Friday, 25 April 2014

fbb Declares an Interest ... [3]

fbb is baring his all (horrid!); revealing the secret workings of his agile and productive brain (derision snorting is allowable!) as he tackles the problem of drawing some route diagrams for Chalkwell buses in Sittingbourne. Yesterday, geography was explored (read again); today complex timetables are unravelled - hopefully.

The spreadsheet shows 344s from Bredgar and Borden to Conyer ...
... enclosed in a red box which, being interpreted, means tendered by Kent County Council. There is a 345 to Doddington and Newnham ...
... likewise red boxed. In many ways these 344s and 345s are remarkably similar to Arriva 344s and 345s extracted from the Great Britain Bus Timetable of over 15 years ago.
But most of the journeys on the timetable are numbered 7 or 8 ...
... and only have boxes round the end bits. This means that most of these journeys are commercially operated with nary a shiny penny from the coffers of Kent. What has happened, then, is just about obvious. (?). Chalkwell have extended some of their commercial journeys on route 8 to cover previously tendered journeys on service 344 and 345.
These "commercial trips plus" run off-peak Mondays to Fridays leaving peak hour trips as fully tendered and still with their "traditional" route numbers.

This is, roughly, what the "Route One" article hinted at; but left the detail to the readers' imagination!
Are you will awake at the back? If so, well done!
This means, for example, that as Jason, Anthea and young Torquil look for a bus to Conyer to check on their schooner (very likely!) moored in the Marina, they might be looking for a service 8, 344 or 345 and they would need to avoid a service 7 which only goes as far as Teynham Station.
And we are back to the sketch map supplied by Kentish Klive which instigated fbb's investigations.

Except on Saturdays! On Saturdays there are no 7s or 8s when the whole service is supported by the Council and numbered 344 and 345!
click on timetable for enlargement

In the printed version, pink shading replaces the red outlines on the original spreadsheet.

By now, fbb has done his homework and, hopefully, understands what is happening from April 7th. All that remains (!) is to create a "map of the mess" which is as helpful as possible to the beleaguered travelling public.
Now before Chalkwell management cancel payment, fbb must state that calling this network a "mess" is no reflection on the company. Indeed they have made every effort to maintain services to the villages under constant local authority pressure for financial savings. In other areas, some of these communities would simply lose their service altogether. But the "mess" does illustrate, yet again, the limitations of the UK's mix of commercial and tendered funding and the growing problem caused by a reduction of monies available for commercially unviable routes. In France these services would either ALL be there as part of a tendered Sittingbourne network ...


... OR there would be nothing outside of the main interurban links.

fbb is sure you would all like to see his "solution" to the conundrum. So here it is, an extract from one of the four maps now in use on Chalkwell leaflets:-
Chalkwell commercial services 7, 8 and (on other maps) 9 & 9A are shown as solid lines. Rural services (still numbered in the historic 300 series are shown as "cased" (hollow) lines. A code is added to terminal points to suggest which route numbers to look out for at different times and on different days. There are no Sunday services.

Obviously the maps have to be read in conjunction with the timetables.

Some readers may disagree with fbb's solution (inevitable, as graphics are often subjective in their effectiveness) but the project has shown two important principles. Firstly, a considerable amount of thought needs to be exercised to deliver something truly helpful; pressing the "go" button on a confuser is rarely good enough. Secondly, to reuse an fbb mantra, "you can either be comprehensive or comprehensible but never both." When presenting a complex timetable someone has to decide what the "essence" of the service should be and design information accordingly.

Chalkwell are to be congratulated on a set of four high-quality leaflets which have been designed to make a complex network as easy as possible to understand.
fbb intends to look at the "trunk" route between Sittingbourne and Chatham (326, 327 & 328) in a future blog.
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Racked Rubbish Removed, Remarkably!
Does someone at Bristol Parkway station read this blog? See  "fbb Declares an Interest ... [1]" (read again).
Both out-of-date service 18 leaflets have been removed. Well done, folks. Now try even harder and get some of the correct and current service 18 leaflets in the rack. You've managed it with the 81, 82, 73 & X73. Mummy will give you a shiny penny if you get it right!

Then there's the 3B, 312, 319, 501, 502 and 625.
But they're not run my First; so it doesn't matter! And while you're at it, the Bradley Stoke Travel Guide ...
... is (a) out of date and (b) thus wrong about almost everything!

Keep trying.

Thanks to Paul for the photographic update.
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 Next bus blog : Saturday 26th April 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

fbb Declares an Interest ... [2]

It all started when a very nice man called Clive (from Kent) got in touch with fbb. "I like your maps," he wrote (perceptive fellow!), "would you be able to quote for doing some for my book?" The book was about the history of bus services in the Sittingbourne area.

So fbb did.
click on the map to enlarge

The book has not yet appeared due to a series of domestic complications, but doing the maps was fun!

Some months later, Kentish Klive was back on the ether; "I am doing a bit of consultancy work for Chalkwell (Sittingbourne) bus company. Would you be interested in quoting for some diagrams for them?" Is the Pope a Catholic? A few coppers to augment fbb's meagre pension pot is an attractive proposition.

It transpired, as per the article in "Route One" ...
... that Chalkwell was in the last stages of firming up the detail of their tender award and thus ready to produce leaflets - with maps. For the purpose of this blog, fbb will concentrate on one part of the task in hand, namely buses to Teynham and beyond. In fact four separate maps were required; of which Teynham etc. is part of one.

So Clive sent fbb some sketches of what was wanted ...
... and pre-production copies of the new timetables.
click on the timetable to enlarge

A few complications arose from the outset. 

1. fbb has never been to Sittingbourne and did not know the area

2. fbb was initially baffled by Clive's sketch

3. fbb did not understand the timetable

Apart from that, the job looked dead easy! Matching the received sketch to cartographic reality was simple.
Conyer is a settlement on Conyer Creek, once a fishing port, now a haven for yotties.
Teynham is on the A2, with its station a little further to the north.
Doddington and its neighbouring settlements are pretty little Kent villages.
Doddington Place Gardens is a splendidly picturesque "place of interest".
Clearly, none of these villages is going to offer huge pickings for a bus operator. Which is probably why Arriva (successors to Maidstone and District) has progressively pulled back to the "main road" network that the company runs today.

Kent has a bus map on-line which, as would be expected for cartography to a county-wide scale, was rather daunting for Sittingbourne itself ...
... but deceptively simple for the Teynham area that our patient blog readers are, hopefully, following in this post.
fbb did not know how up-to-date the Kent map was although it was dated from 9th February 2014. Clearly it would not show the changes from the 7th April. At first glance there would appear to be a lot of differences in route numbers throughout the Sittingbourne area.
What is initially puzzling is that most service numbers are in a 300 series, looking very like an ex Maidstone & District/East Kent numbering scheme.
But then we espy 7, 8 and 9; clearly NOT traditional Sittingbourne area route numbers.
This map-drawing project is looking a bit more complicated. Tomorrow we need to look at timetables.

 Next bus blog : Friday 25th April 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

fbb Declares an Interest ... [1]

... in Sittingbourne.
The town is located on the A2, the pilgrims way to Canterbury taken by Geoffrey Chaucer's tale tellers.

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
And specially from every shires ende
By Sidyngborne to Caunterbury they wende

Chaucer experts may spot a small piece of editorial adjustment by fbb; but "Sidyngborne" is mentioned in the Wife of Bath's Tale. Much later than our Geoff, and in the 18th century, Sittingbourne was just a minor blip on the Canterbury Road.
Milton was the more important port and trading centre. Nowadays both Milton and Chalkwell have been absorbed into a much bigger settlement.
Apart from a passing "credit" in "The Canterbury Tales", what is Sittingbourne famous for? Probably for paper mills and the crossing to the Isle of Sheppey.

The Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway in Kent is a 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge heritage railway that operates from Sittingbourne to the banks of The Swale. The line was developed as an industrial railway by paper maker Frank Lloyd in 1904, to transport carry pulp materials and finished products between Ridham Dock on the River Swale to the company's paper mill at Sittingbourne, and from the mid-1920's to a second mill at Kemsley.

In the late 1960s the railway faced closure by its then owners Bowater, but the Locomotive Club of Great Britain accepted an offer to operate the railway from 1970. The section of line from Kemsley Down to Ridham Dock was however abandoned for redevelopment of the paper mills. In 2008-09, the line again survived a threat of closure due to the owners of Sittingbourne Paper Mill closing the mill and selling the land, the lease then held by the railway expired in January 2009. Negotiations resulted in the railway being saved, although no public trains ran in 2009.
The line runs mainly on Sundays and bank holidays with Tuesday running in August. Here is a typical timetable ...
... which comes with the depressing note that the Milton Regis halt is closed because of vandalism. The railway's web site is (here). The line is industrial rather than picturesque ...
... but fascinating nevertheless. Sittingbourne Viaduct station is within walking distance of National Rail at Sittingbourne.

Some parts of Sittingbourne haven't changed too much in the last 50 years, as here at Canterbury Road ...
... but the town centre has gained the Forum, a shopping "mall" replacing older property between the traditional High Street (bottom left) and the station (top left).
Many of the streets shown below have disappeared.
Not only has the town changed, but so have its buses. Once upon a time almost exclusively Maidstone and District; ...
... successors to the green buses was Arriva. There have been retrenchments and loss of tenders leaving the 333 ...
... and 334 to Maidstone and a couple of local routes, one to Kemsley and one to Great Easthall.
By far the majority of local services, plus the "Main line" route from Sittingbourne to Chatham, are operated by Chalkwell.
A recent news item in "Route One" magazine shows that there have been some significant changes from early April.
It is here that fbb must declare an interest, as will be revealed tomorrow.
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Parkway Publicity Problem
Bristol correspondent Paul has directed fbb to a batch of changes in the Bristol area as a result of expansion of Southmead Hospital. Doubtless further blogs will proceed. In the meantime, Paul points out that First's 18 route changed on 13th April.
Service 18 (Emersons Green - Henbury): To coincide with the expansion of Southmead Hospital a number of significant changes are being made to Service 18. The route will change so that buses operate via Gloucester Road North, Filton Road and Monks Park Avenue (instead of Southmead Road). This change, which follows customer requests, means a new direct link to the hospital will be created from Gloucester Road North and Filton Road. In addition to this the route is being extended beyond Southmead to Henbury, via Westbury, Shirehampton and Lawrence Weston. Buses will run every half an hour Monday to Friday daytimes, and hourly on Saturdays.

So quite a big change! But First have produced a new leaflet and thus get a gold star on their chart!

The information rack at Bristol Parkway station, however, offers a choice of TWO leaflets. This one ...
... with its start date:-
Or, as an alternative, this one ...
... with its start date:-
Both out of date leaflets are helpfully displayed together in the rack.
In case you had forgotten, Bristol Parkway station is run by ...
Well done all concerned!
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 Next bus blog : Thursday 24th April