The Irish Sea scalloping fleet is a familiar sight in Fishguard’s harbour. But it is another shellfish – the Oyster – that is pointing to new public transport opportunities for our community.
With only 5,000 people, we have plenty of public transport in Fishguard and Goodwick: eight bus routes, local and long distance rail services, a ferry to Ireland, a world-famous coast path, a growing network of cycle routes. and dedicated services for schools and mobility-impaired users.
What we don’t have is a transport network. The transport services just don’t join up. Very little connects reliably and consistently with anything else. That lack of an effective network is a huge obstacle to greater use of public transport in the twin towns. The car delivers end-to-end journeys on demand. Public transport which doesn’t work as a network of interconnections can’t hope to compete with the car – for those who have one.
Fishguard Trains has always urged that our new rail service, and the new Fishguard & Goodwick Station, must be the catalyst for decent links between transport services. Buses should be re-routed past the station, and timed to meet the trains. It’s a simple thing to ask for, but apparently not so simple to deliver. There are a few hopeful signs – the temporary bus service to the Harbour Station, and the cycle route extensions into the Station. But it mustn’t stop there. Buses which now use Fishguard Square as their terminus must extend to the station, and at the very least the 412 and 410 must link seamlessly with trains. If Fishguard & Goodwick Station becomes the catalyst for transport integration, we may begin to persuade people that public transport is a viable alternative to the car.
But that’s only part of it. Transport Secretary Justine Greening this week announced “a nationwide rollout of Oyster-style technology” – smart technology to travel at the touch of a card.
Here at Fishguard Trains, we have no less than three Oyster cards between us. And considering we all live 250 miles from London, it’s remarkable how useful they are.
Here’s a recent Oyster statement. It shows the many ways these smart cards can help speed a journey, make it more affordable, or even make it possible. Arriving at Paddington at 17:00 on a Sunday evening, no need to join the huge queue for tickets – just touch and go all the way to Gospel Oak in north London, using both tube and overground trains. Next day, all the way from north London to Heathrow and back, plus local bus journeys, never once having to search for change, wondering if we’re being charged over the daily railcard limit. The card automatically controls what you pay, ensuring the daily cost is capped.
Three modes of transport – tube, train and bus – journeys at peak time and off-peak, no queuing for tickets (and no waiting while the bus driver issues tickets and change to a long queue), no need to work out the right fare (we hope), no need for ready money, and everything recorded if you need to check it or claim expenses. We have our Oyster cards set for automatic top-up, so every time the balance falls below say £20, an automatic debit from our bank account tops up the balance. It really does work.
So how might it work in north Pembrokeshire? With your Cerdyn Wystrys in your purse or wallet, you touch-in on the morning 412 from Dinas. The bus takes you straight down to F&G Station (without needing to change at Fishguard Square), arriving seven minutes before the next train. At the platform barrier, another touch-in lets you on to the platform. If there’s a conductor on the train, they have a Wystrys reader to check you’ve paid. At Swansea, the cross-city No 4 bus arrives within 5 minutes, you touch-in, and off you go to Singleton or Morriston Hospitals, the universities or the LC. If you’re an oldie with a bus pass and senior railcard, they’ve already been loaded on to your card, so you are only charged the railcard rate for the train journey, and nothing for the bus trips. If you have no discounts, through ticketing still means you will pay less than you would for the same journey today. You’ll want to check online that they’ve got it right, and you can for up to eight weeks.
Sounds good? Yes there are disadvantages. There’s a new database tracking your every movement; there’s sometimes confusion about where and when you have to touch-in. And inevitably, smart card ticketing means less ticket offices, which means less travel advice, fewer opportunities to book advance travel face-to face, and of course job losses. It is not all gain. But the big question is: are we serious about public transport? If we are, this is the card that can make the world of public transport our oyster.