Saturday, 25 October 2014

First, First Good News

Happy Birthday Star
First's press release and pictures arrived at the busy blog office dining table on Thursday. fbb quotes extensively from the text and adds extra snippets.

Bus operator First Hampshire celebrated the first birthday of its Star services on Monday (20 October) with the news that in their first year of operation, the Star buses have carried more than three million passengers. This represents a 12 per cent rise in passenger numbers over the year.  
The 26 buses in the Star fleet that went in to service on routes 7 and 8 on 20 October last year, replaced the ZIP-branded vehicles that had been running on the A3 bus priority corridor from Waterlooville and Clanfield to Cosham, Portsmouth city centre, Gunwharf and Southsea since 2005. 
To be pedantic (from fbb, surely not?) the Zip brand only applied to the former service 41 between Portsmouth and Drift Road Horndean, oddly and historically called Clanfield by the various bus oerators. Clanfield village was only served at peak times. This became service 8. The other bit of "Star" (from Southsea to Wecock Farm Estate) was never branded as such. The "Zip" buses found a new life on Southampton's service 3, branded innovatively as:-
Meanwhile, back at the party ...
Three of the iconic buses, HMS Victory, HMS Diamond and HMS Lancaster, all named after Royal Navy ships, took pride of place at the celebrations in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. HMS Victory (the ship) was to be celebrating Trafalgar Day the following day (21 October) ...

... with the traditional on-board service and flying of the signal "England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty."  
There was also a ceremonial cutting of a specially designed Star fleet cake to celebrate both the first birthday and the three million passengers who have travelled on the Star fleet.
Yummy, yummy.
Marc Reddy, Managing Director of First Hampshire, Dorset & Berkshire, said: "This is a proud day for First and our partners, Hampshire County Council and Portsmouth City Council as we celebrate a real success story."

Cdr Peter Laughton, Commanding Officer of HMS Lancaster said: "I'm delighted to be part of the first birthday celebrations for the First Bus that bears HMS Lancaster's silhouette.

I think it's a great way of recognising the maritime heritage of Portsmouth, and the continued relevance of the Royal Navy today."

It would be tedious in the extreme to rehearse the sound bites uttered by the local politicians. Hampshire's Sean Woodward ...
... waxes lyrical about infrastructure improvements, most of which are adapted from those introduced for the original Zip scheme. But shelters and stops have been upgraded. Needless to say, however, no timetables are displayed at stops, merely departure lists.

Ken Ellcombe for Portsmouth City has less to say about infrastructure improvements because there weren't any!
His sound bite was, "It is great to see a first-class service like the Star running in Portsmouth, particularly one that reflects the city's naval heritage so well. First has worked hard to create an attractive service and had a positive impact in its launch year." 

We may smile cynically at these dos, not open to the public or even invited hangers-on (like fbb - sour grapes eh?), staged purely for PR. But this particular celebration emphasises much that is good with today's bus industry. Shiny new buses, well equipped bus stops (well, in the Hampshire bit, anyway!), WiFi and positive links with "The Community". Our cynicism may be extended to a realisation that all this "improvement" has just one simple purpose, to swell the bank balance of First Bus and increase (?) dividends to its shareholders.

But that's business. And we all voted for the late Nicholas Ridley's privatisation scheme -

Didn't we?
And Then, The Bad News

The demolition of Greyfriars Bus Station
from earlier this year.

Work to take the Greyfriars building down, brick by brick, will then begin. This demolition work is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014.

When demolition is complete, the site will be available for redevelopment for retail or associated use.

Cllr David Mackintosh, leader of Northampton Borough Council, said: “Greyfriars is beyond repair and its demolition opens up a very large and significant site in the town centre for new investment and redevelopment."

He went on to say that the £4 million cost of demolition would be recovered by development of the site.

Except that the original developers have pulled out and there is no-one to pay the bill which will fall on the council tas payers of the town.

But That was Then : This is Now!

The company in charge of the demolition, DSM Ltd, said that bringing the 1974 building down ‘brick-by-brick’ as originally intended, would be too costly and time consuming. Instead, a ‘controlled initiated collapse’ will take place on a day before the end of March 2015, the firm has revealed. The process will bring down the building within its own footprint in a matter of seconds.

They're going to blow it up!

Councillor Mackintosh said the cost was justified as the former bus station was “an obsolete, unsafe building” that was blocking the regeneration of a key site in Northampton. The overall cost of the scheme has now increased to £5m.

The building was only in poor condition because the owners (Northampton Borough Council) did'nt bother to maintain it. Think how much maintenance they could have bought for £5 million.
“The costs have increased as the time of the demolition has lengthened and the asbestos was found,” he said.

You might have thought that the owners would know what was in their building!

“What we are clear about is that the benefits for the town will be the release of that site. The extra money is justified in order to do this.”

The bludners, the very expensive bludners, continue!
Reminder to fbb : clocks go BACK tonight!

 Next bus blog : Sunday 26th October 

Friday, 24 October 2014

4 : Bolster the Business

Another Nail in the Coffin?
Back in year 2000, Table B130 in the Great Britain Bus Timetable showed a rarity. An independent bus company plying its trade embedded in Western National territory. The operator of route 304 from Truro to Porthtowan was then, and is still now, Hopleys Coaches.
Based in an anonymous depot down an unsigned lane just outside the village of Mount Hawke ...
... the company has been around for some time.
Their vehicles always look smart ...
... and whenever fbb has seen the service 304, it is always well loaded with a loyal local clientele.
The timetable has improved over the years ...
click on timetable to enlarge

Hopleys also run the 315.
click on timetable to enlarge

... between St Agnes and Redruth.
Although Hopley's web site remains "schtum" about it, Hopleys start a third service on Monday (27th October). On Mondays to Fridays (but NOT Saturdays) they will operate 5 (6 on non schooldays) journeys in direct competition with Western Greyhound between St Agnes and Truro.
The new 303 runs on a loop similar to First's withdrawn 85 ...
... out via Goonbell and back via Presingoll Barns (as was). Needless to say, Traveline does not attempt to show the loop correctly; implying that you can travel FROM Presingoll Barns (which it calls "Goonbell" which is absolutely isn't) but not TO.

In view of the troubles that currently beset Western Greyhound, with rumours of takeover as rife as they could be, fbb sees this as a testing of the water by Hopleys. The company is putting its foot in the St Agnes to Truro door, ready perhaps, for greater things should WG's decline continue.

Meanwhile, newcomer Cornwall Busways continues to nibble away at WG's supremacy in the St Austell area. Traveline gives timetable for a route to Bugle & Roche (30), and a route to Par (31). The Earlier route 29 from St Austell to Bodmin was cancelled. Apart from a Facebook page, fbb can find little other information.
Opinion on-line is divided as to whether this new operator has a long-term future; time will tell, as usual.

One website shows this bus ...
... (ex Ensign, ex Metroline) photographed back in June. Wasn't Cornwall Busways a Western National brand?
Whatever the background, these are tough times for WG boss Mark Howarth.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Thus wrote Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities). He could have been writing about Western Greyhound!
 Next bus blog : Saturday 24th October  

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