Hiccups . . . on the buses

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As a non-driving, non-car-owning public transport user I was the obvious choice on our Rye News team to monitor the bus changes introduced yesterday.

On Saturday April 25, the day before the cuts were due to start, Stagecoach was removing old timetables and changing the bus stop signs by Rye station so people would know which stop to use. And new timetables? Well, there weren’t any sign of them on Sunday, the day reduced bus services came into effect – cuts which were the direct result of the Conservative-controlled county council reducing subsidies. On Sunday the advice to would-be passengers was to take a look at the Stagecoach website. Stops served by other bus companies had no information at that point, and there were no new timetables in the station ticket office.

Fortuitously, no one appeared to be waiting for buses that no longer run on a Sunday. Rye Harbour which had been seeking an increase in services has now lost the two it did have on a Sunday – on Sundays it has none at all. As a caravan owner at Rye Harbour, as well as a Rye householder, I am not pleased.

Today, Monday April 27, there was a timetable on the Rye Community Transport’s bus stop by the station, but it was the only one. Some buses had timetables on board and Stagecoach had timetables available in the station booking office. The helpful woman in the ticket office said she would chase Renown for its timetables covering the 312, 313 and 342 routes – probably because she often has to be a one-person tourist office answering questions about all and everything.

I know Renown’s timetables were available Saturday because a friend picked one up on a trip to Tenterden, and the first Tenterden bus on Monday had more. But the first bus to the Harbour had none, and one of the travellers said the Harbour bus stop desperately needed a timetable because of visitors.

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Cuts have been planned for months – so where are the timetables?

Both Stagecoach, who run the 100 and the new 101 double decker via Fairlight, and Renown had supervisors out and about, both on buses and at bus stops, to smooth the transition. This was particularly true for Bexhill-based Renown, which had new routes for drivers to learn.

One of the Stagecoach supervisors said timetables should be available in Rye’s High Street library, as well as online, but a number of travellers wanted timetables at each stop asap.

School buses appeared to be running well and on time and I noticed there appeared to be teachers on hand ensuring no one was lost between the station and the schools. One older student seemed to be the first casualty of the changes. He wanted the next bus to Northiam. These used to run at 08:30 and 09:30 but the first is now around 10:00 – and he seemed unaware of the changes.

One obvious change is that the single decker 344 between Hastings and Rye via Fairlight is now a double decker which goes through to Camber and Lydd before headingto Folkestone, so I travelled on the top deck to try it out.

As a non-driver I cannot comment on the problems the Fairlight Road presents, but it is narrow and cluttered in the built-up part of Hastings and narrow with some sharp bends when you descend to the coast. So, while a definite plus was that I could see the sea now at a number of points along Pett Level – thanks to riding on the top deck – there was little traffic when I travelled, not that it takes much traffic, in my experience, to cause a problem.

Foreign coaches, whose satnavs can deliver them to my front door in Valley Park instead of to Rye’s cattle market, also like the views around Pett Level. A foreign coach, a tractor, a couple of cars and a Stagecoach bus meeting head on along the Fairlight Road can take a while to unscramble: around 20 minutes I recall on one occasion.

There have been other casualties of the bus cuts. A colleague saw a woman at the stop opposite Rye Memorial Hospital waiting for over half an hour this morning for a bus down the hill into Rye, because off-peak services to Northiam and Tenterden have been halved to one every two hours. Did she know? Probably not. What is certain is that it is now harder to get to the hospital or to the Rye Medical Centre surgery if you do not have a car – and the Rye area has a much lower proportion of car owners than other areas, say statisticians.

Claims that local bus services have actually improved might be true for Rye Community Transport’s 326 service – which now has a six-day timetable – but it is certainly not true for the routes to Northiam and Tenterden. Rye Harbour travellers now face worse connections and no improvement.

If you have any comments, send a letter to us here.

What a service Rye’s Fixtures magazine, distributed at the beginning of May, sent its new timetables to print days ago. It was prepared; it went the extra mile for Rye and country readers. At least when the magazine arrives through our letterboxes, delivered free by Adams of Rye, we’ll have a reliable guide.

Photos: Tony Nunn