Friday, 19 July 2019

Tantalising Tripartite Traumas (5)

But First - Breaking News
Revealed today in "The Word", First Bristol's weekly staff newsletter is yet another hand-over of First Bus operations to Stagecoach!

In this case it is the X5 and the Severn Express - both of which have featured before in these blogs.

The X5 runs hourly (Mon to Sat) from Weston-super-Mud to the shopping Mall at Cribbs Causeway.
There are four complete journeys on a Sunday.
It makes use of the M5 crossing the Avon on the spectacular Motorway Bridge. A double deck bus ride is well worth taking, even if the delights of Cribbs Causeway are less than appealing.
It has an excellent leaflet ...
... and the orange buses certainly stand out from the crowd!
As a special bonus, you get an inclusive circular tour of Clevedon!
What greater thrill could you imagine?

The Seven Express (Bristol to Newport South Wales) does not make such a stand-out appearance, presumably being branded for "quality".
It has had a chequered route-number history, being simply X7 at one stage.
Further back it was a hotch-potch of X10, X11 and X14, ironically joint with Stagecoach South Wales ...
... who pulled out leaving at all to first. X7 became 7XP (SeveRn eXPress? gettit!) with its own dedicated and liveried deckers.
Anyway, from 1st September both of these routes will be operated by Stagecoach from their Patchway depot, a base which came with their purchase of the South Gloucestershire bus company.

It will be interesting to see if they match the quality vehicles usually allocated by First. fbb guesses that such lavish provision is unlikely.

And Back to Guildford
fbb set off on his Stagecoach service 1 via the University. Some buses on the route were double deck which would have provided a better view of the campus.

The uni was built in the arc of the railway lines between town and Aldershot and Reading.
It was once a largely open undeveloped site (Guildford Park) ...
... very close to the town centre.

The University of Surrey is a public research university in Guildford, England. The university received its royal charter in 1966, along with a number of other institutions following recommendations in the Robbins Report. The institution was previously known as Battersea College of Technology and was located in Battersea Park, London. Its roots however, go back to Battersea Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1891 to provide higher education for London's poorer inhabitants.

It shares the site with Guildford Cathedral.
The main entrance to the campus is big and very open, complete with a trendy "artwork" ...
... but Stagecoach service 1 enters via the back door, as it were, seen here with a now displaced Arrive bus on its way back to town from the 26/27 circular; but Stagecoach does the same. 
Here fbb's route 1 met the dreaded "rising bollards" which prevent unauthorised users from creeping in through the back way.
Aha! That's what the "artwork" represents at the other end of the site!

The descending bollard is hidden by the front of the bus ...
... but fbb is always anxious at this point. What would happen if a bus load of eager students approached and the bollard stayed risen? There is nowhere to turn round! At Northampton's new Uni campus a rising bollard rose majestically underneath a Uno bus causing much damage and much delay - so fbb's fears are not unwarranted.

The campus was deserted and only a few (possibly) language school students came and went. But the Uni's cruise liner had just docked on the campus ...
... (?) but everywhere was, understandably, deserted and the ten minute frequency was far too generous - but fair enough if the Uni is paying a good part of the bill!
And so on to another loop via Manor Park, home to the Uni's sports facilities ...
... with a long stretch of bus only road and provided with a ducky one-stand mini bus station, again seen via Streetview pre-Stagecoach.
The gyrations were quite disorientating but somehow the bus found its way round part of the extensive student village ...
... before performing yet another loop by turning back on itself to end up at the Hospital.
The Guildford bus map might help, despite a simplification of several of the wiggles?
This was the purpose of fbb's ride because here, at the hospital, Stagecoach, Arriva and Safeguard all meet up in a ludicrously over-bussed attempt to extract some fares revenue from visitors and staff.

Due to the Bristol news above, readers will have to wait until tomorrow for the results of a 40 minutes sojourn outside the hospital's main entrance watching buses in profusion pass by. There was a reasonably comfortable wall to sit on ...
... and a wide range of personal input and output needs just inside the main entrance.
What more could a bus watcher want?

 Next Guildford blog PLUS ; Saturday 20th July 

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Tantalising Tripartite Traumas (4)

The Public Transport Experience
Taking the above headline from the "official" title of this blog, fbb decided to use some of the remaining time in Guildford to try out "the experience". Things would begin at the bus station.

In 1950, the town opened not one but two bus stations. One was on Onslow Street, very close to the present site ...
... and the other was on the site of the former Connaught Hotel.
fbb's inadequate knowledge cannot identify the exact location of either, but this contemporaneous article from "Commercial Motor" explains all.
The present bus station was constructed as part of the Friary shopping centre, so it was that your sweltering blogger set off from his launch lunch, replete but "glowing" for the short toddle down the road.
The set-up was slightly disorientating for the old man, because you entered, obviously, on the ground floor ...
... where you might expect another exit to take you to the buses, also at ground level. But you need to ascend to an upper level to emerge at ground level!

First impressions can be very revealing, and, frankly the ambiance was dull and gloomy.
On the wall was a departure screen showing the usual, but less than useful, list in time order ...
... below which was a rather tired plan of the station with information as to what left from where.
It was a destination index in alphabetical order BUT it was quite hard to read, especially in the gloom. Although there were electronic displays at, say, the hospital, there was nothing at each individual stand. Your only source of "real time" was those lines on the departure list that showed "xx min" - many showed only departure time.

Obviously, there were no timetables on display anywhere but fbb did note a rather faded departure list for service 1 via the University, his steed of choice for the short ride to the hospital.
It informed any members of the public foolish enough to use it ...
... that it was at Friary Bus Station (thanks a bunch for that "big revelation"!), that it was valid from 6th January 2019 and that it was updated for Uni term times.

But therein lay a snag. Last Friday was well into the lengthy Summer Vacation. Indeed the postedeeven told its readers when these vacations were.
fbb espied no "separate timetable".

So, for Monday to Friday at least, it was completely useless unless you just wanted to go the the hospital. Poor.

But what do we see a little further through the gloom?
Paul's Caff (noted for later refreshment, if necessary - it usually is!) and a shiny illuminated sign complete with new wheely logo for Arriva. Bingo - at least some printed info might be acquired. And yes, super smashing, there was an extensive display just inside the door ...
... which was utterly locked! Lunch break!
Even more galling was the apparition of a real human being sitting behind a computer and looking very much alive. Doubtless this "operative" was entitled to a break but the whole set up was simply NOT a good exemplar of Customer Service.

Safeguard was worse!

Next door they had an office ...
... with a huge display for route 4 and 5 but, in this case, the smiling person seen on the door was just another poster. It was clearly no longer in use for the public.

And Stagecoach? NOTHING. No office, no leaflets, no posters and nowhere to find out!

These three companies are in competition and, if fbb has grasped the idea aright, the usual idea in a competitive situation is to do everything possible to encourage people to buy your product (a ride on a bus) in preference to the other blokes'  goodies.

There was no incentive to travel on any of them!

It was difficult to get an impression of the whole bus station as time was limited - but a bit of follow-up research confirmed the layout.
There was a long line of "third world" shelters along Commercial Road.
... which fbb thought were no longer used. But they were!
In contrast, the main head-in stands were busy with a constant queue of buses waiting to nose in. These were on the bus station side of the lavish Stands 18 to 22.
The problem with the busy stands was that there was insufficient room to queue - more than an dozen eager passengers would spill out and partially block the walkway.

There was one big positive about the Friary facility. It is still there.

A proposal a few years ago to relocate to a smaller site seems to have faded into the greyness of aspirational town centre "improvements". 
One proposal was to use Mary Road car park which would be ...

(a) further from the shops
(b) too small
(c) harder to get into and out

... otherwise a super scheme!

Far better, you would think, to build a better bus station on the existing site? 

Aha! But if that were done, the Council could not make zillions from selling the land for an extension to the shopping centre.

Sadly (actually fortunately) shopping "malls" in the centre of towns do not, currently, offer "good investment potential" - hence the comparative silence about the new inferior bus station site.

Time will tell - but the currently facility badly needs a clean up, an opening up, better electronic information and, above all, a well staffed all-operator enquiry office. As usual:-
But, at last, the weary old boy sets off on his competitive bus ride.

 Next Guildford blog : Friday 19th July 

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Tantalising Tripartite Traumas (3)

Arriva versus Safeguard
Readers may remember that, at one time, these two companies worked jointly and cosily on the two routes in question, namely the Park Bark circulars and Bellfields. For whatever reason, the two decided to break their relationship and Safeguard would thereafter operate exclusively to Park Barn.

Please remember (how could you forget?) that Arriva's 26/27 circulars did serve Park Barn generally ...
... as does the new Stagecoach 1 an 2. We are talking about buses that penetrate deep into the estate, performing a one way circular loop. Here is the situation immediately after Stagecoach snaffled the University "contract" from Arriva.
From the Park Barn roundabout the 1, 26 and 27 use Park Barn Drive in both directions, whereas the 4 and 5 only travel northbound.

The Safeguard routes then veer left along Cabell Road which runs to the north and west of the estate.
As the road  morphs into South Way (cunning name for a road to the south of the development) the buses pass church ...
... shops ...
... primary school ...
... pub ...
... and secondary school.
It gets better results and better inspections if it calls itself a "College", apparently!

Then you are back at the roundabout. The full routes 4 and 5 and well displayed on Safeguard's timetable, showing that they also visit the Hospital.

The "agreement" gave Safeguard exclusive right to the estate itself ...
... running every 10 to 15 minutes both ways round.
Saturdays offer a bus every 15 to 20 minutes, again both ways round whilst Sunday daytimes 4s and 5 run every 20 - very impressive. All evenings have buses via the "upper" part of the route only, out as 4s to the park Barn loop only and back as 5s.
Meanwhile Arriva had exclusivity on the Bellfields Route.
Of course, Arriva messed this up by deciding to run minibuses on the 3 ...
... with no increase in frequency; something of a PR disaster! The unsatisfactory vehicles soon got the heave-ho and normality returned.
But the removal of the University from the 26/7 circular by Big Bad Brian's Stagecoach meant that the blue bus boys were in a parlous financial state. It needed a cunning plan, which was as easy as A B C.
A (ORANGE) runs every 10 minutes to the Hospital direct.
B (PURPLE) every 10 minutes (via Safeguard's northern route) to Park Barn.
C (GREEN) competes with Stagecoach 1/2 at Stoughton running every 15.
The agreement with Safeguard is unilaterally broken.

As fast as you can say "Traffic Commissioners", Safeguard registered their service 3 ...
... to Bellfields, an exact copy (route and frequency) of the Arriva service ...
... but they number it 3s (s for Safeguard for those hadn't worked it out!) in case you do not spot the colour of the bus.
So, to summarise the battle joined.

Arriva A competes with Stagecoach 1 and Safeguard 4/5 at the Hospital

Arriva B competes with Safeguard 4/5 at Park Barn

Arriva C competes with Stagecoach 1/2 at Stoughton

Arriva 3 competes with Safeguard 3s at Bellfields

Is this silly or is this silly?

This was the local press back in December 2018 before the battle became bitter.

Arriva's Surrey and Kent operations lost nearly £900,000 in 2017, and the company claims its Guildford depot is no longer profitable.

Bus drivers at Arriva's Guildford depot face having salary cuts imposed on them as the company's Kent and Surrey branch struggles financially.

In a letter sent to Arriva's 120 Guildford-based drivers, and seen by Surrey Live, the company said the depot in Mary Road was running at a loss after losing contracts for some routes.

These include the 81, 437, 462 and 463, which the company had been paid £300,200 a year to operate until the routes were awarded to Berkshire-based CE Jeatt and Sons in September.

Bus watchers will know C E Jeatt and Sons as White Bus ...
... based in Winkfield.

Rather than make drivers redundant, the letter went on, the company plans to terminate the contracts of all its Guildford drivers and then re-employ them on a lower salary. No drivers are expected to lose their jobs permanently.

Arriva has already begun trying to expand its business in Guildford, increasing its services to and from the Royal Surrey County Hospital in a move described by the managing director of rival Safeguard as "muscling in" on his company's territory.

The trouble is that both Stagecoach and Arriva are big enough to sustain loss making services. The David to their Goliath, despite 95 years of loyal service to the town, is simply not big enough to weather a prolonged storm and "Safeguard" their business.
let us hope that the residents of Park Barn and Bellfields are wise enough to support their local operator and thus ensure the continuation of the service.

To see how things were working out "on the road" fbb took a trip to the hospital and back after the First Bus launch of RA2.

More tomorrow.

 Next Guildford bus blog : Thursday 18th July