Monday 27 March 2017

Oooh What A Pretty Bus!

I had an online friend who used to tease me about my esteemed hobby saying just how many ties can you say "Ook what a pretty bus"! Well on Saturday the answer was qute a few as Tim and I set off for Cambridge to tour all the Park & Ride sites. This was possible because Cambridge P&R operates in a different way to most. You pay a pound to park the car, which gives you up to 18 hours parking, then pay for the bus, which accepts Concessionary Passes and normal Stagecoach Day Tickets. A return on the P&R is £3.00 but up to 3 under 16's go free with every fare paying adult, which has got to be cheaper than parking in Cambridge itself, if there is anywhere!

Stagecoach East have recently introduced a fleet of new ADL Enviro E400MMC's on their 5 P&R sites, all with a different colour. A couple of buses are painted a generic colour - silver - which can deputise on any route, but neither of them were in evidence on Saturday. All buses are identical inside with comfortable blue and orange seating, free wi-fi, and USB charging. They also come with Air Chill, which is either ineffective on the nearside or a howling gale on the offside.

Interior of Cambridge P&R buses
The first site we went to was Babraham Rd, which also serves Addenbrookes Hospital. The buses on this route are a two tone green.Stagecoach East 10798 SN66 VZW did the honours.
Babraham Rd P&R site, with 10798
Changing to purple our next site was Milton, on the other side of the City via the Science Park. 10804 SN66 WAJ took us there

Milton P&R site with 10804
Newmarket Rd was our next destination, which is near Cambridge Airport. These buses are Orange, and 10808 SN66 WBE was our bus. The site isn't as photographer friendly as the first two, so a different angle for this one.

10808 at Newmarket Rd P&R
By now Cambridge was getting busy, so we came up with the what we thought was the good idea of going to Huntington via the Busway to do the rail stuff we had planned, then do the other P&R sites on our return when things had quietened down a bit. I covered the Busway a couple of weeks ago, so won't repeat myself, but I got the distinct impression Tim thinks it's sacrilege to have anything but a train or tram running on a former railway! I still think it's brilliant!

I'll cover the rail bit in another post, including the most terrifying video I've ever taken, once I've learned how to bleep out the obscenities! I am not scared of fast trains however close but rocking bridges are another thing altogether!

So on our return to Cambridge it was back to business so we headed for the blue Trumpington P&R stop and were met with a queue of quite monumental proportions - at least 3 bus loads worth. One bus came and went fully loaded, another one turned up, the driver abandoned it and another driver took an absolute age to get sorted before starting to load by which time a third had arrived. However the people just didn't stop coming, and we soon realised we wouldn't get all 5 sites in and still get the last 11 back to Bury. So we decided to abandon Trumpington, much like the US Senate. We still got pics though, and I'm led to believe I have innocently got a collectors item. The driver who took so long to get ready also put up the wrong destination - the A is a Busway route covered by single deckers and there are no guide wheels in evidence. So 10793 SN66 YZR is probably never to be seen again showing that destination. 10795 behind is correct. Thanks to Damon for pointing it out.

Don't think the passengers noticed either!
Having abandoned Trumpington we headed for the final site, that being Madingley Rd. My favourite colour, this one, not even sure what the colour is but I like it. The sun was going down by now so the pics aren't great. However this was the shortest journey of the day, and also the friendliest driver, who took a real interest in what we were doing and why. Always adds something to the day when that happens. Our final MMC was 10790 SN66 YZM.

10790 at Madingley Rd P&R site
The rear view
Cambridge is a very busy City, and with the sun out all day it was manic on Saturday. Despite the glitch on the Trumpington route we were impressed by the service, the sites and the drivers. The MMC's are adequate for the job and look great. If I lived in the area I'd have no hesitation in using the service. And they are really pretty buses!

A quick word about fares. Tim bought a Day Ranger ticket at Bury, used it to travel to Cambridge, go on all te P&R's, travel the Busway to Huntington, could have carried on to Peterborough and beyond and anywhere in Cambridgeshire. Tim paid £6.40 for that. I could embarrass other operators charging much more for far less but I'll let you compare instead. Suffice it to say that Stagecoach could teach others a lot about encouraging bus travel. Mind you I've been thinking that since my first experiences of Stagecoach in 1999 so it's nothing new. Thanks for the company, Tim, t'was a good day


  1. Just a point about the fares comparison: how far outside Cambridge City would you get in the evening or on Sundays? I know, the X5. Perhaps that might account for it?

    Stagecoach East is a wonderful example of how to make bus services viable by cutting and getting out of the rural and county routes. The future for buses? The 11 survives, pretty well as a direct (weekday daytime only) interurban to Newmarket/Ely and BSE (SW, Royston, and Huntingdon similarly), but what else? The X5. Perhaps the other operators could reduce prices too by cutting their remaining Sunday and evening services?

  2. Huntington is on the busway route so gets a decent Sunday and Evening service. I'll research others.

    1. Incidentally, Smurf, go to Suffolk's County Town on a Sunday or evening and see how far out of town you can get!! I suggest it's a lot less far than you can out of Cambridge!

    2. Ok some quick research indicates Cambridgeshire is no worse off than Norfolk or Suffolk on Sundays and evenings. The best service by far is the 13 to Haverhill, followed by the Busway services. True no services to Bury, Ely, Newmarket or March on Sundays but there are trains to all of those places.

      At least Stagecoach make an effort and I've yet to see over 3 bus loads waiting for P&R services in Norwich or Ipswich. Perhaps some credit where its due rather than moaning about what's not there.You find me somewhere more than 30 miles outside London that does have a decent comprehensive interurban service evenings and Sundays!

      To put it into context the last bus to my nearest stop (6 miles away) leaves Ipswich at 1820, no Sunday service. The last bus from Norwich to nearest stop (6.5 miles away) leaves at 1815. Sunday service between 1000 and 1600 every 2 hours. Alternative stop from Norwich (10 miles away) last bus is 1820, no Sunday service. Last bus Cambridge to Bury 1850, no Sunday service.

      You're the first person to talk about Council funds and where to put it - old folks homes or buses - so a bit of consistency maybe. The perfect bus network will never return so we have to recognise positivity where we see it. I saw it in Cambridge.

  3. The 13 Cambridge to Haverhill doesn't do too bad. Broadly similar hours to the X1 here in Firstland, including Sundays.

    As for Stagecoach itself - looks like presentation is top notch here, no dents or battered/mismatched panels to be seen by the looks of it. I'm not going to compare and contrast other P&R offerings here, although I'm sure there are others who could... probably better than I would too.

    Just to show I'm not completely pro-Stagecoach however - that on-board colour scheme is a bit of an acquired taste, blue and orange seating with red floors...

  4. I'm going to defend myself a bit here. I wouldn't compare Cambridge with Ipswich. The former is much more vibrant and economically active. The same is true with a comparison with much of Norfolk. Out of the League. And I'd say Cambridge is one of the few places in the country with the same advantage as London - tourists and foreign students - almost wholly dependent on public transport. Suffolk College, even UEA (even as much of a leg up it gives to First), Uni of Essex and ARU, just don't cut it in the same way.

    I have great respect for Stagecoach. They are good at what they do, and even more careful of what they don't do. But they are no saints, their regular passengers make exactly the same complaints as they do with every other big operator. And they have the reputation of not putting up with any nonsense from their drivers, which doesn't make them popular. I did forget about Haverhill (for which I make no apology, having been there, though I'm still not sure why), but it's even more dependent than Felixstowe on Ipswich or GY on Norwich. (Actually it has nothing else). And the reason for the busway is the A14, find me anything comparable in the rest of East Anglia; yes including the Orwell Bridge and the A47. All in all, I think Stagecoach in Cambs have a much better economic climate and business model (both go together) than there is the opportunity for in the rest of East Anglia, and probably in the rest of the south-east too. Perhaps their bus prices should be cheaper still. So I still think the fares comparison is unfair, my basic point; rather similar (not the same) as comparing London to the rest of the south-east. Places more than 25 miles from Central London: I'd use as examples Herts and Essex, perhaps even Kent; more densely populated, but again without a Cambridge magnet. How, for instance do the Cambridge local services (not the P&R) compare with First's Norwich Network? (A pity by the way you didn't manage Trumpington, the original P&R, I think, and probably one of the busiest, I'd still say we haven't done the Cambridge P&R until we've done Trumpington). All in all, with the Cambridge effect, I'm still not so sure that Stagecoach East are so magical. Many locals I know don't think so. Perhaps they're just ungrateful and the occasional visitors know better!

    Still, interesting times ahead. With the Cambridge Vision, perhaps they can pull even further ahead. Though I've yet to see it.

    There is one respect in which Cambridge scores highly: it locates new development together in large new settlements which gives the biggest leg-up to developing public transport, and it has the land and plenty of former barracks and former military airfields for the purpose - it helps a lot. Chelmsford has tried the same trick, but it's nowhere near so successful in a wannabe London suburb. Everywhere else it seems much more sporadic, which doesn't help at all.

    So with all those advantages, do Stagecoach make the most of it? Actually, I'm not quite so sure . . . Should the rest get in on the act, the locals rather hope so.

    1. When I was driving buses in Southeast London I used to get passengers complaining that they had waited over 10 minutes for a bus. I'll be honest and admit they got pretty short shrift. Basically it doesn't matter how good something is you'll always get people who aren't happy.

      Maybe Cambridge should suffer Go Ahead for a few months - I bet they'd soon be begging Stagecoach to return. It is also well known that people looking in from the outside can see more clearly than those directly involved, that's why counseling exists, and certainly fro what I have seen Cambridge does ok. I would expect most of the students live fairly close to the City, and Lordy it seems all have bikes anyway!

      The reason we didn't do Trumpington is simply because at 5pm on a Saturday there were 3 bus loads waiting for it so yes, I can believe it's the busiest. We will return and do it.

  5. This is an interesting debate, and one that probably has as many answers as questions!
    I too like Stagecoach - {generally} good value fares, especially day tickets, {generally} good or appropriate service frequencies wherever they operate and {generally} buses in good condition [although some of the Olympians towards the end were untidy, with mould around the upper-deck windows and a lot of rust].
    I've heard much the same about the drivers as SmurfUK; if you work for Stagecoach you do as you're told or else, but is that such a bad thing? Like children - set boundaries and they'll conform, and I very rarely meet a bad driver; an occasional grumpy one, for sure, but we're all human!
    I would say that Stagecoach are very good about running buses "commercially" where there are passengers, and also very good at leaving the "uncommercial" services well alone. I'm always surprised at the lack of evening service on Sundays on the Busway (if it can stand evening buses around the week, then I'd've thought an hourly service would be OK on Sundays), but Stagecoach have form here . . . . elsewhere they run into the evening on weekdays, but not on Sundays.
    One thing Stagecoach dislike is being beholden to others, so they'll only run contracted routes if they see a network benefit; maybe that's why they don't often run evening or Sunday buses? There's also the benefit that staff work fewer unsocial shifts, of course.
    I will state now that I haven't done the detailed research, but let us compare Norwich; Cambridge; Oxford; Peterborough; Bournemouth; Exeter; Plymouth; Southampton; Canterbury. I've selected these towns as being of similar size, of not having other similar towns close by (so they have a "hinterland" of their own: except maybe Southampton); so not Brighton, for example.
    What do they have in common? In one word . . . . students; all have universities or colleges (except Peterborough). They also have good town centre shopping areas with evening entertainments of one sort or another. Dare I say they're also mainly middle-class without heavy industry? {Ducks behind wall!}. Who provides the main bus services? In order: First; Stagecoach; Stagecoach/GoAhead; Stagecoach; GoAhead; Stagecoach; GoAhead/Stagecoach; First; Stagecoach. I'm seeing a pattern here . . . .
    And finally - human beings will always whinge about anything that is perceived as not being perfect . . . . that's what we do very well!! If a complainant can't give me specifics, they get a non-specific reply . . . . if they complain specifically about one journey or driver, then I'll sort it properly.

    I'll be interested in how this debate continues . . . . .

    1. Finding it hard to disagree with anything there, especially regarding the expectation of drivers to do the job they are paid to do. Everyone has off days, as you say we're only human, but in any other job you have roles that must be adhered to or you're out, why should bus driving be any different?

      Trust me I can take you to parts of Norwich, Peterborough, Canterbury and Cambridge that are definitely NOT middle class, and these are the areas well served by buses, for fairly obvious reasons.

      What Stagecoach do they do well from what I have seen, and that is all I can judge on.

  6. It'd be interesting to compare Stagecoach in Cambridge with Go-Ahead (Oxford Bus Co) in Oxford. I can't unfortunately, I know one but nothing of the other! It might help to see how much effect the economic vibrancy has, whatever the operator.

    We can compare fares though, between the former Norfolk Green routes (now operated by Stagecoach East) and, say Eastern Counties and Konnect/Anglian. How do they compare, for instance between Norwich/Ipswich and Kings Lynn?

    It's not so long ago that Stagecoach were complaining about declining business on the Cambridge Park and Rides, and threatening they might have to reduce services! Things aren't always all that they seem.

    1. A quick bit of research shows that a Stagecoach Day Ticket covering all Norfolk is £5.50 So you could use that to travel from Kings Lynn to Norwich via Fakenham. A return from Kings Lynn to Norwich on the X1 is £6.40 or a Network Day ticket costs £12.00. incidentally an East Dayrider Gold on Stagecoach costs £13.50 but you could get from Norwich to Oxford or Swindon on that ticket.

      A bit pointless comparing Ipswich as to get fro Ipswich to Norwich requires more than one operator.

    2. Sorry, I was being lazy. But my suspicion is that First's returns are quite competitive, by comparison Stagecoach's network tickets are the most competitive. First's wider network tickets seem often expensive but strangely not their localised network tickets; and in Essex the (often empty) X services too. It all has to do with marketing and costs, I suspect.

      The X1 is competitive to encourage business, Essex's X services which run 24 hours, very expensive by comparison (even compared to train costs) because of the costs, and are outside the scope of any Network ticket too. Though do many people use Stagecoach's country route to get from Norwich to Kings Lynn, or do a tour of the Cambridge P&R or a bus tour of Cambridgeshire?

      I suspect the key is keeping tickets mutually exclusive. No one wants to undercut themselves. Except First Essex, as usual. I really don't get their business sense.

      I only mentioned Ipswich in the context of a comparison of the cost of cross town tickets. Though i suppose the more pertinent question may be if anyone wants to go cross town excluding the hospital,and rail station (but that's often the case in other places too)?