LinksAir: North-South Air Link in Wales. . .

Today’s news that the Anglesey – Cardiff air link could improve should not to be taken as a negative view of what is a highly important and valuable asset to transport links in Wales.

The National Assembly for Wales’ Public Accounts Committee, said: “Passenger numbers for the air service are still disappointing so we were pleased that the Welsh Government responded positively to our interim report in requiring extra marketing for the service in the new contract.”

LinksAir currently operate the service on a contract leading to 2018 using Jetstream 31 type aircraft. Evidence by frequent users suggest the flight is comfortable, friendly and quick, completing a single way journey in just over 45 minutes. Passenger capacity is 19 with 2 crew.

Welsh Government recontracted the service out to Links Air in 2014 for a further four years, allowing for a maximum subsidy of £3.94m. Under the new contract it was set out that Links Air should set aside between £63,000 and £69,000 to market the air service.

Whatever your view on the subsidy for providing this service, it remains as a step in the right direction for linking North West Wales with Cardiff and South Wales. Services only build if they already exist, and while passenger numbers might still not be as high as expected, the service is there to be improved and developed to become viable.

So how can this service ensure growth? Improved marketing was one of the suggestions found in the Committee’s enquiries and I must agree with them, that more could be done to publicise and advertise the service. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Expand services to operate at weekends. Currently services only operate Monday – Friday.
  • Market the service to students that study in Cardiff but wish to journey to the North for visiting family.
  • Source businesses that work regularly between the North and South, and target their staff as regular potential users for the service.
  • Create an identity and brand through a dedicated social media presence. FlyBe and Ryanair currently do this very well through engaging #RyanAirFotoFriday hashtags and customer deals and prizes.
  • Advertise locally. Cardiff city centre is currently going through a period of exciting and rapid growth and the service should capitalise on this prime space for advertising, especially as BBC Wales’ headquarters will be based here.
  • TrawsCymru bus advertising: Currently there are a fleet of buses operating a service linking Cardiff Airport and Cardiff City Centre that are owned by the Welsh Government. Why not adapt an advertising campaign on the rear of these vehicles for a specific time period?
  • Cardiff hosts many international sporting events with many followers in North Wales. Advertising a package to fly to the capital and back would most definitely increase passenger numbers during these events.

These are only very few examples of what could be done to improve the service but it must be done sooner rather than later. This service is vital for the economic and social growth of North West Wales and if this service is lost, it will be a hard sell to reinstate it.

Let’s make sure it is retained.

LinksAir G-JIBO

LinksAir G-JIBO departs Cardiff Airport for RAF Valley, Anglesey.

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Cardiff – NAT just for Cardiff Bus. . .

Today, NAT Group launched a new cross city service in Cardiff, connecting Culverhouse Cross to Pontprennau, using low fares (£1.60 Single and £3 all day tickets) , offering cash change onboard and using 10 brand new Optare Metrocity vehicles in a dedicated branded blue livery. The service will run every 15 minutes.

This is promising news for the City. For too long, Cardiff Bus has been the dominant and sole provider of services in the Capital, limiting choice of fares and services for those who use the bus daily, and also not providing a direct route from West to East.

Hopefully the new X1 Cross City Service will be a success. The appeal of being able to travel from Canton directly to Roath without having to experience the grim Central bus station or walk across the city centre to catch a connecting service will hopefully win over passengers.

For the City as a whole, if more bus services get people out of their cars and onto public transport, then maybe the daily congestion can be cut down, and the city can continue it’s effort to become a more sustainable city.

nat2

Can the Cardiff Metro deliver for Cyclists?

This week saw the launch of the next stage in the Cardiff Metro development, with a vision of integrated travel across the city, using electrified railways with modern trains. Transport Integration is a vital component when developing any new piece of transport infrastructure, especially when connecting a city region with outer lying towns and villages. One of the main ambitions of the Metro Project is to make commuting across Cardiff easier for all, using a mix of light rail tramways and railways. Many European cities already have similar transport networks in place, and there is no reason why Cardiff cannot be the same. It’s a city than can easily adapt to increasing the number of people that cycle and walk as it has the benefit of being a relatively flat and open city, with minimal gradients. The report sets out an ambition to create;

“A public transport system, including cycle ways and cycle facilities, that encourages their greater patronage as a preferred mode of day-to-day transport;

This can only be achieved if the shift is made from catering for motor car traffic to more sustainable methods, and adapting a strong European model for cycling needs. With the population growth forecast for the city rising each year, it should become easier for people to use cycling and walking as a viable and efficient way of getting from A to B.  There is also the potential of integrating cycling with the tramways, allocating specific carriages for bikes, along with improved station access and cycling facilities to allow onward journeys to be made by bike. In Copenhagen, train carriages that specifically cater for cyclist have been in use since 2010.

An example of the interior of the DSB S train carriage, with space for bikes. An example of the interior of the DSB S train carriage, with space for bikes.

The DSB ‘S Train’ has dedicated carriages at the centre of the train, clearly and smartly branded with the international bike symbol. Inside, there is space to accommodate bikes, with fold down seats and an enter/exit system on each end in order to minimise traffic within the carriage.

“even more people choose an eco-friendly means of transport if they combine bike and train. A whole 27% of the cyclists state that they wouldn’t have taken the S-train if they couldn’t bring their bike for free. In order to make it faster and easier for cyclists to get in and out of the S-train, we have decided to introduce one-way traffic. In addition, the new bike compartments have room for twice as many bikes as usual, and we can spread out the bikes along the platform because the new bike compartments are located in the middle of the S-train”

DSB2Copenhagen’s Bike Friendly DSB S Train

This rail/cycle initiative has clearly been a success in Copenhagen, and similar examples can be found in Berlin and Madrid. Currently, there is too much being done to accommodate the motor car in Cardiff, and cyclist are being (literally) squeezed out the way at some locations on the city’s roads. Integrating rail with bicycles is a step towards a sustainable, pleasant and efficient means of travelling across any city. Imagine being able to jump on a tram based railway train at the furthest end of Roath or Canton, arriving at the Bay within 10minutes, and being able to cycle across the barrage, all in a safe, clean and quick environment.  Hopefully the Metro, along with the city’s town planners, stakeholders and Cardiff Cycling City Campaign can take this on and make it a success for commuters and those who cycle for leisure.

An example of what a new electrified light railways system to Cardiff Bay might look like as part of the Metro scheme. An example of what a new electrified light railway system to Cardiff Bay might look like as part of the Metro scheme.

Can North – South Coach Travel Be Improved in Wales?

Travelling across the breadth of Wales using public transport has not always been the easiest of choices, and is often the cause for driving people to take on the challenge of the A470 by motor car. But with increased fuel and rail costs, a greater awareness of environmentally friendly methods of travel, and an age of austerity, there is still a strong case for public transport developments across Wales.

Over the years, coach and bus services between the North and a South have been subject to many changes, and are well documented in this Wikipedia article. In it’s present day guise, the services between North and South are operated as part of the TrawsCymru Network, funded by the Welsh Government.

The vehicles providing these services are a mix of high-spec Optare Tempo’s along with Alexander Dennis Enviro 200’s, Scania OmniLinks and an Optare Solo SR. Whilst the branded vehicles are advertised as the flagship, some services operate in the operators livery. When comparing these vehicles to what’s operated on similar long distance routes, one can only feel that there is major room for improvement.

The current TrawsCymru Network of services.

The current TrawsCymru service  network. Although the T2 is mentioned , there is no timetable on the website and no clear ticketing options.

It currently takes around 7 and a half hours to travel by bus from Cardiff to Bangor, with a change at Newtown, either to a Lloyds Coaches service to Machynlleth, or an Arriva Trains Wales service to the same town. The reality is, no one wants to endure a 7 hour journey on a slightly modified bus, but it is worth noting these buses do have leather seats, limited luggage space, free wi-fi and two tables at the rear. As of January 2015, the TrawsCymru website has no information on the T2 leg of the network, linking Aberystwyth with Bangor. It also does not calculate journeys by bus/coach from Cardiff to Bangor using it’s ‘Plan Journey’ section and there seems to be no presence on Twitter regarding service performance for customers. There is also no information on ticketing options.

People expect coaches for such long distances, with soft, reclining seats, tables at each seat, air-conditioning units and aircraft style luggage holders This is the type of service that could become the future of coach travel between the North and South.

A dedicated, well branded coach service, offering low fares, with heavy promotion for students at Bangor, Aberystwyth and Cardiff could work. A catchy name, a catchy livery and a comfortable, modern coach with toilet facilities, refreshments and wi-fi would easily make for a more enjoyable journey. In Scotland, between Ayr and Glasgow, modern Van Hool and Plaxton coaches are operated by Stagecoach, branded suitably in an eye-catching livery, comfortable interiors with seasonal marketing brands and deals on the rear. The ‘take a selfie on the X77’ marketing campaign advertised on the vehicles, capitalises on online social media presence and is a practical way of engaging with customers using smartphones. The MegaBus Gold approach offered by Stagecoach is a success, offering free tea /coffee, muffins and drinks as part of the service for passengers on their daily services between Cardiff and London. The night sleeper service from Glasgow to London for example, is also something that could be adopted between North and South Wales if the demand were to increase.

X77 Stagecoach operated long distance coach service.

X77 Stagecoach Scotland operated long distance coach service. A sleek livery, modern branding and onboard facilities make for a comfortable journey.

I for one, would welcome a twice daily coach service operating between Cardiff – Aberystwyth – Bangor, and Cardiff – Shrewsbury – Wrexham. A daily service does currently operate between Aberystwyth and Cardiff by Bryans Coaches, and reports suggest the service has been drawing good passenger numbers, but the coaches being operated are dated and lack modern facilities. With a strong marketing plan, offers, and a social media presence, mass student populations along with professionals and other passengers would take the opportunity to travel at a much reduced cost than that of the train.

Previous failed attempts by Arriva Wales operating the Cymru Express service in 2013 and the final years of TrawsCambria, lie partly due to financial constraints, but also to a lack of a modern vision and clever marketing. Simply setting up a service and expecting people to use it will not work, especially if the main website doesn’t offer vital information and the incentive to use it is not there.

As the Welsh proverb goes, “Nid Da Lle Gellir Gwell” – ‘there is always room for improvement’.

An example of the current type of vehicle used on the Traws Cymru network.

An example of the current type of vehicle used on the Traws Cymru network.

Croeso – Welcome

The first Future Transport Wales article will be up shortly. The main aim of this site will be to explore how public transport provision in Wales can develop and grow, by means of our train network, bus services, air services and cycling.

Bydd erthygl cyntaf Dyfodol Trafnidiaeth yng Nghymru i fynu yn fuan. Pwrpas y wefan yma yw i edrych ar sut y gall trafnidiaeth gyhoeddus yng Nghymru datblygu a thyfu, drwy ddefnydd ein rheilffyrdd, gwasanaeth bws, gwasanaeth awyr a seiclo.