Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The Grand Tour (six)

(Un)Expected Disappointments
Day two of fbb's grand tour (Friday 6th April) was to be a trip to Sheffield to experience the innovative and exciting Buses for Sheffield marketing campaign. Fortunately fbb and chum David decided to curtail their trip and leave after 0930 (free travel on the buses!) and spend less time in Sheffield.

The 1030 departure from Leicester was spot on time and trundled happily northwards. The fabric of Derby's additional platforms was evident, seen under construction on the site of the former goods lines (below, red).
The extras ...
... will enable services to be segregated according to route and destination. The resignalling and track layout rebuild will be disruptive from July to October with initial publicity (already reported by fbb) being patronising ...
... but lacking in detail.

Good news for Derby as a prelude for less enjoyable experiences further north?

Buses for Sheffield
Needless to say, there were no visible developments for the Buses for Sheffield "non-event" apart from a few sticky labels. We must all remain expectantly agog for branding "at all bus stops" ...
... plus, of course, the eagerly awaited underground style route map, also due to appear "at all bus stops".
Still awaited!

Bus Information
Printed information was, as usual, sparse in the extreme - but there were copies of the northern network map available.
fbb did not spot the South Sheffield version, but, to be fair, was only passing through.

One of the advertised replacements for printed timetables are the green information terminals scattered about the PTEs empire. There are two at Sheffield Interchange ...
... both of which were black-blank and totally inoperative!

And what of the green monster info-system in Rotherham Interchange? It had a working screen showing a map but would not display a keyboard and, like its bothers in Sheffield, was utterly useless.

So much for technology as an alternative to printed leaflets.

A Non-Stunning Bus Route
The gruesome twosome decided to take and X1 "Steellink" to Rotherham ...
... partake of a snack luncheon and then return via Waverley in the 1332 service 74. This X1 route was once Sheffield and Rotherham transport's service 69.
It was "upgraded" (not by much) to become one of a new type of bus service for the city. Sadly "tram-type" stops never materialised and the only real change from the 69 was the buses re-allocated from the Steellink X78 ...
... and a diversion via Meadowhall. The new X1 has been deemed a great success by First Bus as the former 69 was linked at Rotherham with the bus service to Maltby.
It now takes residents of Maltby, Bramley, Hellaby etc via the centre of Rotherham but away from the town centre to shop at Meadowhall.

Sadly, what was pre-announced as something of high quality, new and special for the City's public transport is nothing more than a very ordinary urban bus route with slightly posher buses.

Consequently the X78 has been reduced in frequency.

No Better in Rotherham?
This would also be a chance for fbb to enjoy (?) the delights of Rotherham bus station before it closed for "refurbishment" at the end of the month.
See a previous blog (here).

Construction work is scheduled to start on Monday 30 April for the £12 million upgrade and refurbishment of Rotherham Interchange. The works will see improved lighting, glazing, seating and Passenger Information Displays (PIDs), plus new floors and a CCTV system for the interchange.

Bus services are set to do their last journeys to and from Rotherham Interchange on Saturday 28 April, being transferred to Rotherham Forge Island bus station on Sunday 29 April. 

A temporary facility is currently being built at Forge Island, around 300 metres away from the interchange itself, to accommodate the bus services whilst the works are being carried out, minimising customer disruption. Additional temporary stops will be placed on Corporation Street.

While the works take place, the interchange and car park will be closed, but the café, shops in the mall and customer toilets will remain open.

The timetables and route revisions for the closure from 29th April are appearing on the Travel South Yorkshire web site. New stops will be located on Corporations Street ...
... and a a temporary bus station at Forge Island (Lock / Car Park, bottom left).

fbb could find no on-line map showing the revised bus stops and/or a plan of the temporary bus station.  Let's hope something printed will appear in due course. Until then, you need to look at (and possibly download) each individual timetable to discover where you will find the stops after 29th April.

Same old, same old! There were so many opportunities to do things really well in Sheffield (and Rotherham) but, time and time again, good ideas and positive developments seem to fizzle into poor quality delivery and atrocious publicity.

Or are all bus operations like this?

Nottingham and Birmingham visits are still to come as part of fbb's Grand Tour. But first ...

 Next Waverley blog : Wednesday 11th April 


  1. Are all bus operations like this? No, the highly political comment being that this level of issue raised tends to occur where the council officers believe they know better than the professional bus operators (whether or not the operator is owned by the council) as they don't actually know what the user wants or are able to react quickly when needs change. This is different from an operator simply not delivering on the ground which is a whole different ball-game of ways to mess up and doesn't relate to structural system (the state owned operators pre-privatisation were as prone to it as the post privatisation businesses).

    The best way is to find the workable middle ground with the authority playing to their strengths and leaving operators to market & plan their systems but it does require the operators to accept we are no longer in the buccaneering 80's and that working with the local authorities on future planning provides the best outcomes and maximises return on the meagre funding available on both sides.

    1. Um . . . . I can see your point, and it's certainly better to talk rather than just do, but in my experience LTA's dislike making decisions in case they upset someone (and to be fair the officers are accountable to the elected Councillors). Sometimes opportunities have been missed through the perceived need for "consultation", when a good operator will know his market and know when his route is no longer useful to the majority of passengers.
      Never one correct answer, I'm afraid . . . .

    2. But that would be an example of an LA not sticking to what they are good at (liasing & co-ordinating between groups/companies & supporting the unremunative but socially necessary) & trying to control commercial development. What I was referring to was some operators (my employers amongst them) have a tendency to not give the council any warning of major service cuts (so the just 8 weeks notice they get from having the registration copy posted to them) and not giving them a little time to get their house in order, especially in times of financial restrictions for LAs who are cutting services so need a little more time than they used to for need assessment. Whilst there are a number of LAs who wouldn't be ready no matter how much time they are given and will keep putting things off until they are forced even then when you do put the change in a couple of weeks later (it only needs to be 2 or 3 weeks extra to help the LA) they at least have done the ground work and now have a fixed deadline to force a decision. The point is that the council shouldn't try to prevent or slow commercial improvements and shouldn't try to block commercial reductions where money is being lost as that is how to weaken your market but operators shouldn't try to drop things on the council in the hope of forcing a specific outcome. Too many operators see council vacillation as a reason to play funding chicken, giving minimal notice of any changes in the assumption this will force the council to fund whilst they work out what to do where now it often results in the service disappearing as the council can't free the money quick enough and once it is gone they don't see a need to try and bring it back.

  2. That's a fair comment, and in an ideal world that's the whole point for 56 days notice (which was raised from 42 days originally) so that LTA's can organise replacements (if appropriate).
    In my experience (granted only with one LTA), the first 14 days is marked with inactivity, the second 14 days with "but we've got no money", the third 14 days with "can we get ridership statistics" and the last 14 days with "how much to replace / adjust the timetable".
    We do supply statistics on one contracted route which are frankly so bland as to be of no more use than calculating subsidy per passenger trip. We're happy to supply more detailed information, but even when offered they don't take us up on the offer.

    This particular route hasn't had a meaningful timetable alteration in 15 years now, and apart from shopping trips is now pretty meaningless . . . . even the drivers comment that trips after 1500 on weekdays and after 1300 on Saturdays are down to 1-2 pax at most. Proper investigation would reveal this, and enable a subsidy reduction of maybe £15K-£20K pa.

    Other contracts in the area suffer in exactly the same way, with meaningless routes being operated with minimal passenger trips because "the route's always run that way". Unfortunately the LTA now has no planners with bus experience left, so the default option of "do nothing" stands.

    Maybe Dorset and Oxfordshire had the right idea . . . . slash and burn whilst they still had bus planners available, and leave the rest to commercial operations . . . . I'm coming round to their idea that if only penny numbers travel on a trip, then it isn't required any more.

  3. Several very valid points, very well made, in the above two comments.

    With regard to notice, we have one significant independent who will happily make big cuts to things, and "forget" to send the Registration to us for a couple of weeks, expecting we'll just pay him a deminimis amount to continue! If we put out a tender he'll then threaten to withdraw more journeys (often elsewhere in his complexly scheduled network) if he doesn't win the tender. And all with the clock ticking!

    Another operator, a subsidiary of a large group is coming in to discuss their ideas for several towns in our area. Not to discuss "plans" but "ideas". They are coming to talk with not only with the Passenger Transport Unit, but also with the Sustainable Transport people who know the details of what development is going where and the likely timescales (always difficult with builders). But together we can all hear each others aspirations, and constraints, and better understand the overall position.

    One of the other big groups tends to work up its own plans, then ask for a meeting at which it explains its thoughts and says, in essence, "let us know what you think, we need to Register in a month's time".

    As for the 1 and 2 pax journeys, they, sadly, have to go. And when we go out and talk to passengers on these journeys they are generally very understanding, even to the extent of saying "I wondered how much longer this could continue".

    But maybe we're not the typical LA.

    1. Maybe that's the big problem, that there is no "typical" LTA or "standard" bus operator.
      The industry has, since privatisation, become fragmented, even to the individual companies in the bigger groups who have differing approaches depending (perhaps) on whether the operators or the accountants are in overall control.

      Similarly with LTA's, where we seem to be seeing the retirement of the bus transport planners and their replacement with planners who don't have the background in public transport . . . . I can think of several such planners who have either made a career in the discipline, or who used to work for bus companies in the 1970's and 1980's; were removed in the big management shakeups of deregulation and privatisation and are now retiring.

      Either way, there's a huge amount of experience and immersion in the bus industry retiring now (and I'm one of them!), and it's simply not being replaced.

      I don't know what the answer is . . . . we're always told that the bus industry should stand up for itself in the way that rail TOC's seem to, but with operators from Berwick to Penzance that's difficult.

      Back in the day (1970's) there were Associations of Bus Companies (local authority or independents) and of course the NBC, who could lobby on behalf of the wider industry, but I'm afraid that the CPT just doesn't cut it and the (new kid on the block) BCA seems intent on ruining the Community Transport Operators (who are rapidly becoming the lifeline for any rural bus requirements).

      Glad I'm (nearly) out of it; but it does seem a waste of 40+ years . . . .

  4. A job well done! This is a beautiful piece. Trust me, the sky is your limit...

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