November 2011


Figuring out Cheltenham Spa’s Public Transit requires too much patience.

Next week I am going on a brief vacation.

I’ll be flying to London, where I plan on spending a few hours perusing the Tate Modern before heading over to my favorite English city, Cheltenham Spa. Once there, I’ll be visiting friends and otherwise enjoying what the city has to offer.

Unfortunately, like all good things, my time in Cheltenham will, eventually, come to an end, and I will need to return to Berlin.

Normally I would take a taxi from my hotel to the Cheltenham train station, but because I have time, I decided to try and figure out how to get from the center centre of town to the train station using public transportation.

I started by Googling “Cheltenham Public Transit” – and I chose the top hit, “Gloucestershire County Council – Travel and Transport” – and then the obvious link, “Bus Services” – followed by “Bus Timetables”. At this point I land on a page with various communities listed, and I chose “Cheltenham Bus Timetables”.

Lots of clicks so far, but nothing too bad.

The Cheltenham Bus Timetables page leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a list of more than 40 different bus routes, listed by letter or number, along with descriptions that might be helpful if you’re a local, but to a visitor like me – frustrating. I might note that not one of the descriptions included the term “train station”

I started at the top and clicked on each bus route and looked.

Fortunately it only took four routes before I discovered that the D Route was the one that I needed.

Cheltenham D route

Cheltenham's Opinion about the D route

Do note, for the record, that the route, as described by Cheltenham’s official website, indicates that the D route stops at “Cheltenham Railway Station, forecourt”.

Once I got that sorted, I decided to try and figure out how much my bus ticket would cost – it’s always nice to have exact change. It turns out this information is, no joke, not available online – but it took me another 20 minutes of searching to come to this realization.

The Traveline map of the UK

Such a pretty map!

My first stop was to try Traveline, some kind of official website that helps you figure out local transport in the UK. The first challenge was deciding if Cheltenham was “Southwest” or “West Midlands” – it’s sort of on the border, so I ended up typing the name into the box on the display and being sent to the Southwest. Remember that: Cheltenham is in the Southwest.

Once I was in the “Southwest”, I told the Traveline journey planner that I wanted to go from “Pittville Street, Cheltenham” to “Cheltenham Train Station” – after a minor gyration verifying where I wanted to go from and to, I was given a recommendation:

Traveline's recommendation to get to the train station.

Where do I get off the bus?!

Notice that I was told to get off the D bus at “Lansdown, Queen’s Road (on Gloucester Road)” and walk for a few minutes. This is not the same as the official Cheltenham website which said the bus stops at “Cheltenham Railway Station, forecourt”. I double-checked, and according to the Traveline description of the D route, it doesn’t stop at the Cheltenham Railway Station forecourt at all:

D Route description per Traveline

Yup. Different stop for the train station...

There’s an information disconnect here, and, I might note, I still did not know how much the bus would cost for a single, one way journey.

Some how, at this point, it occurred to me that I ought to try Stagecoach Bus’s website: local transportation in the UK is privatized and bid out, and Stagecoach is listed as the operator of this particular bus route in Cheltenham.

Here’s the map that I was presented with when I tried to find out information from Stagecoach’s website about services in Cheltenham:

Stagecoach's map of the UK

Not as pretty as Traveline's map.

You’d think that since Traveline told me that Cheltenham was “Southwest” that it’d be “Southwest” – right?


For Stagecoach, Cheltenham is in the West of England.

Once I figured this out, I downloaded the Stagecoach timetable for the D route:

The D Route, according to Stagecoach

I am completely confused at this point.

Notice that the bus stops at yet a different stop for the train station: “Cheltenham Rail Stn Queen’s Rd” – there are now three possible places for me to get off the bus – how the heck do I know where I’m going to get off the bus?

I gave up at this point on trying to figure out exactly where I was going to get off the bus – I can always ask the bus driver once I’m there – but, being the kind of person that I am, I do want to have exact change for the bus – so I looked at the “tickets” section of the Stagecoach website—and after a bit of tricky navigating, I found the “Guide to fares & tickets” – and handy PDF (not) that would hopefully have the information I sought:

Stagecoach Fares

I want a single ride. Seriously - only one ride.

This is, I promise, the extent of the information available online from Stagecoach about the fares that they charge. This is despite the fact that Stagecoach promises that “This Guide provides a summary of our fares and tickets, together with details of certain local travel conditions.”

There’s a note that states, “If you would like fare details for a particular journey in advance, please contact us. Contact details are on the back page of this leaflet.” – In other words, if I want to travel all over the place, I know now that for £3.20, I can ride to my hearts content, but if I want to travel one single time from the centre of Cheltenham to its train station, well, this information can be had by… uh…

I checked the back page – which in the PDF is actually the left half of the first page and there isn’t actually contact information provided. Yes, there is a list of local telephone numbers I could call, but the numbers are under the heading “Lost Property”. Another number is provided for Traveline – but it costs 10 pence per minute, plus a 6 pence “set up fee per call.”

I’ve conceded defeat.

I’m not going to know in advance how much the bus costs to ride from Cheltenham’s Pitville Street to the train station, whether it’s the “Cheltenham Railway Station, forecourt”, “Lansdown, Queen’s Road (on Gloucester Road)”, or “Cheltenham Rail Stn Queen’s Rd”.

Public transportation in the UK, outside of London, is a farce.

It shouldn’t take that this much effort to figure out a journey this simple.

5 comments to Figuring out Cheltenham Spa’s Public Transit requires too much patience.

  • “Public transportation in the UK, outside of London, is a farce.”

    You’re absolutely right. The UK’s train and bus system descended into a disastrous bureaucracy-ridden state in the 1970s when it was nationalised. Then, under Maggie Thatcher, it was privatised without thought of how it would actually work (all that was considered was how much money it would generate). It’s now a fragmented mess of businesses focussing more on making money than on providing a reliable service – even the trains.

    The British public transport system is a perfect example of how not to nationalise something, how to privatise something and remove any concept of a service from it and how damaging it is to have an under-investment in this area.

    If you want to find out in advance how to get to the station and how much it would cost, I’d suggest giving the Cheltenham tourist information a shout. Here are their contact details: http://www.visitcheltenham.com/site/scripts/contact.php

    Have fun in Cheltenham. The Cotswolds are so pretty!

  • I feel you. Looking at public transit schedules in the U.K. (outside of London) makes my brain want to dribble out of my ears.

  • I’d use much stronger words than ‘a farce’. I personally map out details for my guests on the incoming routes as I don’t think they’d arrive here otherwise.

    Imagine the tourists who don’t have English as a first language who have to try and understand the lacking or cryptic schedules when you or I have issues.

    Although on the positive side, I’ve never had problems to pay for a bus ticket with a 5 or 10 pound note here.

  • At least you have the options that sound reasonable other than you have no idea what the price is.

    If I wanted to travel to work on public transit, I’d need to make sure I had an extra 48-hours available for the round trip.

  • Emily – I could contact them — but I shouldn’t need to. Most transit in the UK is a strong argument an argument against privatization. I can count on one hand (with four fingers cut off) the number of clean trains that I’ve ridden in the UK. And I cannot think of a single train that has ever had adequate, decent, luggage storage for its passengers. Of course, that’s a different subject from local bus service.

    Sarah1976 – I know what you mean.

    heather – Thankfully I am a native speaker. I think that non-native speakers will be perplexed and give up after 5 minutes.

    Cynical Queer – We won’t go into the fundamental problems of public transit in the USA — however, for comparable trips to comparable locations in Denver, the information can be figured out from its website easily. Same for Berlin.