Today I took a lengthy but enjoyable journey from Loughborough to Nottingham, travelling via Leicester, Uppingham and Stamford, with a diversion to Bourne as well. The purpose of the journey was to gain a deeper understanding of the extent and quality of rural bus provision that residents in these areas are experiencing, and the overall conclusion that I drew was that service quality was very dependent on who was operating the service.
I was pleased to travel on the 747 from Leicester to Uppingham that I blogged about during the latter part of last year - although I had used the service before it was the first time that I had made use of it since it was threatened with withdrawal. The bus was clean, modern and comfortable, with leather seats and a friendly driver, but some of the roads he drove along were very tight for a scheduled bus service. The bus was by no means busy but a number of passengers made use of the service.
From Uppingham I travelled to Stamford on service 12, operated by an Optare Solo and again transporting a modest but not negligible number of people. We certainly took what could be described as a scenic route, evidenced by the number of road signs I saw indicating that the route we were taking was at points the way back to Uppingham! Passengers of all ages were travelling, and it is clear that for a non-driver the service acts as a lifeline.
From Stamford I went to Bourne and back with Delaine Buses, who offered an exceptional standard of service for a relatively rural route. The bus, which starts in Peterborough and runs via Stamford on its way to Bourne, runs hourly, and I travelled on two different extremely smartly turned out vehicles. Both drivers were polite and helpful and I observed the best loadings that I had seen all day.
My inward journey to Nottingham made use of the Centrebus Five Counties service, so named because it passes through five counties on its two hour, 50 minute journey from Peterborough to Nottingham. Loadings were again good here, with the benefit of a reliable hourly service throughout the main part of the day clear to see, but it is a shame to see a lack of early morning, evening and Sunday journeys. I also felt very sorry for a passenger who missed the bus because she was on the wrong side of the road - she waved frantically at the driver but not unreasonably he did not see her in time to stop safely when travelling at 40mph.
I was pleased to discover well-used, high quality bus services operating across rural, and potentially quite challenging, bus operating territory. Without exception I encountered polite, friendly, helpful bus drivers, who drove carefully and with passenger comfort in mind. There is no doubt in my mind that if you offer good standards of service, it will pay dividends in terms of increased passenger numbers. It is very satisfying to go out and travel on buses and see this theory reflected in reality.