Richard Wakeman searches for the gold standard in the Potteries
The recently announced “Gold Service” by First Potteries isn’t that easy to find. The well-produced pocket timetables with maps to scale for each of the following services tell you that they operate as a gold service…
- 25 Keele to Hanley via Newcastle under Lyme, Stoke
- 26/26A Newcastle under Lyme to Hanley via Stoke, Longton, Meir, Bentilee
“Visit our website for details on [of?] our customer charter for Gold Service 25 and 26/26A”Though the web’s typeface is tiny and there’s a mountain of it, all the information’s there on site, including a link to the timetables and, importantly, the charter itself. Your website author helpfully reviewed the charter in October, shortly after its first launched.
With, what, at least 40 per cent of First’s passengers likely to be over 60, the web may not provide the penetration First might expect and this seems something of a drawback. Continuing the hunt, there was nothing immediately obvious at either the Newcastle under Lyme or Hanley enquiry offices. So, what about on the buses themselves?
First’s website suggests,
“buses on each route are returning to a heritage, red and yellow livery”.First has chosen the continuous and progressive aspect of the verb to return, implying an as yet incomplete and continuing action. Omnibuses’ NC saw two, one Scania Omnicity and one Volvo B7RLE. There’s at least an implication from First that there will be more. If this is so, then there will be absolutely no problem for passengers in identifying the gold service.
Against a sea of Barbie, the livery style looks even more striking than it did 25 years ago. But, the other vehicles on the routes were much less distinct. Those on the 26/26A were all in Barbie willow leaf and most of those on the 25 had added Unilink branding. None had any mention of gold or any other precious metals, inside or out, on either service, not that I could see. The routes appeared somewhat anonymous and passengers may be forgiven for misunderstanding the message. Whereas the two “heritage” liveried vehicles appeared deep-cleaned and well-kept internally, the remainder of those sampled were again rather ordinary, showing the usual & expected signs within of the hard life you might expect on two intensely urban corridors. The pastels of the Barbie moquette didn’t help much in this regard.
If it is intent on raising standards through a gold service, you have to applaud what First is doing locally in north Staffordshire. But currently, it would appear that the offering’s the same as other of its bus services. Good to report, though, that there were no timekeeping issues. The vehicles were swept out, save for a small amount of litter. There was no evidence either way to question that the drivers are other than well trained. One vehicle, mind, had the wrong destination display indicated (showing the opposite direction of travel).
It might’ve been better to waited till all First’s “ducks” were in a row (this being a local dialect greeting) before launching gold service. Frequencies are good (especially on the 26/26A and during term times on the 25) but gold service is something, at least at the moment, for which you have to search.
Photos also by RW