Just a short post today, to ask the question: where have all the passengers gone? Last weekend on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ we enjoyed reasonable weather but very poor loadings on Saturday.
OK, so it drizzled a bit in the morning while the crew sat eating breakfast in the Lorna Doone Hotel, Porlock but by the time we reached Minehead it was dry, if a little cloudy. As we approached the seafront bus stop I could see a little knot of people waiting for us and, as we waited for departure time, a few more joined them. We left with about 20 on board, all of them on the top deck. Who could blame them? That’s where the best views are to be had! We picked up a couple more at Butlins and again at Bancks Street but that was it for the rest of the journey.
The journey itself was mostly uneventful. No horseboxes on Edgcott Hill, no sheep in the road, no coaches to pass on Porlock Hill, no punctures and no bolshie passengers to beat about the head with my ticket machine (only joking!). Arriving back at Minehead at lunchtime, the town seemed to be much busier, with plenty of people milling about on the seafront. During my lunchbreak I think I discovered the reason why we were so out of favour that day. Tornado was in town.
New-build LNER A1 Peppercorn pacific locomotive 60163 ‘Tornado’ is having a little holiday on the West Somerset Railway and, after I had eaten my sandwiches, I wandered onto the platform and tried to mingle with the throng but I only managed to get as far as the gents toilets. Which was just as well, because that was why I was on the station. Feeling comfortable again, I emerged to find lots of people craning their necks over the platform edge to catch sight of the celebrity loco as it drifted in from Blue Anchor.
Our departure time drew near and this time I could do a passenger count on the fingers of one hand. Just four people, occupying the front seats upstairs. No more joined us during the entire trip and in a strange way I enjoyed giving them my undivided attention between stops. One of them, as he left the bus again at Minehead, kindly gave me a tip. The load was so light that, by the time we reached Exford, we had to wait for about 8 minutes because we had made such good progress on the Exmoor hills.
I can only remember one occasion when we carried fewer passengers and that was a very wet day a couple of years ago when we left the stand at Minehead station with no passengers at all. Being a timetabled, Council-run service, we have to run every trip. Even if we have no passengers. On that occasion it was just as well we did run because when we reached Exford there was a single passenger waiting in the bus shelter wanting to travel to Porlock.
A few weeks ago a bod from the Council came and did a passenger survey on the 400. He was sent to gather information on passengers using bus passes and needed to know where the passes had been issued. National Concessionary Bus Travel Scheme bus passes are currently valid on our service, no matter where in the UK they have been issued but Councils up and down the land have been caught out by the large numbers of folk using their passes while on holiday or on day trips. This means that the Councils in the areas they are visiting have to pick up the tab for the free travel they enjoy as there is no way to pass that cost back to the visitors’ home Council. There is a rumour going around that one day soon bus passes will revert to being only valid in the Council-dom where they were issued. So folks, use them while you can!
Sorry, that wasn’t a short post, after all!