Thursday, 18 July 2019

Tantalising Tripartite Traumas (4)

The Public Transport Experience
Taking the above headline from the "official" title of this blog, fbb decided to use some of the remaining time in Guildford to try out "the experience". Things would begin at the bus station.

In 1950, the town opened not one but two bus stations. One was on Onslow Street, very close to the present site ...
... and the other was on the site of the former Connaught Hotel.
fbb's inadequate knowledge cannot identify the exact location of either, but this contemporaneous article from "Commercial Motor" explains all.
The present bus station was constructed as part of the Friary shopping centre, so it was that your sweltering blogger set off from his launch lunch, replete but "glowing" for the short toddle down the road.
The set-up was slightly disorientating for the old man, because you entered, obviously, on the ground floor ...
... where you might expect another exit to take you to the buses, also at ground level. But you need to ascend to an upper level to emerge at ground level!

First impressions can be very revealing, and, frankly the ambiance was dull and gloomy.
On the wall was a departure screen showing the usual, but less than useful, list in time order ...
... below which was a rather tired plan of the station with information as to what left from where.
It was a destination index in alphabetical order BUT it was quite hard to read, especially in the gloom. Although there were electronic displays at, say, the hospital, there was nothing at each individual stand. Your only source of "real time" was those lines on the departure list that showed "xx min" - many showed only departure time.

Obviously, there were no timetables on display anywhere but fbb did note a rather faded departure list for service 1 via the University, his steed of choice for the short ride to the hospital.
It informed any members of the public foolish enough to use it ...
... that it was at Friary Bus Station (thanks a bunch for that "big revelation"!), that it was valid from 6th January 2019 and that it was updated for Uni term times.

But therein lay a snag. Last Friday was well into the lengthy Summer Vacation. Indeed the postedeeven told its readers when these vacations were.
fbb espied no "separate timetable".

So, for Monday to Friday at least, it was completely useless unless you just wanted to go the the hospital. Poor.

But what do we see a little further through the gloom?
Paul's Caff (noted for later refreshment, if necessary - it usually is!) and a shiny illuminated sign complete with new wheely logo for Arriva. Bingo - at least some printed info might be acquired. And yes, super smashing, there was an extensive display just inside the door ...
... which was utterly locked! Lunch break!
Even more galling was the apparition of a real human being sitting behind a computer and looking very much alive. Doubtless this "operative" was entitled to a break but the whole set up was simply NOT a good exemplar of Customer Service.

Safeguard was worse!

Next door they had an office ...
... with a huge display for route 4 and 5 but, in this case, the smiling person seen on the door was just another poster. It was clearly no longer in use for the public.

And Stagecoach? NOTHING. No office, no leaflets, no posters and nowhere to find out!

These three companies are in competition and, if fbb has grasped the idea aright, the usual idea in a competitive situation is to do everything possible to encourage people to buy your product (a ride on a bus) in preference to the other blokes'  goodies.

There was no incentive to travel on any of them!

It was difficult to get an impression of the whole bus station as time was limited - but a bit of follow-up research confirmed the layout.
There was a long line of "third world" shelters along Commercial Road.
... which fbb thought were no longer used. But they were!
In contrast, the main head-in stands were busy with a constant queue of buses waiting to nose in. These were on the bus station side of the lavish Stands 18 to 22.
The problem with the busy stands was that there was insufficient room to queue - more than an dozen eager passengers would spill out and partially block the walkway.

There was one big positive about the Friary facility. It is still there.

A proposal a few years ago to relocate to a smaller site seems to have faded into the greyness of aspirational town centre "improvements". 
One proposal was to use Mary Road car park which would be ...

(a) further from the shops
(b) too small
(c) harder to get into and out

... otherwise a super scheme!

Far better, you would think, to build a better bus station on the existing site? 

Aha! But if that were done, the Council could not make zillions from selling the land for an extension to the shopping centre.

Sadly (actually fortunately) shopping "malls" in the centre of towns do not, currently, offer "good investment potential" - hence the comparative silence about the new inferior bus station site.

Time will tell - but the currently facility badly needs a clean up, an opening up, better electronic information and, above all, a well staffed all-operator enquiry office. As usual:-
But, at last, the weary old boy sets off on his competitive bus ride.

 Next Guildford blog : Friday 19th July 

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Tantalising Tripartite Traumas (3)

Arriva versus Safeguard
Readers may remember that, at one time, these two companies worked jointly and cosily on the two routes in question, namely the Park Bark circulars and Bellfields. For whatever reason, the two decided to break their relationship and Safeguard would thereafter operate exclusively to Park Barn.

Please remember (how could you forget?) that Arriva's 26/27 circulars did serve Park Barn generally ...
... as does the new Stagecoach 1 an 2. We are talking about buses that penetrate deep into the estate, performing a one way circular loop. Here is the situation immediately after Stagecoach snaffled the University "contract" from Arriva.
From the Park Barn roundabout the 1, 26 and 27 use Park Barn Drive in both directions, whereas the 4 and 5 only travel northbound.

The Safeguard routes then veer left along Cabell Road which runs to the north and west of the estate.
As the road  morphs into South Way (cunning name for a road to the south of the development) the buses pass church ...
... shops ...
... primary school ...
... pub ...
... and secondary school.
It gets better results and better inspections if it calls itself a "College", apparently!

Then you are back at the roundabout. The full routes 4 and 5 and well displayed on Safeguard's timetable, showing that they also visit the Hospital.

The "agreement" gave Safeguard exclusive right to the estate itself ...
... running every 10 to 15 minutes both ways round.
Saturdays offer a bus every 15 to 20 minutes, again both ways round whilst Sunday daytimes 4s and 5 run every 20 - very impressive. All evenings have buses via the "upper" part of the route only, out as 4s to the park Barn loop only and back as 5s.
Meanwhile Arriva had exclusivity on the Bellfields Route.
Of course, Arriva messed this up by deciding to run minibuses on the 3 ...
... with no increase in frequency; something of a PR disaster! The unsatisfactory vehicles soon got the heave-ho and normality returned.
But the removal of the University from the 26/7 circular by Big Bad Brian's Stagecoach meant that the blue bus boys were in a parlous financial state. It needed a cunning plan, which was as easy as A B C.
A (ORANGE) runs every 10 minutes to the Hospital direct.
B (PURPLE) every 10 minutes (via Safeguard's northern route) to Park Barn.
C (GREEN) competes with Stagecoach 1/2 at Stoughton running every 15.
The agreement with Safeguard is unilaterally broken.

As fast as you can say "Traffic Commissioners", Safeguard registered their service 3 ...
... to Bellfields, an exact copy (route and frequency) of the Arriva service ...
... but they number it 3s (s for Safeguard for those hadn't worked it out!) in case you do not spot the colour of the bus.
So, to summarise the battle joined.

Arriva A competes with Stagecoach 1 and Safeguard 4/5 at the Hospital

Arriva B competes with Safeguard 4/5 at Park Barn

Arriva C competes with Stagecoach 1/2 at Stoughton

Arriva 3 competes with Safeguard 3s at Bellfields

Is this silly or is this silly?

This was the local press back in December 2018 before the battle became bitter.

Arriva's Surrey and Kent operations lost nearly £900,000 in 2017, and the company claims its Guildford depot is no longer profitable.

Bus drivers at Arriva's Guildford depot face having salary cuts imposed on them as the company's Kent and Surrey branch struggles financially.

In a letter sent to Arriva's 120 Guildford-based drivers, and seen by Surrey Live, the company said the depot in Mary Road was running at a loss after losing contracts for some routes.

These include the 81, 437, 462 and 463, which the company had been paid £300,200 a year to operate until the routes were awarded to Berkshire-based CE Jeatt and Sons in September.

Bus watchers will know C E Jeatt and Sons as White Bus ...
... based in Winkfield.

Rather than make drivers redundant, the letter went on, the company plans to terminate the contracts of all its Guildford drivers and then re-employ them on a lower salary. No drivers are expected to lose their jobs permanently.

Arriva has already begun trying to expand its business in Guildford, increasing its services to and from the Royal Surrey County Hospital in a move described by the managing director of rival Safeguard as "muscling in" on his company's territory.

The trouble is that both Stagecoach and Arriva are big enough to sustain loss making services. The David to their Goliath, despite 95 years of loyal service to the town, is simply not big enough to weather a prolonged storm and "Safeguard" their business.
let us hope that the residents of Park Barn and Bellfields are wise enough to support their local operator and thus ensure the continuation of the service.

To see how things were working out "on the road" fbb took a trip to the hospital and back after the First Bus launch of RA2.

More tomorrow.

 Next Guildford bus blog : Thursday 18th July 

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Tantalising Tripartite Traumas (2)

fbb does not tend to write blogs about competitive situations because the situation can change rapidly. The Guildford "bus wars" have been running for some time now but things seem to have settled down to a stable lunacy for the time being. To try to make things more understandable to our reader, who may not be familiar with Guildford's infrastructure, the old man will attempt to keep its simple and concentrate more on what is happening now in preference to a very detailed history.

So here goes ...

Arriva versus Stagecoach
If you read yesterday's blog you will (posssibly?) remember that Alder Valley (now Stagecoach) sold its Guildford operations to London and Country (now Arriva). It would appear that uncle Brian's boys and girls are determined to win it back.

First capture from Arriva was all four of Guildord's Park and Ride services.

Transport operator Stagecoach is set to introduce 9 new fully electric, zero emission buses on its Guildford Park & Ride services in the new year.

Working in partnership with Surrey County Council, the investment in electric buses, worth over £3million, will be a first of its kind in the area.

The new electric single decker buses, built by Guildford based manufacturer Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL), will hit the roads in January 2019.

The BYD ADL Enviro200EV 10.8m electric buses have a range of up to 150 miles,   and have a capacity for up to 36 passengers and one wheelchair user. Customers are also able to take advantage of free Wifi and USB charging which are featured onboard.
Branded as Glide-Park and Ride these swish motors with a lump on the roof do glide almost silently to and from the town centre.
It is VERY disconcerting to meet one of these ghostly vehicles when you are least expecting them.

To pile pain onto the ailing Arriva, Stagecoach then won a contract to provide buses for Surrey University.

This 2015 map shows how it worked under Arriva's guiding hand.
The 26 and 27 (BLUE) provided a both-ways-round circular service; 26 via the University, Manor Park (halls of residence), The Hospital, Stoughton and back to town via Woodbridge and 27 in the opposite direction. Extra journeys for the Uni were added in by extending routes 36 and 37 (GREEN), serving the east of the town, through to Uni, Manor Park and the Hospital.

A 38 (PINK) was added shuttling between Uni and Manor Park.

Once Stagecoach bumped Arriva out of the private roads that serve the Uni campus, the 26/7 routes were retained for a while but without the extended 36/7 and, of course not via the Uni. (Has fbb got this right?)

The Stagecoach set-up offered a similar sort of service but with some modification.
Instead of 26/7 circulars Stagecoach retained the circular route, but numbered 1 (BLUE) serving University, Hospital and running on to Stoughton. Service 2 (YELLOWish) runs via Woodbridge to Stoughton. 1 becomes 2 and vice versa, changing at Stoughton (1 to 2) and at Woodbridge (2 to 1) according to the above map.

The effect of this is to make everything to and from the University show the number 1 1 - nice and simple for the averagely intellectual student and very easy for Uni staff and visitors. Stops on Campus are branded "Route One" ...
... (in words) but fbb saw no evidence of such a brand on the buses.

Service 17, also run by Stagecoach, is an odd tendered route featured some time ago in this very blog.
But fbb couldn't find it! Route CNEX is a mystery BUT it might be service 1X.
There is also a Night bus (N1) which doesn't feature on the flag at all.

But back to last Friday ...

Your ill equipped author has no timetable for the 26/7 but downloaded the Stagecoach leaflet in preparation for a ride. With limited time available last Friday after the launch, he spent some time trying to plan his trip until he realised that he was working from the Uni term time table. (click on the graphic below for a slightly bigger view)
This somewhat complex pattern provides a bus every 5 minutes between Uni and Manor Park (for halls and sports); a bus every 10 (plus a couple of extras) between Town, Uni and Hospital and four buses running on via Stoughton and the "circle".

But, oddly, only two each hour of the circulars starts from the bus station; the other two (at 24 and 54) commence their trip at the main Campus.

Eventually spotting his error, fbb then moved to the Vacation section.

Now we have a core ten minute headway serving everything, with four buses continuing via the circle every 15 minutes.
Of course every 10 and every 15 doesn't mix, so two of the Stoughton trips graze at the hospital for five minutes to even things out. On Saturdays and Sundays there is a simple 15 and 20 minutes frequency respectively.

Clearly Arriva was miffed at this loss of one of its key services. But the university-less 26 and 27 did not seem to be working, so a more drastic plan was hatched and, this time, it was as easy as A B C.

Because the easy new service is a bit more complicated (to illustrate, if not to use) fbb will continue from that point tomorrow.

Now would be a good time to slip in a ...

... First Bus RA2 PS
RailAir coaches have operated from Reading to Heathrow for a goodly number of years. Currently, coaches run every 20 minutes and have worn various liveries.
The timetable is straightforward but not well presented. At first glance it would appear that the service will deliver you to all terminals except 4 ...
... but you can only come back from Central Bus Station and terminal 5.
No doubt the driver will let you on at terminals 2 and 3 and you can enjoy a pleasant ten minutes waiting at the bus station - but the timetable should make this clear.

The most recent livery is a sleek and trendy blue job .,.
... replacing the previous mainly white.
This RA2 coach (registered YY63 WBU) was the first to appear on line in the later blue style but with "Reading" replaced by "Guildford".
Did First just peel off the old destination and stick on a new piece of lettering?
fbb assumes that all the Guildford limos are ex Reading, replaced by something newer and even more trendy on the RailAir 1


 Next Guildford blog : Wednesday 17th July