Many areas have suffered badly due to bus cuts in recent years. Many locations have lost their services altogether. But not many towns have suffered more than the Suffolk town of Halesworth. Recent years have seen the link to Lowestoft axed, the Norwich service cut to the bare minimum, the Beccles service greatly reduced and removed from the parts of the town that used it most, and even Demand Responsive operators have greatly reduced their services to the town.
Then, last month, as reported here, Konectbus announced they were withdrawing the 88/87 Norwich - Bungay service from 2nd March, and the Bungay - Southwold section of the route from 29th March. It has been announced this week that First Eastern Counties are going to introduce a 99A Southwold - Bungay service from 1st April, however this will be only a 2 hourly service, the timetable yet to be published. One would assume it will connect at Bungay with the X41 into Norwich. However, for the month of March, if you wish to travel from anywhere between Blythburgh and Halesworth to Norwich you are, to put it mildly, screwed.
Despite withdrawing the Bungay - Norwich part of the route, Konectbus have not altered the timetable on the surviving part of the route to give THEIR customers an easy change onto First at Bungay. Of course they haven't. In their statement announcing the withdrawal of the 88 they said thus:
"This change will mean that there will be no through buses between Halesworth and Norwich. We will still be running the Southwold to Bungay via Halesworth route during March. Passengers will need to change buses to a First bus in Bungay. This will mean buying two separate tickets for the journey and we will be reducing the price of all tickets between Halesworth and Bungay during this period so that customers will not have to pay more money. We will also offer refunds on tickets that can no longer be used for all or part of the journey. We do not have final details of the price change yet."
I draw your attention the part that says "we will be reducing the price of tickets between Halesworth and Bungay". Never mind if you live in Blythburgh, Wenaston or Holton then. But that actually doesn't matter, because if you catch the first off peak bus out of Halesworth, as many do, you'll have a 53 min wait for the X41 to Norwich. Isn't that caring! So I doubt many will be taking advantage of the cheaper fares. You can get the 1031 out of Halesworth and only wait 15 mins at Bungay for the slower 2 hourly 41, but that means you don't arrive in Norwich until after Midday. Click on the timetables for bigger view.
Returning isn't much better. You'll have a minimum 25 minute wait at Bungay for a connection to Halesworth. The afternoon peak gives 3 buses at 1550, 1715 and 1840, but at least the last two services connect well with First services from Norwich, as long as they are on time. I really wouldn't hold out too much hope of the 88 waiting if the X41 is late.
One can only hope that things improve when First take over the entire route, although I'm disappointed there will still be a change at Bungay required. This was an opportunity for First to engage with the people of Halesworth and get many lost customers back on the bus. Maybe it will happen, but a 2 hourly service isn't going to do much to woo people, especially with a change of bus involved. There is also no news about the services lost by Woodton and particularly Brooke, who in the space of a few months will have dropped from a half hourly service to a two hourly service.
There is no news yet on the future of the 90, which is the Halesworth/Beccles/Southwold triangle. I understand Suffolk County Council are talking to 4 different operators.
One side note - the new contract to operate the 87 between Norwich - Bungay evenings and Sundays has been awarded to......Konect!! Except it's been renumbered 40/41 to match First's services. The Bungay to Halesworth section has been scrapped unless SCC step in, but even if they do you know it will be a different operator and nothing will connect with each other. There is an opportunity for a Bungay - Southwold Summer service linking with the East Suffolk Line at Halesworth if the will is there.
The one and only positive I can see thus far is that the Halesworth - Lowestoft link will be re-established, although you'll have to travel via Southwold but anything is better than nothing. However, I accept that these arrangements have had to be done fairly quickly, without much time for consultation. The good people of Ilketshall, Halesworth, Holton, Wenhaston and Blythburgh will have to hope these are purely interim services, and something more attractive and permanent is forthcoming not too far in the future. Either way, Konect are saying thank you and goodbye to the folks on the 88 who have stuck with them by giving a giant middle finger. There's gratitude for you.