Saturday 29 January 2011

The Numbers Game

A Piece of Pointless Trivia. [decimal point IS mentioned!]

A search through fbb's eclectic and chaotic collection of public transport ephemera, in connection with his Mapping Muttering blogs, revealed a short lived service to the Stannington area of Sheffield:-
The 888 was hourly and additional to the frequent 88 which, in the early 80s, stopped short of the new Hall Park Head estate and future terminus of the present service 12.   Although Sheffield Transport (and later, the PTE) had used 500s for limited stop longer distance services, 700s for early morning routes and 900s for late night offerings, 888 was by far the highest route number used for a "normal" Monday to Saturday service withing the City of Sheffield..

Which ignites a train of thought... [can you ignite a train?]

Which bus company routinely used the highest route numbers?

Bus companies operating over huge areas had big numbers; Midland Red and the historically huge United empire are clear front runners.  Many of these "biggies" remain; as here with Yorkshire Coastliner's 840 group (descended from the original United via West Yorkshire).
Greater Manchester and West Midlands have plenty of all-day services in the 600s ...
 ... but the highest ever number recorded in the late lamented Great Britain Bus Timetable was 2000 (!) for a little local route on the Derbyshire Nottinghamshire border.  fbb can find no tangible evidence despite trawling through back numbers of GBBTT, but it was there, honest.

With privatisation and fragmentation of the old big-area operators many services had their "hundreds" removed. There is a perception in the industry that Jo Public reacts more positively to smaller route numbers.   Is that really true?   Dunno!
Trent Barton is the high priest of weird route numbers and names with a recent craze being for numbers with decimal points.  In most cases these are the "old" 93, for example, mysteriously numbered 9.3 (nine point three).   Here is a 7.1 waiting in Derby.
Which leads us to the LOWEST route number ever.

fbb's suggestion for this prize winner is the route 000, operated by Sheffield Transport from about noon to the end of normal service on 8th October 1960.   "But, why?", we hear you cry!
That illustrious date marked the end of Sheffield's original tram service.   [picture above of a tram at Beauchief; last days of operation] There was a grand parade on the Saturday afternoon so the 000 ran from Tinsley to Beauchief until the new services took over on Sunday 9th.
And you probably guessed - the above is NOT a genuine photo of the 000, but a computer generated fudge by fbb!   But they did look like this - - - a bit!

Thursday 27 January 2011

Miscellaneous Mapping Mutterings [1]

Part I - a history lesson.
Mr Thrales was something of an entrepreneur; as well as being the landlord of the Crown and Cushion at Stannington, near Sheffield, he was also a modern-day Brian Souter - running buses from the tram terminus at Malin Bridge to Stannington and nearby Bradfield.
His service was in operation by 1922 and was joined by (and subsequently taken over by) Sheffield Tramways and Motors [ST&M] in October 1930.   So this 1927 ST&M map shows no service to Stannington because they did not operate it!   Nothing changes!
The ST&M Stannington route was service 7 and it retained that number until the start of the 21st Century.   By the 1940s, housing development was spreading along the Stannington Road so the route was becoming less "villagey" and more urban.
The Malin Bridge tram was replaced by bus 88 in January 1952 and on the same date, service 7 was extended through to the city centre.   Four years later, the 88 was extended up Stannington Road to a terminus at the end of a narrow lane called Roscoe Bank.   Roscoe Bank was shown on the destination blinds and this soon became accepted as the definitive name for the growing blocks of housing on both sides of the main road.
 facsimile of the Sheffield Transport style map of the 1960s
simple, informative and elegant

Further route developments in 1962 and 1966 took the 88 route to Liberty Hill via new housing on Deer Park Road until after a final twiddle the route reached its present terminus (now numbered 12) in the Hall Park Head estate.
Hall Park Head (1) and Liberty Hill (2) as served by route 88

Throughout these changes, however, service 7 remained largely unchanged until the most recent development, namely journeys via Acorn Drive.

It was in the late sixties that fbb developed his mapping mission, when he created (and routinely updated) the Sheffield Transport network map displayed outside the Castle Square enquiry office.   The distinctive orange colouring on a large street map, together with dayglo orange "stickers" at the termini and route numbers alongside key roads created an easy-to-follow and popular point of reference in the city centre.
South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive absorbed operations of the three municipalities  in 1973 and soon produced their own two printed maps; of Sheffield & Rotherham, and of Barnsley & Doncaster.These were much less detailed than the "old" Sheffield maps, but still retained a simplicity and clarity of style which enabled the travelling public to navigate the network with comparative ease.   The observant will notice that a service 87 has been added; plus some 31s at school times.
But, as with so many things, deregulation of the bus industry in 1986 brought a dramatic increase to the instability of the network as competition flooded Sheffield's roads with a multiplicity of new and often short-lived operators.   Maps and timetable booklets died - RIP!

So where are we  nearly 25 years later?
See the next thrilling installment ... 
Castle Square - the famous "Hole in the Road", later
filled in for the tram!
With (inset) a glimpse of the excellent enquiry office display
courtesy of the late and lamented Marian.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Ferry Interesting, a P.S.

good try, but ...
Wrexham and Shropshire?   An unsubsidised railway company operating between London Marylebone, Shropshire (Shrewsbury) and Wrexham; there is a clue in the name.

A year or so ago, fbb and a good friend took a journey with Wrexham and Shropshire, first class - thus including lunch out and dinner back.  It was absolutely splendid in every way.   But it would seem that the passengers simply weren't there.   The service worked under several disadvantages.   Because the giant Virgin has protected non-competition rights, the trains had to run (slowly) on the Chiltern line rather than fast from Euston and, more stupidly, were not allowed to run via Birmingham New Street.

It is pretty clear that these burdens made the service unattractive for long distance passengers and unusable for shorter runs.  fbb, for example,  travelled  from Marylebone to Tame Bridge Parkway (for Birmingham???) and caught a local train back to an exhibition at Birmingham International.  Crazily, the train back passed through and actually stopped at Birmingham International but the doors remained firmly locked.
Tame Bridge Parkway, the nearest W&S trains
could get to Birmingham.  Interchange luxury, NOT!

The staff were all enthusiastic and served their (few) passengers with courtesy and  consideration.   It was an example of what a rail service should be.  The food was ample and excellent despite being pre-prepared and from the on-board freezer.   It was a lesson in cost-effective train catering.

Wrexham and Shropshire - RIP - you will be sadly missed!   Would it all have worked if REAL competition were allowed and big brother Virgin did not have the "moderation of competition" protection?   We shall never know.

Monday 24 January 2011

Ferry Interesting - but Stoopid!

With Acknowledgement to Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.   (The character was Wolfgang, played by Arte Johnson)
2011 will mark the 25th anniversary of the deregulation of the bus industry.   There'll be plenty of reminscences about that in due course!   But occasionally silly and ultimately destructive spats break out in other parts of the public transport world.
Apart from a brief incursion by British Rail Seaspeed in the 60s, Red Funnel has enjoyed a so-called monopoly of the ferry crossing from Southampton to Cowes.   The Island "movers and shakers" have always berated the ferry companies for their high prices and poor service and "what we need is a good dose of healthy competition".   So when an alternative to the "noisy, smelly, expensive and uncomfortable" Red Jet Hydrofoils arrived there was much rejoicing.
It was 20 years ago (in 1991) when along came Cowes Express with a huge, comfortable and luxurious vessel called "Wight King", formerly "Sant' Agata", operating every hour to Southampton from a somewhat improvised terminal at Thetis Wharf in Cowes.  Clients were even promised a free shuttle bus linking the terminal with the Island's capital, Newport. 
 And so it was, at the beginning.   To succeed in the business, the company would need to "pinch" all of Red Funnel's existing passengers and double the numbers.

And then the problems began.   Wight King suffered from  mangled motors from the mud of the Medina river and a second big vessel (followed by a third smaller craft, the "Wight Prince") were all in operation at various times.
 Things deteriorated.   The free bus (no more than a demonstration vehicle which overstayed its welcome!) soon went.   Then Wight Prince disappeared without warning and finally, one fine day, expectant passengers were ordered off the big boat at Southampton as the bailiffs came to recover their property.   The competition "so essential to serve the Island well" was gone and has never returned.

A little less fat bus bloke enjoyed a trip in the early days; here recording his three boys walking past the shuttle bus into the lavish terminal.
 Competing against an existing operator isn't easy - especially if the business is not there to be had.   As fbb's dad used to say in the fruit and veg wholesale trade, "there's a living for one but nothing for two." The Cowes Express project was, indeed, "very interesting, but stupid."

And, talking of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In; fbb's dad used to deliver fruit and veg to Joyce Botterill's dad's shop in Northampton.   Joyce Botterill?   She was better known as Judy "sock it to me" Carne!

Sunday 23 January 2011

Confusing for the Old Bloke [a P.S.]

It gets dafter wherever you look ...

Doing a bit of work for a customer, (yes, people actually pay fbb for his consummate skills and expertise), fbb came across the following fares farce.   It concerns annual season ticket rates to Havant, a town between Portsmouth and Chichester and almost on the borders of Hampshire and West Sussex.
From Emsworth to Havant, a distance of about 1 and 7/8 miles:
Annual season ticket £368 which works out at about £1.60 per working day.
Good value, is it not?

From Bedhampton to Havant, a distance of 5/8 of a mile:
Annual season ticket £396 which works out at about £1.72 per working day.
More money for 1/3 of the distance!


The only consolation is that the distance between Bedhampton and Havant is so small that it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to make the journey regularly; but maybe...   If you do, then you are paying through the proverbial nose - move to Emsworth, it's cheaper.
So, why IS there still a station so close to Havant?   Bedhampton Halt (as it was once named) was built in 1906 and later served the nearby Royal Navy Bedhampton Camp, a "branch" of the main HMS Daedalus site at Leigh on the Solent. It remained an unstaffed halt until 1947 when housing development provided some more "real" customers.

Friday 21 January 2011

Confusing for the Old Bloke!

Where's the sense, common or commercial?
[from a contrubitor: adapted]

What do these figures have in common?
As Rolf Harris might say, "Have you worked out what they are yet?    Here's your first clue ...
... and here's your second.
Too hard?   Give in?    They are all the EIGHT fares offered on Stagecoach's website for a journey from Ryde St John's Road (top) to Wokingham (below), standard class and claiming a senior railcard discount.    It is no wonder that the stereotypically befuddled old fogey can only weep with despair.

The three fares highlighted in blue may well be for journeys at times when the senior railcard is not valid (whenever that is) but the web site is somewhat coy about explaining this.   So that leaves a more modest FIVE possible fares for the journey.   Three of them have a "spread" of only £1.30 and they are (all including the senior railcard discount):-   "cheapest standard" single, "off-peak" day return and "anytime" day return.

So why not make it simple and charge £24 for all three?   Commercial reasons?   Hardly - the differences are minimal and pretty usual throughout the fares structure.  This complexity seems to be ingrained in the genetic make-up of the railway industry and it really, really needs some therapeutic treatment.  fbb strongly recommends some powerful marketing emetic or a good clear out with a xyster!

The other two fares are for "off-peak" return valid one month and "anytime" return valid one month.   Once again, the rationale behind a different fare for one day and 30 days is lost in the mists of antiquity.   But the company charges an extra 40% or so for"staying over".  That would be hard to get rid of.
But it gets worse! (Surely not?)  Oh yes, it does.

An enquiry for a 1048 arrival in Wokingham, starting from Ryde St John's Road, reveals high fares because the senior railcard is  not valid.   But, if the canny OAP were to travel to Portsmouth Harbour independently (and with senior discount on the ferry) and search for the same 1048 arrival at Wokingham, but starting from there...

Lo and behold!  The web site offers fares WITH the senior discount.

But the man in the office at Ryde Esplanade says this must be a mistake on the web site.   So, what happens if I book a possible wrong fare on Stagecoach's web site and then get spiked on a spit (or is it "spitted on a spike"?) by a Stagecoach ticket inspector when travelling innocently but "illegally" to Wokingham?

Who is right?

So, the fare depends on when you go, whether your railcard is valid, how long you stay and which bit of the web site you look at; and, possibly, whether the ticket collector has a touch of rampant indigestion having rushed his porridge to get to work on time.
And it's only a couple of years ago that the Association of Train Operating Companies announced boldly to the press that it was SIMPLIFYING fares.   Is this really the best the industry can do?   Or does their dictionary have some weird definition of "simple"?

Tuesday 18 January 2011

How to Ruin a Bus Service (Lesson 3A)

An update - and more bad news!

Our regular readers will recall the sadness of the withdrawal of through buses from Northampton to south of Silverstone (read again).

Further research shows that this is dafter than even fbb could know.   The "through" service involves a same time connection at Silverstone, which is risky enough ...
Notice the 1311 arrival and departure but with an asterisk.   The latter note advises potential cutomers, worried about the change, that the departing vehicle will wait up to 5 minutes.  Now, supposing that an innocent enquirer had searched on Transport Defunct for a similar journey, what would he find?

Using the government's "official" journey planner, costing the taxpayer £50 million a year, the weary traveller would be advised to leave Northampton a whole hour early and then spend just over and hour (from 1210 to 1312) unsheltered at the lavish interchange facility in Silverstone.   Hope it's not raining!

Whilst the printed timetable makes it clear that the inerchange is at the same place and involves crossing the road (White Horse and opp. White Horse), Transport Defunct leaves just that nagging suspicion of possible human error; but at least you have got a whole hour to find the stop!   Maybe a pint and a bag of pork scratchings in the White Horse while you wait (note bus stop, bottom left!).
And does Walters Coaches' vehicle leave at 1311 or 1312? Only a minute, but ...
 a reminder of those lavish interchange facilities

That's all  because Transport Defunct (aka Transport Direct) is technically over-engineered and cannot cope with same time connections on different timetables!   No wonder the folk of South Northamptonshire are not very happy!

AND, dear Mr Transport Defunct, both the pub and the stops are, technically and traditionally on STOCKS HILL Silverstone, NOT High Street.   Pendantic, moi?   It's what the stop has been know as, locally, for countless eons, so why befuddle the regulars?

Ruth Murphy and the Minibus Revolution

Transport Nostalgia par Excellence!
Ruth Murphy was the first baby to be born in Hampstead Garden Suburb, and she lived there for most of her life at 41 Asmuns Hill.    The later-to-become Mrs fbb was befriended by this wonderful Christian lady at the church they both attended.   So it was that, when fbb was "going out" with his future Mrs, an inspection was required; an inspection which fbb appears to have passed.

And what better way to pay this first tentative visit than by bus?    And what better bus to use than the first and only (?) "dial-a-ride" service ever operated by London Transport?   So fbb and the future Mrs presented themselves at Golders Green bus station and, somewhat hesitantly, requested as ride to Asmuns Hill.
The vehicle was an example of what would come to be known as a "bread van"; but this was some 12 years before the minibus revolution came to cream-tea country, viz. Devon, m'dearrr!

It was in February 1984 that a previously unknown Harry Blundred pioneered the high frequency small capacity (and inadequate leg and baggage room!) bus service, first in Torbay and later in Exeter.
The craze became unstoppable with National Bus Company operators all vying for the most successful conversion.   Brands proliferated and the concept moved into big urban areas like Manchester and Sheffield. On the Isle of Wight, managers managed to invent three different brands for three local services, although it wasn't long before vehicles were mixed up and the "brand" was compromised.

In all honesty, the vehicles, although cheap, we not up to the job of all-day thrashing around housing estates.   They were not an unqualified success for the passenger, due to poor "bum room" and the tendency of those on end seats to fall off into the aisle as "snappy" cornering became a consequence of tight schedules.   The great Harry moved on to more expensive two door not-quite-so minibuses ...
 ... and later sold out to Stagecoach.   After a brief spell with "Sunbus" in Australia, Harry (now Sir Harry!) retired to the South of France.    Inexorably, minibus routes attracted bigger and stronger vehicles and lower frequencies; the small vehicle reverting to narrow roads and low passenger demand services.

The Hampstead Garden Suburb route is now run, for Transport for London and still numberd "H2", by Deutsche Bundesbahn (sorry, Arriva).   It is no longer "dial-a-ride" and runs to a proper timetable - although Boris insists on keeping that a closely guarded secret.   But fbb knows ... every 12 minutes Monday to Saturday and every 15 minutes evenings and Sundays.   It also has genuine posh "real buses"...

with real seats and some leg room!    So much better than 1972!

It's now nearly 40 years later than fbb's inspection.   Ruth Murphy is with her Saviour in heaven and the bread vans are no doubt much recycled as fizzy drink cans.   The minibus revolution was relatively short-lived but it did teach us all about the dubious advantages of the commercialisation of what used to be "public" transport.

Good, or Bad?   That doubtless depends on whether you are on a bus-every-two-minutes road in sunny Sheffield or bemoaning the withdrawal of your last village link to the rest of humanity as a result of "inevitable" budget cuts.    And a quick political point!   Cuts are not "inevitable", they could be reversed overnight if the voting public was prepared to pay a little more in tax.    But very few turkeys vote for Christmas.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Commuter Cost Comparison [a PS]

Commuter Fares ARE a Bargain! (see 15th Jan blog)

Co-incidentally "Rail" magazine has recently published comparative figures for longer distance "commuting", as follows:-

Norwich to London £29 ; Anytime return £93.10
Peterborough to London £26.20 :Anytime return £87
Bristol to London £42 : Anytime return £169
Manchester to London £53.40 : Anytime return £279

However, the sort of executive who could afford to commute from Manchester or Bristol might not be making 230 journeys a year (meetings elsewhere, foreign trips, essential golf tournaments etc.) which would reduce the discount.

In practice, hard-done-by commuters can pay as little as one fifth of the full fare charged to ordinary occasional peak-time passengers.   Super-OUCH!  or super value!

Saturday 15 January 2011

Commuter Cost Comparison

Its cheaper by bus! [in Harrogate]

Commuters, a strange word, has its origins in "good ole U S of A" where folk who travelled regularly to work could buy a "commuted fare" ticket.  Nowadays the only other thing that is routinely "commuted" is the death sentence!   Maybe the two experiences have some similarities?

At this time of year the media is full of anguished wails from "commuters" at the extortionate fare increases as they are "held to ransom" by the rail companies.  What is quietly forgotten is that the self-same commuters are paying some of the cheapest rail fares available.
Harrogate, home of the celebrated and foul-tasting spa water, is one of the few places place where direct price comparisons can be made.   fbb has spent a pleasant (actually frustrating and challenging, the rigours of the internet!) few hours finding out.   These figures are  based on making 230 return journeys a year and are shown at cost per day.
CAR : peak journey time approx 45 minutes : comfort, excellent : stress, quite high : frequency, as required : cost, based on AA figures (which include nasty things like depreciation - which motorists all like to forget), £11.70

If you have to pay for parking in central Leeds, this goes up to a massive £18.35.   OUCH!  If you want to ignore everything except fuel costs, then, allowing for burning fuel in traffic queues, you might end up paying £4.00 a day. OUCH again!
TRAIN : peak hour journey time approx 40 minutes : comfort, poor to adequate : stress, low : frequency, every 30 minutes : cost, based on an annual season ticket, £5.86.    The anytime day return fare is £9.00, so commuting offers a discount of 35% on the relatively good-value West Yorkshire fares.
BUS : peak hour journey time approx 50 minutes : comfort, excellent : stress, low :  frequency, every 10 minutes (off peak every 20) : cost, based on the Harrogate and District Gold Rider annual season, £3.26.

There are various downsides and bonuses.   The above assumes that the "commuter" is within walking distance of Harrogate rail station (or the nearby Hornbeam Park or Pannal) so there might be an extra cost for the "kiss and ride" element.   Similarly there will be a time cost if an extra bus journey is needed to get to the service 36; but, in this case, the price remains the same as the Gold Card is, effectively, a Harrogate and District rover ticket.

The rail season ticket calculations mean that any "non work" journeys to Leeds (or intermediately) are then free - likewise,  all "non-work" bus journeys throughout H & D services are "free".   Similarly, if the car driver has stumped up a whopping £1600 for central Leeds parking, there would be no problems when driving in to do the Christmas shopping!   Enjoy the January sales!

Sadly, the opportunity of such a direct comparison remains rare; but, without a doubt, rail "commuters" get a very good deal, arguably at the expense of poor mugs like fbb who have to subsidise them with heavy peak time fares!  But, where there is a comparable bus service with only a minimum time penalty, it's a no-brainer.

IT'S BETTER, and CHEAPER by bus!

Wednesday 12 January 2011

The Incredible Shrinking Ferry

Glasgow Nostalgia

In the bloom of her youth Mrs fbb used to travel, in her parents' shiny motor car, from Bearsden [remember it was a "den for bears" and get the pronunciation right, or else!] to holidays at Largs on the Clyde Coast.   Until about 1960, the route was via the Renfrew Ferry - a long standing, chain-operated car ferry from Yoker on the north bank of the Clyde to (not surprisingly) Renfrew on the south.

The last car ferry was built in 1952 and lasted until 1984 after which it became a "popular nite spot" - called "The Ferry" and with glass "atrium" - now moored at Anderston Quay in central Glasgow.
Traffic in vehicles and workers making their way to industrial complexes on both sides of the river made the crossing very busy.   Frequent trams, and later, buses, linked Renfrew with Paisley.
But by 1960 the spanking new Clyde Tunnel at Whiteinch, somewhat closer to Glasgow's centre, was complete.   It had two big advantages over the ferry; it involved no waiting and it was FREE!.   Vehicle use of the ferry was in terminal decline.   Thus from 1984 onwards the car ferry was withdrawn and replaced by a smaller passenger boat operated by Strathclyde Passenger Transport.
Then in late 2009, SPT announced that it would no longer sustain the annual loss of over £500,000 and the ferry would close completely.    Outrage!    Haggis hurling at dawn!    Have the politicians hung drawn and quartered!   The decision was not popular.

Thus an independent operator was sought to take over.

Was it the silly season?   Was it a huge publicity stunt?   Or was it something to do with the replacement's start date, 1st April 2010?   No, It was Stagecoach who arranged trials of the "amfibus" ...
Now humble Englishmen, living way south of Hadrian's wall, really did think this was a hoax - but no, it was a genuine trial; but probably not a realistic proposal. In the end a private operator was appointed to run a commercial service, with a traditional boat, at no cost to SPT.
A much smaller vessel - the incredible shrinking ferry!

And if this doesn't pay, perhaps Glasgow could borrow an idea from Boris in London -
The Renfrew Ferry version of Bike Hire!