UPDATE By mid-day today (Wednesday) Stagecoach's website was showing an emergency version of the 55 timetable that included no mention of service 555. We look forward to the finished product.
At a recent meeting of the Bus Users' Group Mark Whitelocks, Stagecoach Cumbria & N. Lancs MD told us that his company had no plans to discontinue the production of printed publicity, unlike their neighbours in Merseyside and South Lancs.
The Group was pleased to hear this as we have always thought printed timetables to be an essential part of the information system and Stagecoach's publicity is better than most. However, we are now beginning to wonder if they are losing their touch.
Take service 555. In the summer the hourly trunk Lancaster to Keswick service is augmented by journeys that run up the motorway to Kendal, cutting over half-an-hour off the journey time. Because they utilise vehicles that would otherwise be used on school and University services operation is limited to high summer on Monday to Friday although the Saturday journeys run for the whole of the season, which in the Lakes runs from late March to late October; but it isn't as easy as it could be for would-be passengers to find that out.
Service 555 is included in the Lakes Connection timetable - a handy booklet that covers all Stagecoach services in the Lake District and is an excellent way of selling the service to the many visitors and tourists the area attracts. Last summer's booklet ran from 24th March to the 28th October and here is an extract of the 555 timetable inside it
The fast motorway journeys are shaded in yellow and marked with a little 'sun' symbol. This is explained at the foot of the table
It is clear that the Monday to Friday service runs only from 2 July to 28 September. But what does "all Saturdays" mean? It could be taken to mean all Saturdays between those July and September dates and the BUG is aware of several passengers who thought just that. But what it really means is "all Saturdays during the currency of the Summer timetable" and for that you have to refer to the front cover of what is an 86 page book!
The cover is the only place where the validity period of the guide is shown, but if you happened to look up the service 555 times on the internet (as we are told "everyone does" nowadays) you don't get to see that cover - just the timetable and the rather ambiguous note.
Could be Worse
But at least anyone misunderstanding the note would not be unduly inconvenienced other than not being aware of the faster journeys that are available. It's much worse if you are only going to Carnforth and travelling on a Sunday!
As well as losing the motorway journeys the 555 timetable undergoes a radical change in the Winter when it comes to the Sunday service. Although the frequency from Lancaster remains at every two hours the departure times are put back by 65 minutes so that whilst summer departures are at 0915, 1115, 1315, 1515 and 1715 in the winter they run at 1020 and every two hours until 1820. Southbound journeys leave Keswick at the same times as in the summer.
Of course, Stagecoach issues a winter version of its Lake District timetable (reduced to 74 pages!) and the 555 timetable is shown therein. So what is the problem?
Well, passengers between Lancaster and Carnforth have a choice between the 555 and the local 55 service that follows a similar route, albeit with a diversion via Hest Bank. The 55 isn't shown in the Lake District guide but passengers to Carnforth can see the full service open to them by consulting the 55 timetable, which includes a summary of the 555 service.
The 55 is included in a booklet with other services to Carnforth, shown left, with the 55 and 555 advertised on the cover and shown inside.
This leaflet is available from all normal outlets including libraries, visitor information centres and Stagecoach's Travel Shop at Lancaster Bus Station.
The timetable for the 55 includes the 555 times between Lancaster and Carnforth. Let's have a look below at the Sunday times:
There they are - leaving Lancaster at 0915, 1115, 1315 and 1715 - just as they have been doing all summer. But let's have a another look at that leaflet cover - obtained from the bus station on 13th November.
Note the dates: The summer 555 timetable is shown because this is a "summer" leaflet - which Stagecoach has apparently chosen not to re-issue for the winter.
But does it matter? Surely everyone looks this up on line nowadays? Maybe they do - and this was how the matter was drawn to our attention in the first place - but if you do look up the 55 timetable on line you get EXACTLY THE SAME TIMETABLE THAT IS IN THE OUT OF DATE LEAFLET!
The staff in the travel shop at Lancaster don't seem to think its a problem. "Yes," we were told "its an out of date leaflet but its only the 555 times that are wrong". It may be misleading but that seems to be our fault because "we should be looking at the 555 leaflet!"
So take care if you're going to Carnforth next Sunday. You'll need to look up the (summer) 55 leaflet and the (winter) 555 guide to find out your times - and that applies whether you have paper copies or whether you look it up on line.
The Group has brought this to the attention of Stagecoach and hopes to see an early improvement.