are needed. Here’s an example: there is one Northern ticket machine in Stockport so that could be removed from there and installed in a place like Poynton where there are limited opportunities for buying tickets prior to travel.

Another development would have been to introduced ticketing via mobile phone apps. A recent update to Arriva’s bus ticketing app (they have made it very, very clunky and it sounds as if they are not keen to hear that either) shows that this needs careful execution if it is to work well. After all, if there is too little time for getting a ticket before boarding a train, that can be addressed while the train is moving because you should have time then to get things sorted.

Next up is ensuring that conductors do offer passengers opportunities to buy tickets from them and some can be lacklustre when it comes to this. On late night services, I have seen the conductor staying in his cab all the time and no one has the chance that they may need. This can cause cynicism with some thinking that a conductor is hiding away reading a newspaper instead of doing their job. The “hiding” word was mentioned in a tweet and Northern Rail didn’t take so kindly to its mention either. Nevertheless, when someone accused train staff of being lazy and used somewhat coarse language in so doing, they got asked to give an example. If I find one while out and about, I will be flagging this up to Northern. To be fair, there were opportunities to buy tickets on Northern services that I have used over the last two days (which is more than be said for an East Midlands one that I used between Stockport and Sheffield when no conductor was to be seen).

After motivating staff to do their job, there’s the matter of overcrowding and having too few folk to process ticket transactions on a busy train. The first one is the more difficult at the moment because that shortage of trains. Hopefully, electrification will allow the cascading of trains from the southeast to the north when new rolling stock down there replaces them. With Pacers (classes 142, 143 and 144) becoming obsolete from 2020, any extra trains really will be needed if a crunch is to be avoided. Getting in more staff to check tickets is another matter and those doing so at stations could be ideal for such a change in duties.

Senior management may think that there are plenty of ways of buying train tickets and there is a good list: via the web, at a train station and on a train. However, all of these can be improved by a mixture of mobile phone ticketing, greater availability of ticket machines, better motivated staff with more of them on busy trains and more train capacity. all of that takes investment so it is easy to see the attractions of an inexpensive online campaign over the web. What that does need though is credibility with a travelling perhaps weary from fare increases and there needs to be balance if there is not to be resentment at perceived heavyhandedness. Passenger patronage may be increasing now but that is never to say that things will stay that way indefinitely so goodwill always needs to be retained.

 

Bus service changes continue in Cheshire East

It’s come to my attention at short notice that G.H.A. Coaches are taking over the Sunday Macclesfield to Manchester service from Arriva on next Sunday (2013-01-13). Whether that means that Arriva weekly and four-weekly tickets will be accepted remains to be seen and I wouldn’t bet on it unless I hear confirmation first. On the D & G Sunday service on the Crewe to Macclesfield route 38, I have never seen anyone proffer an Arriva saver ticket so I wouldn’t be surprised if the same applies here. Looking at Traveline, the timetable is staying the same for now though the Cheshire East Council website suggests to the contrary. Unfortunately, the change involves yet more fragmentation and that hasn’t helped the cause of some of our services recently; the lost Monday to Saturday evening 130 journeys come to mind here. Will it also further test the appetite that Arriva’s Wythenshawe depot has for running the 130 and would getting G.H.A. to run the whole thing be the sort of development that we need? Maybe now isn’t the time for such experimentation but I and others have had more revolutionary thoughts so what about it? There are more questions than answers on the topic and such is where we find ourselves in these times.

Speaking of G.H.A., they are set to operate a partial replacement for the 391 service from 4th March. The new service is called the P1 and we have yet to see details of the timetable for it. There seems to be a growing trend of G.H.A. winning more council contracts recently with the 200 Wilmslow to Manchester Airport and Connect 19 Macclesfield to Prestbury services going their way too. Given that the company is based in rural Denbighshire, this may come as a surprise but I think that they have an outstation in Macclesfield that originally started with schoolbus services before they gained the Connect 88 between Knutsford, Wilmslow and Altrincham.

The mention of Poynton allows me to relate that High Peak will be taking over the 392 and 393 services from BakerBus from the start of March too. It’s a pity to see a quality operator like BakerBus losing out like this, especially given that they brought newer buses to the route when they started on it a few years ago. Those were different times though and the the announcement of the P1 makes me wonder if the truncation at Hazel Grove still applies or if there might be through ticketing via the 199 Skyline service between Buxton and Stockport to compensate for it. It’s an interesting possibility.

High Peak are not done with tweaking the 27 service between Macclesfield and Knutsford though and there are major route alterations to come from 11th February. Some journeys were numbers 27A but no longer will be the case. Beggarman’s Lane will not be served and that’s not exactly a surprise since I saw no one living there use the service on the journeys that I used. That now means that any journeys going via Over Peover and Whipping Stocks Inn will be routed via Ollerton and Knutsford train station instead. The Monday to Friday Over Peover service level is to be cut though with only the following journeys going that way: 1000, 1130, 1300 and 1430 from Macclesfield; 1045, 1215, 1345 and 1515 from Knutsford. That makes me wonder about those going to work at the Barclays site of Radbroke Hall who used to travel by bus and how they managed now. Saturday services are unaffected but that’s little consolation to them. On the subject of workplaces, the Alderley Park loop is getting shortened only to serve only Mereside and not Alderley House. Only for the speed bumps in that place being very harsh, it would be difficult to comprehend why this is being done but bus suspension damage cannot be cheap to fix and there have been complaints from a bus company operating there in the past.

So, while I was thinking that it would be quiet on here for a while, I found the above today. There may be a big upheaval in progress following last year’s decisions on funding cuts but it seems that other changes are not excluded either. What we really need is more news like the investment being made by D & G into Crewe town service 1 but I am sceptical about that at this stage when Cheshire East bus services continue to get rough treatment and one wonders at what we could hear later in the year.

A tale of two Wayfarer tickets

Confusingly, being in Cheshire means that we have access to not one but two Wayfarer tickets for getting out and about certain places using public transport. They are very different as I discovered when I asked for one a bus to Buxton one day; what I got wasn’t the ticket that I expected!

What I had expected to get for my money was Transport for Greater Manchester’s Manchester Wayfarer ticket. For the £10 adult tariff, you can have a sheet of folded card where you scratch off the year, month and day for when you want to make use of it. The fact that it’s a multi-modal ticket makes it really useful because you can mix and match train and bus services on a day out.

The extent of the rail network in which the Manchester Wayfarer is valid is more than that in Greater Manchester itself with parts of Cheshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire included. Looking at the full map will tell you where you can go using the ticket.

The region within which the Manchester Wayfarer can be used on bus services is greater than with trains. Looking at the full map shows that parts of Staffordshire and West Yorkshire are included along with those in the validity area for train travel. It really strikes me that a day out from Manchester to Ashbourne becomes a possibility and there’s a lot to be said for that flexibility.

In addition to the £10 adult ticket, there are other Manchester Wayfarer ones. For instance, there’s a £5 one for folk aged from to 15 or 60 and over along with holders of the National Concessionary Travel Pass. There’s a group one too for £20 that is an option for family groups. The maximum number of folk over the age of 15 for this four person ticket is two but that still suffices for days out with kids in tow.

What I got on that bus that Sunday morning was a Derbyshire Wayfarer ticket printed using the vehicle’s ticket machine. This, as the name suggests, is for train and bus travel within Derbyshire and to only certain points outside the county’s boundaries. One of these is Macclesfield but the centres of Sheffield, Burton-on-Trent and Uttoxeter also gain coverage on journeys to and from the county. That Stockport wasn’t included became clear to me on attempting to travel to there from Buxton on the 199 bus service that then was operated by Trent Barton. The Wayfarer got me as far as the county boundary and another ticket was needed to get me the rest of the way, highlighting that I didn’t have the Wayfarer ticket that I though I had.

The adult version of the Derbyshire Wayfarer costs £11.10 and allows you to have a child under the age of 16 travelling with you without need for another ticket. There’s a concessionary version too for £5.55 which bizarrely allows you to bring a dog instead of a child and there I was thinking that dogs didn’t need tickets for using public transport! There’s a group ticket too for £20 that has the same rules as per its Manchester namesake. That’s not because Beeston and Nottingham train stations sell variants costing £15.80 for the adult version and £7.90 for its concessionary counterpart so that you can explore parts of Derbyshire with one of those stations as your starting (and ending) point.

So, what I needed to do on that Sunday was to go to Macclesfield’s train station for a Manchester Wayfarer as I have done a few times since then. While its Derbyshire equivalent is widely available on buses, trains and train stations, you need to go to train stations, Transport for Greater Manchester travelshops and some bus company offices for the Manchester one unless you get it by post. The great thing about these scratch and use rover tickets is that you scratch off the date panels only when you need to use ticket so you can have a few of them in hand until you want to travel using one. That makes the postal way of getting them seem less strange than otherwise would be the case.

Once you realise which Wayfarer is which, these are very useful rover tickets for their respective areas. Their having different names would make matters clearer but that’s only thing that is to be said against them. Unlimited multi-modal travel over the course of a day for small fee is no bad thing at all, especially with the monetary pressures that many face.

Update on 2016-05-10: The Derbyshire Wayfarer now costs £12.30 and the Manchester Wayfarer costs £12 from a train station.

Update on 2017-11-10: The Derbyshire Wayfarer now costs £12.60 and the Manchester Wayfarer costs £13.

Another escape from paper ticketting

Around two years ago, I was making use of Arriva’s m-Ticket app on a Blackberry Curve 8520 that I then owned. Apart from a certain sluggishness due to the hardware and its 2G internet connection, it worked fine until I forgot the PIN that it needed. From then on, I returned to paper bus tickets and stuck with them ever sense.

However, curiosity and a better phone have me having another go. This time it’s from Google’s Play Store from which I got the app. It remains free of charge and seems so that the world of Android and a HTC Desire S armed with 3G connectivity have made for a smoother and faster experience. The fact that it is a touchscreen phone allows the developers to make a better interface too.

Also, there are some savings to be had. For instance, a North West four weekly ticket costs £56.70 and a day ticket for the same area is £4.20. The paper counterpart to the latter is £4.60 and four weekly tickets will set you back £72.00. Interestingly, weekly tickets cost the same via the app as they do from a bus driver.

To work the app needs personal details such as name, address and date of birth. For payment, you can store a credit (or debit) card number in the app with the card’s security code and a PIN provided by Arriva needed for any transactions. Topping up beforehand is another option if you don’t like the idea of card details on a phone.

With the app, you can see ticket prices before you buy and activate any that you buy price to use. There are no single journey tickets on here so they need to be bought from a bus driver. That must make the app easier to maintain for the developers and means that the range of tickets is easier to browse. While doing, I found some for areas that I might be inclined to visit such as Northumberland’s coast. It’s good to see what’s out there ahead of time instead of holding up a bus trying to get the information. That it’s all doable on the move only helps too.

This time around, that PIN will be stored somewhere for safekeeping and my hope is that my time with mobile bus ticketting will continue longer than it did two years ago. It might surprise you now but I had put this option out of my mind until I spotted someone else showing a phone to a bus driver on getting aboard. That was enough to make me go investigating again.

Getting to and about Pembrokeshire without a car

Though it’s at the southwestern corner of Wales, Pembrokeshire is worth the extra effort taken to make a visit there and you can manage one without using a car too. There are regular train services and the county council expends some effort on its bus network too. Thus far, I only have made two visits to these parts with the most recent one updating and refreshing my knowledge of the available travel options.

Trains

The county has no less than three railway lines serving it with Arriva Trains Wales running the trains: one each to the terminii of Pembroke Dock, Milford Haven and Fishguard. Each of these is largely single track in nature so service frequencies are not hourly. Those three railways start out as a twin line from Carmarthen before the Pembroke line splits off after Whitland and the Fishguard one after the request-only train stop of Clarbeston Road.

The Milford Haven line seems to see the more traffic than others with many services travelling all of the way to Manchester using two carriage trains, something that Arriva Trains Wales may need to revisit in light of a recent Saturday journey on a busy Summer Bank Holiday weekend though another on the following Monday worked out less busy.

Though the port only sees two daily ferry departures to Rosslare in Ireland, Fishguard too gets a reasonable service even if the frequency is less than the two hourly one enjoyed by Milford Haven and Haverfordwest (Pembrokeshire’s county town). Last May, it also gained a new station called Fishguard & Goodwick so that’s something for the locals in both places.

The Pembroke Dock line also gets a largely two-hourly service (less than that on Sundays though) so it’s an option for getting to attractive spots like Tenby and Manorbier. Pembroke too is a ferry port with departures for Rosslare though it is Fishguard that enjoys a service meeting its early morning arrival from across the Irish Sea.

Ferries

The mention of ferry services brings to mind a curiosity about services to Wales from Rosslare in Ireland’s county of Wexford. The Stena Line ones go to Fishguard while those operated by Irish Ferries go to Pembroke instead. While I might have thought that history might explain this situation, it seems to be a recent phenomenon and one for which I have yet to find an explanation part from running different routes for the sake of personal success. Maybe it’s down to competition on the Irish Sea? After all, there was a time when both forbears of Irish Ferries and Stena Line used Fishguard for a time. Then again, there was opposition mounted by Sealink (Stena these days) to the commencement of a Dublin-Holyhead operation by the B+I Line (now part of Irish Ferries) when that replaced the previous long standing Dublin-Liverpool service when that became unsustainable after 159 years.

Buses

Returning the world of land transport, Pembrokeshire does have a reasonable bus network and inspection of bus timetables reveals that council financial support is needed for most if not all services. Richards Brothers of Cardigan seem to operate most of the services in Pembrokeshire along their workings in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. First Cymru do operate a Haverfordwest-Tenby service but otherwise Pembrokeshire seems to be a bastion for local independent operators and it’s no bad thing to see.

There’s multi-operator ticketting too with West Wales Rover Tickets valid here as they are in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. An adult day ticket will cost you £7 and it’s £28 for an adult weekly one. There are equivalent child tickets costing half the prices of the adult ones.

Richards do their own day and weekly tickets too and these cost less than their multi-operator counterparts and only apply to their own services. An adult day Explorer will set you back £5.50 and it’s £18 for a weekly Explorer. The child equivalents of these cost £3.50 and £12, respectively. Interestingly, there’s also a family day Explorer ticket for either two adults and two children or one adult and three children. With my seeing quite a number of families around on my last visit, I reckon that this is a great idea that should be adopted in more places.

In terms of the type of bus services being operating, there’s a mix of trunk routes and other more visitor friendly coastal services that aim to give folk an alternative to clogging up narrow country roads with car traffic; some only are a single car’s width with hedges on either side so it’s best to be warned. Given the wonders of Pembrokeshire’s coastline, it is easy to see why so many visitors come here and there’s a National Park protecting it all along with the Preseli Hills too. Traffic jams and conservation don’t go hand in hand so something had to be done.

The trunk services do their bit for curtailing car usage too with services like Haverfordwest-Fishguard-Cardigan (412), Haverfordwest to St. Davids (411), St. Davids to Fishguard (413) and Haverfordwest to Tenby (349) offering decent service frequencies from Monday to Saturday. On Sundays though, there is a markedly reduced frequency on some of these with the 413 not running at all.

In fact, my last visit saw me make use of the Sunday 412, operated by W. H. Collins of Haverfordwest with a Duple-bodied Dennis Javelin coach that was more than twenty years old so low operation only seems to be a Monday to Saturday affair on this route. The vehicle’s age became more apparent when the windscreen wipers needed to be put going because of a rain shower though the coach ran well otherwise. There was ticket machine on board either so the validity of my return fare of £5.75 (the single is £3.40) depended on my being remembered by the driver! With three to four services on Sunday, no staff changeover was needed and I got back to Haverfordwest from Fishguard without any bother.

The coastal services especially come into their own during the summer months when seven day operation is available with three services each way a day being common. Away from the May to September period, the days of operation need checking since a number are Monday/Thursday/Saturday only and routes alter too. However, Saturday visitors should be fine all year around and there is something to be said for exploring somewhere when it is quieter too though a coastline of around 180 miles in length should have plenty of unoccupied nooks and crannies.

The northern and western coasts are well served and the southern coast isn’t neglected either. The Strumble Shuttle (404) runs from Fishguard to St. Davids and calls at Strumble Head, hence the name. Buses take a while to cover their route on this service so it could be a good one for those wanting to let someone else do the driving and look at what they pass along the way. Mind you, it can get cosy on the small buses used during the school summer holidays but that’s such a not a big price to pay. Also running from Fishguard is the Poppit Rocket (405) that calls at Poppit Sand and other places by the coast on the way to Cardigan; in the off season, it starts eastbound journeys from Newport instead though.

In the west, there’s the Celtic Coaster (403) and the Puffin Shuttle. The former of these is a summer only shuttle service for St. Davids peninsula. Given that Britain’s smallest city has its share of attractions and is not far from alluring coastline, it is not surprising to learn that it is something of a visitor magnet so this bus service is an attempt to curtail traffic in the area to keep it appealing to those coming from elsewhere. The latter route is in two parts though: St. Davids to Marloes and Martin’s Haven (400), and Haverfordwest/Milford Haven to Marloes and Martin’s Haven (315). On my first visit to Pembrokeshire, I made use of the latter though it doesn’t seem to be what it was back then with afternoon journeys to Haverfordwest seemingly unavailable; a journey by train looks to be in order.

Services 387 and 388 (the latter is summer only and both get the branding of Coastal Cruiser) get you from Pembroke to delights such as Bosherston, a recommendation from a local on my first visit that I have yet to follow up, Freshfield East, Angle and Freshfield West. On my latest visit, I played with the idea of catching the 349 to Manorbier and then the 387 or 388 from Bosherston after a walk before sticking with trotting between Strumble Head and Fishguard instead. The unused idea could be handy yet.

Summary

All in all, Pembrokeshire is well supplied with train, bus and even ferry services. A little upfront work might save a lot of driving and not a little congestion. So far, it has done just that for me and there is more of Pembrokeshire for me to savour yet.