Saturday 31 December 2011

New Year Resolutions [1]

Some suggestions for management ...
The clock ticks inexorably towards midnight; we prepare to toast 2012; to rush round to our neighbour's with a lump of coal; to open the door to a chimney sweep ...
... to watch a spectacular fireworks display or (as for fbb and Mrs fbb) to turn over in bed and grunt a minimalist greeting; and it's the New Year. There is a long tradition of making resolutions for this arbitrary calendric clock click, so here are a few made by fbb on behalf of the transport industry.

 For H M Government. 

As you run the railways now, perhaps 2012 might be the year to sort out the fares farce once and for all; so, for Ms Greening, "I resolve to make the fares system simple and fair."

 For The Media. 

You delight in misrepresenting the annual fares increases on the railway; this from an on line report ...
... which continues in similar vein:-
Actually, the article refers to a three year period but the headline implies one hefty increase. By all means rant about bus and train fares increases but also rant about higher prices in the local chippy, or at Tesco, or at the butcher's. Have you seen the price of cheese?

And another fbb gripe. Stop bleating about the poor down-trodden commuter! Commuter season tickets offer the cheapest unrestricted walk-on fares available. Because commuter prices are so ridiculously cheap, often over 60% discount, fbb has to pay through the nose for an occasional jolly to the Big Smoke. So, for our circulation seeking press-room hacks, "We resolve to be honest and accurate about all price rises and not just pick on the railways. We resolve to remind our readers that commuters pay about one third of the fare charged to casual travellers."

And a P.S. Rail fare increases are never "a shock"; they are always announced well in advance! In fact, this year, they are LOWER increases than originally announced; so, "a pleasant surprise".

 And for bus companies. 

2012 looks like being a grim year for the "bottom line" with further reductions in local authority money, reductions in the Bus Operators Grant (was fuel tax rebate) and pressure (as ever) on wage costs. Perhaps 2012 is the year for crystal clear honesty in announcing fares increases?
A second click reveals the truth!
But extra details are added to cover non-standard increases. Confusing, isn't it?
                      Services 11, 11A & 12 - £1.95 single increases to £2.00
                 Service 25A - £1.50 single remains unchanged
                 Service 48 - £1.00 single increases to £1.20
                 Service 51 - £1.00 single remains unchanged,
                       £1.95 single increases to £2.20
                 Service 120 - £1.00 single increases to £1.20,
                       £1.30 maximum single increases to £1.40.
                       Switcha ticket remains unchanged at £1.40
There are some 20% increases in there. The reason, as ever, is increased costs, especially fuel. Surely fuel hasn't gone up by 20%? So, how about being totally honest? "Like any other company, we need to make a profit. If we don't we will go bust. So we are putting up our prices like all other businesses. Sorry, but that's life."

Once upon a time many bus companies used to publish a full printed booklet containing their fares for each route; this from Sheffield in old pence (d.) in 1963:-
In Glasgow the fares were displayed in a frame at main stops. It's odd that bus rides are probably the only product where you only find out the price after you have committed to buying it; i.e. boarded the bus.

 And for HM Government. 
The old fogey's bus pass is a mess and everyone is dissatisfied (except, for example, English old fogeys who don't want to travel in far flung foreign countries like Wales or Scotland and vice versa). What does this South Yorkshire note actually mean?
What would happen if  "foreign" fat bus bloke from down south used his pass to travel from Sheffield to Barnsley on the train over Christmas?  The leaflet says he can. So a reasonable resolution reads, "I must sort out the Senior Bus Pass mess, make it national, make it fair to users and operators alike and, possibly, introduce a nominal charge (like the Senior Railcard) to defray some of the escalating costs." And the really needy could be supplied with their pass free through the existing benefits schemes, so minimal extra admin costs.

 So that's just a few to get us started. 

There are plenty more, including a few for Travel South Yorkshire tomorrow!

Will they ever happen?

Answers, please, wrapped in a £50 note, to fat bus bloke at the usual address.

Have a happy new year!

  Next Blog : due Sunday January 1st 2012  

Friday 30 December 2011

A Bit of Bother at Bury [2]

Two Cheers for the Competition Commission
Committed readers may recall that, on December 9th, fbb introduced what would be a short series about the outbreak of competition in Bury St Edmunds (read again). This was followed by an unexpected outbreak of bloggable interest in Leicester, and so Bury got buried.

So let's take a meander round the Mildenhall Road estate and see what has happened there. We set off northbound past the station ...
... along Mildenhall Road itself. We pass the Co-op (forrmerly Somerfield) ...
... and then turn left into the estate proper.
In typical bus un-friendly style, this largely post WW2 development has lots of narrow roads and sharp courners. There is a reasonably local shopping centre in the nearby Howard estate ...
... but most folk will go into the centre of town for their main shop. Or they might try out the recently opened ASDA, seen here under construction.
Most buses return to City via Newmarket Road.
This fbb diagram shows the main circular services to the area. First Bus 80 and 81 continue cross-town to other estates whereas newcomer Mulleys M44 ...
... advertises a true circular which runs every 20 minutes.
First's hourly 82, however, does a circuit of the estates and then returns via the station to the centre by the outward route. 80, 81 and 82 provide three buses an hour. Upstart newcomer, Stephensons (trading as Breeze), provides a service 1 or 2 every 15 minutes, similar to First's 82, but via a slightly different route in the estate.
So the estates have 10 buses an hour giving the bemused passenger a bewildering array of options, with a number of niggles.

Getting FROM the estate to ASDA, or the council offices on Newmarket Road is easy with First's 80 or 81 and Mulleys 44. But getting back involves a change of bus in Bury with First or, probably, a continuation of the circle with Mulley.

FROM the station to estates there are the 10 buses and hour, but returning direct with First is only hourly, with Breeze is every 15 minutes and Mulley's circular is "the long way round" at every 20 minutes, assuming that the fares structure allows it..

Clearly there are simply too many buses to Mildenhall Road and Howard Estates and such a level of service is unsustainable in the long term. Something, as they say, has got to go. But who gives way? Even, who goes bust?
There is, however, a further problem. The note "O" on all First's Bury local routes means that they are partly supported by Suffolk County Council. So, daft as it may seem, the Competition Commission's aim of bringing new entrants into the market** means that two companies are running commercial services against a council subsidised network.

In these straitened times, it is hard to image that Suffolk Council will happily shell out its rapidly evaporating money to support s service if another operator is running something similar with no call on the Civic purse.

It has to be daft.

Watch this space for who cracks first. (And that's not a hint!)

** See also fbb's earlier blog "Competition Report" (read again)

  Next Blog : due Saturday December 31st  
               Saturday and Sunday       
      New Year Resolutions       

Thursday 29 December 2011

Beer Bus-pass Bewilderment

An inconclusive investigation.

Regular readers may remember that on December 4th, fbb reported an incident where he had been refused travel using his old fogey's pass. Re-read the note (here)

The heinous and distressing incident took place here ...
... at Beer Cross. fbb and Mrs fbb had gone to the village to look around, but it was (a) winter, (b) early closing day and (c) damp and cold, so the travelling twosome decided to decamp and proceed to Seaton for a mug of hot tea and a bun (each).
They were early for 1403 bus, so decided to join the vehicle on its outward run and take a sightseeing tour round the admirable appurtenances of Beer, namely Park Road ...
... and Underleys, home of the Model Railway firm Peco and its Pecorama pleasure gardens (sadly closed for winder in November).
Should have been straightforward. BUT ...

The driver refused to carry them. He stated that ...

It would be fraudulent use of the pass
He was under instructions from his company
There was a letter at the office from the council warning them of misuse
Devon's inspectors behaved little "little hitlers"
Stagecoach staff has been called to meetings on the same matter
He has been warned about similar misuse at Axminster
etc. etc.

After protesting, fbb and Mrs fbb succumbed to the (obvious) drivel and waited in the cold.
So off goes a sniffy e-mail to Devon Council; to which nice Mr Mark Wilson replies ...

There are no such orders or instructions issued to any services in Devon to refuse holders of valid national bus passes. I have spoken with the operator who has identified the driver and will be speaking to him as soon as he returns to duty. It would appear as though he has taken unilateral action to deny you and your wife travel. The route goes out and around the village and comes back again. Problems have been experienced where fare-paying passengers board early and refuse to pay the additional cost of the "outward" journey. Unfortunately for you, the driver in question took this a step further and refused travel for a concessionary traveller - which is not correct.

So it's the driver's fault? A second e-mail to Devon, saying, politely, "are you really sure?" A firm reply but hinting at another possible guilty party.

You maybe aware that prior to April 2011, we had no dealings with Axe Valley for national concessionary travel as they are an East Devon operator and as such were reimbursed for such directly by East Devon District council. It maybe that in the past conversations were had between East Devon and Axe Valley about this subject.

So it might be East Devon's fault?  So an email off to the redoubtable Frances Searle, proprietrix of Axe Valley Mini Travel, the operator in question. Her reply is summarised as ...

You must have misunderstood what the driver said.

Not likely, is it? So it's fbb's fault!

Just as a reminder, the pass is valid on all local bus services in England, except before 0930 and after 2300 Mondays to Fridays. Exceptionally, you can’t use your bus pass on services:

where most seats can be reserved, like coaches
that run for less than six weeks, like shuttle buses to special events
for tourists, like open-top bus tours, or services on vehicles of historical interest
 that are running instead of a train; 'rail replacement' services
where the fare includes 'extras', like refreshments or car parking

Auntie Frances' service 899 to Beer doesn't come into any of these prohibited categories.

So the mystery remains. Four things to consider:

The bus company has no reason to refuse a pass holder; if they do they are throwing away money.
The council (maybe unofficially) has every reason to attempt to restrain use; they don't have money to throw away.
Despite hot denials by nice Mr Mark Wilson, fbb thinks that there is no smoke without fire.
Something has been said at some stage by some person to provoke this "misunderstanding".

What do blog readers think?

P.S. Pecorama is well worth a visit. Stunning views over the delightful village of Beer, lots of model railways to marvel at, a magnificent ride on the Beer Heights Light Railway, plenty for kids of all ages ...
... AND the good lady will enjoy the lovely gardens. Web site (here).

And, in the sun and with shops open, Beer is a really lovely place.
AND, your old fogey pass really IS valid on the local bus!

  Next Blog : due Friday December 30th  

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Dashed Green, Deleted District?

The end of the line?

A bit of potential transport history missed by fbb whilst slavering over bloggable stuff in Leicester, was this from the press office of Transport for London:-

A new timetable came into effect on the District Line on Sunday 11th December which increased frequency, reliability and capacity.

The changes include additional trains on the busy Wimbledon branch ...

... providing space for 4,000 extra passengers during the morning peak, more trains during the evening service with six trains per hour until 2330 and an additional train on the Ealing Broadway branch to get an extra 800 customers home during the evening peak.

The changes were the subject of a major consultation exercise earlier this year, in which nearly 18,000 customers, local businesses and stakeholders took part, almost 80 per cent of whom were in favour.

This policy of  "consultation" is an amazing idea. Ask 14,400 people if they want extra peak hour trains on their busy underground line. They might just say "yes". Meanwhile, ask 3,600 people if they mind losing their service completely to provide the extra trains. They will say "not happy at all, mate".

But hooray, cheers and frabjous joy, 80% of those questioned think its a good idea. Successful consultation and the scheme you have planned goes through on the nod.

So the bit of the timetable change that LT was somewhat less "shouty" about is the complete withdrawal of the Monday to Friday service on the Kensington Olympia shuttle.
Back in the halcyon days of fbb's youth, trains from Kensington to Olympia ran only for major exhibitions and the line on the map was dotted. In 1986 London Underground decided to run a daily service every 15 minutes and the line went solid green.
From 11th December it reverted to dotted green.

To simplify the service, reduce delays and boost services to the Wimbledon branch which is the busiest section of the District line, LU has removed weekday services to Kensington (Olympia), which carry less than one percent of District line passengers.
The Olympia service will still operate during the weekend, and LU plans to operate special services to serve major weekday events at the Olympia exhibition centre.

When first started, the shuttle ran every 15 minutes and, at some time not well publicised by Transport for London,  this was reduced to every 20 minutes. fbb wonders whether, apart from the now-withdrawn Epping to Ongar shuttle (seen here at Blake Hall station) ...
... this was the LEAST frequent London Underground service of recent years. Doubtless, someone will put the chubby one right!

London Underground is part of Boris the Blue's timetable secrecy club, so to check times we needed to go on-line ...
... and get a set of departures.
But, alas and alack, a tearful fbb will no longer be able to enjoy the thrilling 3 minute ride from Earls Court on a Monday to Friday unless he is going to an "important" exhibition; when, presumably, the enthusiastic 80% will, once again, be crammed like sardines on the Wimbledon branch. Happy days!

Apart from the 20% who were not happy when "consulted", the consumers' body is less than enthusiastic ...
Sharon Grant, chair (chairman, chairperson, chaise longue?) of London Travelwatch says ...

“There are big question marks over this decision. Increasing capacity on the Wimbledon branch of the District Line is fine, but we are extremely concerned that withdrawing the Olympia service will result in increased overcrowding on the West London Line. The existing London Overground and Southern services on that route are already badly in need of relief.”

And she is concerned about access for the less mobile ...

"Those who cannot manage steps will find life tough as a result of this change. In future, passengers at Olympia would need to follow a lengthy route by road to reach the southbound Overground platform to reach the District Line, without needing to use steps. And at West Brompton, the alternative interchange point, ...

... the southbound District Line platform has no step-free access.” [On the left in the picture above.]

But, who cares? 80% of those "consulted" think it's a good idea.

fbb wonders how many votes Boris the Blue had. Three feeble cheers for democracy.
Next Blog : due Thursday December 29th 

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Christmas Reading

A Devon General Update
Having blogged about the history of this memorable and much remembered bus company, fbb asked Santa, Father Christmas, SinterKlaas, Kris Kringle, La Befana and/or Mrs fbb if he/they might source a copy of the above book which  is officially out of print.

Leslie Folkard probably knows more about Devon General than any other bus geek, alive or dead. The book reflects his eminent and extensive expertise. Unlike most publications, which are collections of photos of buses with explanatory comments, this is a work of true omnibological scholarship.

Amongst other things, it corrects an fbb guess in "Shuffling the Pack" (read again). fbb thought that this building, photographed last November, was the old Sidmouth depot.
Unlikely; as Leslie Folkard tells us the the Sidmouth premises were demolished in 1990! This is what he reported, authoritatively (op. cit. page 264):-

Devon general buses had commenced running to Sismouth in July 1921, and in the following year, garage accommodation was rented from Martin's Lavender Garage, in Mill Street (by the junction with Russell Street). Five drivers were based there. The site became insufficient for traffic needs, so accomodation was rented at Newton Poppleford.

The site is now part of a car park.

So, how did fbb fare with his guess for the location of the Newton Poppleford depot?
However plausible fbb's possible sighting might have been, like Sidmouth it was completely wrong. Folkard states (op. cit. page 266):-

A garage in Station Road was rented from Mr. W Potter, who had demolished an existing carpenter's shop, installed petrol pumps and raised the roof so as to enable six buses to be stabled there. The depot was vacated when the purpose-built Woolbrook depot was opened back in Sid,mouth; the premises continue in use as Oak Tree Garage.
At least, this is Oak Tree Garage today according to the near-omnipotent Google. It actually looks a bit more like a bus depot when viewed from the air ...
... or "round the back."!
So, on two counts, old chubbo was utterly wrong.

The book was written for the Silver Jubilee of the Devon General Society in 2007 and copies are still available from the society's shop. Visit their excellent web site (here).

Meanwhile, enjoy a pic of an ex Devon General bus in a special livery to promote revised route and timetable arrangements ...
... during the rebuilding of the Yarmouth bridge on the Isle of Wight; work completed in 1987.
... and an Island registered Southern Vectis "sister" in preservation.
And, finally, one of four Leyland Atlanteans ordered for Devon General. The vehicles were painted and lettered for DG but diverted to Yorkshire Traction. This example, still in DG livery but now lettered for Yorkshire Traction is seen at Leeds bus station and will arrive in Sheffield over two-and-a-half hours later.
Devon General, a  fascinating story indeed.
Next Blog : due Wednesday December 28th