(this review concentrates only on the part of First Eastern Counties I know well... the X1 intercity / crosscountry bus that bisects East Anglia)
Perhaps East Anglia's most under appreciated public transport asset is the extremely frequent X1 bus that winds all the way from Peterborough in the west of the region to Lowestoft on the east coast. I can't speak for First Eastern Counties' urban operations, but this unusual cross-country bus has been a vital link for me and my family, as it connects dozens of rural towns and villages with both the region's major cities and key rail stations.
As often as every thirty minutes (and every fifteen between Norwich and Lowestoft) this bus connects Peterborough, Wisbeach, King's Lynn, Swaffham, Dereham, Norwich and Lowestoft, and numerous intermediate villages. This is especially convenient for the major railway station at Peterborough, from where you can travel to London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, the north-east and Scotland; and the bus stops right outside the station.
However, in 2008 the service saw a major set back with the introduction of wholly unsuitable urban double decker buses. Until these appeared the long cross-country route had been served by comfortable, spacious and well equipped coaches that were more suitable to infrequent stops and bouncy fenland and rural roads. The brand new (and no doubt extremely expensive) double deckers are extremely uncomfortable for anything more than thirty minutes, and have significantly less luggage room.
So, if (like me) you live in central Norfolk or the Breckland and appreciate a direct connection to the cities of Peterborough or Norwich, you're in for a long and uncomfortable ride. And that's a real shame, because the X1 opens up a whole swathe of East Anglia unserved by rail to a frequent connection to Peterborough and beyond.
It's wednesday, early evening and I have just left work. I get to the bus stop at around 18.08, plenty of time before the bus arrives at 18.17. It's the last regular bus of the day that goes to my neck of the woods so catching it is always important. I can live with a bus being late by about 5 minutes, they're at the mercy of the traffic. However this bus never showed up and it's not the first time it's happened either. In fact the same thing happened to me a few weeks earlier. All the time the government are trying to get people to use their cars less and less. Well if I had a space to park my car everyday then I know I wouldn't be taking the bus, the service is just something you can't rely on. You hear that Government? That's why people won't use public transport, it ain't that good. The cost of public transport in Norwich is as usual not the most cost effective method of travel. Those that use the bus on a daily base to get into the city for work would be best buying a weekly ticket. This gives you unlimited travel within the city zone for £8.50, it saves hassles of having to dig up change on a daily basis or getting that awkward look from the bus driver as you produce a note rather than coins. However those just looking to make a return trip into the city will look to pay over £2.00 for the journey. It's a £2.20 journey from my area to the city centre, a journey that on a good day would take no more than 10 minutes by car. Having recently moved to what is considered a more up-market part of Norwich, I have to say the service isn't really up to par. Just because you live in an area with a lot of retired people, it doesn't automatically mean you have access to a car daily and can drive into work. Not everyone work's 9-5. I certainly don't and if I'm working past 7pm then I have to get a different bus service then walk another 10-15 minutes to make it home. Like I said you
miss the 18.17 bus then you're basically screwed for about 90 minutes before another bus company takes over the service. Generally the buses vary in quality as well. For my area the buses are not new and creak along like an old warhorse, you'll also find that the drivers vary from the cheerful to the downright depressing. I don't know if it's the job that jades them but a smile once in a while wouldn't be bad and a bit of courtesy towards the older generations wouldn't go amiss. I'd to hate to think what would happen if there were people a lot older than myself who relied on the service in my area to get home at a later time. They'd probably be waiting a long time to get home. I left work at 18.00 that evening, I had to walk a good part of the way home and didn't get there till close to 20.00. Thanks a lot Eastern Counties, perhaps some explanation would be nice but I wouldn't bother wasting my breath. It never gets anything done.