Open-top buses: The industry’s trailblazers

Offering something a bit different, open-top services have become tourist attractions. It’s time to apply the strategy on more ordinary routes

As the dark and dreary weather patterns of winter give way to more optimistic spring features, our minds turn to the prospect of a long hot summer: Endless days of cricket, tennis at Wimbledon and open-top buses.

It’s quite noticeable how many open-top services are publicised or relaunched this time of year. And as the years pass, they get more and more sophisticated.

‘Island Explorers,’ ‘Coasters’ and ‘Ocean City Sights’ are more and more prominent with special eye-catching attractive liveries, sometimes multi-lingual commentaries and commercially-minded drivers motivated to increase take up and provide a great service.

A ‘must do’

The phenomenon is taken to its extreme with the Purbeck Breezers operated by Go South Coast – a shameless plug for a Go-Ahead company, but worth dwelling on because the bus service between Bournemouth and Swanage has become the tourist attraction in itself.

There is little doubt that the quality of the vehicles, the attractiveness of the marketing and the wider tie-up with other attractions has made this the ‘must do’ activity for those visiting the Isle of Purbeck.

Just for balance, I should also mention Stagecoach’s great work in the Lake District and Skegness, First in Weston-super-Mare and Cornwall, and of course the mainstream city tour operators that do an equally great job in marketing these services.

Maximise appeal

The reason for highlighting and dwelling on open-top services is to suggest what is developed for the seaside or the city sights should become the norm for other areas so that we can maximise the attractiveness of bus.

Travelling on the Purbeck Breezer last summer, I was interested by what seemed to be the lack of ‘class distinction’ in the user profile. There’s more of a feeling of privilege of having such a pleasant experience, which attracts customers who would probably normally be classified as non-users.

But, as the worthy ‘Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route’ competition revealed last year, there are plenty of other routes where we could create a similar experience.

Transdev’s Yorkshire Coastliner was a worthy winner, but the coastal element of this service is only at one extremity. It serves many other markets and communities before it gets to the coast but the branding of the vehicles, the regular refresh and the prospect of an interesting journey ‘create desire’ to borrow a phrase from Best Impressions.

Have courage

As an industry we have made enormous strides in the commercial world in taking techniques to attract users in an increasingly competitive world. But we can do more.

Our challenge is to take these pockets of good practice and apply them more widely to what are perceived as more humdrum, run-of-the-mill routes.

I’m not necessarily advocating open-top buses in Hemel Hempstead, but there’s plenty more we can do if we have the courage of our convictions that a well presented, expertly-marketed bus service will get growth – regardless of whether or not it has the benefit of an attractive coastline or a roof on top.