Friday, 13 October 2017

Brackley's Baffling Bus Business (prologue)

But We Start At Syston!
News from a Leicestershire Correspondent of a kerfuffle involving Arriva and the "village" (suburb) of Syston.
There has been a settlement on the site for over 1,000 years, the earliest records being in the Domesday Book as Sitestone. The Roman road known as the Fosse Way passes through Syston, which is now largely a commuter town for the city of Leicester. Only the village of Thurmaston to the south separates it from Leicester.
The 'Syston white plum' is well known in the Syston locality and has been grown there for well over 100 years. It is yellow, oval in shape, thin skinned and a good sized dessert plum. It normally crops in September and is emblazoned on the Syston Town welcoming signs.
In the past, buses to Syston were in the total control of long-standing huge company, Midland Red, seen below at the old St Margarets bus station.
Midland Red begat Arriva ...
... although a service to Thrussington (on the back road to Melton Mowbray) is now run by Centrebus.
The main road route through Syston is the 5 to Queniborough at East Goscote (every 20 minutes) and the 5A to Melton Mowbray (also every 20 minutes.
Syston, therefore has a "main road" bus every ten minutes to and from Leicester, which is not to be sneezed at.
The town was even visited by an Arriva star employee to promote improvements in the 5/5A.
The other service is route 6.
This runs every ten minutes to Thurmaston ASDA (although, at certain times, buses run to an alternate destination at Thurmaston ASDA???) with two journeys an hour extended to Syston where buses do a run round various estates off the main drag.
For Systonians this is obviously a secondary service, but for those who actually live on the estates it is of utmost importance.
Which is why Arriva is withdrawing the buses, leaving just the ten minute service to Thurmaston.
IF (and it really is "if"!) Arriva's finances are so dire that saving one bus between Thurmaston and Syston will radically improve the company's performance, should not the bosses consider other options. How about running the 6 every 15 minutes to Thurmaston and retaining the extension to Syston? 

Trimming bits off the end of a route is always a risky business. It is what fbb calls the curse of the frayed end.

Chop of the extremity, lose those passengers who might no longer be travelling to and from Leicester. Now the loadings to Thurmaston are reduced. Next, divert some more 5/5A journeys via ASDA ...
... and you can reduce the 6 to every 20 minutes. But look, say Arriva's bean counters, we could send the 5 or 5A via the estate at Thurmaston rather than down the main road and do away with the 6 altogether.
Many a bus route has been ruined for ever as a result of the curse of the frayed end.

The people of Syston are, understandably, not pleased and the people at Arriva are getting yet another chunk of bad PR.

Has Arriva really gained a long term financial benefit?

Over the last few years there has been similar snipping off the ends at Brackley, usually documented in this blog. But things are about the change.

Tune in on Monday, same time, same spot on the dial, for the latest developments.

But will it be too late?
Perhaps the bus industry needs some kind of long-term philosophical or economic shampoo to deal with its frayed split ends?

 Next Weekend Mixture blog : Saturday 14th October 


  1. There seems to be some erroneous thinking here. The 5 is the direct route via the main Melton Road whereas the 6 diverts through the main Thurmaston estate. Doubtless (and Arriva will have the figures) the main issue is that relatively few passengers use the 6 around Syston - if there were masses paying cash fares, then there wouldn't be a problem as bus companies seldom withdraw really profitable routes!

    Also, as the 5 provides a very high frequency service through the centre of Syston, might it be that most able bodied people will walk to the main road and get that (every 10 mins) rather than the slower, infrequent 6? Therefore, would it be that the 6 around Syston is largely used by free pass holders for whom Arriva gets a pittance and not enough to justify the >£100k a year required to run a bus?

    The idea of running every 15 mins to save said bus just doesn't make ANY sense. As well as wrecking the consistent 5 min headway between the 5 and 6 on the city to Thurmaston section (you'll end up with half the 6's following a 5 in convoy - didn't FBB or said correspondent realise that), what you are then saying is that you'll disadvantage the area of the route around Thurmaston Estate and cut their service (the profitable, well used bit) in favour of propping up the unprofitable, poorly used bit.

    I thought the idiocy of that approach was disproved many years ago.

  2. We are back to the dilemma. What is public transport for? Is it for shareholders' profit? Or are the passengers to be considered. fbb's analysis may be erroneous in this specific case, but the principles are not. Somehow the bus industry needs to remember that it exists ONLY because people use the buses. Trimming fbb's frayed ends may (possibly) make economic sense but the long term costs to the public purse will certainly increase.

    fbb's shampoo is, sadly, long overdue.

    It is not (and CANNOT) always be about an arbitrary measure of profitability prescribed by accountants.

  3. Just suppose Leicestershire tenders for a half hour service to Syston estates (flying pigs again). Just suppose that an operator offers a cheap tender but runs via the Thurmaston housing as per the 6. Now Arriva have competition and a further loss of revenue.

    Flawed frayed end thinking yet again from the dominant operator.

    So Arrive restarts a commercial service 6 to Syston.

    It has happened so many times before.

    Best hold on to your network.

    1. Yes, but if Leicestershire put out a sensible tender for a half hourly service., Arriva can meet the need by extending journeys on the New 6, at the cost of one bus, whereas any new operator would require more vehicles to provide the end to end service. The result (hopefully) is that the county gets the best price and Arriva gets an adequate financial return. At least that’s the theory!

  4. Not quite certain that I've the time for an existential debate on whether public transport should not be considered a business! However, the status since 1986 is that bus services are a business and that local authorities would cover the wider social aspect. So in that respect, it is about profitability.

    As for FBB's synopsis of what could happen, the reality is a) no tender will be issued and b) even if someone like Centrebus elected to try and muscle in, then Arriva will simply compete on the Thurmaston to City Centre part more vigorously.

    Take it to the extreme, should a bus company continue to run a large amount of unremunerative work in order to maintain market share and keep out any intruder? Of course not, and merely running rubbish routes commercially impacts on the overall ability to invest.

    Should you therefore run only any journey that pays its way? Of course not and operators DO take this into account. A slight loss on the 1830 departure may be ok as you maintain the overall usage through the day. These things are nuanced and operators do review all of this in detail! Bus companies often (very often) will maintain individual journeys because of the holistic view in terms of patronage but there is a tipping point where it no longer makes financial sense.

  5. Some similar comparisons to where I live in Milton Keynes. The 300 has been dratically reduced to an hourly service to Woburn Sands (used to be half hourly).

    And more recently another route end in the town has been massively reduced. Both 1 and 2 used to go to Newport Pagnell (1 every 30 mins, 2 every 20 mins). They have now been combined to run a very long loop on the 2 every 20 mins. Caused a bit of local outrage I understand.

    But is another example of route ends being mucked about with, and who is in charge....Arriva from Leicester I’m told.