Thursday, 24 July 2014

Fruit in Pots [4]

We learned yesterday that First Potteries Cherry Line service 3 turns into a 4A at Kidsgrove.
But a close examination of the previous service 20A timetable ...
... shows that buses for Talke Pits leave Kidsgrove at (for example) 0902, 0922 and 0942. It is no surprise, then to note that the 34A from Kidsgrove to Newcastle ...
... also leaves at 0902, 0922 and 0942.
Even a non-expert in public transport operation might conclude that, as cherry 3s become cherry 4As so the old, outdated and unfruity 20A became an equally unfruity 34A. Nothing much has changed at Talke and Talke Pits; except of course missing out the needs of Iris!
The "other half" of the cherry 4 veers left ...
to be a simple copy of the former 34.
The improvement in network map when compared to the crude "Overground" style is very gratifying; there is something comforting about a map which looks as if it is part of the real world. The 4, with the 4A, maintains the ten minute frequency between Newcastle and Chesterton.
Both old and new services gave the shopaholic the opportunity to be delivered right outside the doors of the Freeport shopping centre once an hour.
Aaah, the deep joys of "Outlet Shopping"! [It's a euphemism for retail units selling old stock at "discount" prices.]

We've over 40 great stores offering up to 60% off, so you'll find a fantastic range of fashion and footwear, plus gifts, homeware and accessories all at amazingly low prices.
It's a recipe!

Which leaves the final stalk of the Cherry, which is former services 25, 25A and X25 ...
... linking Hanley and Newcastle with Keele University and village. This is, you may remember, where we began on Monday with a mention of fbb's abortive visit and Uni interview! It was also the route which broke the mold for First bus with one of the first revolts against corporate "daughter of barbie" colours.
The revised cherries all run via Poolfields ...
... every 10 minutes Mondays to Fridays and every 20 on Saturdays.
X3s run at peak times during Uni term times only.

It would be tedious (and far to much like hard work for fbb) to review every group of services; but, like other network re-jigs from First (Portsmouth, Southampton, Norwich) the principle has been to concentrate resources on frequent routes and provide the opportunity for distinctive marketing. For the record the full list of fruit and other "brands" is shown below. Will it be successful? We will all have to wait and see.

Hopefully, if First in Staffordshire & South Cheshire ever wake up, fbb will have a set of leaflets to look at in due course. Wonders do sometimes happen.

Perhaps with a little more imagination, the network designers could have used other fruit to complete the image. fbb has added some that First have forgotten.
Where next for branding? Wild animals?
Don't be ridiculous!
And talking of First Bus liveries; today fbb is in Leicester.
A full report will follow as soon as possible.

 Next bus blog : Friday 25th July 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Fruit in Pots [3]

Today, we are going to examine one of the major changes in the First Bus network in Stoke on Trent. The new label is ...
... Cherry Line.
It's hard to know where to start. Maybe with what preceded the cherry.

First, route 20; Hanley, Kidsgrove and Crewe. This was one of the services for which specially branded buses were used post-privatisation when the route was numbered 320.
Its more recent manifestation has three buses an hour to Alsager with two continuing to Crewe.
Annoyingly for through passengers, one sits at Alsager for ten minutes to allow an even 20 minute spacing to become an even half hour; far from ideal.

And here is a service 20, operated by the same bus as the 320 above, but now in plain First barbie livery!
The 20A variant diverted to Talke and Talke Pits, two former mining villages near Kidsgrove..
This ran every 20 minutes ...
... providing a combined 10 minute frequency between Hanley and Kidsgrove.

Renumber that all as 3 and you have the first piece of the Cherry jigsaw.
All three former 20s now run through to Crewe and the intervening 20 minute frequency terminates at Kidsgrove. Oh dear! What has happened to Talke and Talke Pits?

This is where the cunning plan of the Cherry line becomes interesting, clever from a scheduling point of view, but potentially baffling for the general public.

Cherrys don't just come in 3s; they also come in 4s ...
... magically changing from one to the other at Kidsgrove.

Tomorrow we will see where the 4 has come from.

But there is a snag. Iris is not at all happy.
That's Iris, at the front of the queue; boy it is a very busy stop. Of course it hasn't been set up specially for the press photographer; of course not. The editor of local paper (The Sentinel) said, "You may well think that, but I could not possibly comment."

Pensioners claim plans to change two bus routes could leave them housebound. More than 50 people are appealing to First to cancel its proposed alterations to the 20A and 34A services which travel through Talke Pits. Both services currently stop in Chester Road, but this would be replaced with a stop along Monument Road. Dozens of elderly people, some who have been using the services for more than 60 years, fear without a nearby bus stop they will be 'isolated' or forced to spend hundreds of pounds on taxi fares.

But Iris is right; the routes in the area used to do a little wiggle via Chester Road ...
... and First Bus has withdrawn the wiggle.
Presumably, if Iris's chums had travelled in as much profusion as is illustrated by the ever reliable fourth estate, then First Bus would not only have left the service in place; duplicates or increased frequency would be the order of the day!
They Don't Miss the Ferry
(in both senses)
The fbbs have been settled in East Devon for well over a year now; moving to the "Mainland" from the Isle of Wight and downsizing at the same time. One of the reasons was to miss the ferry.

One of the privileges of Island Life was the "abroad"-ness of that stretch of water. But it could also be a stressful part of a journey as well as an expense. It is significant that fbb ans Mrs have travelled around the UK much more frequently in the last year.
The boats all have what are known as "mezzanine" decks which allow two layers of cars to be loaded. Once loaded the "mezz" deck is hauled up on strings, quite thick strings one would imagine, leaving room for the bottom layer to load. In the picture above the empty mezz deck is the white bar below the left hand row of five windows.

Unfortunately, a few days ago one of the strings broke! The deck on the St Helen, the oldest boat in the fleet, dropped suddenly at one corner as the deck was being lowered; obvious from the picture below.
Four people were injured (whiplash?) and taken to St Mary's Hospital Newport. There was some damage so some of the vehicles. The lower deck had been cleared by the time the accident happened.
A full investigation by the safety authorities is under way. The emergency services attended promptly and all was cleared in 90 minutes.
This particular class of ferry has been in service for 30 years with an excellent safety record.

Needless to say scaremongers are now booking with competitor Red Funnel because they don't want to travel on "dangerous" boats. Short memory applies. In 2006 one of the Red Funnel boats smashed into the loading ramp, damaging ramp, ferry and cars.
Note very buckled gates. In this case the fault was a combination of human error and misunderstanding as the vessel approached the terminal. Injuries were slight.

The fbbs never had any anxiety over safety but, in their dotage (?), don't miss the ferry - at all.

A return visit the see chums on the Island is planned for September. By ferry, of course. The fbb's helicopter is booked for its annual MOT.

 Thanks to our senior** Island correspondent 
 for this news item. 

 ** We don't actually have a junior Island correspondent, but Alan likes the status and power that goes with the job. 
 Next bus blog : Thursday 24th July 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Fruit in Pots [2]

The new "Potteries" web site ...
... is very different from a standard First Bus Offering. There is a list of services arranged diagonally ...
... and a further clickable doodah ...
... with other, less useful headings; apart from "Map" which brings up a simplified but largely geographical network diagram.
click on the map to enlarge

There are a few limitations to this introductory stuff. The map is in PNG format, i.e. a graphic, and does not enlarge at all well.
Elsewhere on the site you will find a better PDF version which, of course, does enlarge without loss of clarity.

More irritating, however, are the consequences of enlarging the whole page. The diagonals all disappear and everything gets, literally, out of proportion.
Maybe it's something to do with optimising the site for tablets. The designers should take some and consider the majority of us who still use those steam powered laptops that are so derided by the modern youff.

Clicking on the chevron for service 1,1A and 2 opens a page packed with good things tangerinic. (It's good fun, inventing words; Shakespeare did it all the time!)
Unfrotunately the timetables are in First's standard HTML (internet display) format which is generally poor.
There is too much "white space" (and pale blue space) and the font is too small but enlargement does improve things. Noteworthy is that only a few morning journeys and the later evening service use the too-small bus station at Hanley; buses operate from stops in Old Hall Street.
General information on fares is provided ...
... although "from just £1 for a short hop" hides a multitude of sins. Unusually for the modernised First Bus, a "young person" is charged significantly more than half fare. Ouch if you are a kid! Yesterday, local paper The Sentinel revealed the fares changes.

New fares come into force 
following major shake up
of First Bus network
Some passengers could end up paying more for their daily commute as fares on some longer First Bus journeys rise. But people travelling within the new 'Potteries network' will get a cheaper deal on tickets. The new charges are being introduced as part of a review of the bus company's North Staffordshire services – with new routes, timetables and colour-coded maps and buses.

First spokesman Ady Culpin said: "We have introduced a new range of tickets called 'Potteries tickets' that have been priced cheaper than our 'all network' ticket range. And we have had a trial with a new 'short hop' £1 ticket, which allows people to travel for three stops within that Potteries network area, which has gone down really well. To balance the cheaper fares out, we've had to increase the price on longer routes in line with the distance being travelled, which we feel is a fairer system."

Finally, on the shiny new web site, a clicky switch provides an individual route map.
This on-line page also shows local maps (see Old Hall Street above) for all the main towns; the Tangerine drips its pips in three of the historic five/six towns, namely Hanley, Stoke and Longton. It omits Fenton, Tunstall and Burslem but terminates at Newcastle once outside the conurbation but now swallowed up.

Question? Will the Bentilee Buzz special offer ...
... still be available on the Bentilee bus ...
... now that it has gone all fruity?
The 26 and 26A, by the way, have become the 6A Raspberry Line.

With these city-wide schemes, the devil is often in the detail. Buses of Taunton and/or Somerset struggles to present a complete image months after the brand was launched. Will Potteries stop flags be branded; i.e. have First Bus contractors been out all day yesterday and overnight with their sheets of sticky-backed plastic? Is there a timetable book? Are leaflets available, not just in the city centre, but at shops and community buildings throughout the City?

And, critically, how many vehicles will show the new network brands? Please let your chubby blogger know.

fbb has requested leaflets, but none has arrived - yet. Of course the 64,000 dollar question (a phrase well out-of-date since "Millionaire" hit our screens) is, have First got it right; or will there be a forest of timetable changes in a few months to confuse everybody? The Tangerine timetable heading does not inspire long-term confidence.
Tomorrow, we will attempt, without safety net or protective clothing, to explain what has happened on the ground by analysing one set of routes, before and after the change. Does the fat bloke know no fear?

 Next bus blog : Wednesday 23rd July