There was plenty of time for a good chinwag as well as discussion of the public transport options available from Chippenham at Our Town's meeting this week. We had a good mix of members' locations, public transport users, and those born and bred in Chippenham to draw upon and give us a wealth of experience from both current and historical perspectives. Who knew that passengers used to catch buses outside the Jubilee Building instead of at the bus station in Timber Street?
We started with looking at our nearest bus stop and found the potential destinations on offer are quite different depending on where we live. Pewsham and the London Road areas have the benefit of the regular 55 service to Swindon (its use for the Outlet Centre being particularly good), whilst those living across town have the X31 Bath service instead. Monkton Park residents have one of the variations of the local 44 service to take them into town. Cepen Park North residents can also visit Castle Combe (service 35), Malmesbury (92) and a number of local Dauntsey Vale villages (91).
At first the Chippenham view on the bustimes.org website looks like the town is relatively well served by both bus services and potential destinations. All of the above options listed are available from the centre of town, plus additional routes to Barrow Green and Southmead (further local service 44 variations); Devizes (X33); Frome (X34 via Lacock, Melksham and Trowbridge); Colerne (36); Marshfield (635) and long distance National Express services to London, Northampton and Penzance. However, delve a little deeper and we discovered the reality isn't quite as rosy:
Most services don't run on a Sunday, or later in the evening
Some services are geared more to coming into Chippenham, than the other way round e.g. it's possible to go to Biddestone using the Colerne service, but the service back is 35 minutes later, unlike in the past when there was a good half hourly service to the village
There have been some cutbacks on existing services e.g. the 8.30am service from Pewsham into town
In some instances a return fare is the only ticket option (found when using the Pewsham service 44)
Some services don't set down at the bus station, with passengers needing to walk to the other end of town for e.g. library visits (found when using the Monkton Park service 44)
Michelle has a dim memory of going to Salisbury on a Wilts & Dorset service when she first came to Wiltshire, which has disappeared since privatisation
Apart from the good service to London (from Street/Bath), other long distance routes serving the town weren't that practical to use (Northampton and Penzance), and it looks like the London to Bristol service (041) listed on the website may have gone
Connections between the bus station and the railway station are patchy (a half mile walk), which doesn't encourage the use of public transport
We found bus services were generally better for leisure activities: practical needs such as getting to work on time; weekly shopping; plus doctor, dentist and hospital visits were less likely to meet with an easy success. For example, a temping agency gave Sheila lifts to/from Devizes when she was offered work there as the bus service was inadequate. Going away on holiday fared better, with both Heathrow and Bristol airports within relatively easy reach, especially when railway services are added to the mix. We all agreed the rail service makes both work and leisure life more practical - albeit expensive - especially for our WI theatre trips.
It'll be interesting to see how Wiltshire - and Chippenham in particular - fares in the recent government Rural Mobility funding announcement with £170 million available for councils to apply for. We thought this amount seemed rather low, but is a welcome start. Diane has also met a bus user who is so concerned about potential service cuts, she parks her car at Pewsham and uses the bus! Update 12th Feb: The government announced a £5 billion investment in rural transport yesterday; much better than last week's announcement, but the verdict at Book Club last night was this is still too little when spread across the country.
Like that lady we have a 'use it or lose it attitude' at Pewsham Belles WI and endeavour to use public transport when we can for activities outside of Chippenham. The theatre group in particular have done this well, and the walkers used the 55 service back from Calne last year. Look out for a walk to Lacock later this year as part of the Our Town activities, where we'll tie this in with an X34 service option to join us in Lacock and/or for the journey back.
Bustimes.org - lots of information on Chippenham's bus services (local and national), operators, and bus stop locations plus links to more detailed information including timetables
Faresaver's map of their Chippenham services (link is to a pdf on their website which in time may differ from the one below) - you'll see there are some extra services to those mentioned already. These are to/from local schools.
National Rail's Journey Planner