Saturday 27 November 2010

Airport and Arsenal Anguish ...

Or how to waste £17.50

Transport for London [tfl] is very proud of its website and journey planner.   "The most used journey planner for London" - actually it's the ONLY one freely available.   But it is often misleading and nearly always suffers from the "too much information" syndrome.

Consider a simple enquiry - a journey from Heathrow Airport to Arsenal.  Perhaps fbb has just flown in from a holiday in Dubai and is anxious to get to the Gunner's home game on time.  [If you knew fbb personally, you would know how likely this scenario might be!!]

So, first we are told to catch the Heathrow Express [HEx] to Paddington. Hmmm. Sort of OK, so far - maybe!     But note the irrelevant information (in green) about a line that does not serve Heathrow OR Paddington; and a huge paragraph (in blue) about departing flights which means little if you have just arrived!

The site then tells you to catch a circle or metropolitan line train from Paddington to Kings Cross St Pancras. This involves a walk back along the station (against the main flow of alighting passengers) up onto a footbridge at the front of the train and to the remote "suburban" platforms to your right.   It is not obvious and it is quite a long trudge.

And if, as is likely, you did follow the crowd the wrong way, you might find the OTHER circle line platforms at the barrier end of the platforms ...

... and then you will either have an extra change at Edgware Road or, even worse, go the "wrong way" round the circle to Kings Cross St Pancras.   Changing at Paddington is not for the unwary, and certainly to be avoided if at all possible.  [Mysterious fact No 34b : this part of Paddington Station is called "The Lawn" - and not a blade of grass in sight!]

And so on to Kings Cross St Pancras.

Here there are three Underground booking halls, five National Rail booking offices and the Eurostar terminal.   The tube interchange is simple for those who are used to it but daunting for the newcomer.   Recently unwary passengers (including fbb), having walked wearily the full length of the splendid St Pancras station were then greeted by a notice sending them back through long echoing tunnels to the new northern ticket hall - back to where they started.   Again, best avoided!

And the last bit by comparison, is a short run on the Piccadilly line.   But, yet again, tfl goes for unnecessary information overkill!   Why doesn't it say, simply, "take ANY Piccadilly Line northbound train"?

But Transport for London's scheme has a snag.  HEx is the most expensive train ride in London at £18 single; to which is added the £4 tube fare from Paddington to Arsenal - total £22.

Of course there is an easier way.

Join the Piccadilly line at Heathrow and get off at Arsenal- NO changes at all.   Price £4.50, saving of £17.50!   It takes about 10 mins longer (but using the tfl route you might easily mess up at either of the two hairy interchanges, in which case it will be shorter.) but it is delightfully SIMPLE.   And if you have an Oyster Card, the Underground (but NOT Heathrow Express) is even cheaper.

Before Mr Clever complains.  You can "switch off"  HEx on the tfl website and search for Underground only: BUT where are you told that HEx counts as a bit of the big National Rail Network?   NOWHERE!  Neither are you warned about the so-called "premium" (i.e. rip-off) price of HEx. And if you are unwise enough to try to buy your Heathrow to Paddington ticket ON the train, you will get stung for an extra £5!

Thursday 25 November 2010

Suspicious School Services?

Do they run; can you catch one?
A chum e-mails from sunny Sheffield and says, "I think I've found a bus that you haven't got on your map!"   What?   Has fbb failed?   Again?The offending omnibus was operated by Linburg Travel and simply showed service 101.   What was it - where was it going - and is it a useful service?  And should it be on the celebrated fbb map of Sheffield bus routes?
Linburg's website provides part of the answer ...
... it is a school bus from Castleton to Lady Manners School, Bakewell - running, not surpisingly, on schooldays only and provided, so it says, by Derbyshire County Council.  So one query answered; it is not on the map 'cos is doesn't run into Sheffield.   Possibly an academic question (pun not intended - academic? school bus? gettit? groan!) - but sometimes an important question, particularly in very rural areas.   Can an ordinary bloke or bloke-ess travel on it?
Linburg doesn't say you can't - Derbyshire's timetable library disavows any knowledge of a 101 ......and traveline tells me that I can only ride to or from the school, and not intermediately.   So, as usual, clear as the driven mud!

But Linburg's site also reveals some Sheffield school services that mayhap OUGHT to appear on fbb's map.   So, lets try the 692.
It is provided by South Yorkshire PTE so, click to their site and, lo and (not!) behold - it doesn't exist.
What of (un) reliable Traveline?   Yippee!   There is the 692, the self-same Linburg school service from Fence School to Woodhouse Station.   And what does the ever impressive traveline tell us about this school service?
That it operates ONLY during the school HOLIDAYS.   Great - a school service running when the school is closed.   The driver will be really busy collecting fares!

So confusion and uncertainty are the order of the day.   Can you travel on school services run by Linburg?  DUNNO.   Do they actually run?   DUNNO.   Maybe the only people who really know are the schoolkids - fair enough, they are the customers but - in many areas these school journey provide the ONLY link from village to town; a useful, possibly essential link.
So; on the Isle of Wight, blessed with may rural backwaters, the ever helpful council has just made ALL school buses into "closed" contracts, consequently "verboten" to Joseph Public - thus breaking a significant number of these occasional but useful links. Well done, chaps!

Sunday 21 November 2010

The return of the whistle blower?

How many passengers were there?

Once upon a time, back in the age of the dinosaurs, Sheffield Transport ran an extensive network of night services.   Last buses on "normal" routes left city centre terminals at 2315.  It was like a "Le Mans" start because vehicles were not allowed to leave until the Inspector blew his whistle.  Then, on most main cross-city services there were three further departures at 2345, 0030 and 0130.  By 1981 there were still 13 routes running every night, followed by early morning trips on most main services at 0330 and 0400.Such services faded away progressively after that and eventually disappeared altogether being a victim of the dreaded privatisation and commercialisation.   Until now, that is!!

Early on Saturday morning 20th November (and again each Sunday morning) three brand new night services began. N1 to Crookes, Hillsborough, Parson Cross and Chapeltown; N2 to Ecclesall, Woodseats, Jordanthorpe and Hemsworth; N3 to Frecheville, Crystal Peaks, Woodhouse and Handsworth.  Three trips are operated on each route by T M Travel at 0100, 0200 and 0300.

Will they be popular?

Well, they might be - if anyone knew they existed!   There was no online information until Friday 19th and no printed material had appeared by Saturday 20th.   Traveline denied all knowledge of the service on Monday 22nd.   So loadings were probably very light for at least the first two nights.  Travel South Yorkshire might actually wonder why.   And TSY couldn't quite get publicity out, but someone (privately) managed this on Facebook on 16th November.   Insider dealing, maybe.

How not to run a bus service.

One little crumb of comfort - fbb attempted UNsuccessfully to collect leaflets on Saturday morning 20th from the Arundel Gate enquiry office BUT a very, very nice man behind the desk offered (unprovoked) to print out a set.   Now that is good service.

The leaflets are very helpful (NOT!) with - for example - a "list of stopping points for service N1"; except that it omits over half the stops.   And it shows roads which don't have stops on them.   And it shows several district names in totally the wrong location.   And it claims that the route serves Southey Green and Sheffield Lane Top; which it doesn't.

[the bits highlighted by fbb in yellow are, at best, less than helpful.] AND the front cover shows that the service runs via Ecclesall (WRONG) rather than Ecclesfield (RIGHT).   Ecclesall is about 10 miles southwest of Ecclesfield - so not VERY wrong, Eh?  STOP PRESS :  on line version corrected by Wednesday 24th, Ecclesall now Ecclesfield; only the "Stopping Points" to sort out now!

Apart from that it's very helpful!

Hey ho - stick to using a taxi!

STOP PRESS (AGAIN!) - anecotal evidence says that 15 people travelled on the nine trips on the early Saturday morning journeys on 20th November.   That's revenue of £27.50 for three buses, three drivers and a total of (say) 15 hours work.   Not the most profitable business enterprise, as yet.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Caldercruix Confusion

Caldercruix is in North Lanarkshire and 17 miles east of Glasgow.   It owes its existence to two industrialists; John Glen who developed a textile dying and printing business and Robert Craig who established a paper mill.  The name comes from the "crooks" - bends in the Calder Water river.  (Think curly end to a shepherd's "crook".)Why would fbb want to go there?   Answer, he doesn't!   But there are signifant public transport developments pending in the area, so a little research was called for.
Historically the village was served by the green buses of the Eastern Scottish bus company - in recent years replaced by services from First Glasgow whose most recent map shows route number 262 from the City Centre via Baillieston and Airdrie to Caldercruix.
Prior to that it was single deck route 212.   The change from single deck 212 to (largely) double deck 262 was not popular with buggy pushing mums of Caldercruix, so much so that scheduled low floor journeys were introduced in February.
As a cross-check, fbb also had a look at the SPT (Strathclyde Transport) comprehensive map of Greater Glasgow.
They keep it well hidden but patience and considerable teeth-gritting mouse pushing and keyboard clicking produced a simple but useful area map - also showing the 262 towards Caldercruix.   The map doesn't stretch quite as far as First's, but appears to confirm the route - Caldercruix is off to the right.
And so now for the timetable.   Heyho!   There is NO service 262 on First's website OR on Traveline Scotland which, joy of joys, actually lets you see a tinetable - if there is one to see, of course!   So something's happened - but what?
If xephos were up-to-date I could type in "Caldercruix" and it would list all bus services available.   Sadly it is not up to date.   (It will be in a few days, though!)  Why can't traveline provide such a simple facility?
So, the exercise becomes a frustrating and tedious battle with program writers who never travel by bus and insist the MY enquiries fit in with their technology.  [Mantra No. 2 for public transport information:- "NEVER let the the technology tail wag the information dog!"].   There are TWO bus services between Airdrie and Caldercruix - nothing through from Glasgow - the 212 and the 29.
The 29 is run by Stepend Coaches and operates at a useful 10 minute frequency Monday to Friday, BUT (at least according the Traveline Scotland) only HOURLY on Saturdays and nothing at all on Sundays.   Sounds wrong, BUT, there's no other source of this information, so it cannot be checked!  Below is the Saturday TT - perhaps?
To complete the sorry saga of customer confusing changes, it would appear that the Glasgow service has been merged with the 62 (Faifley - Glasgow - Baillieston) by extending journeys every 20 minutes from Baillieston to Airdrie but not, so it would seem, to Caldercruix.
The big, and ever unanswered question is ... are all these complicated and confusing changes helping the bus using public; OR merely contributing to the profit margins of Moir Lockhead's Aberdeen based conglomerate.  The long term effect (as opposed to the balance sheet effect) is likely to be a continuing reduction of bus usage and a consequent increase in traffic, pollution and cost to the populace in general.
But there is some good news.   From December the noble village of Caldercruix will have a half hourly TRAIN service to both Glasgow and Edinburgh.   Three cheers!   Computer graphic below.

Friday 12 November 2010

A Grand Day Out

With Phil, Bobby and Peter (and others).
Thursday 11th November was wet and windy and not really a day for an adventure.  Tuesday 9th was worse with fbb's village pretty near cut off with floods; the self-same floods which shut down the Island's railway line for several days.   Meanwhile the main Ryde Pier, recently revealed to be falling down (but Island residents have known that for years!), is closed to motor vehicles for several months.   At the same time one of the relatively new Wightlink catamaran ferries was, as they say "busted".    So planning a reliable trip to London to "take in a show" was taxing in the extreme.   (See earlier blog "Escape from Alcatraz" - oh, the joys of living on an island??)
Nevertheless plans were made, revised and revised again and your intrepid travellers made their way wind- and rain-swept along the temporary footway built on the old Ryde tramway pier clutching coats and hats tightly about their persons and marvelling about how little of the once splendid pier is now left standing - basically the poles sticking in the sand!   It is being rebuilt, by the way, at a cost of zillions of pounds so expect even higher ferry fares in the future.   Herewith pic of Ryde Pier when it was holding itself together (just!)
Nearly on time Wightlink and nearly on time South  West Trains took the gang to the "Big Smoke" to take in a show.   And what show?
Why, "The Railway Children", of course ...... staged intriguingly on the unused Eurostar platforms at Waterloo.   And, if you have read the reviews (and even if you haven't) complete with a real train - none less than the massive Stirling "Single" from York Railway Museum trundling in and out at appropriate moments; complete with sound and steam effects galore.
Edith Nesbit's classic story is well known; good and wholesome and a bit soppy in places but the acting and the production were outstanding in every way.
[Useless trivia no. 75a - Edith Nesbit was a co-founder of the Fabian Society, precursor of the Labour Party.]   The cast was (virtually) unknown apart from Caroline Harker who played "Mother".  She has appeared in many TV series, most memorably as WPC Hazel Wallace in "A Touch of Frost".
The end of the story - when Bobby (Roberta) meets her just-released but wrongly imprisoned father, as he steps through the steam of the recently arrived train, was a fantastic lump-in-the-throat dramatic conclusion.

Finally, herewith a pic of the "old" Perks (Bernard Cribbins) and the "new boy" alongside the star of the show.
Phil (Phyllis), Bobby (Roberta) and Peter, of course, ARE the Railway Children!

Saturday 6 November 2010

A Handbag!

Just imagine the thunderous tones of the late Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest".   A handbag indeed!

Mrs fbb was on her way to a conference at Hoddesdon (Herts) and travelling trans-metropolis from Waterloo to Liverpool Street courtesy of London Buses route 26.

Sadly, upon arrival at Bishopsgate the aforementioned handbag was left languishing on the rearmost lower deck seat.   Mrs fbb is usually punctilious in the protection of her personal property - but this time, in her anxiety to escort her three "mature" travelling companions through the maze of metropolitan mystery, the handbag was forgotten.

Mrs fbb immediately rang Mr fbb and asked him to "do something"!   Meanwhile one of her chums arrived with three burly London constables who took details, made phone calls and then invited Mrs fbb and pals to "come alonga me" to await developments in the Cop Shop nearby!

The Bill made contact with the bus garage (East London Buses Bow depot) who raidoed their buses and - cheers all round - the bag was recovered and handed in at the self-same depot.   So a Hammersmith and City tube was needed to get to Bow Road station.   A very nice man at Lverpool Street Underground station gave her a free ride there ...
... and so across the road to the depot.
Here another very very nice man handed back the errant  item.   Not only that, but the very nice man arranged for a lift on a "positioning" bus journey to avoid a walk to the terminus.   Thus, relieved and rejoicing (and richer than she might have been!) Mrs fbb hied her happy way back to Liverpool Street!

So God heard Mrs fbb's prayers and all ended happily.

Many many thanks to all concerned : service above and beyond the call of duty!

Can we do it - yes we can!

Monday 1 November 2010

Eckington Ecclesiastical Enigma

Or ... Traveline pinched our Church!
Planning a possible perambulation recently, fbb considered exploring Eckington - contiguous with Sheffield's expansion at Mosborough but firmly fixed in the great county of Derbyshire.   Where best to start but at the splendid church, located, surprisingly, in Church Street!

Mysteriously, Traveline has Eckington Church as a stop at the junction of  West Street, Dronfield Road and Chesterfield Road - about a mile-and-a-half uphill from the "real" church.

What is going on?

Phillips street map ...
... locates three church symbols near the aforesaid junction.   Hours of sweaty searching on the interweb (well about 45 minutes) reveals one-and-a-half other churches possibly still in operation.   It's not the big Methodist church in the centre ...

... as that closed down some years ago.   It COULD be St Lukes, giving its address as "Higher Eckington" - not much help as such a locality is not known to Traveline; OR it could be a different Methodist Church; there are (were) many varieties of Methodism, thus several Methodist Churches in some towns.

In the end it was Google Streetwise that came to the rescue.   The church on West Street appears to have become a St John Ambulance Hall ...

... the church on Chestnut Avenue, whilst still sporting its cross, looks "withdrawn", at least from a worship point of view;   was this, muses fbb in contemplative mood, possibly the "St Lukes" of Higher Eckington, now, sadly, defunct?

But, aha!  Adjacent to a bus stop icon labelled "Eckington Church", and at the end of Randall Street is ... Tada!

... Eckington Methodist Church WITH St Lukes - joint operation it would seem!

Dear Traveline,

Eckington Church - the real big one - is on Church Street and a very obvious landmark!

Your "Eckington Church" is on Chesterfield Road and should be "Eckington Methodist Church".  Maybe a Traveline putter-inner-of-data is a closet Methodist - or even a deacon of that diminutive ecclesiatical establishment on Chesterfield Road.   But, Eckington Church it ain't!

There is a golden rule in public transport information:- You can either be comprehensive or comprehensible but NOT both.  In a lemming-like desire to create information overload, Traveline often simply confuses.

Could do better. Maybe put Eckington Church back where it belongs - there is a stop back down in the town at "Rectory Close" - might be some sort of clue?