Many factors shape people’s decisions to use public transport. One is convenience. A bus stop or even a station close to their front door is more likely to attract their custom than one a mile away. So, too, is a service which takes them close to where they want to get to. Many of the places people want to reach, however, involve not just a bus or a train, but both. This brings another factor into play: how convenient are the connections between them?
In this brief article, we look at connections between trains and buses at Barnstaple station. We focus on just one aspect of convenience: time. Connections which are too tight cause stress. Where they are too lengthy, they waste people’s time. Where they appear to be left to chance, they undermine confidence in the link. If timetable compilers get any of these wrong, they make things difficult for the public. They may even put them off using public transport altogether.
Several bus routes serve Barnstaple railway station. We are not attempting to look at them all. Instead, we concentrate on a small range which includes the two main types of service: those which serve the urban areas of north Devon; and those which serve the smaller towns and villages. We will consider here only the ‘outward’ parts of the services involved — those which could be used by passengers arriving at the railway station by train who might continue their journeys by bus if the timings were suitable.
What follows relates to the 2014 rail and bus timetables. Our observations apply to Monday to Saturday services. We intend to consider Sunday services as soon as possible.
Click any of the service numbers below to see the corresponding details.
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North Devon’s busiest bus corridor runs from Barnstaple itself to Bideford. The principal service on this route is operated by Stagecoach buses 21 and 21A. Service 21 buses continue to Westward Ho! Service 21A buses continue to Appledore.
Show services 21 and 21A
Services 21 and 21A (Operator: Stagecoach). These services run along the Barnstaple–Bideford corridor. From Bideford, the 21 goes forward to Westward Ho! and the 21A to Appledore. Both serve the railway station directly. Each runs for much of the day at 20-minute intervals. This gives a service every 10 minutes to Bideford.
The Westward Ho! buses leave the railway station for much of the day at 08, 28 and 48 minutes past each hour. Since most trains arrive at 35 or 37 minutes past the hour, this leaves incoming passengers with waits of 11 to 13 minutes for connecting buses. The Appledore buses leave the station at 18, 38 and 58 minutes past each hour. This gives incoming rail passengers a risky connection time of 1 to 3 minutes or a longer one of 21 to 23 minutes. Neither offers much incentive to travellers to Appledore considering public transport throughout.
In the evenings, both services run at hourly intervals. The arrival times of trains at the railway station, however, are inconsistent. In consequence, connection times with the buses are either 14 or 19 minutes for Westward Ho! and 44 or 49 minutes for Appledore. The latter cannot be regarded as attractive.
Show services 21 and 21A
Services 21 and 21A (Operator: Stagecoach). From the railway station, both the 21 and the 21A, each at 20-minute intervals, serve Barnstaple bus station in the town centre, about half a mile away. A half-hourly local bus service, Nos. 8 and 8A (Operator: Stagecoach), also covers this route. Thus, with eight buses an hour, waiting times for passengers arriving by rail are short.
Services 21 and 21A continue from Barnstaple bus station to Ilfracombe and Braunton (West Meadow Road) respectively. Buses depart from the railway station for much of the day at 11, 31 and 51 (service 21) and 01, 21 and 41 (service 21A) minutes past each hour. These offer connection times of 14 to 16 minutes to Ilfracombe (just missing the xx31 bus) and 4 to 6 minutes to Braunton.
In the evenings, both services run at hourly intervals, leaving the railway station at 53 (service 21) and 23 (service 21A) minutes past the hour, but both continue to Ilfracombe. The train arriving at 1807 connects with the 1821 bus to Ilfracombe but passengers for the last bus to West Meadow Road (Braunton) have to change at the bus station (4 minutes wait; 1831–1835). Evening services to Ilfracombe have waiting times of 10 to 15 minutes.
In general, rural bus services, including those which operate to and from hub towns like Barnstaple, tend to have three primary characteristics. They are sparse. Many involve no more than four or five buses per day in each direction. The intervals between them tend to be long. Two hours or more is not unusual. They rarely operate for more than a fraction of the day. If the few that do run are to offer convenient connections with rail services, their timing is crucial.
In what follows, we look at four services which call at Barnstaple railway station with this in mind. All run in a westerly direction. Other rural services run northwards and eastwards from Barnstaple. None calls at the railway station. They are not included in this survey.
Show services 71 and 72
Services 71 and 72 (Operator: Stagecoach. Financially supported by DCC)
Between them, these offer nine Monday to Saturday buses between Barnstaple and Torrington via Newton Tracey. They include three 72s which continue to Shebbear via Stibb Cross and one 71 which continues to Holsworthy, also by Stibb Cross.
The first bus which offers a connection of any kind with an incoming train leaves the railway station at 0905. Since the train is scheduled to arrive at 0801, this involves a wait of 64 minutes. Five further buses offer connections of 28 to 30 minutes. On Petroc College days, the last bus to Shebbear leaves the station at 1635, exactly the arrival time of the popular 1527 train from Exeter St Davids. For a guaranteed connection, passengers would have to travel earlier and face an hour’s wait. On Saturdays and Petroc holidays (how is the public to know?), this bus runs only as far as Torrington. On these days, it leaves the station two minutes later, which is insufficient to afford a reliable and stress-free connection. The next bus which can realistically be caught leaves at 1717, 42 minutes after the arrival of the 1635 train. The service’s last bus to Torrington leaves the station at 1805, two minutes prior to the arrival of the 1807 train. Service 315, however, does offer a connection from this to Torrington. It involves a wait of 36 minutes, however, and takes a different route.
In short, none of the train-bus connections on these routes requires a wait of fewer than 28 minutes and some require a good many more. In the evenings, there is no service at all.
Show service 85
Service 85 (Operator: Stagecoach. Financially supported by DCC)
This runs four times daily, except on Sundays and public holidays, between Barnstaple, Bideford, Stibb Cross and Holsworthy. Three of the train-bus connections require waits of between 23 and 29 minutes. The 1635, Petroc College days only, leaves as the train of the same time arrives. A realistic connection requires the passenger to take an earlier train, with a wait of 60 minutes, or 70 on College holidays. There are no evening connections.
Show service 315
Service 315 (Operator: Stagecoach. Certain journeys financially supported by DCC)
This Monday to Saturday service operates between Barnstaple, Bideford and Torrington, with guaranteed connections forward to Dolton and Winkleigh, and from Winkleigh via Copplestone and Crediton to Exeter. Since these latter places can be reached directly by train, it is probable that few would use the train-bus connection at Barnstaple for journeys beyond Torrington. We can therefore concentrate on the Barnstaple-Bideford-Torrington part of the route.
Of the eight times a day it runs, four offer connections. One of these is of seven minutes and two of nine. A fourth is of 36 minutes. Two further possible links, one in the morning and the other in the evening, involve waits of 73 and 105 minutes respectively. They can hardly be counted as connections at all. A further bus is scheduled to leave Barnstaple railway station one minute before the arrival of the 1635 train.
Show service 319
Service 319 (Operator: Stagecoach. Financially supported by DCC)
This Monday to Saturday service operates four times a day between Barnstaple, Bideford, Bucks Cross, Clovelly and Hartland. All four offer possible connections. The waiting times, however, are lengthy. One, the only morning service, involves a 63 minute connection with the 0801 incoming train. For the 1235 train arrival, there is a 29 minute wait and for the 1535 one of 58 minutes (64 minutes on Saturdays and Petroc College holidays). For the last bus to Hartland, at 1724, the waiting time is 49 minutes.
Since Stagecoach has consolidated the previously-run First services 1, 2 and 3 into services 21 and 21A, bus/train connection times along the Bideford–Barnstaple–Braunton corridor have improved a little, although passengers still have to wait 21 to 23 minutes for buses to Appledore and 14 to 16 minutes for Ilfracombe. The rural services in general have considerably longer waiting times. Most are 28 minutes or more, many are of the order of an hour or more. There are still buses departing as trains arrive or even a minute or two before them. Evening connections are especially long, if they exist at all. Such variations, so many connections involving lengthy waits, do little to attract travellers who might combine rail and bus for their journeys, nor do they make life easier for those who have no choice. It is even possible that they put many people off using public transport altogether.
On the face of it, they do little to suggest that timetable planners work with ease of connectivity between train and bus in mind. Yet, for reasons that need not be rehearsed here, we should consider how things might be better ordered. Three questions need to be addressed:
Good connections are long enough to be stress-free, but not so lengthy that they waste travellers’ time or subject people to excessive waits in uncomfortable facilities. We have already said that two-minute connections between train and bus are too short and implied that waits of 13 minutes or more are too long. Connection times of about five or six minutes would be about right.
In principle, the more closely rail and bus services approximate to regular interval, clock face patterns, the easier it is to arrange consistent and favourable connections between them. The difficulties involved, however, must be acknowledged. Few bus services operate entirely separately. The daily programme for any vehicle may incorporate switches between one route and another. The same goes for railway rolling stock. No train sets, as far as we know, operate throughout the day solely on the Exeter to Barnstaple line. In both cases, changing the timings for one operation may have repercussions for others.
Furthermore, each of these public transport modes has distinct expectations placed upon it. Bus timetable planners are expected to take into account the needs of large numbers of students to travel at particular times of each day in school term time. Their counterparts on the railway have to take note of local expectations in peak periods. Even the briefest examination of the timetables for the services considered above is enough to show how such factors disrupt efforts to shape consistent service patterns.
We also have to recognise that matching bus times more favourably to train times is not the only thing planners must take into account. Services 21 and 21A, for example, do more than link Barnstaple to Westward Ho! and Appledore respectively. They also form a regular interval operation along north Devon’s busiest corridor between Barnstaple and Bideford.
The other routes noted above all operate much less frequently. Nonetheless, the same principle should obtain: a basic connection time at Barnstaple station which is neither stressfully short nor discouragingly long. Any congestion that might be caused by requiring several services to leave the station at about the same time could be avoiding by staggering departures over a short period, with none departing more than 10 minutes after the train’s arrival.
It is not just the bus services, however, that require adjustment. The rail service does as well. At the moment, the near hourly arrival pattern which obtains from mid morning until late afternoon needs to be amended to an entirely regular one and extended back into each morning and forward from late afternoon into each evening. Given that the rail service has to be fitted into other services at Exeter, this will be no easy matter. Once done, however, it would give the bus service planners a better template to work to than the inconsistent one provided by rail today.
While there have been advances of late, there is little evidence that the kind of overall integration between rail and bus outlined above will come into being spontaneously. Bus services are minimally regulated. Rail services are laid down only in outline by the Department for Transport, and with no explicit expectation for them to be integrated with other modes.
The involvement of some other agency is thus essential. That agency is Devon County Council. There is already much in its favour. It has a history of intervention in public transport, evidenced in its financial support for the rail service and for a number of bus services, including the rural routes examined above. In Stagecoach, it has a major bus operator already demonstrably committed to serving the rail station. Using its powers of persuasion and the financial leverage offered by its ability to dispense subsidies (however modest), it should make the proper integration of rail and bus services at Barnstaple a priority. To this, timetable design will be the key.
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