So we’ve been running our first ever bus service for four weeks now. I feel we’ve learnt a fair bit already, although we know there’ll be more to learn over the coming weeks and months.
Our route 18 links Stokesley, Great Ayton and Guisborough, maintaining a link dropped by another operator at the end of August. It extends from Guisborough to Saltburn too, opening up new direct bus links there.
We launched it at the start of this school year in September, albeit at short notice taking advantage of the current Covid rules meaning the usual ten week registration period doesn’t apply. We had plans to launch a bus service in June/July, before Covid hit – it wasn’t on this route – which still forms part of our future plans.
We had a timetable leaflet & poster designed by one of my friends, Gary Hunter, who is aiming to get into the graphic design business. I also set up new social media accounts for the Coatham Connect brand as I knew we wanted to have it as a distinctly separate brand from the coaches.
As we started on 1st September, it was a week before the start of the school run we had linked in with it, which meant we started on the school holiday timetable.
I’m not a huge fan of having separate timetables for schooldays and holidays, it can be confusing for customers and I generally shy away from it, but unfortunately at times… needs must.
It was lovely to be asked to drive the first few days – especially as it was my idea and I’d been involved heavily in building it from start to service in little under 3 weeks.
It was encouraging to have a passenger on the very first trip, given it was the 0818 journey which is effectively just a positioner in school holidays. She got on at the third stop along the route and told me how happy she was that we’d ‘saved’ the service.
The first week was a bit up and down but day one was an encouraging start with almost 50 people using our ‘new’ service. Since then we’ve seen it go up and down with some low figures and some also very high.
It’s been good to see a nice mix of concessionary cards and cash fares, and getting a little handheld contactless machine has been a godsend as it’s been used a hell of a lot. With Covid still around then the ability to take contactless payments instead of cash has been used many times. Not many people wish to carry cash these days. I know myself I’ve paid contactless for a lot more in the past few months than ever before.
We’ve not had any issues with overloading yet, but I don’t think we will do to be honest, it’s not the kind of route that will ever attract huge numbers of passengers. We expected that from the start although I have been close to leaving people behind a few times since the start.
There’s already two distinct trips that stand out as our busiest services, those being the 1045 from Stokesley and 1300 return from Saltburn. We have a lovely band of regulars who use our bus to go shopping, and they clearly rely on their lifeline service.
It’s also been good to see a lot of tourism use for day trips to Saltburn with the new link there proving popular when the suns out. When the weather isn’t great like the last few day’s it’s been poor but I kinda expected that. Word is still getting round too – so as more people find out about it I would expect to see usage continue to climb.
The timetable I wrote I would say is ‘ok’, it’s not perfect but it’s close enough. There is enough time in it overall but some of the intermediate timings are questionable. It’s something we can tweak at a later date but it does the job for now. Passengers appreciate a bus that turns up when it says it will, and we generally achieve that. The only time I struggle is when I’m busy heading to Stokesley, which is generally that 1300 trip as mentioned earlier. The 23 minutes from Guisborough plus 4 minutes recovery time in Stokesley has sometimes been exceeded! Generally it’s ok though.
Four weeks in and I’m quietly confident – we were given a rough idea on passenger figures by the councils from the previous service – generally we exceed them on 90% of days. Even on the bad days we’re not far off the previous average though.
The only thing I’m not happy with is the school journeys heading from Guisborough to Stokesley and back – we only have two regulars using it and we perhaps need to look at how we can attract more. The timings aren’t ideal however we can’t really change much at present – we have it linked with an existing contract that we need the revenue from to make the service pay.
It would be good to know if anyone has any ideas for topics to blog about, or any comments on this (or previous) posts.
Until next time, stay safe and have a great week!