Saturday, 11 July 2020

Weekend Variety (Saturday)

Be Positive - Enjoy A Bus Ride
Below is a link to First Kernow's Facebook site.
fbb has attempted to make the link clickable or even download the video but has failed utterly. So you need to copy the whole line (in brown on most systems) directly into your internet browser. Also, please note, it downloads with the sound switched off, so the diddy little loudspeaker icon needs a prod.

It is worth the effort!

First Bus - The M D Speaks
Giles Fearnley has sent out a letter to stakeholders in response to the "lurid headlines" as revealed in yesterdays blog. It says much the same as James Freeman wrote, but perhaps with a little more gravitas - which is delicious on fresh crusty bread with unsalted butter.

Here are a few extracts.

I thought you would find it helpful for me to put the "lurid headlines" into some context.

As we know, the entire transport sector has been affected during the coronavirus pandemic by a dramatic fall across all modes of travel, and there is continued uncertainty for the sector to overcome. We do not know how long social distancing will remain in place, how quickly passenger demand will recover, or how government and customer support might taper.

In terms of financial reporting, all these factors represent material uncertainties. As a publicly listed company First Group is obliged to set them out for the financial markets. Publication of these scenarios alongside our full year results this week this has led to some media speculation about our future viability, but I wanted to reassure you that the long-term fundamentals of our business are sound.

Through government support, we were able to keep our vital bus and rail operations running, in readiness of increasing service levels again to help economies return to strength. As a company, we face the future as a market-leader in both bus and rail, with strong liquidity as well as this fiscal support.

In other words, "We'll be all right ...
... probably!"

Uber Floats In London
Thames Clippers is not a name well-known by country bumpkins from way out west, but fbb and his Seatonian compatriots might, from time to time, spot this logo on their occasional visits to the big smoke.
Maybe when Devonians visit London they may recall Wordsworth's worthy words composed upon Westminster Bridge.

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majes tie;
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the river; silent, bare,
Thames Clippers along the waters daily ply
and men can marvel as by they fly.

This is London's modern River Bus service.
Various stopping routes are offered, particularly at peak times, but the current core service operates from Canada Wharf to Waterloo ...
... and from Blackfriars to Putney.
Fares are zonal but with the usual App discounts and reductions to London Travelcard holders.
The company has just announced a tie-up with the dreaded Uber ...
... and have begun repainting their buses, sorry boats. Presumably the deal means you can book using Uber on normal services with a discount. fbb doesn't thiink they will send one of their boats just to pick up one passenger and convey said person to their riverside destination!

Signs Of Unlockdown - Good
On the trains ...
... and on the buses (from Transdev).
Sooooo much better that the crime scene fear tactics that we have had to suffer for a while.

... And Awful
Alan writes from the delights of Northampton's cramped and inefficient bus station.
His email begins:-
Example 1
Alan then opines ...
... and offers example 2.
The technology is well observed.
There are so many ways in which this piece of very bad publicity could have been done better.

It is likely that the current services will remain unchanged until the kiddies are able to satiate their lockdowned desire for education as they return cheerily to school in September.

Mind you, if social distancing remains at 1 metre (use window seats only - no standing) there won't be enough buses in the whole of the UK.

The industry is making vociferous noises about the negatives that the government has promoted and the need to positively encourage bus travel.

Clearly Stagecoach in Northampton don't countenance any such encouragement!

Or, In Portsmouth?
The on-line version of this article is replete with effusive enthusiasm but lacking in any detail.

Correspondent Alan (a different Alan) wonders whether the shelters would still have a timetable frame? And how many upcoming services would be shown?

One positive. If you are visually impaired you can apply for a "fob" which activates a spoken version.

The Control Tower
When Airfix kits burst onto the model Railway world in the late 1950s, they were the answer to a maiden's modeller's prayer. For just two bob  a piece (two shillings - the equivalent of about £2.30 today) you could equip your model railway with all sorts of scenic stuff.

It was far more realistic than anything else and although you probably painted the models very badly (fbbs were grim!), the results were very acceptable.

An oddity, however, was the control tower. It came packaged as part of the model railway range ...
... and was this labelled  "HO & OO". It was a series 2 model, i.e. 3/-; but it never seemed to fit with a railway scene. Who would have room for an airfield on their layout? Maybe Airfix intended to sell it to those assembling aircraft kits, but planes were modelled to a slightly larger scale, 1:72 rather than OO's 1:76.

When, in its financial turmoil, Airfix sold its railway moulds to Dapol, it did not pass on the Control Tower which remained in the Airfix catalogue until at least 2016. It is now a 61 year old model, although it vanished from the Airfix list soon after the last published leaflets.

Of all the Airfix models this is the hardest to find, with some sellers charging ridiculous prices.
fbb paid £7 for his, plus postage, which appears to have been a bit of a bargain.

So why did fbb buy a control tower and turn it into one of these?
And what is it anyway?

More tomorrow.

 Weekend Variety Sunday's blog : 12th July 

Friday, 10 July 2020

Communication Conundrum

But First, First, The First To Report
Blog readers may well have read the doom and gloom articles by City pundits, suggesting that First Bus is on the brink of ceasing to trade.

Things are grim in the Industry, but perhaps James Freeman offers his Bristolian staff a more reasoned comment.

Lurid National Headlines…
Yesterday (that was Wednesday) saw the release of FirstGroup’s annual results. We are the first of the big five transport groups to report, so we draw all the fire! And so it was.

The Guardian’s approach was typical: “FirstGroup could cease trading as coronavirus hits passenger levels”.

The Group is reporting on the year that ended in March 2020, well before the nasties began to bite.

These gory headlines result from the need, when filing Annual Results, to recognise what is called “material uncertainty”. And you don’t need to be an expert to know that in a Coronavirus-affected world, what is certain is that there is no certainty!

Don’t worry. FirstGroup is a going concern and has the resources to carry on for the foreseeable. But what spooks the accountants is that there is a glass-empty worst case scenario when everything goes wrong. It most likely won’t happen, so we must not behave as if it will.

Despite that, this is a timely warning to us all that these are strange and uncertain times and nothing can or should be taken for granted. We’re not out of the woods yet!

So far we’re surviving remarkably well through the pandemic—thanks to all our efforts, but nobody can guarantee our future! That means staying firmly realistic! Keep smiling.

Of course the Group is much bigger than just a bag of buses. The board is aiming to sell the various US divisions to reduce the level of debt.

But it is hard for mere mortals to understand these high level financial prognostications. We shall have to wait and see what actually happens in the current financial year. it will not be good news for any business.

We should not be surprised if the other bus groups attract similarly "lurid headlines".

More from first bus tomorrow.

Informing The Public
It ought to be simple. If people have a desire to travel by bus or train there are certain basics that they need to take into consideration.



How Much?

At the risk of being repetitive, (last reported in 2016!) fbb will remind his readers that he conducted a live experiment with senior managers in Sheffield a few years ago. vatious attendees at the meeting were challenged to answer a simple question.

When is the first bus from Lodge Moor to city on a Saturday after 12 noon?

Available information was

Traveline journey planner

Traveline timetables on line

Travel South Yorkshire timetables on line

First Bus timetables on line.

Traveline phone service

A timetable book admittedly out of date)

Contenders were invited to use their phones or computer terminals and one hesitant "volunteer" used the timetable book.
Stagecoach and First Bus company journey planners were not available.

Obviously the timetable book won by a significant margin; the next for speed took three times longer. It should be said that, as these good folk were senior executives, their overall performance on all modes was, at best, poor.

So how best can the bus operator communicate to its potential passengers when and where the buses go. Leaving aside the glorious on-line technology available, fbb will consider the vast majority of bus passengers who still have to use (or choose to use) hard copy.

There has been a steady deterioration in quantity and quality of timetable information over the last decade or two. London Transport provided their excellent Panel Timetables at most stops ...
... replaced by crude summaries which required the user to guess the journey time with helpful phrases like, "buses may take longer at busy times". Yep! Sometimes twice as long.
Is "about every 8-13 minutes" really the best way to encourage people to use the bus. and we still don't really know how long our journey will take.

BUT, fbb has to admit, there are situations where a departure list rather than a timetable can be of use. If the bus route is short or very frequent the customer may be happy with a set of departure times. Here is an Oxford Park and Ride.
Then there is the reminder list for regular passengers. Such a "commuter" knows the route, understands likely delays and just needs a quick poke in the brain. 

Here is a departure list (extract) that really does require huge amounts of background knowledge. (click on the graphic for a larger view)
And this one requires too much knowledge!
And another one that simply fails to communicate to an outsider!
At least some departure lists are very straightforward and provide an easy to follow aid to travel. This one is from First Glasgow.
Yet again. however, it is difficult to guess how long your journey will take unless you are going to Dumbarton Road or Kinfauns Drive. This is service 3 and Kinfauns drive is a long road!
A further problem arises when not all the buses on the designated route follow the same set of roads or serve the same destination. These variations can be made clear on a standard "grid" timetable but it is far less easy when all Joseph Public is given is a departure time.

We enter the world of little notes against the times ...
... or big notes against the times ...
... or unnecessary notes against the times ...
... or lots of colours ...
... and unnecessary duplication of headings.
So, assuming that a departure list is useful for some passengers, how best can we inform the public using this "technology"?

You see, fbb has been persuaded by users of GoTimetable that there is a demand for a printable departure list, stop by stop, to give confidence to the passenger.

How best to design an easy to use departure list is fbb's challenge for the next few days.

It could be very easy ...
... or it could be more tricky.

We shall see.

The Control Tower
It is sort of finished.
Perhaps it needs a bit of further explanation - which will come tomorrow. Work is due to start on rebuilding the busted carriage shed, now that the windows have been delivered.

 Next weekend Variety blog : Saturday 11th July 

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Memories, Memories ...

In Memoriam
Five years ago today the fbbs' No 2 Son was shot dead by a trigger-happy policeman in Los Angeles. Neil was misbehaving, but he was unarmed and the autopsy found no drugs or alcohol in his body. On the night that he died, but unaware of the tragedy, Mrs fbb had a dream - a vision - in which Neil was sitting at the foot of the bed with head bowed in an attitude of contrition. An almost touchable atmosphere of peace filled the room, so different from normal dreams which often featured the young man's flawed nature.

It was a fortnight later that the policeman came to the door and revealed the awful news!

No one took the knee, no one rioted, no one set fire to anything - it was just a routine Los Angeles happening.

Of course black lives matter, of course ALL lives matter.

For only a penny you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows! - from Matthew Chapter 10.

The fbb's thank God that their son is now at peace; revenge or retribution will not give him back his life, and the fbbs do not seek such and never will; but the bias of George Floyd events does make the memories something of a tough challenge.

Instead of trying to rewrite history by demolishing statues etc, surely the right way forward is to seek condemnation of all future brutality by "the authorities" directed at ALL peoples. And how about campaigning loud and long about the appalling level of violent persecution of Christians (and other faiths). And a similarly vociferous campaign against 21st century slavery, notably for the so called "sex trade", which is endemic throughout the world and thus here in the UK.

All peoples should be working and praying to make things better NOW for everyone, not trying to rewrite history.


And Now, Some Happier Memories
As part of their 100 years celebrations, Hornby have produced an edition of "The Hornby Book of Trains".
It follows in a long line of such titles, the first of which appeared in 1925.

But that was 23 years after Frank Hornby's genius idea went on sale. In 1902 he began selling the world's first ever construction toy; whereby mechanical models could be made, dismantled and reassembled as something different.
It was soon rebranded as Meccano.
After a few years it was joined by a magazine, first a freebee but then sold on subscription.
The purpose of the periodical was to arouse and develop interest in the technology of the day so that young lads would want to build ever more complex machines as here with a working loom.
In order to do this, of course, it would be necessary to go to your local supplier and purchase extra bits, either as an add-on set or individually.

How about a few trunnion plates? You could have them flat ...
... or angled ...
... or, in a later version, with boss.

Then the Hornby boss had yet another jackpot idea. Why not design a toy train which, like Meccano, could be taken apart and re-assembled using little nuts and bolts.
So it was that in 1920 the 100 years of model trains began with a simple four wheel clockwork loco now reproduced as a three rail electric model. Back in 1920 there were crude coaches and wagons.
Today your £524 (OUCH-plus) will just buy the loco. To run it you need at least some track and preferably a vintage carriage or two. fbb reckons that most of them will sit in display cabinets and never turn a wheel.

But back in the 1920s, it was not long before you could get wagons which did things, like this working snow plough ...
... and a level crossing with working lights.
Hornby produced stock for the Canadian market ...
... and bog standard four wheel loco mechanisms with pseudo European bodies on top.
At least one UK model made a valiant attempt to reproduce a real loco, namely a Metropolitan Railway electric jobbie ...
... but with the 0-4-0 mechanism hidden below deep valances. 

By the mid-1930s hornby had begun to produce stuff of higher quality (and at a higher price!) ...
... but the War curtailed such projects.

fbb owns a couple of the bogie coaches (unboxed) but sadly one of them has been well bent at one end and fbb has not yet been brave enough to try unbending it.
But the writing was very much on the wall for Hornby "O", as announced by a two page spread in a 1938 Meccano Magazine.
Like many of his elderliness, fbb, aged 7/8, was given an enhanced set similar to below for Christmas.
It was second hand but came with track, points, a second loco and a few wagons including fbb's favourite, a side tipper. It ran on a large circuit round the lad's bedroom, such that, inevitably, the spring wound down while it was under the bed. Once re-wound it went so fast the it fell off the track at the corners. There was no speed control, just a brake and reverse controlled by the two levers poking out of the back of the cab..

fbb soon lost interest and the stuff was passed on.

But, more or less, that was the end of O gauge toy trains, leaving the scale to wealthy specialists who constructed their own locos. We all though that traditional tinplate was gone for ever.

Until 1996, that is.
In 1996, Allen and Charlotte Levy started their Ace Trains company.
The locos returned to the scale and quality of those Hornby biggies from the late 1930s ...
... electrically powered (two or three rail), complete with nostaligiafest rolling stock.

Briefly in 2008/9 Hornby re-entered the O gauge tinplate - sort of by accident. Hornby took over Corgi, for long a competitor to Dinky Toys, and with that business came Corgi's entry into the tinplate market using the super historic name of Bassett-Lowke.
The series came with a selection of fondly remember tin wagons ...
... but production was soon ended; leaving the market clear for Ace.

Of course the market has changed yet again, with finely scaled O gauge models being produced at, for some people at least, affordable prices.
£335 - ONLY.

Only 30 years of Hornby's 100 have passed by but post WW2 everything was Dublo!

fbb will pick up the story in a later blog. Also tomorrow we see what finally happened to the Control Tower.
The excitement is almost too much!

 Next Technology blog : Friday 10th July