Sunday, 29 June 2014

Farewell to the 244

Much has been made of the attempts by the Welsh Government to reduce the amount it spends on the free bus pass scheme and the battles with bus operators in Wales. While this has seemingly been resolved and, in no small part I suspect to the threat issued to the Welsh Government of a judicial review into this, the cut to funding won't be anywhere near as severe as anticipated. Stagecoach announced a number of cuts to services and while there isn't the scope in one blog piece to announce or discuss them all, I'd like to look at their decision to remove the 244 - resulting in the end of direct buses between Pontypridd.

In the late 1970s there were two buses an hour between Pontypridd and Porthcawl - a 244 and a more direct 240 which bypassed Brynna and Llanharry. The service was clearly popular and operated to the same frequency on a Sunday! By the mid 80s, National Welsh were still running 2 buses an hour though the 240 was tweaked and became the 241 and only ran to Bridgend. 244s were run from both the Porth and Bridgend depots.

During the demise of National Welsh and the sale of a number of depots, Rhondda buses continued to run an hourly 244 in competition with National Welsh's Bridgend operation. When Bridgend finally closed, SWT continued to operate the route as 44, eventually deciding to terminate in Talbot Green as opposed to Pontypridd. Stagecoach, of course, bought out Rhondda buses and continued to run the 244 while Badgerline and then First took over SWT and became First Cymru.

Competition along the busy Pontypridd - Talbot Green corridor increased in 2009 when Edwards started operating service buses in response to passengers dissatisfied with Veolia's efforts. In 2011, following the demise of Veolia Transport, First Cymru dabbled along the Beddau - Pontypridd route and extended the 44 to Pontypridd again. Both that and the ill-fated 400 disappeared quickly as First got their hands burned in competition with Edward.

First's attempt was never likely to succeed on the 44 - competing with 7 buses an hour along some stretches when they had no other services in the locality was doomed from the start. Stagecoach, while only operating hourly, at least could provide a service for its passengers travelling from elsewhere on one of its many services to Pontypridd.

I'm slightly surprised that the 244 has been given the elbow. I've always found decent loadings on it; light in some parts but occasionally standing in others, especially between Talbot Green and Llanharry and (surprisingly) between Brackla and Bridgend (where in my opinion, First don't operate nearly enough buses given the size of the area).

What now for bus passengers wanting to commute between Pontypridd and Bridgend? Try Edwards and First. It's not much of an issue if you're a concessionary bus pass holder but for a fare payer who uses Stagecoach regularly, the trip now becomes an expensive nightmare. The only alternative is a 150 to Trebanog/Tonyrefail and change to the 172.

Now, people from Llanharry and Brynna have one bus an hour - communities who have supported their scant bus services.

I wonder if Stagecoach have managed the decline of the 244? Until 2012 the 244 ran using the 130 bus (Blaenrhondda - Pontypridd, then on return to Ponty changed to 130 again), using 38 seater Darts. From my experience I've seen plenty of occasions where virtually every seat was full at some point. When Stagecoach improved the 120/130, putting new branded vehicles on the route, it added the 244 to the 150 service, meaning 24 seat Solos were now used on it, resulting in standing at times. I heard passengers complain about this on a number of occasions and it definitely affected patronage ("I don't like those little buses" was a phrase I often heard around Bridgend).

I have a feeling that Stagecoach's decision to cut the 244 will bite them quite hard and will affect patronage on other routes. I wonder if they will end up reconsidering - after all, they won't know what impact culling the route will have until it happens.

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