Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Great 38 Debate [2]

Competitive Considerations Continue
In a comment on Yesterday's blog, Man of Kernt reminded fbb of another ingredient in the Manchester mix, namely the takeover of Bluebird by Stagecoach. Bluebird's operating area was deep in First Bus territory and some bus watchers saw First's takeover of Finglands as a response. First's boss Fearnley is a long-tern chum of East Yorkshire's (and thus Finglands which EY owned) boss Peter Shipp.

The "official" line at the time was that East Yorkshire wanted to "concentrate on their core business"; but we shall never know the full story.
First currently have an aggressive promotion on its routes along the Oxford Road to Manchester University and the Hospitals.
This offer applies to all three First Bus routes along the contested corridor.
Stagecoach's web site is quoting a single fare of £2.10 on all routes except Magicbus 143 ...
... which, too, offers prices "from £1". Of course, fares comparisons are clouded by a whole range of "season ticket" deals including special student fares. Presumably the uninformed visitor or occasional user is oblivious to these financial subtleties and boards whatever turns up and simply pays up.

The particular "craze" along this corridor has been to extend certain routes across the city centre. This is a relatively recent developments. Currently First Bus run cross-City as follows:-

 18 - Hospitals - City - Middleton - Langley 

This runs every 10 minutes (Monday to Saturday daytime) ...
... and serves Langley via a large loop.

 42 -  East Didsbury - Hospitals - City - Middleton 

Note the branding on the bus.
The Cross Connect route was originally advertised as every ten minutes to Manchester's North General Hospital and every 30 minutes on to Middleton.
The timetable now shows a bus every 20 minutes through from East Didsbury to Middleton.
It is not at all clear "on line" whether these are part of, or in addition to, First's other service 42.
This other 42 appears separately in First's timetable list. It shows a frequent other 42 short working from East Didsbury to Piccadilly Gardens; i.e the centre of Manchester. Transport for Greater Manchester, sensibly, abandons any attempt to separate out the timetables and simply gives the impressive (?) frequency of Firsts 42, Magic Bus 142 and Stagecoach 42.
What about the 38, we hear you cry?

In 2014, Stagecoach joined the fray by starting a new route 38.
Launched, complete with folk singer to serenade jaded Mancunians on the opening day (?), this too started from the Hospitals on the Oxford Road, then continued via Piccadilly Gardens and the old A6 to Walkden and Little Hulton.
Here it turned right and nipped across to Farnworth ...
... where Google Streetview caught one resting in the rather unimposing bus station.
Here is one doing its stuff in Piccadilly ...
... going to Farnworth.
But from 4th September 2016, something happened.
And thus begins a strange and puzzling tale of information woe.

 Next Great 38 blog : Wednesday 26th October 

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Great 38 Debate [1]

It Goes Back a Long Way
The story began in 1968 when, to comply with the that year's Transport Act (one of many to follow!), on 1 April 1969 the SELNEC Passenger Transport Executive was formed. SELNEC stood for South East Lancashire North East Cheshire, a joint authority of the various local councils.

It was a very big deal as, in theory, it absorbed bus operations in the following areas:-

Manchester, Salford, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Stockport;
In Cheshire
boroughs of Altrincham, Dukinfield, Hyde, Sale and Stalybridge;
urban districts of Alderley Edge, Bowdon, Bredbury and Romiley, Cheadle and Gatley, Hale, Hazel Grove and Bramhall, Longdendale, Marple and Wilmslow;
rural districts of Disley and Tintwistle;
part of the rural district of Bucklow (Carrington, Partington and Ringway)
part of the rural district of Macclesfield (Poynton-with-Worth)
In Derbyshire
borough of Glossop;
In Lancashire
boroughs of Ashton-under-Lyne, Eccles, Farnworth, Heywood, Leigh, Middleton, Mossley, Prestwich, Radcliffe, Stretford and Swinton and Pendlebury;
urban districts of Atherton, Audenshaw, Chadderton, Crompton, Denton, Droylsden, Failsworth, Horwich, Irlam, Kearsley, Lees, Little-borough, Little Lever, Milnrow, Ramsbottom, Royton, Tottington, Turton, Tyldesley, Urmston, Wardle, Westhoughton, Whitefield, Whitworth and Worsley;
in the West Riding of Yorkshire
urban district of Saddleworth

Phew, some area of responsibility! Not all of these areas ran buses of their own, but the PTE absorbed the operations of 11 Corporation Transport departments, namely:-

Bolton (249 vehicles)
Bury (96 vehicles)
Leigh (57 vehicles)
Ramsbottom (12 vehicles)
Rochdale (130 vehicles)
Manchester (1,250 vehicles)
Salford (271 vehicles)
Ashton-under-Lyne (60 vehicles)
Oldham (180 vehicles)
Stockport (145 vehicles)

and finally, the delightfully named
Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley & Dukinfield Transport & Electricity Board

fbb could not possibly have remembered all that; and is grateful to the ever informative Wikipedia for the difficult bits.

It would be fair to say that many of the Corporations were very unhappy at losing control of their pride and joy. Others were struggling. fbb well remembers a trip to Oldham (in 1966?) to see Sheffield Transport buses running around as the Corporation had run foul of the Traffic Commissioners for dodgy maintenance.

The tale continued with the renaming of the organisation as Greater Manchester with a new logo (absolutely essential to ensure the smooth running of buses!) and a more orangey orange.
This was all part of the creation of the Metropolitan Counties, new mega municipalities which gained control over local rail services ands begat trains in orange.
fbb's model pacer is also an example of this period.
The PTE had expanded over the years.

Back in 1972 the PTE had absorbed the rump of the former North Western Road Car bus operations ...
... branded as SELNEC Cheshire.

Later came Wigan Corporation ...
... where orange replaced maroon.

And Lancashire United ...
... where orange replaced red and grey.

The PTE was renamed GM Buses in 1986 and restructured as an "arms length" company.
In 1993 the company was split into two, GM Buses North and GM Buses South.
The idea of the split was that it would encourage competition as one buyer would not be allowed to own both. Quite how drawing an artificial boundary across Manchester could encourage competition was never explained.

Politics has continued to provide a challenge to the PTEs but with privatisation the over-riding organisation lost its buses and its trains, leaving a large monolith with the more "political" funstions of subsidised services and transport development. There are those who, today, ask "what are the PTEs for?"

But, back to our story.

North was sold to First Bus and South to Stagecoach and for nearly ten years the two biggies kept very much to their own areas. That was until First sold its Wigan depot and operation to Stagecoach in 2012.
But this was amicable. What follows, less so.
In January 2014, First bough Finglands, a thorn on the flesh of Stagocoach Manchesster along the busy (and lucrative? or just over-bussed) Oxford Road.
The take-over did not increase competition as such but the competitor had more pennies in its piggy bank and, as we shall see, the consequences could become more threatening.

A few months later, Stagecoach responded to this potential threat by First. Route 38 began.

 Next Great 38 blog : Tuesday 25th October 

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Popping Off Via Poppleford

Expedition to Exeter
One of the consequences of polishing the lens with the phone open and in camera mode was a fine collection of pictures like this ...
... several of which, without fbb's right spectacle, were automatically knitted into an exciting "animation" by Google. Fortunately, fbb's little outing was somewhat more interesting.
The trip was prompted by news of the installation of new electronic departure displays in the High Street and at the bus station in Exeter, of which more in a later blog. The fbbs are on dog-walking duty for their neighbour (who responds with cat-supervision when needed) so time was limited.

So it was decided to drive to Newton Poppleford ...
Exeter (unlabelled) is top left

... and use the Park and Ride service. Locals will be surprised by this title but the designation is unofficial. Off School Lane ...
... in turn off the eastern end of the High Street is a small FREE car park. It has excellent facilities ...
... and a footpath leads down beside the Church ...
... to the bus stop, called "Newton Poppleford War Memoral."
Newton Poppleford Church would be better.

Newton Poppleford, which sounds like to joke name, is derived from the New Town near the Pebble Ford over the River Otter.

fbb had scheduled the 0939 Stagecoach service 9 from Honiton via Sidmouth but was in time to catch the 0928 First Bus X52. This was four minutes later and packed with 10 passengers all of "mature" pass-carrying age. It might well have been the heaviest loading of the day as the bus fills a two hour gap (Stagecoach please note) in the 9A from Lyme Regis and Seaton.

There was time to survey passenger facilities and information at the stop. There was a shelter of minimal size.
Seating was a hard, uncomfortable buttock-bruising iron bar. It was cold - very! fbb had arrived in a comfy heated Fiat Multipla; bus travel is so attractive! There was a pole with flag and timetable frame ...
... containing (oh joy of joys) full timetables but only for the two Stagecoach routes; 9/9A (half hourly) to Exeter and 157 (hourly) to Exmouth. These numbers did not appear on the flag but, for those with excellent vision, a very small multicoloured X52 had been applied by First Bus.

Can you spot the First Bus timetable frame? Yes, of course you can't, but there it is on the telegraph pole near the phone box.
If you were observant enough to spot it, you would be equally pleased that it, too, contained a full timetable.
Not much of a timetable, just every two hours.

But what a glorious ride! The trees were "on the turn" and the sun was shining, despite the chilliness.
Top deck front offside seat as always was the spot for the very best views.
As the bus passed Westpoint, the Devon County Showground exhibition arena, fbb was disappointed to note that he would have to miss the Woodworking and Power Tool Show on 29th and 30th of this month.
Pity; but he will be on the Isle of Wight preaching at the fbb's former church in East Cowes.

Other exploits in Exeter will have to wait until later this week.

The return journey was by service 9 with just time before departure to enjoy a coffee and a second breakfast; £2.95 from a little one-man caff just across the road from Exeter's bus station.
Excellent value.

Return was on an older bus, but warm and comfortable on top deck front if you had very short legs. Departure from Exeter was three minutes late as our driver helpfully waited for dad an two smallish sprogs who were off to Crealy Great Adventure Park.
Another excitement for fbb and Mrs fbb's bucket list! And there's paintballing and indoor karting nearby.

The facilities at the eastbound stop in Newton Poppleford are poor in the extreme.
No timetables, no shelter but just a chair supplied by a local resident. Very public spirited of you, sir or madam. But a poor advertisement for public transport.

Here is the 9 and the 157 picking up two pax; picture taken as fbb waited for his ride TO Exeter.

When fbb used to write essays at school and university, it was drilled into him that the opening paragraph(s) and the conclusion were the most important. The conclusion summarised the contrnts of the essay and left the reader in no doubt as to the author's ability and opinions.

fbb's bus trips were straightforward "normal" bus rides. Buses ran on time, the seats were adequate if not actually cosy and the trips took fbb where and when he expected them to. For the TO Exeter run, information at the stop was adequate; likewise for the return run at Exeter bus station.

But to really attract new customers it needs to be much much better.

1. Usable seats in a clean shelter. And please don't bleat on about financial constraints and high cost. There is a whole "community" at Newton Poppleford waiting to be mobilised. Free travel for a team of shelter cleaners - cheap and effective.

2. Readable route numbers on the bus stop flag. Sticky numbers are cheap and easy to apply. Make them as big as possible.

3. One panel with timetables, fares, route map and local street map. This would be normal in any small town in, say, France. Modern computing equipment and printers make this a cinch once the frame is in place. Another job for a local "volunteer"?

4. A local contact phone number answered locally for both companies. Traveline is a poor quality cop-out.

Positives like this would surely pay for themselves in increased awareness and thus increased patronage.

And fbb really enjoyed both rides. And to cement the delights of the day, Google created fbb a new Album ...
... whatever one of those is - or does?

 Next great 38 blog : Monday 24th October