Bournemouth’s iconic yellow open-top bus success

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Continuing our staycation series, Richard Sharman takes a look at Yellow Buses’ offerings that have recently gained an extended season due to demand

Bournemouth is one of the key attractions on the South Coast of England; try driving there on any sunny day and you will appreciate just how many people favour it as a day out. It also has the advantage of being just over two hours’ drive from London, with frequent departures by coach and rail. With staycations being the only option for many this year, UK holiday destinations geared up for the season, including bus operators that provide seasonal and tourist services.

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A historical connection

Bournemouth Transport, and its predecessor Bournemouth Corporation, have a long tradition of operating open-top buses along the coast. A look through the history books will find that the earliest example of an open-top vehicle was in 1914. The corporation subsequently went on to place many open-top tramcars and trolleybuses into service, along with some cut down Guy Arab IIs in 1952.

More modern purchases started in 1965 when the corporation invested in nine Weymann-bodied Daimler Fleetlines. 180-9, CRU 180-9C, were convertible so that they could be used all year round. They stayed in the fleet until the winter of 1977 when seven of the batch were sold to London Transport and became the DMO class for use on the Round London Sightseeing Tour. A number of this batch still survive today, although it is believed only two remain in the UK with the rest exported to Sweden and America.

Their replacements came in the form of seven Alexander-bodied Daimler Fleetlines 130-7, NFX 130-7P, in 1976 which were later joined by 138-40, VJT 138-40S, in 1978. These were again specified as convertible open-tops to allow all-year-round use. It is believed three of this batch survive in the UK. 138-40 enjoyed a long career in Bournemouth and survived into the mid-2000s.

Alexander-bodied Daimler Fleetline is seen at the Bournemouth Square stop in August 1988. JULIAN DOLMAN











The open-toppers were not just relegated to travelling around Bournemouth, they also ventured to events such as the International Air Tatoo, Fairford in 1993. RICHARD SHARMAN













Seen in April 2005, 138 is in a blue and yellow livery at Mallard Road depot. JULIAN DOLMAN











Weymann-bodied Daimler Fleetline 180 is seen receiving a sweep out at the Mallard Road depot in May 1982. JULIAN DOLMAN











More recent history

Investment in Yellow Buses’ first low-floor convertible double-deckers came in the form of three East Lancs Vyking-bodied Volvo B7TLs, 430-432, HJ02 HFA-C. These three vehicles were to represent the last of the open-top fleet for a period of some 17 years as the open-top bus service operation ended in 2007. At the time of the purchase of 430-2 the company was still Bournemouth Borough Council-owned, but by 2005 90% of the company shares had been sold to Transdev. It would later change ownership to the RATP Group.

In May 2017 Yellow Buses returned 430-2 to open-top format and introduced service R2 between Bournemouth and Poole Quay, and an hourly C1 open-top service linking Bournemouth and Alum Chine via Westbourne and West Cliff. By August of the same year, four Plaxton President-bodied DAF DB250LF half open-top double-deckers were transferred from fellow RATP company, Original London Sightseeing Tour (OLST). 433-6, T204/7/8/9 XBV initially operated in OLST livery on the sides with yellow fronts, before being painted for the 2018 season into yellow livery and gaining private number plates YBZ 433-6. The full introduction of the Buster’s Beach Bus branding followed for the 2019 season.

The Plaxton President-bodied DAF250LFs came to Yellow Buses from fellow RATP Group member at the time, Original London Sightseeing Tour.













Fleet investment

By this point, Yellow Buses had become independent again after a management-led buyout of the business from RATP Group led by David Squire (Managing Director) with Phil Pannell (Service Delivery Director) and Simon Newport (Commercial Director) on 2 July 2019. During its 2019 season, Buster’s Beach Bus recorded 84,000 passenger journeys between Easter and the end of August; that is without counting passenger numbers until the end of the season in September. In September 2019 David Squire, Managing Director of Yellow Buses said: “For a newly introduced service the number of customers that we have carried has been amazing. We will be investing in our open-top fleet for the summer of 2020 by buying some newly converted vehicles to be branded in our iconic Yellow Bus livery featuring, of course, Buster Bear.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic delayed things slightly with what would have been a 2020 season, with most of the population in and out of lockdown. However, this year has been a different story and Commercial Director Simon Newport said in April: “We have invested over £100,000 in newer vehicles for Buster’s Beach Bus and we are really excited about our plans for Summer 2021. We wanted to start the services at the earliest opportunity to give local residents the opportunity to get out and about as soon as the weather starts getting warmer.”

That investment in newer vehicles came in the shape of five Wrightbus Gemini-bodied Volvo B7TLs 5020-4, YBZ 434/838/949/636/233, formerly BX55 XNG/K/R/U/W with Abellio London, which were converted to half open-top and refurbished.

2021 season

This year’s open-top season commenced on 29 May and officially ended on 5 September. However, the season has been extended until the end of October given the likely continuing demand and the school holiday week in October.

The Buster’s Beach Bus open-top service has two routes serving different parts of the Dorset coastline. Service 11 operates from Bournemouth Pier to Mudeford via Boscombe Pier, Southbourne Beach, Tuckton Bridge, Christchurch, Somerford and Hoburne Holiday Park. Of the two routes, the 11 is the longest with a journey time of 55 minutes. Low season frequency is set at every two hours, whilst in the high season it is hourly. In both cases, the start and finish times are the same, with the first departure operating a short trip from Christchurch at 0920hrs to set it up for the first trip from Mudeford to Bournemouth at 0938hrs.

What I like about this timetable is that Yellow Buses has identified that there is a leisure market that is not only looking for an open-top tour but also that by serving the Hoburne Holiday Park it is allowing holidaymakers staying there a way of enjoying a car-free day out in Bournemouth, which if you choose to park in the seafront car parks can be very expensive. The 11 also has the bonus of operating late into the evening, with the final departure from Bournemouth Pier, in both high and low season, being at 1840hrs. The final departure from Mudeford is at 1938hrs, arriving back into Bournemouth Pier at 2033hrs.

The second open-top service is the 12 from Bournemouth Pier to Alum Chine, and would normally only operate in the high season but, as mentioned, the season has been extended to the end of October. The 12 provides a half-hourly frequency, with the first bus departing Bournemouth Pier at 0757hrs towards Alum Chine, which is only one mile away by foot along the beach, but the route the 12 takes has much more to offer in terms of seeing what Bournemouth is like.

The full route of Boscombe Pier to Alum Chine takes 38 minutes to complete one way, with the first bus departing at 1015hrs and the last back from Alum Chine at 1830hrs.

Although, not an open-top bus service, a new leisure offering for the 2021 season was the New Forest Explorer which operated from Christchurch to Ringwood through the New Forest. Once again, Yellow Buses has cleverly routed service B to serve the Hoburne Holiday Park. The service offered four departures per day and operated daily during the school holiday period. There were also opportunities for passengers from the 11 to connect with route B and travel onward to the New Forest.

Clever marketing and ticketing

In an age where everything is digital and many bus companies do not believe in printed timetables or travel shops, it was refreshing to find that Yellow Buses has maintained a travel shop in Bournemouth. I seem to recall that this unit, in the heart of the town centre, has been there many years. It seems to have had a recent refresh and refurbishment too.

Customers being able to talk to someone in person goes a long way in this business, so it already puts a business at an advantage when trying to promote new leisure services.

The travel shop was also well stocked with Yellow Buses’ comprehensive timetable booklet, a leaflet promoting its Yellow Coaches-operated megabus service from Weymouth to London via Bournemouth and the Adventure Awaits pocket leisure services booklet. This gives full timetable information of services 11, 12 and B, Jetbus 737 and the Yellow Coaches-operated Golden Tours Bournemouth open-top tour, which offers a different product to Yellow Buses offerings by operating a tour of both Bournemouth, Poole Quay and the popular Sandbanks Beach.

Families looking to use the bus for the day, or whilst they are staying in the area can take advantage of Buster’s Adventure Ticket. This provides exceptional value when you consider the distance you could travel and the area served. It offers unlimited travel on services 11, 12 and B, but also had the bonus of being accepted for travel on First Wessex bus services between 29 May and 5 September.

It is great to see an independent working with a major group on such a promotion, as it allows customers to travel further around the coast and visit Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door or take the open-top bus services to Portland Bill and Lyme Regis.
Tickets cost from £28 for a group of five for one day, to £38 for three days’ travel. Alternatively, an adult fare is £15 for one day or £22 for three days.

Wrightbus Gemini-bodied Volvo B7TL 5021 is seen at Alum Chine. RICHARD SHARMAN












The recently refurbished interior of 5021. RICHARD SHARMAN












Service 12

This feature follows on from my recent look at Yellow Coaches’ operations in issue 1488. Open-top bus services 11 and 12 are driven by coach division drivers, who have all been through Simon Scarborough Associates’ customer service training.

Travelling to the town centre, battling through the mid-afternoon traffic from the Yeomans Way depot I opted to join the 1502hrs departure from the prominent Bournemouth Square stop Y stand to Alum Chine. Colourfully-branded Wrighbus Gemini 5021 came into view and picked up a handful of passengers, and myself, for the onwards journey through the town.

These vehicles have been treated to a full interior refurbishment, so the waterproof vinyl seating is comfortable and everything looks in good order. As is typical with these types of coastal services, you often find the odd pile of sand on the upper and lower decks where customers are bringing it in off their shoes, this trip was no exception. Now and then the wind would whip the sand up and deposit it further down the saloon floor.

All of the recent Gemini additions are, perhaps wisely, half-top conversions that allow continued operation in inclement weather. It was quite a warm day, but given it was now mid-afternoon, only a few more passengers joined us for the run out to Alum Chine.
The 12 route makes a climb from the town centre towards The Triangle, at the top end of the town where several shops and the library are situated. This also appears to be the main change over point for Yellow Buses drivers.

As you depart The Triangle you will see Caffe Nero, and above it is a large picture of one of the Bournemouth Corporation yellow trams.

The route from here takes in the expensive-looking Westbourne area of the town, where a stop is made at the Seamoor Road shops. This service appears to also be popular with local residents, using it to travel into town and back. As some passengers alighted, more boarded towards Alum Chine.

It is then a short trip along Alumhurst Road to the terminus, where the road starts to drop down to sea level offering stunning views before terminating opposite the car park, with the beach just a minute’s walk away. The journey time for this section of the route was 21 minutes. The bus then has a seven-minute layover before doing the route back towards Bournemouth Pier, and ultimately Boscombe Pier.

Service 11 and 12 meet at the Bournemouth Pier stop. RICHARD SHARMAN












Towards Boscombe Pier

Having had a look around the seafront I then joined service 12 again, but this time towards Boscombe Pier. The bus stand at the Pier is in a high profile position between the walk down to the beach and the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC). The large multi-storey car park next to the BIC means that potential customers will walk past the buses to obtain access to the beach; free marketing at its best!

The vehicle this time was a rather more tuneful 5020. The 1725hrs departure from Bournemouth Pier already had several passengers on board. Departing from the Pier, you get a view of the beach to the right as you head away from the town. Unlike the Alum Chine section of the route, the route towards Boscombe Pier initially hugs the coastline, allowing for unrestricted views to the right of the vehicle and along East Cliff. This is quite an exposed section of the road, and it was a windy day, but the driver was taking it at a nice steady pace.

The route briefly departs the coastline to serve Chine Gardens in Boscombe before turning right at St.Johns Church and passing many retirement apartment blocks descending towards Boscombe Pier and beach. This is a lovely area away from the hustle and bustle of the main Bournemouth beaches.

History repeating

Yellow Buses should be proud of the investment, marketing and effort that has gone into delivering the Buster’s Beach Bus services this season. I witnessed excellent customer service from all driving staff on the day, and both trips sampled were driven smoothly, with drivers waiting for passengers to sit down before pulling away.

Yellow Buses has a long history of operating open-top bus services, and the modern-day incarnation has done its ancestors proud. The buses are still yellow, the service is still great, the only difference now is the roar of the Volvo B7TL powering up hills rather than a Daimler Fleetline!

You can experience service 12 virtually in our ride-along video on our YouTube channel from Thursday 16 September