07 August 2019

A Grimsby Meander

Visiting my parents at the start of this week, I unexpectedly found myself with a free afternoon and so did something I’d not done for a very long time, and availed myself of the town’s public transport network for a few hours.
     I purchased a Dayrider from the driver of one of the two buses working Service 12 (New Waltham–Bradley Park). Immediately I noticed that if I were of the persuasion I could have purchased the ticket using a card or via the Stagecoach mobile application. In the case of the latter, my phone would have been my ticket, and I’d have scanned it by presenting it to the ticket machine on every bus I boarded.
     Both buses working Service 12 were ex-First Volvo B7RLEs with Wrightbus Eclipse Urban bodies. They were both wearing a livery designed for use on InterConnect services. Not only does this mean pimping the Stagecoach corporate livery to display two shades of purple, it also comes with interior branding with the same purple theme.
     We reported at the time in the LEYTR how it seemed strange that a small number of these buses were being painted into the InterConnect livery, but after having travelled aboard this particular one, it soon became evident that the InterConnect livery matches the purple First-inspired seating rather well. I assumed time and money had been spent replacing the interior trim from that specified new by First to that commonplace in similar aged Stagecoach buses. But no – dark blue leather seats and purple seat backs are the order of the day and this matches the exterior livery very well indeed.

     Changes were made to the bus stops in Grimsby Town Centre during April, and now Service 12 circumnavigates the block comprising Town Hall Street, Town Hall Square and Osborne Street on two occasions to serve one of the bus stops at the Riverhead Exchange on Victoria Sreeet West. The bus I travelled on was 21270 (DK09 GYE).
     Here we parted our ways, though I had mused on how Service 12’s fortunes had changed over the years. It was on this route that North East Lincolnshire’s first low-floor buses were introduced, in the form of Dennis Dart SLFs with Alexander ALX200 B37F bodies were introduced during July 1998: 401-3 (S401-3 SDT). These replaced Stagecoach standard Mercedes-Benz 709Ds with Alexander Sprint B25F bodies, two of which were used from a pool of ten based at Grimsby depot: 767-76 (N767-76 EWG). Following the acquisition of Traction Group, and the rehousing of RoadCar, Service 12 was briefly replaced by a bastardised Service X1, unbelievably seeing the route extend beyond its old western limit of Laceby on towards Humberside Airport and Hull. I vividly recall boarding an East Lancs rebodied Leyland Tiger in RoadCar livery for an end-to-end journey. It’s bizarre to think this coupling up of two routes so far apart on the operational scale was even considered let alone authorised, but then how large bus operations are run has changed considerably since 2005.

     Service 12 was threatened with total withdrawal a few years ago but was retained following continued subsidy by North East Lincolnshire Council. The service is now operated around school contract obligations, viz: Bradley Park–New Waltham Mon to Fri hourly 0900-1400 and then a 1740 Grimsby–Waltham; New Waltham–Bradley Park Mon to Fri 0713/0900 then hourly until 1300 then a last departure at 1350. An improved timetable operates on Saturdays, broadly hourly end to end on both directions.
     Town Hall Street Stop K was my next port of call. I’d anticipated my best chance of a double-decker would be on Services 9/10 (North Sea Lane–Waltham). Such is the rationalisation of high-capacity buses in Grimsby, that riding in the upper saloon in a Trident is something I never thought I’d have to plan to happen.
     While I didn’t get the details of the bus working my next journey on Service 10, I did recall it being an ex-Manchester TransBus Trident/TransBus ALX400 and it seemed to motor very well. I was most taken by how quiet Grimsby Town Centre was. We had nothing in our path from Town Hall Street to the next bus stop on Bethlehem Street. These bus stops aren’t given a letter, but do accurately display the buses calling at them (there are two to choose from in both directions). From here, where a good handful boarded, it was over the railway using Deansgate Bridge and down Bargate. We didn’t stop again until the first stop on Scartho Road, jusr beyond Nuns Corner roundabout.
     Here I noticed the Stagecoach Grimsby Guide showed Scartho Baths as extant, yet it had been pulled down a number of years ago. We stopped again at the Cemetary Gates and then turned right into the grounds of Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital. A single-deck Volvo B7RLE was waiting time in the bus lay-by headed in the opposite direction. Hereafter the route followed by Services 9 & 10 does not differ from that operated for decades by Stagecoach and its predecessor GCT. I didn’t fancy ‘waiting time’ at the Bradley Road terminus in Waltham, so jumped off on Waltham Road at the Fairway junction and crossed the road to catch a bus headed back into town.
     To my surprise, this too would be a double-decker and also felt particularly spritely. 19011 (MX06 XAL), another ex-Manchester TransBus Trident/TransBus ALX400, worked the service. By my calculation we departed the Hospital three minutes early and bolted back into town, waiting time in Bethlehem Street, so that when we turned left into George Street, bound for our Riverhead Exchange timing point, we looked effortlessly punctual. It was our driver’s ‘coming off run’ and he had handed over to his ‘relief’ before I’d got to the bottom of the stairs.

     I planned a trip along Cleethorpes seafront aboard one of the specially-branded Cleethorpes Seasider open-top buses, but the timetable rather unhelpfully offers a gap in service with the 1405 departure missing so the driver who’s out there all day can take a meal break. This meant there was no need to stay on Service 10 to Cleethorpes else I’d be dragging my heels, so I left at the Riverhead Exchange and headed into Freshney Place to purchase a bite to eat.
     I had planned to complete my Cleethorpes-bound journey aboard the more circuitous Service 4, though a quick check of the timings showed that I’d now arrive at Cleethorpes Pier after the 1435 departure on Service 17 had left. Instead I continued aboard a Simplibus-branded ADL E20D/ADL Enviro200, details of which I failed to note down.
     Last year the frequency of this service, which is linked at both ends of its route with Service 4, was downgraded from a bus every 10 minutes to one every 12. This is a shame since these two routes were the catalyst for one of the largest every investments in Grimsby and Cleethorpes’ transport network in 2006, when in conjunction with North East Lincolnshire Council and a grant from the DfT’s KickStart fund, their frequencies were increased to a bus every 10 minutes and I had the pleasure interviewing Sir Brian Souter in the Old Market Place, who cited ‘magical qualities’ on buses operating to this frequency in terms of ridership and revenue. Reducing the frequency saves two buses in total.
     The route Service 3 follows to Cleethorpes is unchanged from that dating back many decades (though the route was previously known as 3F under GCT and early Stagecoach operation and 13 following KickStart funding (when LoZone branding was applied) in 2006). GCT had a 3A equivalent which is effectively the route to Cleethorpes undertaken by Service 10 – running via the Bus Depot, Victoria Street North, Lock Hill and Grimsby Docks (though the ‘10’ omits the latter – as do all bus services now).
     I was told the ‘F’ in 3F stood for Freeman Street and this is the equivalent route to Victoria Street North. How different the north end of Freeman Street looked today, with the wholesale demolition of flats and retail premises! We then passed Riby Square, infamous in scheduling circles at Chesterfield in the early days of Stagecoach operation, as those tasked with producing driver schedules at the Derbyshire HQ felt Riby Square (terminus of Services 1, 2, 7, certain journeys on 45 and late evening/early morning journeys on 8, 8X, 9 & 9X) was some kind of massive transport hub, only to be rather taken aback when informed it was historically the Red Light capital of Grimsby.
     All bus stop lay-bys have been filled in along Grimsby Road in Cleethorpes and so buses now slow the traffic down at each and every bus stop they use. Cleethorpes High Street has changed a little in this direction, as the bus stop – now a lay-by – is located before the Cross Street roundabout. I assume this is a recent change as it caught out two passengers. I alighted at Sea Road, the end of which points towards the town’s Pier.
     To my horror one of the two Cleethorpes Seasider buses was a dastardly ex-First Volvo B7RLE! The open-topper on duty was Lolly, the yellow-based Volvo B7TL/Wrighbus Eclipse Gemini also new to First and for its first season at least operated with First seat trim in the lower saloon. ‘Sister’ Splash, a blue-based similar B7TL/Wrightbus was not out.
     Fortunately, the 1435 departure was worked by Splash, which in technical terms is 16962 (YJ04 FZC). Sat in the upper saloon at the rear I couldn’t help noticing a benc seat from a GCT Fleetline. It wouldn’t look out of place in my GCT Fleetline (113 (MBE 613R)). I suspect that vandalism has led to Stagecoach requiring a replacement cushion and/or vinyl and they have spares of GCT’s dark-blue vinyl.

     Just under a decade ago the route taken in Thorpe Park was changed so that the Fitties chalet park was omitted. I understand this was due to a hump-back bridge immediately after the Yacht Club that grounded low-floor buses, but two years ago I walked this route and there was a locked gate here, preventing all traffic front crossing it. Since then, a shorter route is taken with buses entering Thorpe Park by what was traditionally the exit route, passing the main reception where an impressive water park is now located, and following the winding road through a sea of static caravans to what was traditionally the old terminus of the route at the top of Chestnut Grove at what is the Recreational Centre.
     The Cleethorpes Seasiders have their own timetable and publicity leaflet, which includes four different vouchers for reductions in various activities in Cleethorpes. A map is shown, which details various attractions along the route, though the name of the road through the centre of Thorpe Park is incorrectly shown as Anthony’s Bank Road, which it’s not. The frequency of Service 17 is now very simplistic and Stagecoach should be congratulated for not overly complicating the timetable as they had previously; in fact GCT ran such a complicated timetable for Service 17 that an A4 timetable folded in half was needed to contain all the detail.
     Today, and since the Cleethorpes Seasiders were introduced, Service 17 operates to a half-hourly frequency from 0900 to 1900 with the annoying gap in the middle of the day when the 1405 ex Cleethorpes Pier and 1430 ex Thorpe Park is omitted. Buses run from April to September on Saturdays, Sundays and all North East Lincs school holidays.

     Service 17 continues to accept the standard Dayrider and DayriderPlus as well as the weekly Megarider equivalents. PlusBus tickets are also accepted and a round trip fare of £1.80 is also offered. It’s pleasing to see the route isn’t being used as a financial pawn where certain otherwise standard network tickets are not accepted.
     Back at Sea Road two things took my breath away. First was that the toilets there now require payment of 20p to enter (c’est la vie) but that this can only be made by credit or debit card! I’d dutifully searched my person for loose change only to discover that it was in vain as it was my flexible friend the barrier required.
     Second was that proudly displayed in a North East Lincolnshire Council branded notice case is a Bus & Rail Map from 2009. Yes, a decade old, which shows the old route taken by Service 17 in Thorpe Park and the Fitties. Was this a joke? Perhaps a forgotten-to-be-buried time capsule? It was decade old; it pre-dates both of my children and is still proudly displayed in its own very prominent glass display case.

     Trying to fathom quite how and why this should have been missed for the past nine summer seasons, I nearly missed my next bus. This was another ADL E20D/ADL Enviro200 with Simplibus sub-branding for the recently amalgamated Services 5/6, which has established a 10-minute frequency between Grimsby and Wybers Lights via Grimsby Auditorium and the Willows. Of course during the early years of deregulation, GCT was flooring the route with a bus every 5 minutes in addition to the RoadRunner ‘bread vans’ being run by RoadCar.
     The amalgamation of Services 5 and 6 has seen no buses serve the grounds of Asda at Hainton Square. Service 6 now terminates at Riverhead Exchange and appears to head back out as Service 5 to Immingham County Hotel. Each route provides a bus every 20 minutes which is an enhanced frequency for the Immingham trunk route compares to that enjoyed historically. Wybers Wood, at the end of Service 6, receives a worse frequency now than in previous years when Stagecoach and RoadCar where happily providing a bus every 15 minutes. In fact, following the acquisition of Traction Group, an undertaking was imposed on Stagecoach by the renamed Monopolies & Mergers Commission that forbade them from reducing the frequency of what was Service 16 for a specified period of time.

     Yet this Simplibus sub-branding was rather lost on 37199 (YY64 GVA) today as it was to transport me on Service 4 to Fiveways.
     I had a thoroughly enjoyable trip round a small network of the Grimsby network. The Stagecoach Guide covering all operations here was freely available on most buses and is dated April 2019 (actually it embarrassingly states “rom April 20190”) and contains the network map on one side and all Simplibus timetables on the rear. The production builds on what was very much a RoadCar Superbuzz concept, with obvious Stagecoach corporate elements added.
     A trick is missed with no mention of the Cleethorpes Seasiders – it looks as though Thorpe Park isn’t served this year – but the fact such a Guide is being maintained is excellent. Carrying loose timetables around is now a thing of the past and publishing the timetables for all urban services in the same publication does prevent the operator frequently changing timings for fear of rendering the Guide out of date far too soon.
     The Phone ‘n’ Ride service is also promoted, and this has been operated by Stagecoach since the start of August, using four Mercedes-Benz minibuses new to Stagecoach South East for the Little & Often concept. I saw two out and about today – one was sporting Stagecoach corporate livery and the other in a dedicated Phone ‘n’ Ride livery.
     A special HolidayRider ticket is offered during school holidays that enables those under 19 to travel for £2.10 in the DayriderPlus area. An adult Dayrider is £3.60 and a DayriderPlus is £4.30 (includes all points Healing to Immingham inclusive).
     To summarise – all buses were punctual, clean and all bar one offered a large supply of the Grimsby Guide. Lolly had a large number of free badges on offer for children to collect. Traffic seemed light for a Monday in August and drivers were all courteous, waiting for passengers to get to the first vacant seat before pulling away.
     Grimsby’s buses have always been some of the cheapest in the country and the £3.60 Dayrider remains excellent value. I do worry that branding is more a theoretical exercise than a concerted effort to promote a route and it is baffling what InterConnect livery has been applied to buses that are only ever allocated to non-InterConnect routes.

No comments: