Wednesday 31 August 2011

Wight goes Green, Right?

  Significant September Celebrations?  

WightBUS R.I.P.

Once upon a time, on an Island far far way, the Council ran the "Yellow Buses". They provided some of the schoolday special journeys and between school start and finish times, were available for hire at commercially unrealistic prices to take shoals of excited school kiddies on "educational" jollies.
Then suddenly, in 1997, the yellow buses were replaced with posh new white "WightBUS" vehicles. The supposedly "arm's length" company also began operating "normal" bus routes in places where the dominant Southern Vectis had withdrawn their service. Over the years a sequence of war and peace has erupted between the two operators, ranging from public and venomous opprobrium to a period of advertised joint operation. Very confusing!

But Wightbus dies from 5th September, a predictable victim of the dreaded cuts. Or was it that simple? Southern Vectis has always seen itself as God of Island Travel (hey, there's an interesting acronym?), reacting with instant commercial might to any interloper. Rumour has it that there were plans for SV to buy WightBUS some time ago. It didn't happen for reasons which, like anything involving the politically motivated machinations of a council, remain shrouded in mystery.

So what replaces Wightbus from this coming weekend?
Dave the Rave's Big Society!
Complete with trendy logo, we now have Community Bus Partnerships. There's lovely.
In he case of service 6 between Newport, Blackgang Chine and Ventnor ...
... half the buses are run by Southern Vectis with fully paid drivers whilst the rest are staffed by community volunteers, not paid a penny. The buses, driver training and "management" are all under the dictatorial eye of "The Vectis" who have been given a bag of pennies by the Council to pay for it all.
Some services in the new timetable are entirely staffed by "The Community"; whereas some routes previously run by WightBUS appear to be operated by Southern Vectis alone. An example is the 35 as illustrated at the head of this blog.

A timetable for the Ventnor town routes is included in the Vectis book ...  
... but it appears to be outside the "partnership" deal. Meanwhile, local services in the Freshwater area, replacing former route 13, are conspicuous by their absence. That's because the worthy denizens of West Wight would have nowt to do with any such deal and are operating independently. That's if they are operating at all.

So presumably we will never know what or when they operate unless our spies ...
 ... seek out the secret source of West Wight Wisdom. 

The "ground breaking big society deal", as described by the Island's spin-meisters, is only for one year.

A mixture of professionals and volunteers; commercial and community interests side by side; political pressures alongside Southern Vectis' management skills (?); fbb reckons that this is a sure-fire recipe for "tears before bedtime".

Watch this space! 

P.S. Southern Vectis have registered a service 36 from Newport to Gatcombe, a minuscule settlement hardly big enough to be a hamlet just a mile or two south of the Island's captial, and barely half of a mile from the hourly service 6, as above. There are to be two return journeys on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays leaving Newport at 1110 and 1410. The journey takes 8 minutes.
Nice church but not much else ...
... and the service isn't even published in the timetable book. Political pressure or commercial lunacy?

"Tears before bedtime", you bet!

  First, a P.S. : NOW a stop press   

A "usually reliable informed source" has telephoned (yep, a real person, not a computer) to tell fbb that:-

1. The service 36, which IS due to start on Monday, IS already available on Traveline & Transport Defunct and ISN'T in the new Southern Vectis timetable ISN'T going to happen.

2. Gatcombe's  hordes of passenger [sic] will, however, have journeys on the service 35, which WAS due to start on Monday, IS already available on Traveline & Transport Defunct, IS  in the Southern Vectis timetable and, of course, IS now WRONG!
Snivel, snivel : boo hoo : it's bedtime already! 

Next blog : due Thursday September 1st   

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Busway Blupdate Bits

  Hot News : an extra blog  

Some Say Supreme Success ...
The response to the newly opened Cambridge busway has undoubtedly been positive in terms of ridership numbers. And the following appeared a day or so ago on a St Ives web site:-

The newly-opened guided busway appears to be pulling in extra visitors to a Cambridgeshire town. An increase in shoppers in St Ives has been reported by traders since the guided buses started to operate less than three weeks ago.

Now comes a rumour that the parlous Sunday services are to be improved immediately. fbb picked this up from day's "Omnibuses" blog (read here)...

This weekend, both Stagecoach and Whippet increase their Sunday bus services on the Cambridgeshire guided busway. This sees one of the busway’s most serious deficiencies tackled. Indeed, Stagecoach goes from one to three an hour. Whippet increases from every two hours to Stagecoach’s current hourly. It would’ve been nice to see a co-ordinated quarter-hourly service that approaches the frequency where passengers need no timetable but such is deregulated life. At least the traffic commissioner has granted short notice. 

... and set about searching for detail.  Firstly to at 0900 Tuesday 30th ...
... zilch.

Then to Stagecoach ...
... zilch.

Now when young Timmy (Berners-Lee) invented the "internet for the common man", he saw it as a means to provide quick, trouble-free access to "information". It would be dead easy to keep up-to-date without the drag of all that paper and printing ink cloggage and, once confusers were a standard domestic appliance, we could all know what was going on almost instantly.

How right he was - or wasn't!

Instead of simply giving information, web sites are now in the hands of design gurus and PR companies and are so complicated to program that ordinary mortals are completely out of their depth. In the 3 hour break from the bloggo-muse (doing errands with the mrs!) the Busway site has moved on to an update dated Monday 29th but posted at approx 12 noon on 30th and now we have ...
... but no detail.  Go-Whippet are a little more helpful.
So Mr "Omnibuses" blogger, it isn't quite hourly. Like a Polo mint, there's a hole in the middle. However, "we can now view the Busway C times", and we are told about  new timetable BUT ...
... we can "view" the old one and the new one at the same time, with less than adequate explanation.
Mega-confusing; but it's better than nothing, isn't it?
Isn't it? fbb is not so sure. It would take about 15 minutes to type up the new timetable in a simple spreadsheet format and a few minutes extra to post that table in bog-standard HTML. [HTML - Hyper Text Mark-up Language, once the simple language of the internet, now overtaken by immensely more complicated stuff like XML, CSS, WINCE** etc]

Instead we wait for the professionals to deliver. fbb wonders what printed information will be available in Cambridge, St Ives and Huntingdon for those people (still the vast majority of bus users) who cannot or would not seek information on line.

Finally (almost) by early afternoon on 30th, the Stagecoach web site had published their new Sunday timetable.
It is, of course, good to see the companies responding to increased demand - all we need now is a co-ordinated timetable and simple interavailable fares and the busway might just work.

** WINCE - Website Involving Nasty Complicated Effort

Next blog : due Wednesday August 31st

The un-fare Lottery (again!)

  Significant September Celebrations?  

£74 to save about 10 minutes?
From Monday 5th September, Chiltern Trains introduces the next stage in its upgrade of the line between London Marylebone and Birmingham. The "Mainline" timetable provides two trains an hour with the fastest of the day taking just 90 minutes. Former "Wrexham and Shropshire" vehicles are being refurbished and rebranded.
A "business class" is offered on selected trains (for a supplement) but Chiltern are quick to stress that this is NOT first class, as "all travel by Chiltern is first class". Hmmm?

So fbb, interpidly looking lovingly at his laptop, seeks to do a "Contrast and Compare".
Virgin Trains run every 20 minutes from Birmingham to London Euston, with a typical off-peak journey time of 84 minutes, whereas Chiltern schedules 97 minutes. Virgin deposits you at Euston with onward access to Northern, Victoria and Circle & Metropolitan line underground (the latter at Euston Square station).

Chiltern serves Marylebone Station, the one-time pride and joy of the Great Central Railway.
Marylebone itself offers only the Bakerloo underground line, but with Metropolitan and Circle lines a short walk away at Baker Street or Edgware Road.

At the Birmingham end, passengers with Virgin can enjoy the subterranean gloom of New Street ...
... and the delights of an ongoing major rebuild, whereas Chiltern trains start from Moor Street, now delightfully restored to its former Great Western Railway glory.
But when it comes to value for money ... HELP!

According to the various websites, the cheapest single fares available are £5 on Chiltern and £7 on Virgin, but finding these is a bit like the despairing search for the Holy Grail. So, after a frustrating battle with over complex technology and incomprehensible fares and conditions, fbb has come to the following conclusions.

Off-peak day return Moor Street to Marylebone by Chiltern

Off Peak day return New Street to Euston by Virgin

Is the time saving (by Virgin) worth an extra twenty quid? That question becomes more significant when you consider travel at peak times.

Peak "anytime" return Moor Street to Marylebone by Chiltern

Peak "anytime" return New Street to Euston by Virgin

Ouch! And ouch again! Moreover, if you are privileged or rich enough to travel First Class (Business Class on Chiltern), the difference is even more marked.
1st Peak "anytime" return Moor Street to Marylebone by Chiltern

1st Peak "anytime" return New Street to Euston by Virgin
In the interests of journalistic independence, fbb must point out that for your £240 you do get "free" food, even if you don't want it. Mind you, the breakfast menu looks scrummy ...
... but you can't get even a tiny reduction on the fare if you take your own sarnies. Also to be noted, is that Virgin do have some discounted first class offers for specific trains.

Birmingham to London  is one of the few routes where there is meaningful competition. So fbb ends with a very difficult question.

IF you had a choice (and most folk do have a choice) and IF you knew all about fares and times (a barely possible task, these days), which route would you choose?

Is the Pope a Catholic? 

P.S. London Midland also run between Birmingham New Street and London Euston. They also have some cheap fares but the journey time is significantly longer.

Next blog : due Wednesday August 31st  

Monday 29 August 2011

Euston, We Have a Problem [2]

It's a wind up!
The Curse of the Cambridge Busway!
"Transit" magazine lauds the busway in the current edition.
The pages are enhanced visually by "big type" headlines.
This is the helpful offer to accompany the busway story:-
Whoops! Somebody forgot something.
 Back to the Euston wind up ...

The first railway to reach the Metropolis was the London and Birmingham Railway.  It opened its terminus, ...
... later called Euston, on 20th July 1837. There were two explanations of the solution to the problem of the "Bank", a relatively steep rise from the terminus to Camden. Either the hill was too steep for the low powered locomotives of the day OR locos were banned by the lordly landowners near the station. Neither explanation really fits words written in 1839:-

Peter Lecount, one of the railway's engineers, wrote in his "History of the Railway connecting London and Birmingham".

It is not because locomotives cannot draw a train of carriages up this incline that a fixed engine and endless rope are used, for they can and have done so, but because the Company are restricted, by their Act of Parliament, from running locomotive engines nearer London than Camden Town.
The stationary engines and rope haulage did not commence, however, until 27 September, and handled all trains from 14 October 1837. Until then, and whenever the rope system was stopped for repairs, Possibly banned locomotives hauled the trains up the incline. From November 1843 some expresses were worked without recourse to the rope, and from 15 July 1844 the rope working ceased permanently.  So they were forbidden (possibly) but the company ignored this when it suited them.
This view looks northwards with the Camden depot on the right. fbb suspects that it was a good depot, not a loco depot as shown. Certainly the later loco depot was to the left of the main line, freight to the right. The somewhat sanitised engraving is a little economical with the truth, but you get the idea.
Operation for arriving trains was straightforward. The engine was detached at the top of the bank and the train ran under gravity power controlled by a "brakesman" down the hill into the platform. On the engraving (click to enlarge) you can just see a loco at the top of the hill and a line of open carriages descending the bank.

For departing trains it was more tricky. Coaches had to be manhandled round the curves at the station throat, then attached to the continuous rope using a "messenger", a length of chain or cable. The platform staff then used a telegraph system to alert the winding house and the train was hauled up the hill. At the top a locomotive was attached and the passengers could wend their merry way northwards.

Apart from the distinctive slender chimneys, a tourist attraction of the day, the works at the winding house were all buried in vaults below the main lines. These catacombs still remain although not open to the public. They are "listed" and in good condition but subject to flooding from the canal.
A more detailed account of the winding house is available on-line here. Well worth a read.

A final fascinating factoid. Just off Gloucester Avenue, tucked behind a block of flats and on the edge of the main line tracks, is this:-
It is a "hydraulic accumulator" tower. A what? The goods lifts in the big warehouses, built as the railway expanded (but now demolished), were hydraulically powered (that's real hydraulics, i.e. water pressure). The tower, effectively a header tank of water, was to ensure a constant and adequate pressure in the system. A little bit of history which still stands, preserved but ill-documented, as a monument to our Victorian industrial ingenuity.

So as you speed out of Euston, electrically powered with not a sign of stress as the hill is climbed, give a thought to the technology used for just seven short years as the pioneer line opened. Or you might ride behind a preserved steam loco and experience the roar of the exhaust as the monster at the front hauls its load up the challenging slope of Camden Bank.
Watch, and enjoy, the video clip here.

Tailpiece. On the engraving of the winding house chimneys etc. above, look closely and you will see Chalk Farm Tavern labelled (far left), then isolated in open country. The pub later moved about 100 yards along the road but the (second) building still exists, now a restaurant but, of course, no longer surrounded by peaceful open country.

Next blog : due Tuesday August 30th  

Sunday 28 August 2011

Vectensian Gnosticism

   A special "stop press" Bank Holiday weekend blog    
  "Euston we Have a Problem" continues tomorrow   

"Gnosticism is the knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of interior, intuitive thought.

Gnosticism begins with the fundamental recognition that earthly life is filled with suffering.

Indeed, one finds that most Gnostic writings take the forms of myths."

Intuitive thought, suffering, myths? Welcome to public transport information on the Isle of Wight. 
Tourist information Centres were closed throughout the Island as a cost cutting exercise by the Council. Showing consummate political and practical skill and an astounding outburst of UNcommon NONsense, (?) this decision was implemented right at the start of the tourist season.

This was the press release as the parties announced that bus company Southern Vectis would be taking over the provision of VIPs. 

Visitor Information Points will be created from April in Newport Bus Station, Ryde Bus Station and Yarmouth Bus Station in a move that will offer a combination of tourist and travel information in these key entry points to the Island.   [Newport, key entry point by parachute or jump jet - fbb]  In Newport the current bus travel centre and waiting facility is set for refurbishment, and in Ryde the former information office is set to be refitted to re-open after Southern Vectis agreed a lease for the office and the bus station itself with Islandline trains.

There are also plans to open an office within the Bus Station in Shanklin [Really? : see below - fbb] subject to planning and highway approvals.
In Cowes and Sandown, Visitor Information Assistants [That's a man with a bag containing an incomplete set of leaflets - fbb] will be provided in the Pontoon and in the High Street area respectively, providing a presence on the street in the busiest areas.

fbb was accosted in Shanklin on Saturday afternoon; that's the Saturday of the Bank Holiday weekend when the Island was thronging with happy holiday makers all trying to avoid the myriads of scooter fanatics ...
... driving their sit-on spin dryers around in slightly threatening flocks. The lady approached and asked,

"Can you direct me to the bus station. I've seen signposts ...
[like this one, far right of the picture above - fbb] ... but I can't find the bus station"

Not surprising, because there isn't one!  There is a collection of bus stops outside a supermarket ...
... erected where the bus station was! The lady had walked past those shelters not realising, silly woman, that she was exploring the hidden depths of Shanklin bus station at the time! This is what used to be available; a picture taken from more or less the same vantage point as above.
And there used to be a posh enquiry office; it's now just a shop.
Instead of helpful information it's just a load of "Cobblers"!

All the dear lady wanted was a bus timetable (what a pathetically stupid idea, a tourist wanting to travel by bus); so she could plan the rest of her holiday weekend. She also asked about the railway station as a possible source of information.
Chortle chortle! Unstaffed on Saturday afternoons; unstaffed most times!

Of the Shanklin VIP [Visitor Information Point, remember?], not a sign; not even a roving adviser or a clapped out minibus. Three ancient minibi have been converted into mobile VIPs, perhaps more correctly VIBs. Sadly fbb has been unable to source a photo; possibly because they only appear unpredictably and rarely.

So two questions for Mark Morgan-Huws, big cheese of Southern Vectis.
AND for Edward Giles ...
... IoW Council Chairman for Transport and, appropriately, Rubbish:-

Do you want people to use public transport?

Do you want visitors to come to the Island?

Call in to any Island Tourist Information Office with your answers. Sorry, forgot; you've closed them all, Councillor Giles. Silly me.

"Island thinkers think Island buses."  Oh yes?

Received from chum Alan at 0905 this very (Sunday) morning : A VIP outside ...
... and inside.
Compare and Contrast with  a REAL Tourist Information Centre! Thanks, Alan.

Next blog : due Monday August 29th