Sunday 25 July 2010

Wotter Lottery!

Fat bus bloke's latest trip on Saturday 24th July was (with Mrs fbb) to a chum's wedding in Bristol.   0923 from Portsmouth Harbour allowing a hour or so in Brizzle for lunch and a spot of window shopping.   Then a short bus ride to Cotham parish church - service 9, every 12 minutes.
On arrival at the Harbour there was an ominous lack of amber "doors open" lights on the First Great Western 3 car 158 unit.   There was an equally ominous gaggle of railway employees in the driver's cab area.  Then, with doors still locked and about three minutes before advertised departure, a man with screwdrivers walked past waiting passengers - off to where the station's announcements are electronically "created".   And, yes you've guessed, the train was cancelled.

Accidents do happen, and in this case the doors weren't working - and, for all sorts of reasons, non-working doors are bad news if you intend to carry passengers, at least, non-working power operated doors are very bad news!  [of course, not a problem with good old slam-door stock!].
But several questions need to be asked.

1.  Why was no advice given on alternative travel opportunities.   It was possible, though involving two changes, to catch up with the Brighton to Bristol train and mitigate some of the delay.  [Indeed, fat bus bloke considered this, but, with plenty of slack in the schedule, decided to wait with the other hapless passengers for an hour.]

2.  Why was no practical apology offered?   Pre-recorded words alone are meaningless, nay insulting, and a free cup of coffee would have been nice.

3.  Why did the next train (0952 arrival at the Harbour) keep its doors resolutely locked until 1020, jut 3 minutes before departure, with its staff disappearing (hiding?) in mysterious parts of the station?   Portsmouth Harbour station is OK, but an hour on perforated metal benches is not an ideal comfort facility for the elderly!
4. What was there totally ineffective air conditioning in Coach "C" on the 1023?   At least the guard was able to open the windows.

5. Why was there no water in the toilets of the 1023?   There are filler hoses on the platform and 30 minutes "layover" would seem more than adequate for Toilet Tank Topping-up Time.  I expect Stageocach charge too much, so First can't afford a tank of precious Stagecoach H2O.  [Stagecoach, disguised as South West Trains, are the "operators" of Portsmouth Harbour Station.]

6. Why was the refreshment trolley removed at Salisbury leaving 3/4 of the journey unrefreshable?

7. With Portsmouth being a long way from First Great Western back-up, why wasn't there a reserve train available.   There were plenty of suitable units lying idle at Salisbury, but, of course, they belong to Stagecoach, not First.  Thee boos for privatisation!

8. And, while in g.o.m.* mode - why were the ladies toilets on the station so utterly disgusting? [locks missing, dilapidated and smelly - as advised by Mrs fbb!]

To put it simply, management of the problems was inadequate.   No, more simply, THERE WAS NO MANAGEMENT.

The return trip?

Journey; uneventful

Refreshments; unavailable

Tickets; unchecked at any point on the journey....

What a lottery - and we lost!   One minor consolation - we bought cheap fares!

*g.o.m. = Grumpy Old Man

Thursday 22 July 2010

Don't you just love it ...

When a plan comes together.

Hannibal Smith in "the A team"!

Getting from the Isle of Wight to Watford (Herts, not Gap) is easy logisitcally but a challenge financially.  A while ago a leaflet was produced by the Mayor of London explaining the intricacies of "Oyster" fares to Watford. It was as understandable as one of Gordon Brown's speeches on the economy but rewritten in Sanskrit. The problem is simply that Watford Junction station is not in the London Travelcard area - so the solution is .....  [don't bother to ask.]

So the journey TO Watford was tedious, involving Travelcard on the Bakerslow Line to Harrow & Wealdstone and rebooking there to Watford Junction. But the return was cool, amazing, groovy (or any other outdated word of approbation).
1616 from Watford Junction to Euston, stopping at Harrow & Wealdstone (thus picking up Travel Card validity) with an arrival in Euston at 1636 - pretty nippy.

Now Mrs fbb and myself are not in what you might call "the bloom of youth" and the days of running for trains have long gone, replaced by a slightly faster amble and much perspiration. Festina lente (as they say - no, "said" - in Rome).   Our schedule allowed plenty of time for crossing London to catch the 1730 from Waterloo. 
But a Northern Line train was waiting for us on the platform at Euston and thus we found ourselves on the Waterloo concourse at 1657.
Despite nearly getting on the wrong train (to Portsmouth Harbour via Basingstoke, leaving from the adjacent platform in a cunning plan to confuse us) we joined the 1700 just in time for a lively "ting ting" and away.  [for the purists: modern trains don't "ting ting", they electronically "beep beep" - but "ting ting" sounds more poetic!]

Ferry connections were leisurely but slick and so we were back home drinking a much needed flagon of tea at 1920 almost exactly 3 hours after leaving Watford.

It cost the two of us less than the price of the car on the ferry and, apart from a little "glowing" and wheezing at Waterloo, involved very little stress and (as is required by today's environmentally aware world) was significantly "greener".

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together? But it is VERY HARD WORK to sort out the options and achieve fulfillment. Does it need to be this complicated?

Thursday 15 July 2010

Give that man a medal!

Sheffield City Airport was not a success.
It opened with a blaze of publicity in 1997 and offered flights to a number of GB and European destinations; but business was hardly viable from the start and the Airport finally closed down in 2002.   The runway, apparently, was too short for economic operation - small planes did not make enough money and the train was more frequent and significantly cheaper.  The main road, Europa Link, is also home to an increasing number of business premises; one of which is the South Yorkshire Police Operations Centre.
Running parallel to Europa Link was an unnamed  service road, giving access to further developing business sites.   It so happened that one of the staff of the Police Centre was asked by Sheffield City Council to confirm some of the local names in the area.   The service road had no name and was shown as a question mark [?] on the provisional map.

Undaunted, Mr Plod crossed out the question mark and added a name...

"Letsby Avenue" - a corruption of a traditional cry of the British Bobby.  ["Let's be having you" for the uninitiated].

Obedience to "The Boys in Blue" ensured that this jocular title was then included officially (but innocently, we are told) on the finished map.   So the Police "Station" really IS on Letsby Avenue!  In the unlikely event that our readers find this tale a little far-fetched, just enter "Letsby Avenue" into Google Maps and - well, there it is in all its wonder and glory - a permanent, never to be erased joke!
The name of the perpetrator has never been revealed. Was he reprimanded for his prank or, as it should be, promoted and congratulated for a display of delightful initiative?

Give that man a medal!

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Un un-fare lottery?

It seemed simple enough.

I needed to be at Nuneaton at about 12 noon and to leave at about 1600 to see a man about a pension.  My journey was starting from Portsmouth.

The "National Rail" journey planner has recently been "improved"; i.e. made more confusing and difficult to use with lots of twiddly bits and advertisements to trap and befuddle the unwary.   After wrestling with buttons and boxes for a good few minutes, I was offered journeys via Southampton and Coventry for about £80 return. [please note, fares quoted are with a Senior Railcard!]

Now, I have nothing against Deutsche Bahn - soon to be owners of Arriva and thus the Cross Country train company - but I find their Voyager trains uncomfortable and claustrophobic.
What about going via London?   Roughly the same price with a change at Coventry.

But could I improve on £80?

Leaving Euston at 1046 on London Midland's train direct to Nuneaton (arrive 1216) would work - IF I could get to Euston on time.
Moreover the class 350 "Desiro" train is more comfortable, better views through bigger windows; less oppressive and likely to be much less crowded.

Initially, restrictions on the Old Fogey card gave an arrival at Waterloo at 1013.   Hmm, a bit tight.   But I could leave Portsmouth earlier, go the long way round via Basingstoke and arrive in Waterloo at 1008; giving a vital few minutes extra to cross the Metropolis.

Journeys and fares were then re-searched and purchased as follows:
£26.85  One day travelcard Portsmouth to London including Underground  (yes, I COULD have crossed London by bus for nowt; but a bit risky if traffic was bad)
£3.95    Advance Single London to Nuneaton
£5.95    Advance single Nuneaton to London.  (The £3.95 fare ran out as I tried to click!)
£2.00   Rip-off postage on the cheap London Midland Fares
£38.75  TOTAL - a considerable improvement on £80!!

Now, in order to get this better value, I needed information which is well-nigh impossible to find on-line.  I needed to understand the detailed availability rules for the Senior Railcard (based on arrival times, not departures); I needed to understand permissable route details for trains between Portsmouth and London; I needed to know about the through trains from London to Nuneaton, seemingly ignored by journey planners; and I needed to guess that there might be "silly" fares on London Midland services.  I also needed to know that a one day travelcard is cheaper than cash fares, even for simply crossing London, because Boris wants all to use "Oyster" and punishes us if we don't!

Does it really have to be like this?  And how many people pay up, assuming that the web site will always offer the cheapest fares?

Sunday 11 July 2010

There's another fine mess ...

The suburb of Bents Green (in Sheffield) is a relatively quiet area with little claim to national or international fame. A dubious piece celebrity trivia is that Gary Glitter used to live (with his mum) in a flat above the red painted shop in the picture above. The suburb has a frequent "main road" bus service run (from 26th July) exclusively by Stagecoach and a "back way" route via Greystones (service 81) run by First.
Early on Saturday and Sunday mornings and late on Sunday evenings, when First Bus (Worst Bus?) declines to run a commercial service, Sheffield Passenger Transport Executive has graciously provided financial support to Stagecoach to run the 88A route from Sheffield via Greystones to Bents Green - herewith a timetable extract as correctly included on the "81" leaflet.
But therein lies a snag. I can get FROM Sheffield TO Greystones at these times but, sadly, I cannot get FROM Greystones TO Sheffield.  I must presume from the extract above that the buses evaporate at the Bents Green terminus! They certainly never come back, at least not on the 81 and 88A Greystones leaflet.

Yet again fat bus bloke smells a rat - and, lo and behold, sapristi, abracadabra (etc.) a close inspection of a separate and completely different leaflet for service 88 reveals a tranche of Stagecoach buses popping out of a Tardis at Bents Green and running back direct (i.e. NOT via Greystones) to Sheffield City Centre!    And they leave Bents Green a few minutes after the evaporating 88As arrive.

Yes - you've worked it out!   At Bents Green, he 88As via Greystones turn like a chrysalis becoming a butterfly into "normal" 88s back to City direct. So I CAN get back from Greystones to Sheffield by catching the OUTWARD journey, sitting tight and becoming an 88 at Bents Green. I don't need to worship overnight at the shrine of disgraced pop idol Glitter after all.

Now you could all work that out couldn't you?  And all you need is several leaflets, a route map, a street map and a degree in advanced thermo-nuclear physics!

P.S.  Just to add  to the fun (?) the description of the route of the service 81 tells me it calls at Ecclesall.   No it doesn't, or, at least not to any part of the city that Sheffielders would call "Ecclesall".   In my previous blog, I irreverently suggested that the leaflet's compilers didn't actually know where the buses run.   Then it was a joke - now I am not so sure!

P.P.S.  The 88A buses call at High Storrs School and the 81 service doesn't - WRONG AGAIN, they all do, as do 83s and 88s.   Pay attention at the back or you'll never learn!

Saturday 3 July 2010

Shhh! Sheffield Secrecy

In three weeks there are major changes in the "First" network in Sheffield.   As bus timetable alterations are registered with local authorities six weeks in advance, one might expect to be able to find out what is happening.   So, a visit to the "Travel South Yorkshire" web site should, by now, prove fruitful.  It tells me, for example, that service 21 is withdrawn and replaced by a new service 49.  Is there a timetable for the "new" 49 - NO!
Not really the most helpful way of putting it when, basically, service 21 is, in effect, renumbered 49 with no significant change of frequency - only timing changes.   But, we move ahead too quickly - we don't know WHAT the change is - YET.  Surely the operator's web site will have the details?   Well, yes - and no.   In a rather complicated timetable page we discover the 49 with the enigmatic column heading of "HA".   HA HA - is there a jolly joke here?  The note tells me that between Killamarsh and Harthill buses "show service 25".   But why, you may well ask?

Because fat bus bloke is wise to the mysterious ways of public transport publicity he immediately smells a rat.   Travel South Yorkshire also mentions that service 25 from Rotherham to Killamarsh has a revised schedule but, of course, the timetable is not yet available on line.   The plot thickens!
What, exactly, is going on?
Well, the best place to find reliable information about these two (largely) South Yorkshire timetables is on Derbyshire's excellent web site.   Both routes travel into Derbyshire by a mile or two.
And - lo and behold - there we discover that the 49 from Sheffield turns, like Cinderella's pumpkin, into a 25 to Rotherham; retaining all the useful through journey opportunities that were available on the "withdrawn" service 21 which also transmuted into a 25!
In fact, apart from the aforementioned changes to times - this is one change that isn't. The whole South Yorkshire explanation of the county-wide scheme (leaflet and on line) is extremely poor. There is a strong suspicion that the compilers of the document don't actually know where the buses go!   Now that couldn't possibly be true, could it?  So one burning question remains ...
If Derbyshire can get it right, why can't South Yorkshire - or even "First", the company that runs the services concerned?   And why confuse the travelling public by changing the service number anyway?  Perhaps they don't want passengers!
P.S.   Just to confuse matters further, the evening journeys on this service are operated by Veolia, follow a slightly different route and are numbered 49 THROUGHOUT; all the way from Sheffield to Rotherham.   Now that makes everything much clearer - NOT!