Agenda item

Bus Services in Monmouthshire:

a)         Friends of the 65 Bus - presentation

b)         Withdrawal of the Severn Express

c)         National Express Coach Services: how it fits with public transport generally and comment on the withdrawal of services from Monmouth

d)         X3 service changes

e)         Proposed MCC Bus Strategy


a)    Friends of the 65 Bus - Presentation

The Strategic Transport Group received a presentation from Brian Mahony, Friends of the 65 Bus, to share the Group’s experiences that culminated in the reinstatement of the 65 Bus service. The Chair acknowledged the work and commitment of the team.  The presentation slides were circulated. following the meeting. Following the presentation, questions and comments were invited:


A Group member asked if there was evidence of growth since the reinstatement of the service.  Whilst there is no specific evidence available, new ticketing machines have been installed that will enable passenger data to be shared. Anecdotally, it is believed that passenger numbers have increased, but there is always room for improvement; if timetabling issues can be resolved, there will be better opportunity for growth.


A question was asked about the costs and subsidies; checking if this is at the expense of other services.  It was explained that the service costs £100,000 per year.  If it was withdrawn, it would cost £75,000 to secure alternative services for school contracts and the Grassroutes service.  The net cost therefore is £25,000 (equivalent to £500 per week). 


The Passenger Transport Unit Manager confirmed that the new bus was purchased via a Welsh Government grant (to encourage and develop rural/community bus services).  The new bus specification is Low Emissions and offers a nicer passenger experience.  It was confirmed that there has been passenger growth noting that the more passengers use the service the less subsidy is needed. The Group was reminded that the service is “not for profit” and solely to sustain its own operating costs.  It is hoped to carry out more marketing work with the Friends of the 65 Bus.  A bid for infrastructure in the next financial year, if successful, will enable provision of improved timetable cases and bus shelters.


A Group Member also welcomed the success of the 65 Bus noting that such services need to be sustainable, of good frequency, relevant to citizens’ transport needs and reliable.  It was suggested that an Uber-type App could eventually replace paper timetables.


A question was asked about services for tourists and walkers, noting that there are reduced services on weekends (Half service on Saturdays and no service on Sundays).  The need to connect with trains in Chepstow was also highlighted. It was responded that MCC is currently commissioning a review of all aspects of public transport in the county to better understand issues.  Work is also in progress with Transport for Wales on an app that will allow passengers to book tickets as the bus is in motion.  The Facebook Group is an effective means of distributing information but more members need to join.   Regarding future use of apps, it was pointed out that there is poor mobile phone/4G signal along the Wye Valley so paper timetables are still of great use.


It was queried if the service would ever be put out to tender, and suggested that services in other similar areas are not as reliable when run by commercial operators and in much more competitive circumstances.  It was confirmed that the 65 service was offered for tender with only one, very expensive tender submitted.  It was clear that MCC could operate the service at less cost.

The Head of Service, Strategic Projects (Fixed Term) explained that the example of the 65 Bus will be used as part of the study commissioned to look into public bus services in the county especially in the context of the Council’s priority to improve rural public bus services, linked to Welsh Government’s priority to reduce car use.  It was acknowledged that there are interchange issue with buses, and buses/trains.  The Group was reminded that when changes are made there are always consequences affecting other services.


Information was provided about a planned Wye Valley study to promote public transport and road safety in villages.


b)  Withdrawal of the Severn Express

It was confirmed that the Severn Express is still running with an added peak-time morning journey from Chepstow, arriving in Bristol City Centre at 08:45. The Severn Express will no longer serve Cribbs Causeway or Aust, but will instead run direct from Chepstow and Bulwark to Bristol via M48, M4 and M32.


A new hourly service (X14) will connect Chepstow and Cribbs Causeway.


c)    National Express Coach Services: how it fits with public transport generally and comment on the withdrawal of services from Monmouth

The Officer noted that National Express (NE) coach/Megabus services provide links to other areas, airports and cities.  The Newport hub is well used.  The withdrawal of the Monmouth NE service is due to insufficient usage.  The Officer is prepared to speak to NE but felt it was unlikely they will reinstate the Monmouth stop.   This point will be picked up in the public transport review.  It was commented that a number of residents used the service to get to Birmingham so this is a significant loss for the town. Local bus timetables need to be looked at as ongoing connections to other towns are being missed.


Concern was expressed that NE services from Chepstow could be jeopardised due to traffic congestion in the town.


d)     X3 service changes

Concern was expressed that the 7.25am X3 has been removed from the timetable.  The Officer was unaware of the change and it was agreed to check with Stagecoach. Examples of the impact included Coleg Gwent students not able to get to classes on time and employees not able to get to work. It was considered unacceptable that the last bus back to Abergavenny from Cwmbran is 4.25pm. 


It was suggested that Stagecoach could be invited to present their approach to a future meeting.


e)    Proposed MCC Bus Strategy

A new Bus strategy is being written that will include data from the commissioned public transport study.