Thursday 26 August 2010

Why be horrid to London?

[blog published in advance - for operational reasons -  as fbb is away for most of next week leaving Mrs fbb at home alone to hold the fort]

Fat Bus Bloke occasionally gets challenged about Transport for London [TFL] Bus information.   Surely there are timetables on line and at every bus stop?   Anyway buses are so frequent that it doesn't matter.   Really?   So let's take a typical example; service 67 from Aldgate to Wood Green on a Saturday daytime.

And here is the so-called "timetable" available on line and at the stop in Aldgate.  Notice that it does NOT even tell me departure times - I have to guess from the impossible "about every 9 - 13 mins" line.   Above the "timetable" is a line diagram of the route giving "off peak" running times (showing the number of minutes of travel time from Aldgate to each stop).   So having guessed the next departure, I then need to guess again as to whether I am travelling off peak or not.

Of course the 67 does run to a timetable, and here is an extract - the big secret that TFL doesn't want you to know.  The fact is that the 67 runs every 10 minutes for MOST of the 0800 to 2000 period but with significant variations in the time taken to traverse the whole route.   If a real timetable were to be published, rather than be subject to some sort of London Official Secrets Act, then I could work out when the next bus departs and how long my journey might take.   Now there's a novelty!

This (presumably) computer generated nonsense can lead to some appalling and potentially disastrous misunderstandings for the long-suffering public.   I am at Epsom Hospital and I see I can catch the 406 towards Kingston.

What does the helpful "timetable" tell me?

Now what does that mean?   Don't bother with the intellectual gymnastics; the 0806 and the 1540 are the ONLY departures from the Hospital.   There are half-hourly buses from the centre of Epsom, but without a real timetable (as opposed to a TFL "timetable") I would never know.  I suppose I might simply have to wait up to 7 hours and 30 minutes if I missed the 0806!    To add to the sorrow, missing the 0806 is easier than you think because these journeys only run on schooldays!   TFL doesn't seem to know that.

My son (and he's 35 and a leading computer thingummy at Oxford University - so not thick!) says he simply adds an extra hour to any cross London journey because he can't find any way of getting the times right.   If he is on business, then that is presumably an hour's extra pay - probably indirectly from my taxes.   Cone on, Boris, PLEASE let us know the secret of London Bus Timetables!

Wednesday 25 August 2010

And another thing ...

It's really a bit unfair to go on (and on and on ...) about Sheffield publicity, just because I lived there for 20 years and I am pretty familiar with the bus network; BUT it does indicate the problems with modern bus timetable leaflets - especially in the hands of a large organisation whose employees (probably) don't know where the buses run anyway.   This blog is about the 77/78 leaflet.   Things to note:-

The 78 does NOT run via Hillsborough, it uses Penistone Road and Owlerton.

The 77 (however) does run via Hillsborough and NOT via Penistone Road - which makes the route description, well, sort of WRONG!
Even the map on Traveline has this route following an impossible set of roads - but that's not unusual for Traveline.

Neither the 77 nor the 78 travel via Neepsend which is served by the 10 minute frequency 53!

To be fair to Travel South Yorkshire, things can get confusing.

Sheffield Wednesday (nickname "The Owls" from Owlerton) play at Hillsborough Stadium which is usually refreed to as Owlerton but actually the location is more correctly at ... Wadlsey Bridge!   The stadium was called Owlerton Stadium from 1899 until 1914.   The main entrance is on Leppings Lane ("Leppings" from "leaping" stones or stepping stones to cross the river - a crossing replaced by Wadsley Bridge, which isn't at Wadsley but was the bridge leading to Wadsley!). And most folk think that Wadsley Bridge is further "up the road" clustered around the former railway station - but whilst it might be now, it wasn't then!

Stay awake at the back.

Likewise, Hillsborough Leisure Centre is also at Owlerton - but, good news; there is another Owlerton Stadium as well; where you can enjoy (?) an evening of greyhound racing.

Owlerton is a mediaeval settlement, named after Alder Trees (not Owls) whereas Hillsborough only appears in the late eighteenth century.   Some minor member of the gentry named his house after Lord Hillsborough from Ireland - his home is now a branch of the City Libraries and his extensive estates were sold off for housing, Sheffield Wednesday football ground and the remnant is the present Hillsborough Park.

But, and heres the point, Hillsborough shopping centre IS Hillsborough from a public transport and, more importantly, local residents' point of view and, simply, Owlerton isn't.
An fbb map explains all; but it's still not QUITE right. Historic Owlerton was at the No 78 ion the fbb map. Nothing remains, now, of the original village which predates the upstart Hillsborough by several hundred years.

Should any member of SYPTE staff rise in indignation and tell us that they have produced a revised reprint of the erroneous leaflet, let them beware.   The revised leaflet is still VERY wrong.

And just in case you thought you'd got it - remember that the 77 is run by First and the 78 by Stagecoach.   Another First route uses the full length of Penistone Road, namely the 66 - but in the evenings and on Sundays that becomes a 66A run by T M Travel and follows the 77 route via Hillsborough.  Aaaargh!

It's no wonder more people are using their cars - who can blame them?

Monday 23 August 2010

Isn't Technology Wonderful?

It's good that the computer age gives us access to huge amounts of information.   We have journey planners, bus company web sites and local authority resources all available free of charge on-line.   But is it a real improvement?  The picture below was taken by fbb in 1971, almost THIRTY years ago and slightly before the extermination of the dinosaurs as far as computer geeks are concerned.

What does the picture show?

There is (left) a route map showing all bus services in the Sheffield area.

Then comes a fare table book for all buses operated by Sheffield Transport - and that was almost everything in and from the City.   With it (darker red colour) is a staff instruction booklet - not available to the public.  (All the other publications were on sale at modest prices - although those shown were a gift from STD.)   Incidentally, for the real transport "hairies", the fare tables were published in September 1970 with pre- and post- decimalisation fares; the latter which came into force from Sunday 22nd February 1971.

Finally there is a handy pocket-sized timetable book - again with all buses in and to the City, plus a summary of all local and long distance rail services and longer distance coaches.

How does this compare with today?   BADLY!   None of these excellent publications has a present-day equivalent.

I can obtain a map of First routes, accurate and up to date BUT with an incomplete diagram of City Centre stops.
Only the most frequent services are shown; the rest simply don't exist.   Likewise I can download a map of Stagecoach routes which seems OK but has no details of where the buses actually stop in the Centre.  But the routes of the other many smaller operators remain a cartographical secret.

There is no useful source of fares; with First telling me that prices range from 85p to £3.50 but with no guidance as to how much travel that buys.   Likewise, Stagecoach only gives rudimentary details of its prices.   A bit like a notice at the entrance to Tesco; saying, we sell stuff priced from 30p up to £400 but we'll only tell you what price each product is AFTER you've bought it.   Think about it!

I can obtain leaflets from the excellent enquiry offices in the centre of Sheffield but no outlet has a full set so I would have to go to Meadowhall enquiry office, for example, to obtain a leaflet for service 5  from there into Rotherham.   Of course I can download timetables at my own expense and, for anything other than a single enquiry, at considerable time cost.

Once upon a time each leaflet contained a useful map of the route(s) concerned.   Now we get a very basic line diagram, often with misleading locality names and locations; a most unreliable and, frankly, pointless guide!The example above shows the Travel South Yorkshire "map" for service 11, 11A and 12 at the top and reality below. Of course there is a full list of roads served (not always accurate) but no list of which roads have stops on them.  So you need a street map and a lot of detailed perusal to find where the buses might actually go.

What is even more sad is that South Yorkshire (together with the other former PTA areas) is one of the best.   In most places it is well nigh impossible to find even a single leaflet unless you can find one of the rapidly disappearing enquiry offices.

And in London you are simply not allowed to have any timetables at all - anywhere, even on line!  And don't even bother to try to find a timetable on the National Express Coaches web site, 'cos they aren't there.

What is needed is a National Bus Timetable Library with EVERYTHING available.    Then individuals, libraries, stations, bus enquiry offices, tourist information centres (etc. etc.) can download and photocopy anything that their customers may need.   The technology exists [try www.] and, for a modest fee and unlimited tea and buns, fat bus bloke will organise it!

Saturday 14 August 2010

This blog has been delayed

due to operational reasons.
What are "operational reasons", an excuse once famous on our railways?   Surely it actually meant that the train was late because we couldn't run it on time - not much of an explanation!   In our modern health and safety litigious world we now plaster everywhere with notices which proliferate to such an extent that nobody, well, notices them anymore.
We all love:-
DISABLED TOILET - not much use trying to use it, then.
DO NOT PUT ANYTHING DOWN THIS TOILET - ditto!!!! (think about it!)
THIS DOOR IS ALARMED - there there, door, you'll soon feel better!
BRADING WELCOMES CAREFUL DRIVERS - does anywhere welcome dangerous ones?
HOT WATER - from a hot water tap; wow! headline news!
TAKE CARE ON STAIRWAYS - bother!  I was hoping to be allowed to do handstands and flick-flacks whilst carrying two heavy cases.   I am really disappointed!
But some of the most juicy have appeared recently on journeys to and from the Isle of Wight.

Before the recent refurbishment of Ryde Pier Head, we had the dubious pleasure of being warned about an OVERHEAD height restriction. Now where else might such a beast dwell?
And, more amusingly, on a Red Funnel Ferry ...

we are regaled with

So, as a service to Health and Safety, we stood, resolutely with arms akimbo, in front of it for the whole journey*. Depressingly no member of staff came and thanked us for our beyond-the-call-of-duty (and unpaid) assistance to the company.
Anyway, back to the point!
Fat bus bloke does not have a blackberry, boyson berry, kumquat or any other electronic fruit. Neither does the old man own an i-pod, p-pod or an alternative communications vegetable.   So, due to operational reasons, this blog - and possibly others during the summer holiday period - is suffering from delay.
Never mind - with a couple of aspirins and a good night's sleep - its suffering will be over.
*well, actually we didn't; 'cos the job was adequately performed by a pile of rubbish bags!
P.S.  On a co-op chicken sandwich:- "made with free range mayonnaise".   Great - a quick search of the interweb and, herewith, a picture of a cottage in County Mayo (Ireland) with pools of free range mayonnaise awaiting collection.     Perhaps it's collected on April 1st?

Sunday 1 August 2010

Parcel Price Problem

Fat Bus Bloke enjoys reading books about bus and rail transport, and is always ready to extend his substantial collection.   So the new on-line bookshop from Ian Allan seemed worth a try.   An advert delivered with "Modern Railways" looked very promising, especially as two titles with London bus interests were offered at a significant discount.  [£19 instead of £31].
Caveat emptor - always read the small print!   Postage and packing was 10% of the total book price with a minimum of £4.   A bit steep thinks fbb - but then reads further.   There is a SURCHARGE on p & p of £3 to a whole range of postcode areas, including the whole of the Isle of Wight (where stands fbb's palatial residence in PO34) which, when we were nobbut lads, was always part of mainland Britain.   The island has not yet succeeded in seceding from British Rule!

That makes £7 p & p for two books weighing 900g in total!

Are they having a laugh?

Bulk metered packet post with the great and glorious institution we know as the Royal Mail is just £2.18 for the same weight - for delivery throughout UK except Channel Islands!

So someone, Ian Allan or its chosen distributor, would have ripped fbb off for an unnecessary £4.82.

How does the competition fare in this cut-throat mail order business?
Amazon offered the same two books for a total of £17.68 with FREE post and packing.   So you have three guesses as to where fbb's hard earned cash was spent!   Perhaps one guess would be enough.

Ordered on Wednesday, the goods were delivered on Friday, and not by Royal Mail either!

Clearly it is not our place to try to manage Ian Allan's business but something's wrong when they are charging £7 for a service which should cost £2.18.   Maybe Ian Allan should consider using a different contractor; they're not going to sell many books to fat bus bloke?