From Tuesday 6th April, Stagecoach's Humber Flyer (recently saved again) between Hull, Humberside Airport, Grimsby and Cleethorpes will be diverted via Barton. This gives Barton a 3rd hourly bus to Hull (it was just 1 bus an hour until a year ago), retains the hourly link to Grimsby lost when the 45B is axed, and creates new bus links to Humberside Airport, Grimsby College and Cleethorpes.
As a Bartonian who travels to Hull a lot by bus, and who sometimes visits Humberside Airport (don't forget www.freewebs.com/airhumberside ) I should be happy about this. But it appears a very curious change to the Humber Flyer.
On one hand it could add extra passengers to what it obviously a struggling route. The section between Melton Ross and the Humber Bridge is a long one with no bus stops, and now the Humber Flyer has the chance to pick up custom in Barton, including the few passengers who may have used the 45B from Barton to Grimsby. Some new custom could also be attracted. And by serving another town, politically the route becomes even more important.
However my fears are twofold. Firstly the diversion into Barton does slightly increase the journey time - it's almost two hours from Hull to Pleasure Island in Cleethorpes. This could put some people off. Not those that need to travel, possibly to work, but say a family with young children wanting to go to Pleasure Island. A two hour bus journey is far from ideal. The service has had to become a partly local service to try and make it more financially viable, but the balance away from being an express service could swing too far.
And is the diversion into Barton worth it? Interestingly the Stagecoach announcement makes no mention that the diversion will provide extra links between Barton and Hull, just the links to the airport and North East Lincolnshire. Now there will probably be some limited passengers on these flows, such as maybe a few Grimsby College students, or OAP's who can't travel free on the train. But are these flows enough to make the diversion worthwhile, or will the diversion have to rely on Hull travellers?
This leads onto my second concern. I am concerned about the effect on the Humber Fastcat (350). Since it's relaunch and frequency increase almost a year ago, passenger levels do seem to have increased. However while some services are almost full, others are rather empty. While a quiet late afternoon service into Hull is to be expected, overall it does mean the average loads across the bridge don't seem spectacular from my observations. So adding a third hourly service between Hull and Barton could only serve to reduce average loads on the Fastcat and potentially threaten the viability of the current half hourly frequency.
Having said that the Humber Flyer is quite well timed to compliment the Humber Fastcat in both directions apart from at peak times (there are now two buses from Hull to Barton at 0725, and two from Barton to Hull at 1730 and 1830). The Humber Flyer also appears not to serve Barton Market Place, and uses a stand some distance away from the Fastcat stand in Hull Interchange. This will partially mitigate the effect on the Humber Fastcat. Though if these measures do that and the Barton diversion has to rely on North East Lincolnshire traffic, is it worth doing, as discussed above?
The best thing to do will be to see what happens next month. If the Barton diversion is well customised by passengers to Grimsby and Cleethorpes and/or helps grow the market to Hull, then great. But if not then I hope Stagecoach will remove the diversion quickly to ensure the Humber Fastcat remains viable.
Finally a couple of side notes - I guess the service 1 registered between Grimsby and Keelby will be cancelled? And the first morning bus from Grimsby to Hull will not serve Barton - yet on Saturdays at least if it did it could restore the early morning bus to Hull axed in 2006.
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