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The best way from Chesterfield to Nottingham?

Pronto Red Arrow

If Chesterfield folk wish to visit the City of Nottingham by bus, they have two choices: Pronto or Red Arrow. Neville Whitmore and Oliver Foreman tried them out. Read on!

2 IN NOTTINGHAM    3 RETURN JOURNEY    4 FACTS & FIGURES    5 CONCLUSION


1. Journey from Chesterfield to Nottingham

On Monday 26 October 2009 (half-term week) Neville left Chesterfield Coach Station on the 1110 Pronto bound for Nottingham. Oliver departed five minutes later from New Beetwell Street on the 1115 Red Arrow. Find out below what happened


Bus on Pronto service    Bus on Red Arrow service
LEFT Neville stands by the non-liveried Pronto which will take him to Nottingham. It arrives at the Coach Station in good time with a full load to disembark. RIGHT: Oliver's Red Arrow in New Beetwell Street is equally busy and punctual


NEVILLE'S JOURNEY TO NOTTINGHAM

The vehicle provided for my departure was not the expected "Pronto" liveried vehicle but a Dennis Dart SLF with Alexander body, R462 LSO, which I believe was painted out of "Pronto" livery when the service was revamped earlier this year. However it was clean and well presented, there was plenty of room for buggies and a wheelchair and there were copies of the "Metro" newspaper available. The driver seemed polite, the only downside perhaps being no timetables for the Pronto service on board (but perhaps this is the exception than the rule and can be excused because it was obviously a substitute vehicle).

There were 16 passengers on board and the bus ran very well despite its 11 years of service and timekeeping was excellent, waiting for time for one minute in Holmewood. It arrived in Mansfield bus station on time but had to pull into the wrong bay (15) as there was a Trentbarton Optare Solo in bay 13. (In fact investigation shows that there are TWO departures timetabelled AT THE SAME TIME on bay 13!). Here there was a driver change which was effected quickly and all of the potential passengers seemed to realise that this was the Pronto bus to Nottingham on the wrong bay!

The departure from Mansfield was on time and indeed timekeeping by the new driver was once again excellent. Few passengers were picked up on this section of route and I suspect that most passengers are through passengers from Mansfield to Nottingham. Indeed I was the only passenger to ride end to end although a woman for Nottingham was picked up at Hasland. We arrived exactly on time at Victoria Bus Station. All in all this journey was a most pleasant experience despite the elderly vehicle.


Adequate knee room on the Red Arrow
Adequate knee room for Oliver. Amazing!

Large push chair in the bus queue
A large push chair in the queue to get on

Push chair goes in the side locker
Passenger loads it into the side locker

Getting off takes a long time at Victoria bus station
Getting off takes a long time at Nottingham Victoria Bus Station

OLIVER'S JOURNEY TO NOTTINGHAM:

There was quite a queue and those four steps (accepted as normal just a few years back) come as a shock even without a buggy or a Zimmer frame. However, the driver loads us efficiently and I sink back into my leather seat, one from the back on the nearside. Always a problem for tall people like me is leg room, but here it is more than adequate! That is good news.

We set off punctually with most seats taken. The bus is pleasantly warm with adjustable cool air from above and an accurate clock. Things are looking good. There is some traffic congestion around Alfreton (where several people get off and others board) and Ripley but no more than we have come to expect these days, yet we arrive at Ripley around five minutes late. Amazingly, nobody gets on, perhaps because it is the first day of an extra ‘nine’ from Ripley to Derby to cope with the Christmas rush.

We carry on virtually non-stop to Derby, but arrive on our departure time. The bus nearly empties, not a quick job with those steep steps, and there are around twenty-five people waiting to board. It took eight minutes for these people to pay and get tickets. Though I was too far back to hear, I suspect the delay was because of discussions about their return time as this affects the ticket price (see CONCLUSIONS below).

While this is happening, I note through the window an elderly gentleman who has just got off opening the exterior luggage locker doors looking for his suitcase. As an ex coach driver, I know how dangerous these heavy doors can be as they can easily catch somebody as they slam shut. I am amazed that it seems to be accepted practice that passengers undertake this task. The driver, busy discussing the price of return tickets, is oblivious to what is happening outside.

I then noticed in the queue to get on a family with a very large push chair. The baby was removed, the pram folded and the man opened up the locker himself and put in the push chair as the driver continued to sort out the passengers.

After all this, and a change of driver, we left Derby over ten minutes late and arrived at Nottingham without regaining any time. After the slow unloading, I noted the driver had gone to the outside locker and because of the way the bays are constructed at Victoria Bus Station had great difficulty squeezing out the push chair and getting to somewhere with room to put it down.

The delay at Derby was slightly frustrating, resulting in a late arrival at Nottingham, but in all other ways it was a very comfortable sleep inducing ride.


2. What happened while in Nottingham

Neville writes : On reaching Victoria Bus Station, after waiting for Oliver to arrive on the Red Arrow, we decided to make use of the recently introduced Centrelink connecting Victoria with the other bus station in Nottingham, Broad Marsh, although we were only going to the city centre, alighting at Mount Street (home of Nottingham's third bus station long since closed!) This service was only introduced in September, (although I remember a similar service operated initially by hired in London Country Leyland Nationals in about 1972!) and is another example of Trentbarton operating a tendered service under their own name (is there a change of policy here?). There seemed to be a couple of route branded buses working this service, but our bus had neither route branding nor a "proper" destination. We got off near Slab Square and bought some lunch.

After this, we walked round to Mount Street where there was an Optare Tempo of Marshall's of Sutton-on-Trent ready to depart on service 90 (The Fosseway Flyer) to Newark. This was the service which once upon a time was the main service of Gash's of Newark and we decided that we would take a ride on it just over Trent Bridge. There was a very friendly driver and a good load for the time of day. This service which was latterly operated by Nottingham City Transports "Pathfinder" unit deserves to succeed. On arrival in West Bridgford, Oliver and I went our separate ways. I returned to the city on Nottingham City Transport's service 11, worked by an Optare Versa, the only journey of the day where I was not given a ticket (and I don't think that the driver pressed any buttons either!)

At 3 o'clock, I caught the city centre bus back to Victoria. This one was route branded and properly destinated although this did not stop a couple of people boarding in Mount Street and then on arrival at Victoria enquiring of the driver where Broad Marsh was! (It seems that the same stop is used in Mount Street for buses working this service in BOTH directions)


Free bus in Nottingham    Neville sitting comfortably
We take the free bus (in this case with neither livery nor destination!) to the Market Square. Neville sorts out his numbers book.

Oliver and Neville in Nottingham Market Square    Marshall's bus
Feeding time in front of the tram in Nottingham Market Square. Oliver sees a bus from a firm he used to work for (Marshall's of Sutton-on-Trent) on an ex-Gash's route. We board in Mount Street (nostalgic name for us oldies) and take a ride to Trent Bridge.


3. The journey back to Chesterfield

It is time to go home and Neville is nowhere to be seen . . .

Free bus in Nottingham Red Arrow Steps on Red Arrow
Mid-afternoon Neville speeds back in the Centrelink (look carefully inside) just as his Red Arrow arrives. He negotiates those dreaded steps ready for his ride home.

For our journeys from Nottingham back to Chesterfield, Neville takes the 1530 Red Arrow (due Chesterfield 1707) and Oliver the 1535 Pronto (due Chesterfield 1710). Read below what happens:


Pronto and Red Arrow    Pronto and Red Arrow
The two Chesterfield bound buses await time . . . and the Red Arrow sets off five minutes before the Pronto


NEVILLE'S JOURNEY BACK TO CHESTERFIELD

I returned from Nottingham on the 1530 Red Arrow which was the expected Scania with Irizar bodywork (FN04 BSY) recently refurbished with leather seats and Wi-Fi connections (although I did not need this latter facility!) It was also clean and well presented, despite the fact that it had been in service since early morning, and Red Arrow timetables were located near the entrance. It was very well loaded with 32 passengers boarding at Victoria, 7 more boarded on Upper Parliament Street and 3 more at the Queens Medical Centre. Once again timekeeping was excellent and the driver was very helpful, and it must be said that it was very comfortable, arriving in Derby on time.

It was noticeable, however, that alighting and boarding in Derby was slower than one is used to today with modern low floor buses. 8 people travelled across Derby but many passengers got on so that there were only a handful of empty seats. Derby was left about 3 minutes late and there was quite heavy traffic leaving Derby so that we were about 10 minutes late arriving in Ripley, time that we never really caught up, arriving in Chesterfield about 7 minutes late, with about 20 passengers still on board (one of whom boarded in Clay Cross and bought a single ticket to Chesterfield for £2, cheaper than Stagecoach!)

All in all this was another pleasant journey with nothing really to criticise.


OLIVER'S JOURNEY BACK TO CHESTERFIELD

Lack of knee room on the Pronto

No steps to climb this time. I make for the back nearside seat. Yes, it is leather but nowhere near as comfortable as the one on the Red Arrow. And the leg room . . . I cannot even get my knees straight in front! Fortunately, nobody is sitting next to me. I later move to the seat in front, but this has no more knee room, and eventually to the one in front of that with another seat facing it. Without anybody in that seat, at last there was room for my poor knees! Sorry to go on, but for tall people this is a major problem.

We leave dead on time with over half the seats taken. This journey has an extra five minutes running time to Mansfield, but this is not needed with the schools off so we end up waiting nearly ten minutes for time in Mansfield Bus Station. Though there are not many passengers on leaving Mansfield, the journey is busy as many people hop on and off for short journeys, several with buggies, taking advantage of the low floor and the space reserved for them inside. So many stops add to delays, as do roadworks at Glapwell, but the driver takes the fares far more quickly than on the Red Arrow earlier in the day and puts his foot down where possible.

We arrive at Chesterfield about five minutes late, beating Neville on the Red Arrow by several minutes! Had the five minutes extra added to the Mansfield section of the journey been put on the end instead the driver would have had a better chance of keeping to time.

Though the journey was pleasant enough, the seats on these Trentbarton 03 refurbished buses are nowhere near as comfortable as those on the 09 Pronto buses provided by Stagecoach . . . and neither are as sumptuous, or with as much knee room, as those on the Red Arrow coaches. Is it not possible to have a low floor bus with coach seats and lots of knee room?


Pronto and Red Arrow arrive in Chesterfield    Red Arrow
The Red Arrow living up to its name, speeding past the Pronto which has beaten it to Chesterfield Coach Station. On the right it prepares for the final departure of the day to Nottingham


4. Some Facts & Figures

FARES

Since both Neville and Oliver are Senior Citizens, the day did not cost anything in bus fares. However, we realise you may not be so fortunate. We hope the details given below are correct, but sources are not easy to find and some information is ambiguous, so check up first.

Pronto

A return ticket from Chesterfield to Nottingham is £5.50 anytime of day (except in the early hours of Saturday or Sunday morning). Strangely, though Pronto is a joint service between Stagecoach in Mansfield and Trentbarton, neither Stagecoach Day Explorer's nor Trentbarton Zig Zag's and Frio tickets are accepted on Pronto.

If you use Pronto and Stagecoach buses a great deal, there is a seven day £17 Mega Rider Gold. It even includes travel on the Sheffield tram.

Red Arrow

The day return fare is effectively a Zig Zag ticket. After 9am Monday to Friday and any time other days it costs £4.60 BUT is not valid for departures from Nottingham between 4.15 & 5.45 pm Monday to Friday. Thus the last departure to use this ticket from Nottingham to Chesterfield is 3.30pm. A Zig Zag to use at other times costs £8 per day.

Presumably Frio tickets (13 journeys for the price of 10) may be used and eventually Mango cards (25% off for loading your card in advance online) but at the time of writing Red Arrow is not on the Mango list of services.

FREQUENCY (between Chesterfield and Nottingham)

PRONTO runs half-hourly Monday to Saturday daytime and hourly in the evenings and Sundays. First bus to Nottingham 6.30am Monday to Friday; 7.10am Saturday; 8.45am Sunday. Last bus back from Nottingham to Chesterfield 9.15pm Sunday to Thursday; 1.30am Friday & Saturday (actually Saturday & Sunday morning). TIMETABLE

RED ARROW runs hourly Monday to Saturday daytime and two-hourly on Sunday. First bus to Nottingham 7am Monday to Saturday; 10.20am Sunday. Last bus back from Nottingham to Chesterfield 5.30pm Monday to Saturday; 6.50pm Sunday. There is no service late evening. TIMETABLE

Running times for both PRONTO and RED ARROW are similar at just over one and a half hours.

DETAILS OF BUSES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE

Stagecoach East Midlands 33762 R462 LSO 1998 Dennis Dart SLF/Alexander B37F (on Pronto)
Trentbarton 68 FN04 BSX 2002 Scania L94/Irizar C49F (on Red Arrow)
Trentbarton 437 FP51 GXW 2001 Optare Solo B33F (on Centrelink)
Trentbarton 452 FE02 KEJ 2002 Optare Solo B33F (on Centrelink)
Marshall's of Sutton-on-Trent OP72 YJ06 YSP 2006 Optare Tempo B42F (on 90 Fosseway Flyer)
Nottingham City Transport 316 YK08 EPP 2008 Optare Versa B38F (on service 11)
Trentbarton 69 FN04 BSY 2002 Scania L94/Irizar C49F (on Red Arrow)
Trentbarton 610 FJ03 VVY 2003 Scania L94/Wright B44F (on Pronto)


5. CONCLUSION

First and foremost, we both consider that the operators must be congratulated for running such first class services. From observation, it appears that both routes are encouraging passengers from their cars - no easy task!

For comfort, there is no doubt that the Red Arrow coaches win hands down, but at the expense of quick loading and, with the pair of tables, reduced seating capacity. By today's standards, the Red Arrow coaches score poorly for accessibility, whereas the Pronto does well with its low floor vehicles. There is more about this below in SUGGESTIONS

All drivers proved to be both good with the passengers and competent at the wheel.

Though both services have about the same advertised running time, we consider that you are more likely to reach the destination punctually in the Pronto. It is difficult for Red Arrow drivers to keep to time while negotiating the traffic of Alfreton, Ripley and Derby.

For frequency, Pronto wins with a far more comprehensive timetable from Chesterfield.

Parking charges

Value for money is a difficult one. Though the cheapest return fare is on Red Arrow (Red Arrow £4.60 with restrictions or £8 without; Pronto £5.50 at all times, except 1.30am departure from Nottingham), there are severe restrictions on its use Monday to Friday (see FARES above). On the other hand, Zig Zag and Explorer tickets are not accepted on Pronto. It just depends where you live and how often you use the bus and how many and whose buses you catch to complete your journey as to which service provides the best value.

The bottom line is that on this and other occasions we have found them both excellent services and would thoroughly recommend them.

ALTERNATIVES

What about the train? There is one about every half an hour between Chesterfield and Nottingham and the journey time is around an hour quicker than either bus route! The downside is that the return fare is £13.90, going down to £10.90 off peak.

Before you pick up the keys and jump in the car, consider its TRUE running costs. AA figures suggest that even a small car costs well over 40p a mile to run. So 44 miles (Chesterfield to Nottingham and back) would cost a minimum of £17.60 plus parking charges. Note this sign in the car park by Nottingham Victoria Bus Station. OK, so there's Park & Ride. You will still end up on public transport (the tram) so why not relax and let the bus driver take the strain for the whole journey?


SUGGESTIONS

As already noted, we consider the Red Arrow to be an excellent service. However, we believe it would be better still with a different choice of vehicle.

High steps on what is actually a bus route are no longer acceptable and it discourages from travelling the disabled, frail and those in charge of young children.

In addition, the limited seating capacity of the coaches is necessitating the restriction on the use of Zig Zag tickets in the afternoon peak. This causes tension between passenger and driver and increases loading time earlier in the day as the ticket options must be discussed.

A modern, stylish low floor double decker, with coach seats and room for buggies etc. would not only solve all these problems but its size would act as a further advertisement for the service to the car drivers. Trentbarton are good on liveries so such vehicles should really make an impact, without actually taking up more road space. How about it?

On the 737/747 which preceded the Pronto branding, Trentbarton Zig Zag's and Stagecoach Explorer's were accepted. Why not now? Surely the two companies can reach an amicable agreement! When people need to change from one bus to another, it can make the total journey very costly so price the bus out as a viable option.

Talking of the 747 (now withdrawn but it had faster journey times by using Hasland bypass into Chesterfield) surely there is still a place for this, even if it means making the service via Holmewood one an hour, with the 96 diverted through Holmewood to compensate.

Well, that's our two pennyworth. Thank you Trentbarton and Stagecoach in Mansfield for an excellent day out!


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1 TO NOTTINGHAM    2 IN NOTTINGHAM    3 RETURN JOURNEY    4 FACTS & FIGURES    5 CONCLUSION