Thursday, 18 October 2012

How much longer for the Greyhound?

Today it was announced that First are pulling the plug on yet another Greyhound route, meaning the only one that will be left running will be the Swansea-Cardiff service. It's another withdrawal in First's bus operation, one that may not be all that surprising given First's history.

So what for the Greyhound in South Wales? Apparently it's set to continue for one solitary route. Are First missing a trick with this, though? I think they are.

Go back a couple of years and the current Greyhound service was run as the Shuttle 100 service. On rebranding, the number of services was cut slightly and halved on Sundays. The original 100 service was reasonably well used and, from the few times I've used the service over the last few years, I can't say I've noticed much difference in patronage due to the rebranding. There are a handful of cheap tickets available on line but I find that those who book online are in the significant minority.

The big question for me is why is it run as a coach service? The journey is under 45 miles long. Shorter than Stagecoach's services from Cardiff to Abergavenny, Brecon, Newtown and Hereford. Why First decide then to operate it as a coach service and detach itself from its bus operation to a large extent is a bit of a mystery. True, passengers in Swansea can buy a peak return ticket for the Greyhound on a local bus and get their local travel free, but the same doesn't apply to passengers in Bridgend. Neither areas offer free local bus travel for the cost of an off peak return. Weekly and longer season tickets are available for the Greyhound, but at £6 extra a week or £20 a month, the Greyhound makes regular travel more expensive. In fact, from Bridgend, it's more expensive than using the train.

What would I do? I'd operate it as a bus service, using quality vehicles (ie not like most of First Cymru's aged fleet). Buses would be low floor and of a similar standard to the ones they use on the X2 or preferably the ones Stagecoach use on their X4. It wouldn't be a "special route" - First day and weekly tickets could be used on it. Free bus pass holders wouldn't be charged. That would open the route up to a whole new market. Bridgend in particular suffers with a lack of direct services to Cardiff compared with the likes of Pontypridd and Merthyr, yet people in Bridgend are expected to pay an additional premium for such a service, which I find ridiculous. Such a move I reckon would make it compete with the train and would make the service a viable option for many, where it isn't at present. First won't admit as such, of course....

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