Eric considers the pitfalls of buses that thrive too much in the current heat wave. And Busing adds his 2p worth. Omnibuses welcomes contributions
The 172/72 has been described as one of the most scenic bus routes in South Wales. It originates in the valley town of Aberdare, travels over mountains offering some spectacular views of the Rhondda before terminating down some 42 miles later in the seaside resort of Porthcawl. The route and its number have hardly changed in over 50 years of operation. For years it ran every two hours or so until Stagecoach took a gamble and operated it hourly. It currently uses Enviro 300 Scanias after years of operation by 48-seat Alexander bodied Volvo B10Ms.
During average operating conditions, loadings tend to be quite low as parts of its route run in tandem with other higher-frequency routes operated by the same company. It then enters First Cymru territory with little scope for much patronage. However, when the weather ‘turns out nice again’, buses get full quickly as passengers from the Rhondda look for a day out by the seaside! During this recent hot spell many buses have been ‘full to the rafters’ with passengers sometimes being unable to board in some places further along its journey – indeed some passengers even hop on a bus to meet up with the 172/72 some miles before their own stop and then end up travelling back through the place they started out, all just to get a seat or even just get on board! Decades ago, it wasn’t uncommon for spare buses to be used on the route on a sunny day with stories of half a dozen buses or more leaving Aberdare at the same time being told. Nowadays there are no such things as spare buses.
Needless to say, lots of passengers going in one direction means lots of passengers returning. Many try and stay as long as they can in Porthcawl, resulting in crowds trying to get on the last trip. Pity the poor driver of that run, who has to tell waiting passengers there’s no room for them and there are no more buses that day. Some drivers reckon they’ve had loadings well in excess of the maximum capacity just to get as many people home as they can. It isn’t difficult to imagine the carnage of that last trip on the Saturday and the toilet breaks needed by a few of the well-lubricated passengers on the journey home!
What can Stagecoach do about it though? There were rumours that the service was to be increased to every 30 minutes but loadings for 90% of the year, when the weather isn’t so good, wouldn’t warrant using 10 vehicles instead of 5. A seasonal adjustment would be risky if the summer weather ends up being wet and miserable. Maybe Stagecoach could extend their 244 service from Pontypridd (as in days of yore) but such a move would only lose money throughout most of the year. Neither double deckers nor longer vehicles are viable options - the new Scanias are already taking a bit of a battering on some very narrow turnings. Some drivers will advise passengers not to get the last bus home, not that many listen!
It’s a problem that has existed for years and one to which no-one seems to have an answer.
Busing does have that answer! Sort of. It’s a problem wherever you have large seasonal fluctuations. Increase capacity with larger vehicles or higher frequencies both come at a cost that may not be recoverable if the weather’s wet, windy or even dull. The minute the sun comes out, the problem starts. Here, Busing speaks from some experience. Once you have committed to the extra expenditure, you can only reduce it given 56 days’ notice, somewhat longer than your average heat wave.
And that answer? You need to increase fares so that revenue & reimbursements on the good days pays for the increased capacity all summer (or all year) long. Not much of a solution, really though, as it penalises regular passengers and distorts fare levels on other parallel parts of the network. These, in turn, threaten demand and ultimately revenue. And such fares might even open the route up to competition.
Oh and one more thing. No matter the increase in frequency, passengers will still spill out on hot days after the 0930 free travel watershed; and will still demand access to the very last usable bus each in the evening.
Bus image by a blog supporter