Wednesday 29 February 2012

What? Sad again? In Offnadingen!

Comment Confirms Continental Concern

Followers of the fatbusbloke's "Public Transport Experience" blog will know that the provision of timetable information, etc, in the UK is not always what it might or should be. Here's proof that the UK is not alone!

"RC169" added a link to the above comment on Monday's blog about out-of-date information at Newbury bus station. See "Notable Newbury Niceties [1]" (read again).

RC169 continues:-

The village of Offnadingen is a couple of kilometres north east of Bad Krozingen in south west Germany ...
... and local public transport services in the area are provided under the auspices of the Regio-Verkehrsverbund Freiburg.


Of course the Great and God-like Google will take fbb direct (but virtually) to Offnadingen. But it doesn't. The name is not notable enough to be known by the gnomes of Google! Perhaps Regio-Verkehrsverbund Freiburg (Frieburg Regional Transport Authority?) can help.
Indeed it can. RVF's web site offers the usual journey planner which delivers lots of journeys to Offnadingen ...
... far more than the 5 or 6 mentioned later by RC169. But the link to a map reveals the problem.
Frequent buses drop the unwary passenger some distance from the village on the B3 major road, whereas RC169's stop [the other "H"] is somewhat nearer but served infrequently.
But at least we have found the village, un-helped and un-named by Google Maps; and fbb can now plan journeys to the village itself. Thus, a virtual fbb can get off his train, virtually, at a station which, in 1883, used to look like this:-
but now looks like this ...
... electrified but not so pretty; and catch a bus to Offnadingen village.
RC169 continues his comments:-

In earlier times (25 years ago, to be precise) the transport operator was known as Verkehrsgemeinschaft Freiburg. The local authority responsible for Offnadingen has helpfully provided the residents of the village with a route map of public transport services, and has displayed this in a glass case on the outside wall of the 'Rathaus'. 'Rathaus' usually translates to 'town hall', but Offnadingen is very small, and that is not really appropriate, but it would seem now to be a sort of local office of the council. Well, that helpful decision was made 25 years ago, and the same route map is still there todaythe photo was taken on the 5th September 2011. As it's coming up to its 25th anniversary, it seemed only right to celebrate its silver jubilee!
To be fair, no intending passengers would actually wait here, as the 5 or 6 buses that serve Offnadingen each day stop on the Beingener Strasse some 200 metres away (bottom left on strreet maps etc).
Needless to say, there have been a few changes to the network in the ensuing 25 years, so it's not only the name that is out of date!

fbb is guessing that "Ortsverw." on Dorfstrasse, as on the above map, is RC169's mini-rathaus; "ortsverw." being abbreviated from "ortsverwaltung", roughly translated as "local information", i.e. where to find 25-year-old out-of-date bus maps. Sadly, no Google Streetview to confirm or refute  "diese vermutung".

For the record, Bad Krozingen has its fair share of German "pretties" ...
... and, for those whose German is even worse than fbb's "O" level (won in 1959), "Bad" does not imply low quality but is simply the German for "Bath", i.e. a spa town at some time in its history. Likewise, all those sniggering at "Fahrt" ("journey") can go and stand in the corner and miss their morning milk!

And much gratitude to RC169 for revealing that "Vorsprung Durch Technic" does not always apply in supposedly super-efficient Deutschland.

Never mind, back to Newbury tomorrow.

 Next Blog : due Thursday March 2nd 

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Notable Newbury Niceties [2]

Dis-integrated Transport - Again!

Herbert K Weiss, that well known County anagramatist, has just moved in to a posh house at West Ilsley and he needs to get to London. Eschewing his expensive "people carrier", he decides to "go green" and use public transport. A neighbour has told him to catch a No. 6A bus from outside the church ...
... at 1659. This will get him to Newbury bus station at 1745, with just 10 minutes catch his 1755 train; plenty of time as the timetable and his helpful neighbour both confirm that ...
... the station is close by. All he has to do is to find it! A local yokel thinks you turn right oustide the bus station (walking eastwards) then right again at the end of Market Street and follow the signs. Herbert sets off apace, but because his bus has arrived in Newbury a minute or two later than scheduled, he misses his train. Oh, "pish and tush" intones Herbert. 18 minutes to wait for the next train, change at Reading and arrive in London 37 minutes late.

"Pish and tush", indeed. If only the station were a bit closer, Herbert might have made it.

But it is closer. fbb, always ready to lend a helping hand, will guide you step-by-step all thew way.

Step 1 : Leave the bus station and turn west along Market Street, to just past the car park.
Step 2 : turn left. following the helpful signs.
Step 3 : follow the clearly labelled walking route.
Step 4 : go down the clearly labelled steps, avoiding being impaled on the rising bollards!
Step 5 : there is the station entrance to your left across the car park.

Coming from the station to the bus station is a little easier, but not if you manage to find the "official" poster.
Mind you, fbb could only find one copy on the wall outside the entrance. The map is accompanied by a full list of destinations served including, helpfully, the departure bay letters A to J. No timetables, so the poster is almost useless. The map sends an intrepid intergrated interchanger the "long way round"; a route as taken in the reverse direction by the hapless Herbert.

But, what is this fbb espies up a pole?
Thanks for the little picture of a bus to inspire confidence. This directs the brave diagonally heavenwards and in the opposite direction to that shown on the map. Soon appears a further sign ...
... which points enigmatically to the grassy bank at the back of the car park, for a scramble to and through someone's garden (?).
But a really brave adventurer might, just might, look around and away from the sign's direction; might, just might, find the aforementioned steps and might, just might, be macho enough to find his way to the bus station in half the time.

There is one other possible adventitious revelation for our chum Herbert, starting from the bus station. He might, just might, happen upon a sign like this:-
The town centre plan is small (A3 size) and this particular one is on a pole in the corner of the car park, facing away from the street. fbb provides just an extract of the relevant bit. It would be a real challenge for Herbert to find it. It is the only tangible evidence of the quickest route to the station. As an aside for motorists, it implies, wrongly, that is it an "authorised" vehicle route to the station parking area.

If you try in the car, the rising bollards will get you!

fbb is available for a lecture tour of West Berkshire or on-site guidance for people like Herbert K Weiss. fbb's fees are astronomical but ultimate success in trekking between Newbury bus station and the railway is guaranteed 100%.

 Next Blog : due Wednesday February 29th 

Monday 27 February 2012

Notable Newbury Niceties [1]

Even if you didn't read yesterday's blog, you will enjoy
one of fbb's birthday cards (read again) - very appropriate!
And back to today's offering ...

Welcome to Newbury bus station?
On the southern edge of the Town Centre, the bus station and the railway station are within spitting distance of each other (of which more tomorrow). The bus station is relatively new and consists of a row of sawtooth stands with overall cover for the passenger waiting area. At one end there is a substantial two storey brick building, apparently providing all the necessary facilities.
At least, that is, from a distance.

But the toilets are closed ...
... and the alternatives of limited midweek use. Another sign directs the cross-legged traveller to "The Wharf", a painful and frustratingly complicated 10 minute walk! Meanwhile, during shopping hours at least, excellent "facilities" are available just past the entrance doors of the Kennet Centre shopping "mall" about 100 yards from the bus station.

The travel office is closed, permanently ...
... with the slight bonus of offering a telephone line to the company that operates most of the local routes. Clearly, Newbury Buses hasn't caught on to the 24 hour clock; and fbb has suspicions that these hours may not be valid at the weekend.
Sadly it's the wrong phone number and the wrong company!

And, if you want to buy a National Express ticket ...
... don't even think of going to the bus station where the coaches stop. That would be really silly. No, off you go for another ten minute trek (five if you know the way, maybe) to the TIC.

There are no timetables on display ...
... only the usual minimalistic departure lists. There is plenty of space in the windows of the long closed enquiry office, to mount a really useful display. But the only help the innocent newcomer can get is an accurate but less than comprehensible route diagram
And there is, joy of joys, a rather spartan waiting room ...
... which is permanently (?) locked!
fbb has a suggestion for West Berkshire Council (or whoever owns the building?), whose offices are almost next door to the bus station. Why not give a chappie (or chapess) free rental of the old enquiry office for a small "caff" in return for keeping stocks of timetables, maps etc. and selling National Express tickets?

Welcome to Newbury bus station!

Tomorrow we go in search of the Railway Station.

 Next Blog : due Tuesday February 28th 

Sunday 26 February 2012

Inegrated Transport : No Minister!

fbb's favourite Birthday card, from yesterday.
'Twas from Mrs fbb, of course. No Comment!

Back to today and the conclusion of "The Bed of Nails".
This episode of "Yes Minister" involved Jim Hacker's appiontment as Transport Supremo, responsible for delivering the Prime Minster's vision of a fully itnegrated transport system. He quickly realises that such a policy is a red hot political potato. But how can he extricate himself from the "Bed of Nails". See fbb's "Yes Minister" blog (read again).
He summons his aides, a street map of his Prime Minister's constituency and a copy of Thomsons Directory. The three "big cheeses" from the Department of Administrative Affairs then conspire to prepare a paper to send to "Number 10".

This will propose a new bus rail interchange built on the town centre park; a merging of rail and bus depots with a substantial loss of jobs and the building of new car parks in sensitive areas of the town. It is not long before the multiplicity of ministerial machinations moves the PM to quietly abandon his policy!
Smiles all round, and all ends happily ever after. Integrated Transport goes on the back burner, once again.

This episode was broadcast on 9th December 1982.

Sixteen long years later, the then Labour government, with John Prescott in the Transport hot seat,  published its White Paper on "Integrated Transport".

It has a nice green and purple logo which fbb has attempted to recreate from his fading memory thus:-
It promised much. Here are some extracts with fbb comments added. How does the 1998 White Paper compare with delivery of its aims a further 14 years later in 2012?

By giving buses greater priority and improving information and networks, we can encourage more people to use buses. Increasing passenger numbers could transform the economics of bus operations, opening new horizons in quality, reliability and network expansion.
Some progress, but not much. Trams in Croydon, Nottingham and Sheffield, busway in Camrbidge. Not quite what was promised. Bus Lanes?
In some circumstances, strengthened Quality Partnerships may not be sufficient to guarantee the necessary improvements. We will therefore introduce primary legislation to give powers to local authorities, where it is in the public interest, to enter into Quality Contracts for bus services.
Officially abandoned by the Conservative government but a few small schemes in operation and a few more planned. Not much for 14 years.
Optio Orange tickets are not valid on Optio Red services.
Optio Red tickets are not valid on Optio Orange services.
Exclusions apply, including operator's student tickets.
We will bring forward changes to promote service stability and limit the frequency of bus timetable changes as well as improving the quality of timetable information. 
Apart from ever increasing "notice period" for submitting changes, services are still "revised" at a whim.
one company's changes on one day in March 2012

We will continue to encourage bus and train operators to develop the potential of integrated bus and rail services. Some train operators already operate feeder bus services linking stations to those towns that have no rail routes or inadequate connections. We expect the pace of these initiatives to accelerate with increased co-operation between bus and train operators. 
What a joke. First Great Western rail and First Cornwall bus managers barely admit the existence of one another! 
But not by bus!

Our aim is for a public transport information system to be systematically extended across the country by 2000. The initial focus will be on timetable information but the framework will be developed with the aim of including information on fares.
In true cost effective manner we've been lumbered with two barely adequate systems, Traveline and Transport Defunct. Fares information? Phooey! 

When the ficticious Jim Hacker was chosen to be "Transport Supremo" aka "Transport Muggins" the civil servants were anxious that they should appoint someone  who would provide "lots of activity but no actual achievement." And they succeeded.

A score of Ministers of Transport and several White Papers later, the success of the "Men in Grey Suits" in promoting the minimum of achievement is mind-numbingly astounding.
one of the many Ministers.
A happy snap before her Ministerial appointment.

fbb suggests that his readers should obtain a copy of "Yes Minister, The Bed of Nails" and send it to either (a) their MP or (b) whichever poor politician is lying on a spiky Minsterial bed at the moment.

 Next Blog : due Monday February 27th 

Saturday 25 February 2012

Yes, Minister

The Bed of Nails

For Christmas, Mrs fbb gave fbb a full set of DVDs for the "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" series of  TV comedies.
They present an all-too-true view of the continual battles between Jim Hacker, Minister for Administrative Affairs, and his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby.
In this particular episode the Cabinet Secretary (John Nettleton) and the Prime Minister's Chief Special Adviser (Nigel Stock, of Holmes' Dr Watson fame) ...
... are seeking to find a suitable candidate to implement the PM's plan for Integrated Transport.

The Cabinet Secretary wants "Lots of activity but no actual achievement," thus the hapless Hacker is manoeuvered into accepting the job of "Transport Supremo". Of course, all the civil servants involved, including Hacker's Sir Humphrey, realise that a better job title would be "Transport Muggins."

When Jim Hacker makes his proud announcement back in his own office, the conversation goes something like this ...
Hacker : I have some good news, Humphrey. The Prime Minster has appointed me as his Transport Supremo.

Humphrey : Indeed, Minister. Now what was the good news?

A meeting is arranged by the manipulative Appleby, attended by the Under Secretaries of the offices that handle the roads, the railways and buses, and the air industries.
Of course they each speak vehemently for the supremacy of their bit of the Department of Transport and equally vehemently of the political pitfalls of failing to develop rail or road or air, as appropriate for their department. Hacker slowly realises that he has, indeed, been asked to lie on a political "Bed of Nails". See "Recently Published Research Shows ..." (read again). It is clear that implementing an Integrated Transport policy is beyond the political will and ability of any minister.

"Omnibus" is, of course, a Latin word meaning "for all". This aphorism from Virgil is in Greek:-

  timeo Danaos et dona ferentes  

One of the running jokes throughout the series is Jim Hacker's lack of a classical education; he went to the LSE, London School of Economics, and was thus intellectually despised because of the academic snobbery of the senior civil servants. When discussing the appointment of their chosen "Transport Supremo" or, more correctly, "Transport Muggins", the Cabinet Secretary [CS] reminds the Special Adviser [SA] of the phrase:-

CS :  "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes", as they say. But Sir Humphrey would quote it in English, roughly translated as "Beware Greeks bringing gifts"; as Hacker (with a slight sneer) was at the LSE.

SA : (offended) So was I.

CS : Oh, (and with forceful emphasis) I am so sorry.

Tomorrow we shall reveal the dénoument, and, perhaps, see how real life mirrored this highly amusing episode. And the "star" of the non fiction production is none other that "Two Jags" ...

... John Prescott.
 Next Blog : due Sunday February 26th 

Friday 24 February 2012

Recently Published Research Shows ...

that we have the highest fares in Europe.

At the conclusion of yesterday's blog, warning of the inherent danger of "statistics", fbb promised s further look at this rather boring annual headline. Every January we read of "Commuter Fares Shock" as if it were a surprise, despite the infromation's having been published way back in the previous autumn.
But do UK rail journeys cost more than those in Europe?

Statistically yes.

Statistically no.

It is quite possible, by choosing the right set of figures, to convince a typical London-orientated newspaper reader that all is doom and gloom on the fares front. But, by choosing another batch of prices, the tables can be turned and UK can offer cheaper fares that (almost) anywhere in Europe. Book-ahead fares and special offers can be farcically cheap as fbb has previously blogged.
London to Portmouth Harbour for 45p. Beat that in Paris or Rome! See "Ho Ho Loco : Oh No!" (read again)

And the doom-mongers tend to forget that most of our johnny-foreigner chums across the channel pay higher taxes (direct and indirect) to support these cheap fares. At one stage (fbb does not have recent figures) fares on the Paris Metro covered only 25% of the costs; the rest came from various taxes and levies.

The Evening Standard was similarly appalled by the non-shock shock; which was actually LESS than originally announced; so a more pleasant shock than the original non-shock shock. Shocking!
Not only are the fares impossibly expensive, according to the "Standard", but the railway companies are even allowing trees to fall on the line to make matters worse.

"And with high winds bringing disruption to some lines, including a tree on a line at Bellingham in south-east London, some were late for work despite paying an average of almost six per cent more for the privilege."

Comments added to the Guardian's on-line article were mainly equally vituperative; blaming "fat cat bosses", the rail unions, the government, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Colonel Gadafi etc. etc. Here is a sample:-

But our trains are 10 times slower, so it all evens out in the end.
Simply wrong.

If car users had to pay for the cost of the road system in the same way that rail users did, cars would cost more than houses.
How true : car travel is, and always will be, much more heavily subsidised than rail. Perhaps not as expensive as a house, but ...
Humber Bridge : money well spent?

I'm fed up with post-privatised industries using customers money to deliver "improvements to services". When the improvements are not delivered, the customers don't get their money back and the "regulators" are supine. They bark very loudly but do not seem to have the teeth to do anything.
There is a bit of truth here; not much, but a bit.
every half hour to York : money well spent?

I may be a taxpayer, but I'm not a rail user. Why should I pay for someone else to travel cheap?
Now that is a very important question. Why should he?
Overground : money well spent?

The alternative model is to remove all market forces from the trains altogether and stop using price to regulate usage. This would require re-nationalisation and some sort of quota system to ensure we all don't try to get on the 1920 to Manchester at the same time.
But, kind sir, wasn't nationalisation was a disaster for the railways? Mega incompetence and high destructive price rises. How easily we forget. Now if we could have nationalisation but ring fenced against repeated changes of government whim policy?

One or two comment writers broached the key questions which are ...

Which do we want; substantially higher subsidies and thus cheaper fares (as in most of Europe) or lower taxes and thus lower subsidies? We cannot have both.

Do we really want to hand the railways back to full government control? Or perhaps entirely in private control? Would we really like similar instability to that of the bus industry?

Why should any railway company reduce fares when passenger numbers are increasing every year? Their job (and GB's public has voted in successive governments who have stuck to this) is to make money for their shareholders, NOT to be nice to commuters. If we don't like it, don't vote for them next time!
Power to the People?

Now if a government were to introduce a stable National Transport Policy with structures that were difficult to change, at least for 25 years or so, some of these impossibly fraught questions might be resolved. Would a party offering something imaginative, stable and affordable win enough votes to carry the policy through?

Or is such a project just a political and departmental "Bed of Nails"?
the chief assistant to the assistant chief under-
secretary enjoying his usual post-prandial snooze
at the Department for Transport, Marsham Street
Tomorrow is fbb's birthday.
A prime number between 1 & 100 with consecutive digits.
Readers can have a guess. Not too tricky!
Family celebrations call the chubby one to Wantage.
Noteworthy Newbury niceties en route!
 Next Blog : due Saturday February 25th