Monday 31 July 2023

250 - 'Down' but not 'Out'

Back on Tuesday May 9th, Stagecoach service 250 got a new, reduced, route and timetable as part of changes linked to North East Lincolnshire's Bus Service Improvement Plan. Unfortunately the 250 seems to have 'drawn the short straw', and from a route and timetable perspective, it's the opposite of improvement.

The 250 was truncated from operating between Hull, Barton, Grimsby, Clee Road and Cleethorpes to instead just operate between Hull, Barton and Grimsby. It's probably no coincidence that this change occurred at the same time service 6 was extended from Grimsby to Cleethorpes via Clee Road every half hour Monday to Saturday daytimes, compared to the 250's hourly service. The service 6 enhancement, in isolation at least, is positive, increasing frequency and adding new Monday to Saturday daytime links from Wybers Wood and the Willows Estate in Grimsby to Cleethorpes. However the 250 may well have been 'one bus too many' down Clee Road, so it's been cut back in favour of more local links within North East Lincolnshire.

The ideal option would be to find another route to Cleethorpes instead, but that hasn't been taken. The service 12 (and previous X1 from Hull to New Waltham) route from Grimsby to Cleethorpes via Wellington Street, Queen Mary Avenue and Brereton Avenue could benefit from the 250 with it's longer operating day. However the 250 as well as the 12 maybe too much, and if the 250 replaced the 12 here, the remnants of the 12 would potentially suffer, with Bradley Park and the Grange Estate no longer linked to Cleethorpes, and parts of Cleethorpes and New Waltham no longer linked to Grimsby. Grimsby Road doesn't need any more buses, so the options for an alternative direct Grimsby to Cleethorpes route are difficult. 

For the record the 6 doesn't serve Hainton Avenue like the 250 did, but Ladysmith Road. Former Ladysmith Road service 7 now serves Hainton Avenue instead on a reduced hourly off peak only frequency; Hainton Avenue does also retain the two hourly 53. I will cover the local changes within North East Lincolnshire in more detail in a future post.

Returning to the 250 and Hull to Cleethorpes was a four hour round trip using four vehicles for an hourly frequency Monday to Saturday daytimes (with some longer gaps between services at peak times). Hull to Grimsby is around a 3 hour 15 minute round trip, meaning an hourly frequency would require long layovers or a shorter route - the former is unproductive, the latter would potentially mean less passengers; the Hull to Grimsby link has got stronger over recent years by being less direct and serving more places en-route. The solution - introduce two 90 minute gaps into the service during the daytime so only three vehicles are needed. Efficient, only means a reduction of one round trip per day, but it does mean the clockface hourly off peak service has gone, as has the consistent thrice hourly Barton to Hull provision.

I sometimes see the 250 in Barton and on Saturday mornings earlier this year the 0950 from Cleethorpes to Hull (1015 from Grimsby) would often arrive into Barton (on Falkland Way) with standees. If anything more capacity was needed, not less. Of course one high demand journey a week - with the support of the government funded bus fare cap - can't be used to determine the full six day a week frequency, but it does seem at odds with the cutback timetable, especially as there is now a 90 minute gap from Grimsby between 0915 and 1045.

The new timetable also undermines the off peak co-ordination between the 53 and 250 from Grimsby to Laceby. Previously the 250 left Grimsby at 15 minutes past the hour, and the 53 at 40 minutes past the hour, every other hour. Now the morning/lunchtime service is 0915, 1040, 1045, 1145, 1240, 1245 and 1415. There is better co-ordination between the 53 and 250 from Laceby into Grimsby in the afternoon now, but in that direction at that time off day, demand is probably quite low.

I forget where, but back in April/May when the changes were first announced I recall reading some concern as well about the impact on students at Hessle High School, returning to the South Bank at the end of the day. The previous 1455 from Hull Interchange was well timed for the 1450/1455 school finish, but now it's the 1510 350 for Barton or the 1555 250 for Barrow and beyond - the former an irritation, the latter a much bigger inconvenience. Would North East Lincolnshire Council have considered school flows from the East Riding of Yorkshire to North Lincolnshire - probably not. Stagecoach should have, so hopefully the affected students are only travelling to Barton. 

One other feature of the change is that the 0715 from Hull no longer serves Wren Kitchens in Barton. In one sense an odd change, considering the very short diversion was used by commuters, but at the same time only a short walk from Falkland Way to the Wren Kitchens gatehouse.

Amid all this negativity, you may think Stagecoach are loosing interest in the 250. Thankfully they do appear committed to the route; the previous 2014 vehicles with Humber Flyer livery have been replaced with newer 2019 vehicles in new 'two fifty' livery. Vehicle replacement and/or withdrawal of the Humber Flyer branding would have been an ideal time to revert to fleet livery, so the fact this hasn't happened indicates to me that the 250 might be 'down', but it's not 'out'.

Sunday 2 July 2023

New Isle of Axholme Local Service 97

The second new route launched by North Lincolnshire Council on Tuesday 2nd May was service 97 in the Isle of Axholme, specifically operating between Garthorpe, Luddington, Eastoft, Crowle, Ealand, Belton, Epworth, Sandtoft and Wroot. Like the 96, it is operated 'in-house' by the council under a Section 22 Community Transport license with funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

In detail the 97 operates Monday to Friday daytimes only with three journeys from Wroot to Garthorpe at 0830, 1100 and 1350, two journeys from Garthorpe to Wroot at 0945 and 1240 plus a Garthorpe to Epworth 'short' at 1505, returning from Epworth to Garthorpe at 1600. The 97 returns a timetabled bus service to Sandtoft and Wroot for the first time since early September 2020, and restores the link between Crowle and Epworth for the first time in I think 10 years. It also nicely supplements the 399 between Belton and Epworth. 

Disappointingly the first 97 of the day from Garthorpe at 0945 is just 11 minutes before the East Yorkshire operated 361 also provides a journey from Garthorpe to Crowle, whilst similarly there is a 1149 97 from Crowle to Garthorpe followed by a 1204 361. Do Garthorpe, Luddington and Eastoft need links to Epworth, because for Crowle the 361 already provides a service? Could the time be better spent elsewhere, such as restoring a Wroot to Blaxton service for Doncaster connections, or perhaps reinstating a service to Lockwood Bank in Epworth? 

The 97 is a welcome addition to the bus network, reinstating a number of lost links on a substantially better basis than before - the previous 58 and 358 local services in the Isle of Axholme operated between 1 and 3 days a week mornings and early afternoons only. A bit like the 96 though, is it over ambitious?