Thursday, 31 January 2013

Bournemouth, UK

Bournemouth lies on the south coast of England. The town is flanked by Poole to the west and Christchurch to the east.  The whole conurbation is home to nearly 380,000.

Like many British coastal towns, Bournemouth expanded rapidly in the 19th Century and early 20th Century.  The arrival of railways brought holidaymakers to coastal resorts, and many were attracted to Bournemouth for its sandy beaches.

A century later, cheap air travel brought foreign holidays within reach of many more people.  Many of Britain's coastal towns fell into decline as holidaymakers headed for places with more predictable weather. Bournemouth has bucked the trend.  The town  remains a popular holiday destination, but is also home to a conference centre, a university and a number English language schools.

Bournemouth has not one transport network but two.  Two bus companies operate services across the conurbation, competing with each other over the busiest corridors.

Yellow Buses is the successor to Bournemouth's council-owned tram system.  Trams were replaced by trolleybuses in the 1930s.  Three decades later, trolleybuses gave way to diesel-powered buses.  The bus fleet remained in council ownership until 2005 when it was sold.  By a quirk of fate, it is now Government-owned - but not by the UK government.  Yellow Buses is a subsidiary of Paris-based RATP, owned by the French state.

The Yellow Buses fleet is a mixture of single-deck and double-deck buses.  All have a single door for entry and exit.

Yellow Buses' competitor is Wilts & Dorset.  At one time state-owned (by the UK Government!) it was sold into private ownership in the 1980s and is now part of the Go-Ahead group.

The trunk corridor linking Poole and Bournemouth is hotly contested by Wilts & Dorset and Yellow Buses.  Yellow Buses generally operate double-deckers every 7-10 minutes, while Wilts & Dorset run twice as frequently with single-deckers.  In recent years, Wilts & Dorset's buses on these routes have been branded as "More".

Beyond Bournemouth, the "More" services run alternately eastwards to Southbourne (route m2), where they compete against the same Yellow Buses route from Poole, or north to Castlepoint (route m1) in competition with another Yellow Buses route.

The "More" brand has been refreshed with a brighter shade of blue compared to the original.  In summer 2012, one or two vehicles were still carrying the previous darker blue livery.

"More" buses aren't restricted to the m1 and m2 routes, although other buses still carry the Wilts & Dorset name and a livery with more red.

As well as operating within the conurbation, Wilts & Dorset run longer-distance services heading out from Bournemouth.

Routes X1 and X2 run eastwards along the coast to the town of Lymington.

Routes X3 and X6 head in a more northerly direction to Ringwood, with route X3 continuing onwards to Salisbury.


Not all Wilts & Dorset buses are red and blue.  Those on route 50, which runs west from Bournemouth to the seaside town of Swanage, are branded "Purbeck Breezer".  The 50 is a scenic journey along the coast and through the Purbeck Hills.  For many years, the route has been operated with open-top double-deck buses during the summer season.

Poole Harbour provides a natural barrier between the Bournemouth conurbation and the Isle of Purbeck.  Route 50 crosses the mouth of Poole Harbour using a chain ferry.  

Route 50's summer frequency has increased in recent years.  By summer 2012, it had risen to 3 buses per hour.  This has increased the number of buses required to run the service so, although the route is advertised as open top, a proportion of the service was being provided by closed-top buses.  Some were branded for route 40 (Poole to Swanage), from which they had been borrowed.

Bournemouth's railway station is a kilometre or two from the town centre and seafront.  Both operators run frequent services to and from the station.

Passengers arriving by train can buy a "PlusBus" ticket allowing them unlimited travel throughout the conurbation using the services of both bus companies.  However, at £3.50 per adult, the ticket is more expensive than two single tickets.  Passengers who will only use the bus to get from the station to the centre of Bournemouth and back can do so more cheaply by buying tickets from the driver as they board the bus.  This does, however, increase the amount of time the bus spends at the stop.  Both operators have introduced smartcard ticketing systems as an alternative to paying cash fares.

The PlusBus ticket is one of only two which can be used on the services of both operators.  The other is the "Getting About Card" promoted jointly by Bournemouth and Poole councils.  At £5.50 for a day's unlimited travel, it is more expensive than the one-day tickets offered by either Yellow Buses or Wilts & Dorset for their own services. 

Passengers wanting to buy a longer period pass can buy one for either of the two operators, but these are only valid on that operator's buses.  The same is true of smartcards.  There is no period ticket nor a smartcard which allows travel on both operators' buses.

Go-Ahead also submitted a bit to buy Yellow Buses in 2005.  Had their bid succeeded, it is probable that the Wilts & Dorset and Yellow Buses services would have been merged into a single unified network (this had happened further along the south coast in Brighton, when Go-Ahead added Brighton Buses to their existing Brighton & Hove operation).
It could be argued that Bournemouth has not two but three bus networks.  A bespoke network of four routes is provided on behalf of Bournemouth University.  Three of the routes operate only during term time, but a limited service runs on route U1 during university holidays.  No services operate at weekends.

Double-deck and single-deck buses used on the Bournemouth University services carry a distinctive livery of white, grey and pink.

Some journeys on the U1 service are operated with an articulated bus.  One such vehicle carries the Bournemouth University livery but a blue vehicle sometimes operates in its place.

The Bournemouth University services are operated by Wilts & Dorset.  The routes can be used by the general public as well as students and staff of the university.  Wilts & Dorset's one-day and period tickets are valid for use on these services.  You won't find any mention of them on Wilts & Dorset's More website, though - the university services have their own site here.

A shuttle service linking Bournemouth town centre and railway station with the airport is operated by another company, Discover Dorset.  Buses run every hour, 7 days a week, from early morning to early evening.  Although the UK has not adopted the Euro, tickets for the ariport shuttle can be bought using Euros.



The airport shuttle has its own website here

An open-top sightseeing tour of Bournemouth operates from the end of March to the end of September.  It is operated by City Sightseeing.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Coventry, UK

The city of Coventry lies around 150 kilometres north west of London.  It is the UK city furthest from any coastline.

Coventry used to have a fine mediaeval city centre, built around a 14th Century cathedral.  That was to change one night during November 1940 when an enemy bombing raid destroyed much of the centre of Coventry, including the cathedral.  The cathedral ruins stand as a shell, with a new cathedral building adjacent to them, while much of the city centre is post-war.

The November 1940 attack on Coventry also caused the final closure of the city's tram system.  Coventry's trams were already on their way out, as buses had replaced many of them through the 1930s.  The 1940 bombing raid damaged the remaining tram infrastructure and the system was abandoned.  Coventry's public transport has been provided entirely by buses ever since.

Bus services in Coventry are marketed under the "Network West Midlands" banner.  However, there is no tightly co-ordinated network.   Some co-ordination is achieved by Network West Midlands, acting in partnership with bus companies, but the bus companies have freedom run where and when they choose.

Most bus services within Coventry are operated by National Express West Midlands, as are some routes to neighbouring towns.

The National Express fleet includes a mixture of double-deck and single-deck buses.  Most carry a white and pale blue livery.



The newest buses are used on route 21, the most frequent route in Coventry.  These vehicles carry dedicated branding.

Articulated buses are less common in the UK than in continental Europe.  Nevertheless, they can be found in a number of cities including Coventry. 

Although National Express use white and pale blue colours in Coventry, across the rest of the West Midlands the fleet colours are white and red.  Route 900, which links Coventry with Birmingham, uses white and red buses.

When I visited Coventry in January 2013, a small number of National Express buses still carried a previous version of the livery which included dark blue. 

Fares on National Express West Midlands buses must be paid using the exact fare.  Drivers do not give change.  It is expected that electronic smartcard ticketing will be introduced on National Express buses during 2013.

A number of bus routes into Coventry from nearby towns are operated by other companies, including Stagecoach, Johnsons and De Courcey Travel.

Many of the buses operated by Stagecoach carry dedicated branding for particular routes.


Two Park & Ride services operate into Coventry city centre.  Both are operated by De Courcey.

Conventional diesel-powered buses are operated on the service from the north park & ride site. 

It is more than 70 years since the last tram ran in Coventry.  There is nevertheless one fully-electric transport service on the city's streets.  Three battery-powered electric buses were introduced to the Park & Ride South service during 2012.


Although many bus routes pick up at stops on city streets, Coventry also has a bus station.  However, not all routes serve the bus station.

Coventry has had a long history of motor vehicle manufacturing.  This is celebrated in the Coventry Transport Museum in the centre of the city, across the road from the bus station.  The museum is open daily, admission is free.