Some bus services give themselves to a perfectly logical layout. Others evolve in to stability over time. Some just defy any logic and whatever you try to provide over the route ends up being a complete pudding.
Yate and Bristol
Yate is a dormitory town to Bristol which has grown since the second world war with precious little attention paid to how practical the place is. There is no single logical route to Bristol, nor a single logical road route and bus services have reflected this, with no service developing in to the solid, dependable, efficient corridor which makes public transport attractive and operators keen to invest.
There have perenially been at least three routes between Yate and Bristol, with another rising in prominence over the past few years. The Coalpit Heath & Downend service (currently 47, previously 340-2) take about 45 minutes off peak and 50 at peak times. At peak times, an express version (X47) omits Downend in favour of the M32 and takes between 35 and 45 minutes. Traditionally as frequent as four times an hour, 47 now runs every half hour with some peak hour journeys omitted in favour of X47 trips.
Service 46 (variously 327, 328, X27, X28, X29 and X30 amongst other previous designations) takes in Coalpit Heath, Frampton Cotterell, Winterbourne Down and Frenchay on its route in to Bristol and comes in at around 55 minutes end to end. It is complemented by X46, which takes in North Yate, Iron Acton and Winterbourne before joining the M32. X46 takes around 45 minutes. Both 46 and X46 run hourly, giving a service every 30 minutes over the common section.
Meanwhile, we also have relative newcomer X49. This hourly jaunt also runs via Pucklechurch and Staple Hill in to Bristol. The route number clearly doesn’t refer to it being an eXpress, as it takes just over an hour, the slowest of any of the routes. X49 previously existed as supported service 689 and has since been numbered to reflect the similarity with Bristol city service 49.
Over the past few decades, we’ve had other indirect services serving smaller settlements between Yate and Bristol (625, 628), plus a couple of other commercial ventures (Wessex X27, SilverWing 440 and the stillborn BargainBus B1). We’ve also had various attempts at express services provided by Badgerline (X8 and X69).
The net result remains that there are still four distinct services providing five buses an hour between Yate and Central Bristol, which is an unusual circumstance for a route which would on paper likely be one frequent core route.
However, Yate isn’t alone in competition for the Pudding of the West title…
Norton Radstock and Bristol
At privatisation in October 1986, services between Norton Radstock and Bristol were provided by route 178 (five times a day, Bath to Bristol via Paulton and Keynsham), 666 (one morning journey via Paulton and the A37 Wells Road), 667 (two or three journeys via Camerton and Keynsham) and 668 (roughly the 178, but starting from Writhlington instead of Bath).
Although the Avon CC supported services were tinkered with many times in the interim, service 178 eventually became the dominant partner and rose to run hourly in the late 1990s. The service via Wells Road was cut back mainly to run between Clutton and Norton Radstock variously as 766, 466, 66A, 668 and 768.
The last quicker journeys towards Bristol (as 667 via Camerton and Keynsham, them limited stop through Brislington) lasted until July 1997 when 178 was increased to hourly.
During 2001, a vocal campaign by local councillors gave rise to service 379, two journeys towards Bristol in the morning peak and a reciprocal working during the evening peak at an annual cost of £40,000 to Bath & North East Somerset Council. 379 existed in various adjusted forms as a peak hour only service for the best part of a decade. It survived with First despite being won on tender to both Bath Bus Company and Wessex, the latter award causing it to become commercial and to be extended to Shepton Mallet via the Fosseway for a torturously long trip end to end.
The 379 service would eventually become hourly between Radstock and Bristol, then be integrated with the rest of the corridor as a through service to Bath, giving a 15 minute service between Midsomer Norton and Bath when combined with 173 (Wells), 178 (Bristol) and 184 (Frome). The hourly frequency was provided with substantial “kickstart” funding from the Paulton Purnell development.
This lasted until summer 2016 when First announced that because the money tap from the Paulton Purnell development had run dry, they no longer thought the service justified the cost of providing it. Service 178 was recast to run a slightly quicker route and after many years of subsidy 379 was ditched.
There was a surprisingly mediocre outcry, which managed to turn the Paulton funding tap back on to the tune of an astonishing £60,000 a year to provide service 177 – one commuter journey each way and a pensioner’s shopping journey towards Bristol. Funding for this is due to end August 2017.
Whilst this is quite different to the Yate situation, it does provide some justification to allowing the market to dictate the level of service it is comfortable with. Whilst Yate seems capable of sustaining five buses an hour to Bristol over various routes, the Norton Radstock corridor only seems capable of sustaining one an hour at best, although would likely wither on the vine entirely if this were reduced further.
Unlike a lot of services which trend towards a simpler service structure, the Yate route seems to defy a logical, frequent solution which may be holding the service back in terms of overall patronage. The failure of the 379 to establish sufficient patronage to continue commercially is disappointing, but perhaps rather predictable.