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Over a pound a kilometre - my bus in Weston-super-mare

I don't know whether to laugh or cry ...

My destination yesterday was 3.5 km - as the gull flies - from Weston-super-mare station. How can 3.5 km be quite for difficult?

Research ahead of time had told me that I wanted a No. 21 bus from Reva Road and had given me a map from the station to the bus stop. From a little prior knowledge, I didn't believe what I was being offered ...



... and indeed asking on a train forum elicited the response that the officially recommended route was odd and going all around, and I would be better to exit from the other side of the station, which is actually the main entrance.

And so to Weston. There's a poster in the booking hall that helpfully contains information about local bus routes, but it appears to reflext things as they were a time ago as the route I was to catch and where it went didn't match up. Never mind; what does the bus stop say? Well, as I stepped out of the station and before I got to the bus stop, a further sign usefully points to where various buses leave from except (uselessly!) it lists different route numbers and although it lists my destination, there's no clue about the magic "21" that I got from the online planner. Well - it tuns out that the bus stop I want is so close to the station that you can stnd under the end of the station awning to wait for the bus to arrive - and the bus stop itself was labelled with times and route number as per my online research. Comforting.

Our driver seemed suprised when I asked to buy a ticket - at a charge (it turned out) of £7.50 return for the 3km journey. But then I noticed that I was the only one paying. Everyone else who got on had concessionary bus passes, and no other fares were taken - so in effect I'm paying for them too through my taxes; it's my understanding that the bus operator receives a percentage (rumoured to be around 45%) of the "regular" cash fare for concessions - so that's a much more reasonable fare of £3.40 .

Did I say 3.5 km? The bus headed out to the see front in Weston, then round the 'burbs, past the hospital where it passed a competitor's bus, and back out to the main road behind the town. Heading south, we ignored signs to the destination I was headed for but carried on and turned through another village and into a series of little lanes. Coming to a more major road again, a sign pointed back towards Weston in quite the opposite direction from which we appeared. And so, more lanes. Passing a bus going in the other direction at the narrowest and most difficult place, and noting that the bus going in to Weston was full and standing.

30 minutes after leaving the bus stop at Weston-super-mare station, we arrived at the stop I was to get off at ... actually 5 km from where I wanted to be, as I had to walk back towards Weston by a mile of so to get to my meet up. I should qualify my criticism slightly and admit that the geography of the land is such that there isn't a direct road. But then there are much more direct routes than the one we took!

It's sad to see such high fares for those of us who aren't senior citizens. It makes it very hard to persuade others to use the bus rather than a car. But it's understandable when you realise that 50 seats taken on a bus (49 concessionary) with a public fare of £7.50 brought the bus operator £172.87 of income, whereas 49 concessionary fares at £5.00 and four times the number of public fares - 53 seats taken - would have brought in just £135.25

It's sad to see so much incorrect information for the newcomer. But then with bus timetables changing as frequently as every six weeks, it's hardly surprising that updates to information boards aren't always up to date. And many online systems are embryonic at best, and bus tracking through GPS is patchy in how well it monitors buses, and how it is presented to the customer. But then the important customers to the bus companies are the regular pensioners, paid for from the public purse and no longer able to drive physically or financially. Discuss ;-) ...





This gets even more amazing ... to quote (with permission) from my mailbag:

Dear Graham,

Couple of points of interest, both true but slightly on the absurd side...

Had you done the entire trip by bus from Melksham, it would only have cost you £7 for a First Day South West ticket. Number 272 to Bath, X39 to Bristol, X1 to Weston and then 21 to unspecified but relatively close destination. Altenatively, if you really have time on your hands, you could try 234 to Frome, 161 to Wells, 126 to Weston, and then 21 to unspecified blah blah blah...Done both myself with the dog, who travels free. As has been noted elsewhere, the key point is that the First Day South West ticket is accepted on the 21 but you can't buy it on there, due to it being branded "buses of Somerset" rather than First.,.

As for the quicker train/bus combo, you need not have paid £7.50 for a return bus ticket from Neva Road. Your destination would have been in First's Weston Area Zone - http://www.firstgroup.com/ukbus/bristol_bath/tickets/weston_super_mare/firstday.php - so you could have got a FirstDay ticket for £4.20.

However, this is where the fun really begins. Because, just as with the South West ticket, the FirstDay Weston ticket is valid on the "buses of Somerset" 21 service but not issued on it, you would have had to flag down a "true First" bus beforehand to purchase the FirstDay Weston ticket before using it in a perfectly valid manner on the "buses of Somerset" 21 bus...

Any queries I get, happy to forward to this authority who really knows his stuff - on my mentioning back that I don't want to waste an experts time ... "As for time, the answer to that query I knew off by heart anyway, so "wasted" time on my part was not an issue.". Wow!
(written 2014-04-06)

 
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