Sunday 31 July 2011

Krisis at Kilcreggan [2]

Connection Complications

fbb and Mrs fbb, together with friend Julia, are taking the equivalent of a sail "doon the watter" by crossing from Kilcreggan to Dunoon on the little ferry called "Sea Bus".
See "Krisis at Kilcreggan I" (read again). Ideally they would have liked to pick up the boat at Helensburgh ...
and enjoy the longer crossing, but breakfast timing and an evening appointment in Ayr meant the the 1150 from Kilcreggan was the only possible choice.
And there was a bus from Helensburgh which arrived at Kilcreggan Pier at 1037, a good 13 minutes to make the connection.
If the gang had been travelling in Switzerland, there would have been no problem and no question. The connection would be totally and utterly secure. But, to avoid a tedious retracing of the route back to Glasgow, fbb wanted to be sure. So, foolishly, he rang Traveline. Stupid boy!

It was obvious that the Traveline man had no idea where Kilcreggan was, and could offer no guidance as to connections. He did, however, after some minutes of gritted teeth prompting by fbb, suggest ringing Stratclyde PTE (sponsors of the ferry service), but no, he did not have their number.

Fortunately fbb had the Kilcreggan Ferry leaflet.
So fbb rang the number on the back. Stupid Boy! No, she, an employee of SPT, knew nothing about connections; but fbb could ring Traveline. Would fbb like the number?

More gritted teeth explanation from fbb who then asked; could he be put through to the boat company? No, she did not have a number for them; hers was the office responsible for the ferry.

After debate with the rest of the party, fbb decided to risk it ...
...and then wished he hadn't!

The bus (Wilsons of Rhu, seen here at Rhu) left Helensburgh Station on time (nearly) but all the way through the suburbs those inconvenient intrusions into smooth running of bus travel, namely passengers, kept getting on and off. They all had a little chat with the driver, so much so that by Garelochhead the bus was nearly 15 minutes late! Goodbye ferry.
A slightly swifter swish along the lochside at Rosneath meant that fbb and gang arrived at Kilcreggan per with just a few seconds to spare. The ferryman was just about the haul up the plank, when a puce and perspiring fbb ran (ran? hobbled slightly faster!) down the pier gesticulating wildly. He was too breathless to shout.
Made it - Just!!

There was no evidence that there was an offical connection. The breathless party of three DOUBLED the number of passengers. fbb wonders if more would contemplate the link if it were advertised with some willingness to connect. It would in Switzerland. 

Tailpiece : later at Ayr, fbb was perusing the timetable book for the Clyde Coast railway services. Here, again, was the schedule for the Kilcreggan ferry AND the phone number of the Ferry Company Office, a detail apparently unknown to SPT. Perhaps SPT should take a look at their own slogan:-
fbb wrote a stiff epistle to SPT who replied apologetically with the offer of a free all-day ticket on the Glasgow underground. What a treat, NOT! The current leaflet still gives the "we know nothing" phone number.
But, for fbb and chums, the sun came out and the views were magnificent. Just this once, the panic and the tension were worth it.

But the panic and tension were quite unnecessary. Wouldn't it have been more helpful if there had been someone on the phone who knew where Kilcreggan was? Wouldn't it have been helpful to be able to speak to the people who ran the services concerned?

Instead, the impersonal and ineffective octopus-like tentacles of Traveline curl inexorably round reality and crush it totally. Will it EVER get better? Yet another flock of Gloucester Old Spots swoop low over the Firth of Clyde! 

Next blog : due Monday August 1st  

Saturday 30 July 2011

Krisis at Kilcreggan [1]

Beginning with Background

fbb and Mrs fbb were spending a few days in Glasgow with a "mature" friend, Julia, who had never visited the Clyde before. P S Waverley had not yet started her cruising season and fbb was anxious to give Julia a taste of a sail "doon the watter". The Gourock to Kilcreggan ferry seemed a good substitute; nay the only substitute!
Kilcreggan is on the Rosneath peninsula, between the Gare Loch and Loch Long, both significant inlets off the Firth of Clyde.
Like so many of the waterside settlements pre WW2, the main public transport was by ferry. The various railway companies all operated competitive services and it was a challenge to the masters' seamanship to see which boat could get into the pier first to snaffle the hordes of waiting passengers.
But post-WW2 changing tastes and working conditions led to a terminal decline of the "big" ferry services, replaced on certain routes by dual purpose car carrying vessels. Kikcreggan was served by Caledonian MacBrayne [CalMac] via a triangular route from Gourock and Greenock.

By the late 1970's this route had been sub-contracted to Clyde Marine Services Limited.  In the 1980s responsibility passed to the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive [SPT]. The owners were in need of an extra ferry and at a Southampton boat show their eyes lit upon Hotspur II ...
... which had been plying its merry trade between Southampton and Hythe since 1936. See "High Five for Five Hythes" (read again). A deal was struck and in 1979 Hotspur II moved north and after some refurbushment and re-fettling the vessel re-emerged as "Kenilworth". It soon became the main provider of the Helensburgh service,
  later respendent in SPT carmine and cream livery.
In March 2007, however, this elderly lady was retired from ferry service but continued to provide cruises for another two years before finally passing to a private buyer after 73 years of valiant service.

In service between Gourock, Kilcreggan and Helensburgh she carried over 2.1 million passengers (and countless millions more when in Southampton Water) and sailed the equivalent of thirty times round the equator. Some tub!

The short passage  is 1.6 nautical miles and, given good weather, the views are stunning; as here with the hills behind Kilcreggan still dusted with the remains of winter's snow. Aaaaah!
Some trips continue an additional 3.4 nautical miles to Helensburgh.

At Gourock the boat docks alonside the busy car ferries to Dunoon and a short step along the platform of the train station.
Thus a round trip is possible:- by train from Glasgow to Gourock, by ferry to Helensburgh then train back to Glasgow. Multi-mode rover tickets are available offering excellent value.

To commemorate Kenilworth's retirement from ferry duty, SPT produced a fascinating handbook outlining the long and complex history of the crossing. fbb has stored a PDF copy to read or download here. Warning : it's a big file.

Next blog : due Sunday July 31st

Friday 29 July 2011

Blupdates [Issue 5]

A popular potpourri of possibly pointless prognostications (?).

"Commuters Rejoice ..." (read again)

No. 3 son writes about a recent, and not uncommon, occurrence with the much lauded smart card system in London.

I wasn't let out of the system last night as I had already touched out ...

... somehow by getting on at Willesden Junction and having the temerity to get off at Watford High Street. The phantom touch out monster had already touched me out before I got to the gates. So "the man" had to let me through the gate manually, having asked how I got onto the network without touching in.

Maybe the parachute gave me away?

"Not so Handy Anderston" (read again)

fbb commented that the mass vandalism of Glasgow in the 60s was a high price to pay for the M8, which now needed relieving.

Speaking ahead of the Royal Opening of the M74 Northern Extension, the Scottish Greens, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Transform Scotland reiterated their view that the new motorway will worsen Glasgow's environment, do nothing to tackle congestion or unemployment, and that it remains a poor use of hundreds of millions of pounds of public money.

Milton Keynes Meets Railtrack : are we spending money wisely? More thoughts from our Northampton correspondent.

The prestigious new offices for Son of Railtrack are still being built in MK, the land of the multi-coloured bus.

The new offices are on the site of the former hockey / football stadium across the road from Macdonalds (2,487 Big Macs and 2 cwt of fries please) and round the corner from the railway station so they'll be able to watch the replacement buses setting off for Northampton.

A Highlight of Milton Keynes is the wonderfully tidy integrated marketing of the network. It is really easy to spot which bus you want; just look at the colours.

Arriva - blue, orange, red, green.
(left over from MK Metro route branding days)
Arriva Platinum - green and grey.
Red Rose - red with ghostly "London United" still visible on the side.
Centrebus - orange and blue.
Z and S - blue and white.
Grant Palmer - red and white
Plus of course multicoloured Sir Brian with the X4, X5, 41, 89.and 99

As A. A. Milne didn't quite write
in "Bad Sir Brian Botany" (read the original, here

Sir Brian had a bus with orange stripes on.
He went round all the villages,
and took folks to the shops.
On Wednesday and Saturday,
Especially on the latter day
He called at all the stops ...

...and this is what he said:
I am Sir Brian (Ding ding)
I am Sir Brian, (toot toot)
I am Sir Brian.
If wise you'll be buyin,
Megarider for my Megabus
A fare that saves the rider an awful lot of loot.

Mind you, you're not the only one thinking ahead - In "Modern Railways" I read:-
"Northampton station - Platforms 1 and 2 have been extended to handle 11 car class 390 Pendolino trains".

No. of class 390's currently stopping at Northampton - Monday to Friday, 2 (0005, set down only and 0642).  Saturday / Sunday, zero! Are we spending money wisely?

"Where the Heck is Hackenthorpe?" (read again)

James, conductor of the mystery bus, kindly sent this shot of a real Sheffield Transport bus leaving Pond Street Bus Station (now promoted to being Sheffield Interchange) for Hackenthorpe. Excellent standards of service and reliability combined with civic pride. Privatisation, phooey!

The Pony goes Completely Dotto (read again)

Friend Alan, long-term supporter of this blog, directs fbb to a pic of the INSIDE of the Shanklin Steamer ...
... just for completeness. Very, erm, "Orange"!

But Usually, Nothing changes here ...

Not really a blupdate, but splendid all the same. A picture from No 1 son, holidaying on the Isle of Wight in July 2011, of a bus museum FLF trundling along past Havenstreet, of steam railway fame.
But note the signpost. A further dialect word to goad grockles** to grumble. Nammet**, Gallybagger** and now Brileway. fbb is not sure what it is, but at least it's public, it's N17 and it leads to a diamond at Briddlesford ...
... or perhaps young Dwayne, on work experience at the County Council, did not get the best marks in his SATS spelling test.

** Tourist, Lunch and Scarecrow

Next blog : due Saturday July 30th  

Thursday 28 July 2011

The Madhouse at Woodhouse [1]

How bus routes get into such a mess.
See "A Lesson for Little David" (read again).

The industrial revolution turned the tiny farming village of Handsworth into a busy and bustling suburb of the rapidly expanding steel city of Sheffield.
Thus it was that frequent public transport reached Finchwell Road Handsworth in 1909 [top left of map, above]; here, some years later, a tram waiting outside the Norfolk Hotel to return to the city centre ...
... but things have changed a bit since! The pub is now a Nursery School.
The route was extended to Orgrave Lane on 7th September 1934 [road fork, centre right, on map], this tram seen near to Handsworth Church, just a short distance from the terminus.
On 5th May 1957 the trams were replaced by the route 52 bus, at the same time extended into the recently completed Ballifield Estate.

There is plenty of "disappeared" history there:-

Anne Booth, (b1579), daughter of John Booth married Thomas Stacye of Ballifield, on 18th May, 1597 at Handsworth; she brought considerable property to her husband.

Ballifield Hall is the seat of John Jubb Esq (1757 to 1832), in the township and parish of Handsworth; 4 miles from Sheffield; 5 from Rotherham.
Ballifield Hall was eventually bought in 1950 by Sheffield Corporation and used as a home for the elderly.

The hall can be glimpsed on the far right of the map of  Handsworth, above.   

At some stage the old building was demolished but the name is retained by the rather bland (1950s?) replacement, providing, over the years, various residential facilities for the city's social services department.
Additional sheltered housing has been added behind this block; its access road being Malon Way,
named (but spelled incorrectly) after Mahlon Stacye (note the "h") of Ballified Hall, who emigrated to America in c1673 and was instrumental in the founding of Trenton, New Jersey.
In the mid 1950s a new estate was developed in and around the grounds of the former "pile" ...
... and thus the new service 52 bus turned here via a clockwise loop as shown in this 1960 map. Detailed timetables show a varied pattern of working, usually with half the buses turning at Handsworth; the rest continuing to Ballifield. An occasional journey diverted, at shift times, to the service 25 terminus at Orgreave for colliery workers.
The Sheffield Transport route was finalised in the autumn of 1964 when the service was extended from Beaver Hill Road via the Badger Road estate
to Woodhouse Station.

It might have been better if the extended service 52 had shown "Woodhouse Station" on the blinds; but in 1964 there was no need for such niceties as the only other terminating route in "Woodhouse", namely service 23, also turned at the Station. Even if it wasn't properly Woodhouse (village) both routes ran to the same place. In the sixties Woodhouse terminus was the station.
It was post-deregulation competition that made things a little more complicated. Yorkshire Terrier (later part of Yorkshire Traction and thus taken over by Stagecoach) started their version of the 52 inn 1989. It ran as normal to Handsworth, then via Retford Road, Woodhouse Mill, Woodhouse Station and Badger Road to Woodhouse Village. Here is a "Terrier" 52 at the other end of its competing route, in Crookes.
In 2005, for example, Travel South Yorkshire showed both 52s on one composite timetable. A reasonable effort, but still somewhat confusing without different route numbers. Sadly the map was not particularly helpful with just a small asterisk identifying "some journeys" via Woodhouse Mill.
YT is Yorkshire Terrier (or Yorkshire Traction), F is, of course, First Bus.

15 years later we still have two routes in Woodhouse, with the same number and going different ways and terminating at different places, both called Woodhouse.

But more of the 23, and even more confusion in part 2, coming to a computer near you, SOON.

P.S. Handsworth's most famous son is actor Sean Bean (is that "seen been" or "shorn born"? Don't bother to reply!)
I wonder whether he uses either of the 52s when he is visiting his parents? Probably not.

Next blog : due Friday July 29th

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Real Time or Real Pain [2]

Oxontime, Clocks on Time, What's on Time?

fbb has previously commented adversely on electronic information in York; "York I D ten T I C" (read again). There were obvious problems at Slough; "Hairy Fair-y Berks Larks 3" (read again).
And this was from Derby's new Bus Station. Even overlooking the 1058 to "Undefined Alias", that lovely spot on the outskirts of the city, the 1055 and 1058 to "Derby Circular" are particularly pointless. And back in Sheffield's main interchange the service 95 screens tell you that the route runs via Western Bank; which it doesn't and never has done.

But fbb is now in Wantage.
After a somewhat unhelpful search of Oxfordshire's electronic information service "on-line", Real Time or Real Pain [1] (read again), fbb is now in place outside "The Bear" at Market Place. That is actually Wantage Market Place, but the computer system doesn't seem to know that.

fbb arrives to see the Stagecoach service 31 to Oxford via Abingdon waiting with welcoming open door. But only services X30 and 32 are appearing on the "real time" screen on the bus stop flag. The 31 sets off unannounced.

So what information should be displayed? Goody, goody, there is a poster on one of the two stops. Needless to say it is NOT on the stop which shows the electronic display and where the main "computer-zap" buses leave from!
This informs fbb that the ONLY Wantage bus to be capable of delivering Oxontime is Thames Travel's service 32. Yes, oh expectant reader, you guessed it; the poster is utterly out of date. It became even more out of date from Sunday 24th when Oxford Citybus and Stagecoach joined hands in holy matrimony to offer joint city services. It's all change on local city routes.
After observing for just over an hour and debating hotly with No. 1 son who (a) lives there, (b) uses the bus to get to work in the hallowed halls of academe in Oxford and, (c) occasionally draws comfort from the departure screens, fbb is more confused than ever.

Undaunted, the chubby one tries the "text for times" service at huge expense on his mobile phone. This offers X30, 32 AND the missing 31 information.

It appears that the times are simply a bus locator (using GPS?) and not related to the actual timetable at all. So when the bus arrives at Market Place all information disappears from the screen. The bus is there, so all is well. But what happens when buses disappear from screens en route? A potential passenger arriving tight for time might retreat, believing he had missed his bus, only to watch, from afar, the bus zoom past.

But Wantage "local" travellers can choose their omniscient options on the 32, but remain ignorant of the 38 ...
... which, of course, isn't on the system but doubles the frequency to Grove. Indeed none of the infrequent "country" routes is covered, so, where information is absolutely critical, it simply isn't available. Indeed, apart from little numbers on the bus stop flag, MOST of the infrequent, but essential, rural links are totally unexplained. There is no information at all.

Never mind, there is a poster at the stop advertising diversions and re-arrangements for the Wantage October Fair.

For 2010! 

In the hour or so that fbb was there, not a single person raised their eyes slightly heavenwards to look at the "real time" display.

And as a final futility, the next service 31 arrived and immediately disappeared from the screen; only to re-appear almost immediately as arriving 16 minutes later (and thus 16 minutes late). For those 16 minutes the bus sat here; but this time with doors firmly closed as the driver repaired to the nearby coffee shop for a cuppa and a wad.

Perhaps Oxontime really should be Oxotime and,
like Leicestershire's Star Trak, be crumbled into that great electronic cooking pot in the sky. It's certainly not much use at Wantage. Sorry, not much use at Market Place!

The poster suggests referring to "the timetable" when "Oxontime" is unavailable. No 1 son, who has lived there for years, knows of nowhere local that fbb could go to be certain of obtaining such a mysterious piece of printed propaganda, and definitely not on a Saturday. "You cold try the "Help Centre", he opines hesitantly, pointing to a resolutely closed shop near 'The Bear', "they might have some, if you're lucky."  Why is fbb not surprised?

More recent clients of the fbb blog may also like to refer to:-
"Worrying Wantage Wangerings (Part I)" (read again)
"Worrying Wantage Wanderings (Part II)" (read again)

Next blog : due Thursday July 28th  

Tuesday 26 July 2011

fbb - Take 100 Lines!

fbb is in trouble. Wrong again!

But first some earth shattering news.
 fbb has regularly forwarded blogs to David Brown,
Director General of South Yorkshire PTE.
Also a formal letter, expressing concerns about poor
standards of publicity.
until  yesterday, 25th July, when this email arrived.
fbb will report on developments - if any! 
All the missing tables had appeared by
Monday evening; RESULT!! 
(but the 73/74 is still WRONG) 
see "It's South Yorkshire Party Time" (read again
back to today's blog. 
In "the Axe Man of Seaton" (read again), fbb wrote:-

Unfortunately the May 2011 version [East Devon timetable book] of the service 899 pages suffers from very bad pruntign mistooks, which could well be misleading to an innocent Joe Public.  

What is more frustrating is that Devon does not publish any timetables on its web site, so has no way of issuing a correction; except by expensive reprint.

Apparently both the statements are palpably untrue.

"Anonybus" wrote:-

Devon CC has its own site for public transport (Journey Devon) with timetables accessed via an interactive bus map. The timetables linked to are usually the operators' own, unless, like AVT, there are none, in which case the county's own are used. It would be great if all counties could use such a useful system instead of presenting people with plain old PDFs.

Now fbb has been using the Devon web site for several years, so how come the befuddled idiot failed to find the information he required?

Maybe this is what happened? First fbb goes to Devon County Council's site and types "Bus Timetables" in the search box; and gets this ...
... etc. etc. fbb's reaction is that there are no Devon "Bus Timetables" on the site, especially as the "New Summer Bus Timetables" pages simply list arrangements for picking up or ordering the books; nothing about content.
Scrolling down from that, you can ...
... find out more about all sorts of stuff, EXCEPT timetables.

Now if you were to go to Derbyshire's site, there on the home page it says:-
In a couple of clicks you have a complete list of timetables in a standard form; in fact pages from the County's excellent timetable books.

Of course "Anonybus" now tells fbb that he should have clicked on the logo below. But, nowhere does it tell the inexperienced enquirer that this is a "clickable" logo.
Should have been obvious what to do? Maybe in hindsight; but fbb wants access to TIMETABLES, not a "guide" or, as it turns out,
a twiddly interactive map. fbb tried to get the map to interact but nothing much seemed to happen.

And, indeed if you do "click on the relevant service number on the", presumably "map" a word missing from the instruction, you can get to the timetables. There is also a clickable list which, annoyingly, keeps sending you back to the map and not the list. And the timetables are not in strict numerical order but offer a separate section for "Town Services". Is the user necessarily aware of what actually constitutes a "town service"?

But, despite publishing ALL their own timetables, Devon's super "interactive" system delivers company pages of varying formats, and thus varying potential confusion. So, despite fbb's error (for which grovelling apologies are offered, grovellingly) the question remains ...

Which system for delivering timetables is the most helpful?

A simple click to a list, like Derbyshire? Or, a complex excavation of the bowels of an over-engineered web site? Anonybus seems to be favouring the latter, à la Devon. fbb has no doubt. Derbyshire have got it EXACTLY right.
But Devon IS a lovely county and fbb and Mrs fbb LOVE Sidmouth; it's like stepping back into the peace and simple seaside pleasures of 50 years ago.

Devon's timetable books are pretty good (subject to comments in previous blog) but the web site leaves a lot to be desired. BUT, there is just the slightest (?) suspicion that Devon's public transport information system is a toy for the IT team and NOT run by the people who know about buses.

"I must learn how to use complicated web sites
 I must learn how to use complicated web sites   
 I must learn how to use complicated web sites   
 I must learn how to use complicated web sites ..."
etc ... 

Next blog : due Wednesday July 27th