Thursday, 23 October 2014

3 : Bolster the Business

An Agnesian Antipodean Aside
No 1 son is something of an international star in the world of On-Line Learning. His premise can be summarised as; "what's the point of teaching our kiddies students loadsa facts, when all they have to do is tap a few keys or prod a smart phone screen?" He goes on to suggest, "educators need to be teaching how to use the information available to develop their students' knowledge whilst being aware of the on-line limitations." He has a blog (here) but you'll probably find it baffling. fbb does!

As a supply teacher, fbb was always frustrated to have to take an IT lesson in which the sprogs were busy copy-and-pasting stuff from Wikipedia without the slightest understanding of what it all meant! What was more galling was that the teachers gave them good marks for their ignorance.

Asking a newcomer to look up "buses in St Agnes" (it's in Cornwall) might produce similar problems.
Like a picture of St Agnes bus depot! Well, they certainly don't look like UK buses.
The State Transport Authority (STA) was the government agency which controlled public transport within the State of South Australia between 1974 and 1994. The STA was dissolved (and the 1974 Act repealed) as a consequence of the Passenger Transport Act 1994. These reforms split the STA into the Passenger Transport Board, which coordinated and funded the public transport system, and TransAdelaide, which actually operated metropolitan buses, trains and trams. The formation of TransAdelaide was a prelude to competitive tendering and the introduction of private operators into the Adelaide public transport network.

We can now surmise that the St Agnes bus depot pictured above is not in Cornwall but in South Australia and a quick check on Wikipedia reveals it as a suburb of Adelaide (pronounced "Air-delight" in strine**). St Agnes is part of community called Tea Tree Gully named, so it seems, after a gully where grew tea trees.
And so to the Adelaide Metro web site and a journey planning enquiry for St Agnes to Adelaide.
A quick poke, prod and click reveals stop 50 on Google maps ...
... and the associated Streetview shows us a bus about to depart.
There is a map of the route and the journey will take 32 minutes.
Searching for a timetable for route 542X produced only departure lists - no timetable. More research needed.

1994 legislation paved the way for the privatisation of bus services in South Australia; in simple terms on the French system of letting contracts for large blocks of services. The main contractor for this particular block of Adelaide routes was Torrens ...
... and, before that, Serco. Torrens still runs another block of Adelaide routes.

 In October 2011 Light-City Buses (part of Transfield) ... 
... commenced operating the Adelaide Metro North-South and Outer North East region (the latter covering St Agnes) services under contact to the Government of South Australia. The two contract regions cover 43% of the bus services in Adelaide.

They took over some of the buses from Torrens ...
... but everything runs in the Adelaide Metro livery and name. Light City have had problems.
It seems that they are not always running services as required by the contract. Some routes have been taken from them ...
... and one Oz politician naively commented, "Transfield quoted the cheapest price and assured us they could deliver." Now where have we heard that before?

After our diligent on-line research we can now reveal that one of the three Transfield bus depots in Adelaide is at St Agnes, as illustrated above but the buses are now in the "Metro" livery as specified by the contract.
Eagle eyed readers may have spotted a logo that looks familiar.
Yes indeed. Its part of the same Australian transport group that runs buses in London, England.
9 April, 2013

Today, Transit Systems has announced the £21.3 million acquisition of three strategic London-based bus depots from FirstGroup plc. Operating as Tower Transit as part of the Transport for London network, the company will operate approximately 400 double and single deck buses from depots at Westbourne Park, Lea Interchange and Atlas Road, transitioning 1500 employees.
A Timely Warning?
Earlier this week, Nexus (The Tyne and Wear transport authority) announced its decision, against the wishes of the Bus Companies, to go ahead with a London, French, (Adelaide?) system which would bring the buses back under their direct control. Sir Brian ...
... who has previously threatened to close down his Newcastle operations completely if this plan were to come to fruition is reported as saying he "would rather drink acid ..." than be part of the Nexus plan.

Read the full story (here).
**strine ...
... is a word coined to describe the Australian "version" of spoken English.
The "language" was introduced to an unsuspecting world by author Afferbeck Lauder in this book:-
Back to developments in the "real" St Agnes tomorrow.

 Next bus blog : Friday 24th October 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

2 : Bolster the Business

Make up Your Mind, First Bus!

Until November 2013, First ran a service 85/85A between Truro and St Agnes.
The timetable (above) shows it as running alternately via Goonbell and Presingoll Barns. The original "Barns" complex ran into financial difficulties in 2010 and closed in 2011.

The site now trades as "Morgans", named after the family who, presumably, bought it.
In fact, services 85 and 85A ran alternate ways round at loop at St Agnes, either outwardly "direct" or via Goonbell. Noting the withdrawal Cornwall Council was happy to advise ...
... devastated passengers to use the existing Western Greyhound service 587 and new route 588.
Western Greyhound Service 588
hourly Monday to Saturday
Perranporth to Truro via
Bolingey, Chiverton Cross and Malabar
In a typical burst of incometence, First Bus merely repeated the Cornwall text on its own web site but gave no information about the 588, despite referring to it "below". There was nothing "below"!!

85 Truro/St Agnes/: this service is withdrawn. Alternative Western Greyhound services are available to/from St Agnes (see service 587 and 588 below).

As it turns out, this omission by First is probably sensible as the 588 veers off-piste at Chiverton Cross and does not serve Goonbell, St Agnes or Morgan's (ex Presingoll Barns).
The 588 no longer runs as such but has been linked with the Wadebridge to Truro route and now operates as WG's 594.
Perran Sands (dotted lines top right) may sound like a vast swathe of sandy beach, golden in the Summer sun, with azure breakers rolling in, ridden majestically by bronzed hunky surfers and watched by their bikini clad escorts BUT ...
... it's actually a vast caravan and chalet site!
If you are still with us and still taking the tablets (?), you will remember that, from 3rd November, (just a year after pulling out of St Agnes!) First Bus will start their own route 87, in competition with WG.
But it doesn't run via St Agnes; between Perranporth and Truro it is more like the 594.

But WG is not totally safe in St Agnes; beware another intruder as we shall see in due course. A new Bolster monster is ready to pounce on the nice green buses; but perhaps not quite as monstrously as First.
Still Waiting
fbb is still waiting for the promised pictures from last Monday's party celebrating one year of First's "Star" routes in Portsmouth. Meanwhile, Hampshire County Council is also a bit slow at keeping up-to-date. On their web site we have ...
... lots of information about "Zip" service 41 (or 8).
There is an interactive bus map, details of special fares offers etc. etc. all trendily branded.
About ZIP. With its own dedicated bus lane, the ZIP corridor has built-in bus priority – and that means reliable journey times for all your trips between Clanfield and Gunwharf Quays. Because buses go first on the ZIP corridor, taking the ZIP 8 route lets you beat the traffic queues, avoid the stress of driving and say ‘no’ to the cost of petrol and parking. You can plan your journey too, for greater freedom and flexibility, with reliable travel information on board, online and direct to your mobile.

And it must be up-to-date because of the copyright notice!
Zip had begun to disappear from the buses over a year ago, but the brand was formally replaced by "Star" from 20th October 2013. So only a year out, chaps - and counting.

And you thought that it was dead easy to keep the interwebnet up-to-date? Apparently not for Hampshire County Council!
Hot A Bit Tepid News
With less than two weeks until they start, First in Cornwall's web site has (at last) announced the new services outlined by fbb just over a week ago.

The routing of new service 91 follows the same routing as existing service 90 between Newquay Bus Station and the A392/A3058 Quintrell Downs Roundabout and between the A30/A39 Carland Cross roundabout and Truro Bus Station in both directions " service 91 is routed between the A392/A3058 Quintrell Downs Roundabout and the A30/A39 Carland Cross roundabout via A392 East Road, A392 road, White Cross, A392 road, unclassified road (St Columb Road level crossing), St Francis Road, Chapel Road, unclassified road, B3275 road, A30/B3275 junction and A30 road.

Thanks for putting it so clearly, First!

The on-line map is, of course, hopelessly out of date showing the service 88 which finished at the start of September. New services 90 and 91 don't go that way (as is explained so succinctly above). 
No rush chaps and chapesses; take your time!
 Next St Agnes blog : Thursday 23rd October 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

1 : Bolster the Business ...

... or the Business of Bolster?
Let's go to St Agnes.
It is  pretty little village on the north coast of Cornwall south west from Newquay. So who was St Agnes?
Not the above, for sure. But he (or it) is the Bolster Giant which, so ancient legend relates, plagued the village with nastiness including eating naughty children. Despite repeated efforts by village VIPs to defeat the baddy, he/it continued its dastardly deeds of terror. Until the saintly Alice proposed love to the monster. All is revealed in this YouTube video ...
Each year, St Agnes' children take part in a re-enactment. There is no record on-line of how many little ones are scarred for life by the experience!

Until February 1963, the area was served by the Truro and Newquay branch railway; wiggling its way slowly and (presumably) unprofitably between the two towns.
It could hardly be any less direct! Of interest to this blog are the stations at St Agnes itself ...
... which, of course, is some considerable distance from the village at Hurlingbarrow.
But the station building still exists in industrial use but with its large canopy area now filled in.

Of diminutive Goonbell Halt, however ...

... there is no trace. The usual line of vegetation when viewed from the air confirms that the line once ran there.
the station was by the road junction, bottom left.

fbb's 1971 Western national bus timetable book reveals an all-year service 549 via St Agnes and Goonbell from Redruth to Perranporth and Newquay ...
... but operated (almoost exclusively) in two sections Redruth to Perranporth and Perranporth to Newquay. There was also a Summer only 547 limited stop between St Ives and Newquay.

By the start of the new millennium, St Agnes was the in the purview of Truronian's T1 service running between Perranporth (some journeys), Truro and The Lizard.

But, as we can see, in present times St Agnes finds its way into the story of difficulties facing Western Greyhound [WG]. It is currently served by WG route 587 ...
... which mæanders its way, much like the old railway line, through from Truro via the coastal villages to Newquay.

Until October 2013, however, First Bus ran to St Agnes. But no longer. We explore more tomorrow.

Before we move on, however, fbb must draw your attention to a row on miners cottages ...
... cascading down a hillside towards Quay Road. The track (bottom right) is the only access and this path goes by the delightful name of ...
... Stippy Stappy. Bolster the giant and staggering down Stippy Stappy; is there no end to the esoterica entwined within an interest in public transport?

The relaunch of First Portsmouth's routes to Wecock Farm and Waterlooville as "Star" is one year old today. fbb hopes to provide pictures of the event (he was not invited - boo) and the cake as soon as these are received from the Star staff.
 Next bus blog : Wednesday 22nd October 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Good News for Rail Passengers?

Or is it?
Many blog readers will be familiar with the above site
Martin Lewis OBE, Money Saving Expert, is an award-winning campaigning TV and radio presenter, newspaper columnist, author and, according to Google, the most searched-for British man. An ultra-specialised journalist, focusing on cutting bills without cutting back, he founded in 2003 for £100. It's now the UK's biggest money site, with over 14m monthly users and 9m receiving the Martin's Money Tips email – and he remains its full-time Editor-In-Chief.

In 2012 Martin sold his web site to the Money Supermarket group which includes ...
... and:-
Recently "Martin" sent out a special email which has set tongues wagging.
New free TicketySplit tool takes on train pricing farce
Same train, same time, even the same seat
just pay less by splitting your tickets 

We've finally cracked it. Our new advanced tickets TicketySplit tool takes on the ridiculous train ticket pricing anomaly that means buying two separate tickets sometimes costs less. It can save some regular travellers £1,000s. Here's an example...

Birmingham to Newquay advance single = £150

This train stopped at Cheltenham so instead the tool suggested...

Birmingham to Cheltenham advance single (£21) plus Cheltenham to Newquay advance single (£44) = just £65.
There are dangers with this site.

Some fares are "Advance" fares offered on specific trains. If you miss a connection, your Advance ticket becomes invalid and you have to pay again. Your "cheap" fare could become very expensive indeed.

The site is linked to "The" which charges booking fees. Most rail company sites charge no fees and for many of them postage is free. You are warned about this on TicketySplit BUT many people will just go ahead and waste a few pounds. It is hard to see why any potential passenger should use The Trainline as all its fares are available on all rail company sites and at ticket offices.

Individual rail companies often have web site special offers for journeys exclusively on their trains. These special fares and discounts are not on The Trainline or Tickety Split.

More seriously, TicketySplit does not (yet!) do returns, justifying this by saying that returns are "often" more expensive than singles. WRONG! With the exception of "Advance" tickets and their accompanying risks (used by only about 3% of rail passengers) return "Saver" (the fare-type most people buy) fares are ALWAYS cheaper than two singles.
So fbb tried a journey, one which he has often used; namely Axminster to Sheffield.

TicketySplit gave fbb a choice of schedules, of which he chose ...
... remembering, as always that these fares were with a Senior Railcard. Clicking on the Split button offered this option.
Savings can be made provided that you don't miss your connection and thus lose the "Advance" leg.
What about coming back? This for a return later the same day.
The Split saved money again ...
... a grand total of 5p!

TicketySplit wants fbb to spend £117.55 (£77.05 plus £40.50).

The National Rail web site (and all other rail company sites) advises exactly the same trains.
But look at the price. 
The off-peak return offers a saving of £31.75 compared with TicketySplit and no restrictions. Any train can be used after 0900 from Axminster.

The return journey (again with some morning peak restrictions) can be on any day up to one month later.

Can our readers spot the best deal?
TicketySplit says "we've finally cracked it." No, they haven't. Without the inclusion of returns, there is a very real possibility that people using the new site will pay more than they need.

All credit to the sponsors of the site for trying their best but fbb would advise EXTREME CAUTION in taking its advice.

On one specific type of query, the system can be helpful. fbb wanted to travel to Truro for the day, but before senior railcards and day returns are available. TicketySplit found an outward single "split" which got him at full price to a point where discounts were available, thereafter discounted. Under these circumstances "Anytime" returns can often be bettered with a mixture of full price singles and discount singles or returns.

Some guidelines.

By all means consult TicketySplit

Avoid fees : don't buy from The Trainline

Check the price of (e.g.) Saver Returns

Remember that returns are nearly always cheaper than two singles**.

Check rail company sites for special operator specific offers.

Beware the dangers of "Advance" fares

** but you may be able to do better if you are lucky enough to find two super-cheap Advance singles.
Just for the record, Tickety Split's example quoted a Birmingham to Newquay fare of £150 SINGLE. The Saver (non OAP) return is ...
... with no significant restrictions. Two single Advance tickets with burdensome restrictions or complicated "splits" might improve on that - if you are lucky and land your ball in the correct slot of the Roulette Wheel on the right day. Remember always that "Advance" fares are dreamed up by a "Deep Throat" computer program and availability is totally unpredictable

What is needed is a complete re-think of ALL rail fares to remove the anomalies at source. Messrs Cleggeron and Faraband could win a hefty number of extra votes if they set such a rethink in motion. One day, when fbb feels confident and/or stupidly brave, he will write a blog explaining how easy it would be to sort it out.

But it would need a complete re-jig of the whole financial structure of the railways and, fbb suspects, no government of any hue has the guts to do it; if, that is, any of the politicians understood it all in the first place.

The political will is not there.
 Next bus blog : Tuesday 21st October