We’re very excited at the moment, because we’ve just registered our new service to Marwell Wildlife, which starts on Good Friday and runs every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday until early September.
This new route – imaginatively called route M – has been put together in partnership with Marwell themselves, and also the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership, both of whom are providing funding and support with publicity etc, although the commercial risk lies with us.
The service is another example of the benefits of building long-term relationships, and follows a number of discussions over the last few years aimed at establishing possibilities.
My own involvement with Marwell started shortly after my arrival at Solent Blue Line in 2004, when we agreed to provide service 200 on a commercial basis. This linked Parkway Station, Eastleigh Bus Station and Marwell with three outward journeys in the morning and three afternoon returns – a very similar timetable to that of the M in fact.
This led to a novel photo-opportunity with Boomer the Ostrich, but sadly this was not enough to stimulate sufficient demand to make the service viable.
We replaced the 200 with a scaled down effort, diverting certain journeys on the F, but unsurprisingly these failed to take off and were eventually withdrawn.
Nevertheless the aspiration to serve Marwell with a sustainable route never waned and discussions continued both during my latter days at Bluestar and subsequently in the Velvet era.
The Three Rivers team subsequently also appeared on the scene, demonstrating their desire to provide useful links from local rail stations to nearby visitor attractions.
Last year One Community Transport provided a service, free of charge to the user, which carried some respectable loads. They did a good job, but perhaps they suffered from not being seen as an established bus operator and awareness of the service was not as great as it could have been.
Nevertheless they put a huge amount of effort into making the route work, for which they deserve high commendation, and this has helped paved the way for this year’s development.
Although we will be charging fares, we hope that many more people will take advantage of the service as we are able to spread the word much more widely through our established publicity network, and of course Marwell and Three Rivers will be able to open up many other promotional avenues.
On the subject of marketing I’m not sure if our contacts at Marwell were amused or bemused when I pointed out that a number of our staff like dressing up, and will be quite happy to parade the streets in animal costumes for a few days before the launch! The big excitement at Marwell this spring is the opening of their new cheetah enclosure, so we need to find Karl a cheetah costume by early April. Any suggestions gratefully received!
Obviously it would be ideal if the route could also run on weekdays, especially during school holidays, but this is a bit beyond everyone’s budget for the moment. However, the advantage of routes that appeal mostly to discretionary users is that you can quickly get into a virtuous circle of increasing patronage bringing improved service leves, which in turn generates more patronage which in turn leads to even more service improvements and so on.
The highest profile example of this must be Coasthopper – a wildly successful partnership between Norfolk Green and Norfolk County Council, and although we are working on a much smaller scale it shows what can be done. With the benefit of the funding as a safety net, we see this year’s service as a starting point from which we can move forward in future years.
My own attitude to this project is helped by the fact that I love going to meetings at Marwell. ‘Reception’ is effectively the admission desk, and the offices are at the other end of the park.
It is the only place I have ever attended a meeting where the directions to the meeting room have included the instruction, “turn left at the rhinos!”
I was hoping to conclude the story and illustrate this point with a picture of some rhinos, but sadly I couldn’t find one. So instead here’s a picture of Matt, Martin and Simon arriving at work….