Monday, 23 November 2015

El Dorado at Topsham [1]

Leaflet for a Launch
But back in Sheffield, the local press is wrestling with a dichotomy of thought. Politicians and bus managers think things are improving.
In a letter released last week, Councillor Fox, cabinet member for transport, said changes already brought in included introducing at least 25 double decker buses to replace single deckers, and tackle overcrowding, as well as additional training for drivers so they knew the new routes.

He wrote: “I called a top-level meeting of the Partnership yesterday to review the operation of the changes. We expected some teething problems when changes of this scale were introduced, but it was obvious that many members of the public were unhappy, especially how buses performed during the first weeks of operation.
"We had an open and frank meeting to consider all the issues. It was encouraging to hear that many changes had already been implemented to improve the capacity of local services, including the introduction of at least 25 double decker buses to replace single decker buses and additional training for drivers where required to ensure they know the routes.

"The punctuality of the services has started to improve now and the number of complaints made by passengers has subsided to the levels normally expected at this time of the year."

Hooray, we all cry. BUT: A Mr Hartley would not agree.

I have come to the conclusion that the people responsible for the bus debacle have revisited the children’s fairy story The Emperor’s New Clothes. They told us that we were to get a new improved service.

"We live on the 20 bus route, and formerly the 20A, (alas no more). We had three 20 buses and three 20A buses per hour, so in theory heading back from the city centre we had six buses per hour. When the 20A was axed we were told that we would get four 20s per hour, (a vast improvement you will agree), what they failed to tell us was that they will all arrive at once in convoy, well three of them. I don’t know where the fourth went – this has happened more than once.

"This morning waiting at Norton Lees for a bus into the city we were there long enough for three buses to have been due, someone was tracking them and kept saying, one due in two minutes and another in three. They didn’t arrive and then the tracking site went down.

"Eventually we spotted two heading toward us. Both went past with people packed on like sardines. We ended up walking down to Heeley to get a bus. An hour after I left home, I managed to get a 24."

So are the politicos and management in denial? It's too late now, but it would have been better if the "partnership" had actually told their customers what was happening. When fbb was in Sheffield a fortnight ago, EVERY bus he travelled on had at least one passenger spitting venom. Two types of complaint were foremost: one, that buses were not running on time and two: nobody seemed to know where they were going.

Not surprising as the "partners" publicity was appalling.
Properly run buses don't run "about"; they run to a timetable, fixed and lodged with the Traffic Commissioners who have the power to fine the companies for slack operation. Then, for example, the 75 and 76 follow radically different routes between Firth Park and Shiregreen. Guess which way each goes.

And don't try looking at the bus stops ...
... because that is no help whatsoever.

Appalling and disgraceful.

But come with fbb to the launch of Stagecoach South West's latest "Gold" service which has started today. Your chubby blogger will report more on the "do" itself tomorrow, but let us look at the publicity which is widely distributed door to door along the route.

The timetable booklet looks good ...
... with a friendly introductory word.
There are excellent maps, complete with pictures of places you might be attracted to visit ...
... and a detailed version of the tricky bit, the Brixington loop at Exmouth.
Unlike the Sheffield gang, Stagecoach South West understands how to show loops. The last four timepoints on the outward journey ...
... are repeated on the inbound table.
You can get to and from anywhere without being told you have to change buses unnecessarily. And the journey planners work correctly as well.

Now here's a thing. Apart from the PR flummery of going "Gold", the frequency and route have not changed at all. Here is an extract from a 2010 timetable.
There is still a bus every 15 minutes just like there was before the change. Detailed times have changed but the "Gold" alterations are purely cosmetic; important cosmetic, agreed, but cosmetic none the less. For the regular user it is just a timetable revision.

Yet Stagecoach prints a quality leaflet.

Meanwhile in Sheffield, where everything has changed, you get cheap and nasty leaflets with no maps which don't adequately or accurately tell you what the change is. And the journey planners are, to use a technical IT term,  ...


Would Stagecoach consider arranging a series of seminars for the partnership - even briefing their own Sheffield company on how to do it?
A Significant Milestone?
Sometime tomorrow morning the number of "page reads" for the fbb blog will click over the 1,000,000 all-time total.
There are plenty of blogs that attract more customers than that; but fbb would like to thank all his readers, especially those who enhance the experience by adding useful comments and sending extra information.

When, over five years ago, two of his sons persuaded the old man to start a blog, little did its author think he would still be composing his pearls of wisdom (or lack of it) for more than a few futile weeks.

One word of disappointment. In the last couple of months one indivdual (Anonymous, of course) has been adding abusive and vulgar comments from time to time. fbb welcomes a wide range of opinions; often debate on these screens does influence industry managers, but ...

Rudeness and crudeness is simply unacceptable. Such comments will be ignored and deleted.

But to the vast majority - thanks a bundle for the stimulation you bring.

Here's to the next million.
 More Gold launch : Tuesday 24th November 


  1. Cllr Fox mentions 'more double-deckers'. To the best of my knowledge, 40 d/ds were transferred out from Sheffield (including the Dennis Tridents whose fortunes in the city have been, shall we say, mixed) ; around 20 non-DDA compliant single decks should have gone for scrap (though five were still in service last week). In return around 13 d/ds have been transferred in, along with about 15 s/ds. (All these refer to First). As the position is somewhat fluid these figures may be a bit out but the general thrust isn't.

    There seems to be lot of random mixing of types- Streetlites being followed by d/ds on the same route- and there is clearly inadequate capacity on some routes. Bunching appears to be endemic, though this has been aggravated by a bad bout of road Works- part of Glossop Road is single track for emergency(?)roadworks and the diversions for this have produced widespread chaos. For whatever reason service quality is at best erratic.

  2. Congratulations, FBB. I read and enjoy your blog enormously, even though it deals with far away places, about which I know nothing. Although, I have been to Watford. But not Sheffield, or anywhere "up there". And reading about Sheffields trials and tribulations, I'm not too sure I'd want to either. At least, not by bus. Thanks again.

  3. The other roadworks in Sheffield which have been responsible for a lot of the delays and cancellations are those at West Bar for the 'Grey to Green' scheme. The diversion applies to pretty much any bus from the Hillsborough direction into the City and I've heard reports of buses stuck in traffic for up to 45 minutes between Shalesmoor and Snig Hill.

    Then consider most of these buses run cross city to a diverse range of destinations including Ecclesall Road, Lowedges, Crystal Peaks....

    Details of the bus diversions can be found in the usual place:

  4. There were no delays at Shalesmoor when I travelled two weeks ago (Tues and Weds 10th and 11th Nov) but I went OUT and the diversions are inwards. But surely a bus company should be modifying its timetables if delays are endemic. Although having to "add an extra bus" is a cost, its is far better than losing the support of passengers. No excuse if the diversion is long-term.

    1. This is an interesting point; in fact TWO interesting points!

      Point 1 . . . how long-term is long-term? Frequently the time line for roadworks is a few weeks notice, even for major works, as a bus company relies on the local highways department to advise them of potential problems. However, let's assume that a notice period of around 12 weeks has been received (hollow laughs from operators' reading!).

      Point 2 . . . maybe only one route will be affected at a depot, but the schedules at that depot involve drivers (not necessarily buses) working across all routes. This now means that revised duty schedules for all routes have to be prepared. Prior to that, an estimation of the likely delays needs to be calculated, and the best way of adding in extra resources to counteract the delays (assuming there are any extra resources available). Then we have the dreaded 56 days notice to be built in, so in practice, around 12 weeks is actually needed to revise everything and comply with the legals.
      If the roadworks are expected to last for (say) 4 weeks, then we need to re-register the timetables (again) to replace the temporary versions with the original versions, but we do this BEFORE the roadworks even start.

      Point 3 (yes, I know . . . . . . ) Utility companies generally book a number of weeks to complete works, but expect to complete the works more quickly (if they over-run a closure period, they get fined, so they book too long just in case). So our bus company gets caught again, as the road is re-opened early, but they can't change timetables overnight. Try explaining that to Joe Public!!

      So finally . . . . . it is very often better NOT to change timetables and schedules for roadworks that last only a matter of weeks. In any case, after a week, traffic levels often settle down as car drivers find other rat runs to clog up.
      Frustrating, yes . . . . but also practical.

    2. To illustrate we have recently been dealing with a set of major roadworks on one of our routes that, with about a fortnights notice, were originally going to be about 4 months long but then didn't start on the date informed then went to expected to last a week, then three weeks, then three months & now 2 and a half months. Try planning with that sort of data reliability and much of the time the first we find about a closure is when a customer phones up to ask what our diversion is as notices have been put up at the site.

      We currently have a road closure around the corner from our offices that started 2 weeks late and are expected to finish about a week earlier than originally notified. As Greenline says companies tend to go for the widest possible permissions they can get, often the first notice is "4 weeks over this six month period" with the final start date only confirmed a couple of days before they close the road, assuming they remember. I have experienced a road closure on a country road happening as the bus approached and the workmen forced the 12-metre single decker to back up over a mile down this road to turn round rather than just move the barrier they had just put up because "you had already been notified" which we hadn't in any form at any point.

  5. well done on the 1000000! Its always nice to pass a milestone like this. Shows you must be doing something right!!

    As for the comments, I am afraid its all part of the course these days and seems to be part of the job of blogging is having to read/screen/delete comments. Its easy enough o just delete them but it does sometimes get to you when you get a run of them. Keep up the great work!

  6. ............I forgot to say many congratulations on your million milestone, fbb!

  7. Don't forget FBB that an operator can register a bus timetable with the clause that vehicles operate at "frequent intervals" which is precisely where the some of the "at about every.." statements come from. However, such registrations cannot combine service numbers and I believe have to operate at a minimum of every 10 minutes. The roadworks at West Bar are having a massive impact on services towards the south and southwest of the centre - on Saturday there was a 46 minute gap between service 83s towards Bents Green at 1100. The Glossop Rd/Fulwood Rd works create gridlock in the area from 0700 on a weekday. I know many people who are starting to drift towards cars directly because of the unpredictable nature of previously fairly stable services.
    PS Well done on the BIG milestone!

  8. Yes indeed. Hearty congratulations. Here's to many more stimulating bloggings

  9. A huge congratulations on 1 million page reads! :D