Bus and light rail operations in Tynemouth and surrounding area
Only last week, courtesy of National Holidays, I had the joy of a five day holiday in County Durham and Northumberland. This included excursions to Beamish Open Air Museum, Holy Island and the city of Durham. With most of the trips returning to our hotel for 4.00pm to 4.30pm, there was ample time for a little night’s bus hopping.
Tynemouth is sandwiched between North Shields and Whitley Bay. The small town is noted for its priory, castle, and having the fourth best beach for surfers in the UK. Its other claim to fame, doubling as Chiselton in Tyne-Tees Television’s adaptation of Supergran. Starring Gudrun Ure, they were dramatised from the books by Jenny McDade.
Neighbouring Whitley Bay, at one time, was a Novocastrian equivalent to Blackpool. As well as its pubs, noted for the closed Spanish City amusement park immortalised in Dire Straits’ Tunnel of Love.
North Shields is Tynemouth’s bigger and more industrious brother. It is dominated by the Tyne Tunnel; it is Newcastle’s link with mainland Europe. As a commercial centre, home to many chain stores. Across the River Tyne, the Shields Ferry takes passengers to South Shields.
Most of Tynemouth’s public transport connections are with the two towns, as well as Newcastle-upon-Tyne. To Haymarket, the city centre is seven miles away and 35 minutes by bus. One service continues to Gateshead via the Tyne Bridge.
Overview of bus operations
Go North East is the town’s main bus company. Its trunk routes are the 1 and 1A. At its most northerly point, from Whitley Bay. At its southern point, most journeys terminate at Gateshead Interchange with some continuing to Wrekenton. During Sundays, evenings and Bank Holidays, the 1A service terminates at Kibbleworth, accompanied by its sister route.
Go North East’s usual buses are modern Scania single deckers. Each journey was a pleasure with most of my 1s and 1As leaving Whitley Bay or Tynemouth on time. Most vehicles were very clean and – compared with my experiences in Greater Manchester – healthier loadings after 7pm.
Second to Go Ahead’s operations is Arriva Northumbria. Their main route is the 306 to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Modern buses with free WiFi form part of their repertoire. From my experience on Arriva’s service, the Wright StreetLite bus which ferried me to Haymarket bus station was clean and the free WiFi was fast. There was only one fly in the ointment: my Not-So-Young Auties’ card didn’t scan on the machine properly.
On Go North East’s buses, none of these problems. Offering a connection with the Shields Ferry is Phoenix Coaches’ daytime circular route, the 333. The short distance route takes in Tynemouth seafront and the quays in North Shields.
- 1: Whitley Bay – Tynemouth – Newcastle-upon-Tyne – Gateshead Interchange – Wrekenton (Go North East): every 30 minutes; once hourly on Sundays, Bank Holidays and evenings;
- 1A: Whitley Bay – Tynemouth – Newcastle-upon-Tyne – Kibbleworth (Go North East): every 30 minutes; once hourly on Sundays, Bank Holidays and evenings;
- 306: Tynemouth – North Shields – Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Arriva Northumbria): every 15 minutes; half hourly on Sundays, Bank Holidays and evenings;
- 333: Tynemouth – North Shields Circular (Phoenix Coaches): every half hour; no Sunday and Bank Holiday service, nor evening journeys.
The Tyne and Wear Metro
Thanks to a bit of poor planning on my part (we were supposed to alight at North Shields but Arriva’s 306 didn’t call at North Shields interchange) we ended up in the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Which, unintentionally, meant another ‘Spoons to the list (Mordue’s Radgie Cadgie was on great form in The Five Swans).
As for our experience on the Metro, a fantastic one in spite of the dusk stymieing our views of Longbenton and Gosforth South. We couldn’t have picked a better time as DB Regio’s refurbishment of the trains was done for our week away!
The Tyne and Wear Metro opened on the 11 August 1980 taking in former British Rail lines to Whitley Bay and Tynemouth. The centrepiece of which including a tunnelled section in Newcastle (Haymarket and Monument stations being subterranean). Extensions were added to South Shields, South Hylton, Newcastle Airport and Sunderland.
After being directly operated by Tyne and Wear PTE, recent developments saw DB Regio’s takeover of operations. For typography geeks, the Tyne and Wear Metro has its own typeface. Specially designed for the PTE, Calvert is a slab serif typeface created by Margaret Calvert. You may recognise her name alongside Jock Kinneir. There’s every chance you’ll see their work almost everywhere; on our road signs.
Tynemouth’s Metro service starts at South Shields calling at Felling, Gateshead Interchange, then enters the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne via Central, Monument and Haymarket station. It continues the loop to Gosforth South, Whitley Bay and Tynemouth. After that, towards its terminus at St. James’ via Wallsend.
With the yellow line metrocars approaching the loop in clockwise and anticlockwise directions, the destinations could be a little confusing at first. Service frequencies equal that of Greater Manchester’s Metrolink system being every 12 minutes in the daytime. On evenings and Sundays, every 15 minutes.
Tyne and Wear’s Metro vehicles are referred to as Metrocars or Metros. Never ‘trams’ nor ‘trains’. Each of the Metrocars date from 1978 to 1981, making them older than our Pacer units. Attractively refurbished inside, after a five year programme, interiors are airy. The ride is fairly smooth – outperforming Greater Manchester’s Flexity Swift M5000 trams.
All Metrocars have a maximum speed of 50 mph but the observer much be mindful of one thing. Speed limit signs are denoted in kilometres unlike standard practice on National Rail and Metrolink metals.
Seating, being of the standard bus type, is comfortable enough for a thirty minute journey. Any longer would be a tad heavy going with Advanced Metal Rear setting in for a journey from South Shields to St. James’ (if one forgets to change at Monument).
One other thing of note is the height of the Metrocars, obviously allowing for its subterranean section and its restricted clearances. For anyone 5′ 11″ upwards, mind your head on the doors. The top of which almost caught my head on alighting at Tynemouth.
Not to be content with falling behind its Liverpudlian and Yorkshire counterparts, Greater Manchester’s approach to fares lags behind its fellows in Tyneside. As well as single and day rover cash fares, NEXUS offers a stored purchase top-up card for its season tickets. Known as the Pop Card fares are topped up online via the Pop Shop website, at travel information centres, or at ticket machines on Metro stations.
Not only that, Metro single fares are valid on local trains and the Shields Ferry. A journey from Tynemouth to South Shields could be used on the ferry as well as the Metro, easing the pressure on Newcastle’s termini. The zonal fare system is more intuitive for casual users than the staged fares on Greater Manchester’s Metrolink system (whose characteristics are more akin to rail fares). Each single journey has to be completed within 90 minutes. At present, prices are as follows:
- Single Zone: £1.80;
- Two Zones: £2.70;
- Three Zones: £3.40.
A journey from Tynemouth to Monument would cover three zones, whereas West Monkseaton to South Shields is a single zone journey via the Shields Ferry.
Details of rover tickets
- Ferry Day Ticket: unlimited travel on the Shields Ferry (£2.60);
- Network One day rover: all the buses, trains, Metros and the Shields Ferry. No peak hour restrictions either (£7.00);
- Explorer North East: all the buses in North East England from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Scarborough! If you’re exploring the ancient kingdom of Northumbria by bus, you need this ticket. (£9.70 adults, £8.50 concessions and children 13 years or under);
- Buzzfare: unlimited travel on Go North East buses, available for one day or a whole year over a given number of zones. Tynemouth comes under Go North East’s Blue Zone. Mobile app available. (prices vary, available from Go North East travel centres or via Go North East’s website);
- Northumberland and Tyne and Wear Triple Tickets: zonal ticket valid on all Arriva buses within aforementioned area. Daily, weekly, 4-weekly and annual tickets available across one zone, two zones or all zones (prices start from £4.20);
- Arriva North East All Zones Saver: all Arriva buses in North East England! Available in daily, weekly, 4-weekly and annual versions (prices from £7.70, or £5.00 for children).
Owing to the size of Tynemouth and its proximity to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, there is no travel shop akin to TfGM’s Travelshops. A lot of timetable information can be found online, along with ticket sales. Even with the internet’s ascendency in disseminating public transport information, NEXUS’ on-street displays are very intuitive.
Timetables are denoted in bigger print than usual (my ‘usual’ being the 12pt Helvetica or Pantograph typefaces on TfGM’s displays) with brief details of journey times. Even on less glamorous stops besides main stages. The same attention to detail is true with Percy Park as well as on Front Street.
As standard, real time information is offered on the Metro system, either on LED displays or via ticket machines. The Moovit transport app as well as Google Maps offers excellent coverage of bus times as well. Near field technology using iBeacons, and QR codes are standard.
I was surprised and most pleased with my experience of public transport in Tynemouth. The zonal system on the Metro is intuitive and everything, in terms of single bus fares, seems to be more straightforward than my locality. Zones tend to be in favour rather than staged journeys within NEXUS boundaries. This allows for greater ease of use for casual bus, train, tram and ferry users.
Allowing through-ticketing with the Shields Ferry and local train services, whilst respecting the zones is streets ahead of anything Greater Manchester has at this moment.
Another thing of note is this: NEXUS Integrated Transport Authority has gained greater control of its bus routes. Though this led to a spat with Stagecoach in Newcastle (successors to Tyne and Wear PTE’s bus undertakings, later Busways), it has meant control of frequencies and – to some extent – fares. These use powers introduced by the last Labour Government pertaining to Quality Bus Partnerships.
The rover tickets – especially for exploring Northumberland and County Durham – generally good value for money. Though the all systems day rover for Tyne and Wear only is similarly priced (in terms of operating area) to Greater Manchester’s, it trounces my own locality’s in being well priced for peak hours. There is no punitive evening peak on rail services.
Tyne and Wear is ahead of Greater Manchester in terms of online ticket purchasing; First, Stagecoach and Arriva in TfGM boundaries are making their first steps. By the time they’ve reached 2015 Novocastrian levels of dissemination, Tynemouth’s bus passengers could be enjoying cashless buses. The driver’s float would be a thing of the past; smartphones as pass wallets would be the norm.
Greater Manchester: please take note. How clean are the buses again? How well did these refurbished Metrocars look again in spite of their age? Supergran, Scunner Campbell, Edison, can you hear me…? Who’s first to the beach?
S.V., 04 August 2015.