Saturday 27 March 2010

Worst Bus Station?

NO ENTRY for pedestrians
Notice : this is PRIVATE PROPERTY
Pedestrians must ONLY leave by the entrance under the archway
Keep Off
Fragile Roof
Welcome to Winchester bus station

Which notice does not appear near to the cafe and enquiry office at the (mainly) Stagecoach bus station?   

Winchester is an historic city visited by many tourists from all over the world. The bus station is (probably) pre-war and is, in effect, the forecourt of  the Stagecoach depot.It offers a cafe, an enquiry office and a series of stands with limited cover for waiting passengers. When I was there the rain blew in! Buses enter through the garage and exit under an impressive archway from which the lettering has been removed (or fallen off) leaving a slightly darker "Winchester Bus Station" on faded National Bus Company "poppy red".

Passengers enter and exit by way of narrow walkways on both sides of the arch.

The whole bus station is, erm... "tired" - depressingly tatty would be a better description.   The cafe is popular (although I could find no list of opening times) but did not have what you might call a "quality ambience"; more "greasy spoon" than welcoming refreshment facility!   I could find no toilets - these have to be sought at various locations in the City.

Service 5, it tells me, leaves from the Broadway ...
... but fails to tell me where that is. I am supposed to know. There is a very small map of the centre of Winchester, guiding visitors to the various tourist sites; a map which can only be read by a passenger in an attitude of prayer on his knees - in a puddle.

The enquiry office is only open Monday to Friday from 0900 to 1700 on one notice, and pinned immediately below it alternative hours from 0900 to 1245 then 1315 to 1730.

Helpfully we are told (three times?) that there are NO left luggage facilites. A rather amateur but welcome display shows National Express services and reminds us that tickets can be bought here; but, of course, not on Saturday or Sunday and possibly not between 1245 and 1315 - maybe...

To complete the overall service to the paying public there is a rack of Stagecoach leaflets;but not a mention of Blue Star's trunk routes or any guidance as to the small number of "other operators" which can be found nearby but not in the bus station.

Here a view down The Broadway; distinguished City Hall on the right, historic statue of King Alfred in the far distance with tired bus station left and alongside His Majesty, a secret service 5.
Now, before anyone sends a correction, fbb isw aware that the bus station is "awaiting re-development". But when? The present facility has been tatty for years.

How NOT to attract new customers away from their cars and into the bus.

This blog has been upgraded and amended from June 2011 

Saturday 20 March 2010

Best Bus Ride Ever?

A "Great Rail Journey" holiday took us to Locarno, where we were able to enjoy a "free" day. My wife took herself off to the old town and the shops whilst I was able to sample an unescorted swiss bus ride. The operator, delightfully named FART (being the train and bus operator for the Ticino region of Switzerland), had excellent publicity and I chose a trip to Mergoscia which appeared from the route map to be at the end of a road to nowhere.

And what a road!

It all started quite conventionally through the Locarno suburbs and then we started to climb. And how! The road became narrower and narrower - often barely wide enough for the medium-sized single decker which was packed with walkers and their rucksacks. I felt under-dressed without hiking boots and anorak! In places there was nothing between us and a precipitous drop to the valley floor and huge lake below. No barriers! Then there were the sharp corners - so sharp that the bus had to jiggle backwards and forwards to get round, with the rear overhang - well, overhanging NOTHING! (and I was sitting at the back and often OVER the edge.)

In places the road had been so narrow that new alignments had been blasted through solid rock. There were many corporate gasps of excitement tinged with fear as we progressed, at significant speed, to the little village, literally, at the end of the road. On the rare occasions when we met a vehicle coming the other way there was much shuffling and reversing and holding breath as a coat of paint often separated us from them.

So thrilling were the views and the ride that on arrival at Mergoscia the whole bus burst into impromptu applause for the driver - who was somewhat bemused by the accolade. The driver disappeared for his break, leaving the vehicle open (of course) for me to enjoy the views in comfort - and soon we were off back down. I think "down" was more terrifying as the only views were down the valley and over the edge.

Obviously we simply cannot match Swiss scenery in GB - but are there any candidates for spectacularly thrilling bus rides here?

Incidentally, I took this journey back in 2003 and the timetable and route are largely unchanged today.

Monday 15 March 2010

Minus Plus Bus

Have you heard of "Plusbus" - a scheme whereby you can buy add-on bus travel when you buy your Rail Ticket?  Have you ever used Plusbus? Outwardly the scheme is excellent!   Not only can you buy, effectively, a day rover ticket to use on "most" buses at your destination; but the price is cheap and railcard discounts apply.

BUT - in practice, for the "average" traveller, the scheme is almost impossible to use.   Firstly, the add-on tickets can only be bought at your start station - they cannot be bought when you arrive.   This might be an advantage until you realise that the information you might need is simply NOT available when you start - if details are available at all, they are ONLY available when you arrive, say on a station poster display.  In the case of Bournemouth, for example, there is no LOCALLY available ticket that allows unlimited travel on "Yellow" buses and "Wilts and Dorset"; whereas the Plusbus add-on (available remotely!) does provide this facility.   Many locals now buy a rail ticket and throw it away to get the benefit of the "rover" facility!

The Plusbus website is not very helpful.   Very stylised maps showing the rough extent of validity are there for each scheme (because each town has a different scheme, different prices and widely different areas of availability).   But no route map, no timetables and no clear definition of boundaries.  You can "Plusbus" to one of the University campuses (campi?) in Bath but not to the other!  In some cases destinations are shown on the map but there are NO bus services to get there!  Many of the location "blobs" are in the wrong place and some names are mis-spelt. As for Sunday travel - don't bother to start!

The sales of Plusbus tickets are, we are told, growing.   True, but at the last count published, growing from very few indeed to not very many.  [on average about three tickets per railway station per week!].

What we need to encourage usage is

(1) sales permitted at destination stations.  If this is commercially risky, then why not simply endorse a valid rail ticket and sell a Plusbus ticket only valid with its associated rail ticket. "Simples!"

(2) leaflets available at start stations giving fuller details of availability at selected likely destinations.  "Simples!"

(3) downloadable timetables and route maps on line.  Not quite so "simples" but still do-able.

(4) just one nationally available plusbus add-on price (say £3) to make the thinking and decision-making process easy.   The aim would be, eventually, to make the Plusbus ticket the norm and "Rail only" an opt-out!

Even better, says he cynically, why not make the Plusbus facility FREE with any appropriate rail ticket?   I am sure that some overpaid lawyers could make millions deciding how to allocate revenue and there is a good chance that their millions could be offset by even greater zillions in environmental benefits!    Rail fares often bear no relationship to the cost of providing the service anyway, so a bit more "jiggling" of rail subsidies, fuel tax rebate grants and bus service tender prices is, once again "simples!"

[the author acknowledges a reference to the "compare the meerkat/market" stars!]

Saturday 13 March 2010

Metropolis Mystery

It is strange, but true, than in our capital city, London, the Mayor's transport system persistently refuses to publish timetables for most of its bus and underground services.  The Transport for London web site [] claims that bus timetables are available but, in fact, only provides lists of departures from each stop with a (very) rough guide to how long it might take to get to your destination.   This means that planning a journey which needs to make reliable and achievable connections is totally impossible.

One user of the system tells me that he has to add at least an hour to every journey he may wish to make across the Capital - just to allow for lack of reliable information.   But, I hear you cry, is there not a superb journey planner on tfl's website?

Well, yes and no!   The site provides a useful guide to possible journeys but it often gives unrealistically complex results - misleading to the innocent observer - offering multi-change journeys and totally ignoring fares implications.   For example, from Heathrow Airport the system almost invariably advises the use of the premium priced Heathrow Express service to Paddington (not a good place for onward travel).   Not only is HEx expensive, but travelcards etc. are not valid.   Amazingly, many journeys are much easier when made by the apparently slower Piccadilly line on which cheap fares are available.   In many cases total journey time is only a few minutes longer, taking into account the complex interchange facilities at Paddington - with, effectively three different underground stations depending on line and destination.

What is spectacularly frustrating is that all bus timetables are published unofficially on at least one web site and most are available on xephos. [].

And please don't tell me that buses are so frequent that timetables are not needed.  Try standing at an unsheltered bus stop in the pouring rain peering at a departure list that says "then about every 12 minutes"!  At one stage departures from Lewisham on the Docklands railway were advertised as (something like) 0812 and then every 14 (sic!) minutes until 2200.   Try working that out!

So some on Boris!   Comb your hair, look a little less befuddled and tell us all when your buses run!

Saturday 6 March 2010

A little puzzle

Try this little puzzle.

Go to Traveline [] OR Transport Direct (aka Transport Defunct) [] and try to make a journey from Grove Park [the one near Chiswick] to Grove Park [the one near Lewisham] - post your comments!   Also  try it at - this is a subscription site but you can get freebie goes before you have to pay.


Transport Defunct has a budget of £50 million of your money and mine.   The xephos people have offered to provide a better service for £2 million.

Which would you prefer to pay for from your rapidly increasing taxes?

P.S. ALL the answers you may get on an "official" website are either misleading or just plain wrong!   The "right" answer is extremely simple and involves only one change.

Traveline troubles

I have been looking at bus information in Leicester recently.   We are all encouraged to seek information from Traveline (either by phone or on line).   Why do I have to pay (phone charge) to find out what the bus companies might want to sell me - namely a bus ride.   The supermarkets spend millions to encourage me to buy - bus companies expect me to pay for the privilege of checking times etc.   Most traveline areas do not give full timetable information - although a few do.

Checking timetables on Traveline East Midlands reveals a catalogue of errors.   Buses arrive at a terminus but never leave!   Times are given TO some destinations but never FROM.  Chunks of some services are missing or have erroneous or misleading notes.  Most of these errors are carried through to the journey planner on Traveline, and thus imported without checks into Transport Defunct.  

Another problem is with the naming of stops.  Where is "Leicester turning circle"?   If you ask me nicely, I'll tell you - but you would never know from Traveline.  One estate in Hinckley does not have a Monday to Friday service during the day but does have buses in the evening and all day on Saturday.   Really?

As most bus operators and many local authorities now decline to provide their own enquiry services the occasional user is faced with Traveline - (based on my Leicester "survey" about 30% erroneous information) or just guessing.

Is this really the way to encourage bus users?

Oxford Oddity

Oxford has hitherto been upheld as the one place in GB where bus competition works. On the main corridors Oxford City bus and Stagecoach have slogged it out with competing services. The same aggressive approach applies to the companies' competing London express coach routes - both frequent and luxurious. A recent announcement, however, brings this all to an end; at least for services in Oxford city. It has been agreed that the two companies will, in future, "work together" with joint ticketing and non competing services. So competition in the bus industry obviously doesn't work!

On the ground, a recent visit shown a very different approach from the two operators. A run from Abingdon to Oxford with City Bus was impressive. Departure on time : waiting for correct time at intermediate points : warm comfortable and quiet bus : driven with consummate skill and care : courteous, friendly and helpful driver (explaining to me in some detail where to get off for Gloucester Green bus station) and excellent publicity. Stagecoach - far less so. The Stagecoach bus back to Wantage (the slow way - service 31) arrived late, was rattly and uncomfortable. The driver was uncommunicative and we were bounced about with apparently erratic applications of brake etc. Maybe it wasn't the drivers fault...

The sadness of Oxford remains the lack of obvious access to publicity for the visitor or newcomer. My hotel (in Abingdon) had leaflets for all local Oxford City bus routes. Nothing for Stagecoach or any of the other operators. There appeared to be no bus enquiry facility in Oxford bus station - I did spy a rack of Oxford City leaflets behind locked doors in an unlabelled office!

Why do bus operators like to keep their information secret? Would Tesco make it so difficult to find out what they sell? Stopping points in Oxford are well spread out and (to the outsider) illogical. Would (even) more people be persuaded to use the bus IF they were all like City Bus and IF the user could find out what was going on...