Sunday 25 November 2012


The principality of Monaco lies on the Mediterranean, on the foothills of the Alps.  With a land mass of just 2 square kilometres (less than a square mile) it is the second smallest nation on earth.  Only Vatican City is smaller but, as Vatican City has no public transport, it makes Monaco the smallest nation in the world with a public transport system.

Home to a population of around 31,000 inhabitants, Monaco's small land mass makes it the most densely-populated nation on earth.

A compact bus network comprising five routes is provided by Compagnie des Autobus de Monaco (CAM), serving the communities of Monaco-Ville, Monte-Carlo and La Condamine.

Frequencies are high - on Mondays to Fridays all 5 routes operate at intervals of between 8 and 11 minutes for most of the day.  During the evenings and at weekends, the routes all run to lower frequencies.  A fleet of single-deck buses is operated.

Although tickets are sold on board buses, it is usually cheaper to buy them off-bus in advance.  A single fare allows unlimited transfers between buses for 30 minutes. 

One railway line passes through - or, to be more accurate, under - Monaco.  Real estate values are high so, in 1999, the railway was diverted through a tunnel in the hillside, releasing land for development.  Monaco Monte-Carlo station (website in French only) is within the tunnel, on the coastal line linking Nice with the Italian border town of Ventimiglia.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Chester, UK

Chester is a historic city in North West England, very close to the Welsh border.  The city was founded in 79 AD as an outpost of the Roman Empire.   The city walls, which are the most intact in Great Britain, are one of Chester's major tourist attractions.

As with most cities in Britain, there are no trams nor trolleybuses.  The transport network is provided by buses.  The network is co-ordinated by... no one single body.  Here in Britain, outside London, bus services are deregulated.  So any operator is free to operate what, where and when they choose.  Many bus routes are operated on a commercial basis, without subsidy, although the local authority has the power to subsidise additional services which are effectively bolted on to the commercial operators' networks.

Bus services in Chester are operated by a number of privately-owned companies.  Buses of all operators serving Chester have a single entrance/exit door, as in most of Britain (London is a notable exception to this arrangement).

At the time of writing, First have a network of services, not least because they bought the bus company owned by the local council as recently as 2007.  A mixed fleet of single-deck vehicles is operated.


Arriva also operate in Chester.  Some routes are from nearby towns in England...

...while others cross the border into and out of Wales.

Route 11 to Holywell offers guaranteed connections to Rhyl, on the North Wales coast.  You don't even need to change buses.  This is a result of a legal dispensation relating to drivers' hours.  In Britain, standard European rules don't apply to bus routes less than 50km in length.  Less stringent domestic rules apply instead.  One way to get longer routes to qualify for the less stringent rules is to split them into  sections, each less than 50km, but with the bus operating through from one route to the next and offering through fares.

A number of bus routes enter city walls, such as Arriva's route 10 here on Northgate Street.

As well as First and Arriva, a number of smaller operators also operate services into Chester.




This image was taken in Chester's Bus Exchange, within the city walls.  Some of Chester's bus services call here, but others do not.

Amongst the bus services subsidised by Cheshire West & Chester Council is a small network of routes branded as "Dee Bee".  Chester lies on the River Dee.

Chester's railway station lies about a kilometre from the city centre.  A shuttle bus service operates at frequent intervals during the daytimes, 7 days a week.


For people arriving in Chester by car, four park-and-ride services operate into the city centre from car parks on the outskirts of the city.

Following the sale of the council-owned company to First, there was a period of aggressive competition between First and Arriva, primarily on the route to Blacon, a housing estate on the north western edge of the city.  More recently, a spirit of co-operation has been brokered between the two operators by Cheshire West & Cheshire Council, who have ultimate responsibility for transport in Chester.

Route 1 between the city centre and Blacon, are operated by both First and Arriva.


However, the Blacon route isn't the only bus route 1 serving Chester.  First operate another route 1 northwards to Liverpool.

Meanwhile heading south, Arriva's route from Chester to the Welsh town of Wrexham is also numbered 1.


So there you have it.  If you want to travel on bus route 1, it helps to know which operator, and which bus route 1, you want!

Route 1 (route 1 to Blacon, that is) isn't the only route with more than one operator.  Arriva and First share routes 1A, 15 and 15A which also serve Blacon...

...and route 2 to Liverpool.

A different arrangement affects route 51, another local service within Chester city.  On Mondays to Saturdays, this is operated without subsidy by First. 

The Sunday service is subsidised by Cheshire West & Chester Council, and is operated under contract to them - by another operator, Arrowbrooke.

Meanwhile, routes numbered 1 aren't the only example of different operators using the same route number for different services.

First operate a local route 6 within the city.  Townlynx also operate a route 6, which comes into the city from Pantymwyn in North Wales.

Route number 9 is duplicated too.  As well as being the number for a local city service operated by First, GHA Coaches operate a separate route 9 from Connah's Quay.

So, in some cases, two operators may use the same number for the same route.  In other cases, two operators will use the same number for two completely different routes.  And sometimes, one operator will have two routes with the same number.  Are you confused?

Although most buses in Chester are now low-floor, a very small number of step-floor buses were still at work in November 2012 - two double-deckers operated by First, and a single-decker of GHA Coaches.

Information about all bus services in Chester is available on the Cheshire West & Chester Council website.  There is also a small information booth in Chester Bus Exchange.

Open-top sightseeing buses operate in Chester from April to October.  When I visited, the sightseeing service had ceased for the winter.  However, a heritage tour operates later into the autumn.  The vehicle used is a 100-year-old former London bus... or is it? 

The bus was actually a replica built in 1982, although the chassis is older.  

This image shows it passing the site of Chester's Roman amphitheatre.

More information about the heritage tour, and the bus, are on the Chester Heritage Tour website.

This post reflects what I found when I visited Chester in November 2012.  However, First's days in the city are numbered.  Just after I visited, First announced that they would sell their Chester operations to another multinational transport provider, Stagecoach.  The sale is expected to be complete by early 2013.

The story of First's acquisition and forthcoming sale of bus operations in Chester is told in greater detail on the Omnibuses blog.