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.
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.
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’.