Wednesday 25 April 2012

Trains, Tite, Trams and Transit [2]

Promises, Promises.

How does travel on the "Eclipse" busway service match up to the promises on its website?

It’s not just queue-beating convenience that you can expect from Eclipse. The brand new, low-floor, low-emission buses, with their striking purple and gold livery, are amazing. With individual leather seats, wood-effect floors and under-seat lighting, the interiors are first class, while your travel experience is enhanced by audio and on-screen next stop announcements.

On Monday 23rd April (first weekday of operation) fbb and chum Alan travelled on four Eclipse buses. Only one had audio announcements.

As for the "on screen" next stop information ...
... this is on small computer style video screens at the front of the bus, illegible from further away than a couple of rows of seats. Frankly of no use whatsoever to the majority of the passengers. With no audio it was very difficult to spot where you were in wet weather. On the busway, the stop names are either parallel to the road and quite small ...
... or equally tiny, high-up on the pole ...
... thus illegible until you were almost upon them; trendily designed to look good but too small to be of any help.

Comprehensive real-time travel information in shelters and on board.
No. There was no information about times on board at all. From time to time the screens on the bus did scroll to show the above message. So how was it at the stops?

There was a weather forecast ...
... which told us that it was raining heavily; not too difficult to discern by (a) looking and (b) stepping outside the shelter! There was a timetable for the Gosport Ferry and a list of departures from Fareham or Portsmouth Harbour station depending on direction of travel.
It is difficult to see what use the average passenger might make of this gimmick, especially as there was no guide as to what time you might arrive at the ferry or station. No bus timetables at the stop! Anyway, mostly you would arrive well after all of the departure times shown on the screen.

Then there was a bus departure list ...
... this one at 1033 was for six buses that had long-since gone! But the observant blog reader will notice that the "real time" times are remarkably evenly spaced; E2s every 15 minutes exactly, E1s every 15 minutes exactly except for one at 0938 instead of 0937. Real time? Hmmm!

And what about these two journeys, two E2s together?
fbb thinks that the first E2 is the timetabled journey at 1044 and the second E2 is the same bus but with its real time generating thingey actually working and due in 13 minutes. This was a bus that fbb caught - and there weren't two of it! And only one of the six buses shown could accept a wheelchair? Really?

And, of course, all this trendy technology is only available on the busway itself (where relatively small numbers of passengers will be waiting). At the busy "in town" stops in Gosport there is just a fancy pole and a shelter, if you're lucky!
There were problems with technology. fbb's first driver was struggling with un-kneeling, door closing and reversing, whilst at one stop things were not going too well with one breakdown, one replacement bus and a First man-with-van all clogging the road and holding up other buses.
Interestingly, fbb counted more non-bus vehicles (12) on the busway than buses (8). Presumably they had a right to be there as they included a small van, emblazoned "security", busily checking that no-one had stolen a bus.
The "Omnibuses" blog reported on the Busway on Sunday (and Monday) and included this shot of a bedroom window display. Which begs the whole question. White elephant or huge success?

The journeys are mostly on conventional roads, mainly back-street and estate routes where progress was tediously slow and a very "normal" bus travel experience. The relatively short section of busway has been very expensive to build for the benefits it is intended to deliver. 
Interchange at Fareham station was poor. Inbound from Gosport the announcement was "the next stop is alighting only" with no reference to the station at all. The outbound stop (towards Gosport) was flag-less, unreal time-less and accessed via either the station approach road ...
... or some steep steps, followed by an uninviting underpass ...
... and not even a sign directing a potential passenger to "buses for Gosport"

fbb wonders whether there is a bus departure display in the station foyer? Thought not! Signs from the station to the stop? Not sure, but could guess! And, oddly, you can't catch Eclipse from the station into the centre of Fareham, 'cos the stop is "alighting only". Why?

But, of course, it is early days. Let's hope that the electronics can be made to work and that the computer geeks will deliver what the passenger needs; rather than trendy technology for technology's sake. Despite perceived inadequacies, the buses all appeared to be adequately loaded, although slower than the previous conventional routes. Perhaps the best comment was from chum Alan who opined:-

This looks like a typical political project, "Hey, we've got a bit of disused railway, we can't afford to re-open the line; so what else can we do with it?"
 Next blog : Thursday 26th April 
      Driverless Trains continued     


  1. As you recognise, fbb, first days are never typical. But your explanation of the predicted two buses is spot on. It looks as though it is the same as our system - buses working in real time are predicted, those that can't be found give scheduled times. So the wheelchair symbol only appears against predicted buses, because the system doesn't know what is working the other journeys.

    The station situation though is poor, and I would hope that there are plans to improve the interchange you describe. But as for getting bus departure information into the station - I am afraid that experience is that both the Train Operating Companies and Network Rail have so many rules and regs, that it is a very difficult task. We have already reduced our ambitions from four to two stations because of the rising costs this has caused.

  2. Only one had audio announcements so far as the others are yet to be fitted. They're ironing out the bugs on the first one first, and also the volume which turned out to be too loud. The others will all be completed within three weeks.

    They know about the next stop display screens, the text it to be made much larger.

    As for bus stops names - well that's pretty irrelevant. Even if they were bigger, you still wouldn't be able seem them in time to ring the bell with a suitable time on approach. Bus stops have had this problem world wide since buses first started. Next stop displays will solve this. Or you could just ask one of the friendly drivers :-)

    The train departure times are really excellent. I thought we liked transport integration? Better to just show a selection of departures rather than make it an exact science with the time.

    The real time has been sorted to update it with the Eclipse stuff - so it's not even a problem any more. If you bother to check the website, you can see it working.

    The alighting stop at Fareham station is a new stop. Presumably, it's alighting only as it's a busy road and they don't want to cause traffic delays by picking up there, and they don't want to slow the service down by picking up there just to go two stops down the road, either.

    I'll grant you, the interchange at Fareham station isn't good at the moment.

    "The journeys are mostly on conventional roads, mainly back-street and estate routes where progress was tediously slow and a very "normal" bus travel experience. The relatively short section of busway has been very expensive to build for the benefits it is intended to deliver."

    You ignore, this is phase 1. It will be extended. It is a bus - of course the bits around residential bits will be slow - people do use the bus here you know. The main, main problem with the routes was them always getting stuck on the A32. This is solved with the busway. People get on at the Gosport end around all the residental areas, then get whisked into Fareham quickly. What's wrong with that? The busway doens't have to be long to avoid the extremely congested part of the A32.

    "This looks like a typical political project, "Hey, we've got a bit of disused railway, we can't afford to re-open the line; so what else can we do with it?"." Trains would have been crap. No flexibility, far less frequent, less convenient service - wouldn't have even made the town centre.

    The journeys may take three minutes longer going via the station, but you completely fail to tell the other side of the story: On the A32, major delays are common and you can easily loose 10 minutes, this does not happen on the busway. For those using the station, the journey time is reduced significantly. One passenger shaved 23 minutes off his commute home because of the new route. 3 minutes longer for the bus, but wonderful integrated transport (I thought we liked integrated transport...) avoids having to trudge down to the bus station and then get stuck on the A32.

    The passengers who have endured delays on the A32 for years are very pleased.

  3. Good news! There is now full signage between Fareham rail station and bus stops.

  4. Big anonymous (above) makes great play of the fact that things are betting right, slowly.
    Question? How many years has this been in the planning and building stage?
    So why is it not right from the start?
    I will go back and have a look in a few weeks.
    I would be thrilled if it was right by them.
    In the meantime, if you advertise a premium service then you should deliver it from day 1.
    Missing stop flags; non working announcements; non working real time?
    At best disappointing, at worst inexcusable considering the timescales involved.

    Small anonymous No 3. I would be happy to publish pictures of the Station signage. Credit where credit is due. Please use the email contact elsewhere on the blog.

  5. FBB name a major transport / construction project that works first time all the time straight out the box and I'll show you a pink animal that flies. I think you miss the point, the bits not working are getting sorted very quickly, frustrating but not inexcusable.

  6. Anon Apr 25 1203 is right.

    Nothing built is ever completely finished on time, ever. The builders couldn't even do our extension on time, what are the chances of this being perfect right from the beginning. Almost nil. I personally think you've set your expectations far too high.

    No amount of advance planning avoids a rush to finish something, ever. Do you think when they started planning for this scheme, they were already considering when the signs for Fareham Rail Station would be installed?

    We're not talking about the Cambridge fiasco here. 22nd April was given as a date. That date was met. The new buses were delivered in time, the busway itself was finished on time, all the routes starting running on time (as they'd been registered with VOSA some eight - ten weeks earlier). All the passengers can see the new service and are impressed. No deadline was missed.

    Now maybe I'm just more lenient, but I do not consider the fact it's taken a few days to tweak the real time, and put some extra signs up, as a failure of the system. That just leaves the audio announcements. Not ideal that they didn't all work from day 1, but better than rushing it and having them all being not quite right on launch day so they annoyed passengers.

    Missing bus stops flags isn't great either - but presumably the subcontractors have failed on this one.

    The fact remains that buses hit the busway and the new routes started on time. I would never expect it to be 100% perfect from day 1, ever. None of it would have detracted from the experience for other users.

    As for the busway being "relatively short"... it is two miles long. The distance between Gosport and Fareham is only five miles anyway, so it is actually a significant chunk of the service.. And of course, it bypasses the most significant section of the A32 in terms of delays to buses.