01 August 2007

Cleethorpes Seafront Specials

For the summer 2007 season, Stagecoach have added a new-look livery to one of their two open top buses operating along the Cleethorpes seafront. To compliment the one Stagecoach-liveried open top Leyland Olympian/Northern Counties, 14667 (H667 BNL), a MCW Metrobus, formerly of the RoadCar fleet, 15972 (POG 542Y) has been added to Service 17, which operates between Cleethorpes Pier and the Thorpe Park Holiday Centre at the southern end of the resort, travelling along the tourist areas of the seaside town en route.

The livery, designed by Stagecoach East Midlands' Commercial Manager (North), John Donnely, based in Hull, is branded as
"Coastal Cruiser" in the font style Tahoma, with further branding of places served along the way. Substituting the standard Stagecoach corporate fleet colours with those more indicative of the seaside, and replacing the rear orange 'swoop' with a palm tree, gives a very striking end product. Six indentical vehicles at nearby Skegness depot have all received the same treatment, all too being ex RoadCar stock.

All operational MCW Metrobuses within Stagecoach in Lincolnshire and Grimsby-Cleethorpes operating units were new to West Midlands Travel, passing to RoadCar between 2001 and 2004. Many of the Skegness vehicles wear cherished registrations.

Over the past four years the frequency of open toppers along Cleethorpes seafront has increased, with local coach operator Coopers running a Leyland Olympian between Cleethorpes Pier and Pleasure Island Theme Park. This year, however, they are operating into the Thorpe Park Holiday Centre, following Stagecoach's service 17 route fully, though to a frequency 50% less than that Stagecoach offer.

Stagecoach's publicity for the Cleethorpes Coastal Cruiser makes no mention that only half of all departures will be made by the specially liveried bus and that the other half will be operated by an open topper in standard colours. Each vehicle misses service for 90 minutes while the driver returns to the depot for his break, keeping the bus with him; the gap-filler is usually a Dennis Dominator (closed top). There is an outrageous error in the timetable too, with the summary of daytime journeys being wrong: shows departures as being 00/30 from Cleethorpes Pier when in reality they are 10/40 and timings throughout are all 10 minutes later than advertised. This may have cost the firm dear as Coopers timetable for their hourly service 18 is accurate and attached to all the stops within Thorpe Park that I noticed today.

Despite the faux pas in the timetable 2007 sees the most simplistic Stagecoach timetable for the route: from 25 May to 9 September inclusive a 30 min frequency will operate with no exceptions. In the past years two timetables would exist: a 'low season' and 'high season'. Low season saw hourly departures (1 bus). Around 1998/9 a third frequency was in operation, seeing 5 journeys per day towards the end of September, journeys subsidised by North-East Lincolnshire Council. So many frequencies made the timetable very difficult to understand plus the vast majority of patronage are families on holiday from South Yorkshire who do not want to spend hours understanding a timetable. It is much better for a single, simplistic timetable that holidaymakers here for a week can grasp in a matter of seconds.

There continues to be no late service and a round trip fare is not advertised. As someone who regularly drove this service (when two Daimler Fleetlines with no power steering and centre doors were the mainstay) I was regularly asked if such a fare existed as families who were visiting the town for the day by car just fancied a ride round on the top deck. Briefly a fare did become available though this has never been advertised and without contacting Stagecoach directly I simply don't know if it is availa
ble this year. One other slight criticism of recent years is that too much time is given within Thorpe Park. 10 minutes stand time is timetabled for all journeys this year. Again, from past experience, holidaymakers want to get back to their caravan as soon as possible; as the route in Thorpe Park is a one-way loop, those staying to the west of the park have to endure a 10 minute stop for seemingly no reason. Coopers do not have any stand-time on Thorpe Park, they take it at the Pier where their vehicle acts as an advertisement for the service and additional patronage is gained from being parked at the busiest area in the town.

However, in recent years only one open topper was used by Stagecoach and the addition of this Coastal Cruiser vehicle can only be good news. Skegness did have 4 vehicles, though this was increased to 6 for their operation of Service 3 between Skegness bus station and Ingoldmells via Butlins this year.
Photos: Peter Wombwell