The new 292 service hadn’t been easy to negotiate but we finally got a timetable. The new service began on Monday and reports from passengers had been favourable. It was all going well until Friday afternoon. The last bus back from Kidderminster to Ludlow was like nothing I had ever experienced. The bus was driven at high speed, overtaking everything on the Bewdley Bypass. At Cleobury Mortimer, it began to get very difficult. The driver was shouting that the service didn’t go to Ludlow. A row with passengers escalated but we did get to Ludlow 15 minutes early. There the driver capped off this extraordinary journey by shoving a woman in the back as she got off the bus. The passengers were not to blame for this situation.
The new 292 service began on 16 April. The new timetable doesn’t work for everyone, for students going to Lacon Childe School and coming home from Kidderminster College, for example. But it works for many passengers. There was great hope after years of a notoriously unreliable service provided by Diamond Bus there might be a decent service on the route.
I had promised to travel on the 292 as soon as possible to get first hand experience of the service. Call it mystery shopping if you like. That was my task on Friday on a day off from council duties.
The 8.30am from Ludlow to Kidderminster ran flawlessly arriving on time despite a tight timetable. I spent the day walking around the green belt at Stourbridge. Despite the very sticky mud, it was relaxing and enjoyable.
I headed for the last bus home, the 5.30pm from Kidderminster Bus Station. There I learnt there was a problem with an accident and fire in Bewdley. The 3.30pm bus towards Ludlow had either not run or had cut short its journey. But the 5:30pm departed on time.
I was surprised at the speed at which the bus was being driven. An Optare Solo is hardly a racing vehicle. But we pressed on quickly. The bus, as announced in Kidderminster, avoided Bewdley and headed up the A456 Bewdley Bypass. Steaming up the middle lane, the driver overtook everything in sight. I got the impression he was in a race with another Optare driver who was in the slow lane to whom who he gestured as we passed.
The real problems began as we approached Cleobury Mortimer. The driver shouted that the bus didn’t go to Ludlow. He said that from Monday, the last bus from Kidderminster would not take anyone beyond Cleobury Mortimer. Passengers questioned this and the discussion soon began to get heated. Like me, they had read the new timetable. It appears the driver had not.
Two more passengers were picked up at Cleobury Mortimer. The heated arguments between the driver and passengers continued, with the driver shouting that he didn’t go to Ludlow. He didn’t mind dropping passengers in Clee because the bus company is based there. But in future no one on the last bus would be taken to Ludlow. He waved his left arm at the passengers as he shouted over the noise of the bus’s engine, “I don’t mind whoever’s driving up going to Clee Hill”. But not Ludlow.
It seems that the last bus is being operated according to the driver’s preferences. It should be running to the agreed timetable with Worcestershire County Council and Shropshire Council.
When we arrived in Ludlow, the situation got no better. The remaining passengers wanted to get off at Tesco (Station Drive), as did I. That is the official route of the bus. But we were told that the bus was going along Gravel Hill and we would be dropped off at The Queens. Cue more passenger protest but the driver just shouted, “I’ll drop you off now”.
As we alighted at Lower Galdeford, the argument continued. Rather than trying to calm everything down, as any professional should have done, the driver kept shouting at passengers and the now heated argument continued for a minute or so. It ended when as one young woman turned to get off the bus the driver shoved her in back to push her towards the door of the bus.
I was so concerned about the escalating argument that at one point on the journey I unzipped my phone so that I could make a quick emergency call if needed.
I must stress that I attach no blame to the passengers. It was the anger of the driver that sparked the row and fuelled it all the way to Ludlow. There was no aggression, physical or verbal, on the part of passengers. They were just worried about getting home and why the bus service is not going to run to timetable in the future. In contrast, the driver behaved appallingly – even committing what I regarded an assault.
There is an irony to this very disturbing incident. On leaving the bus I noticed a wallet of timetables on the dashboard. I requested one. It clearly showed that the 292 service from Kidderminster at 5.30pm goes all the way to Ludlow. I handed it back to the driver pointing that out. He threw it to the floor.
I’ll be raising this with Shropshire Council’s public transport commissioner and the cabinet member first thing on Monday. We don’t pay out tens of thousands in public subsidy for appalling services like this.
This was a disgraceful journey that brings public transport into disrepute. I like travelling by bus but I’ll maybe use a train next time I go to Stourbridge.