Tuesday 31 July 2012

Birmingham's Big Bus-less Blunder? [4]

News from Sheffield, where, you will remember, everything is going to be all super chummy from the end of October. First Bus has some significant fare promotions on selected routes.
The offer appears to include a reduction on First Day & First Week tickets and some single fares.
Surprisingly, the selected routes happen to be those where there is competition with St*g*c**ch.
So we may be chummy - but not yet! (Not ever?)
And so back to Brum!

How not to draw a map!
Last week's short series on the expulsion of buses from "central" Birmingham to make way for the tram concluded positively that information for the change was "successful". At least that is what the Birmingham Mail said. See "Birmingham's Big Bus-less Blunder? [3]" (read again).

Dozens of marshals wearing high visibility jackets have also been lining Corporation Street since July 15, informing passengers of the changes and providing maps to show where the new stops are.
fbb's West Midlands correspondent has sent, via snail mail, a copy of the aforesaid city centre map, produced by the PTE aka Centro (or is it Network West Midlands?).

Oh dear!

Firstly, the map shows bus routes as diagrammatic lines in colours appropriate to the new City "Interchange".
Purple is for services terminating at the Bull Street "Interchange". This is, amongst others, for services to the Sutton Coldfield area. So here, fbb has extracted the bit of the map that shows the Sutton area, and with just a touch of editorial adjustment (to squeeze all relevant locations into a bloggable panel) it is shown here.
The purple lines don't reproduce well via fbb's scanner and even "live" there is inadequate contrast between purple and black for those with dodgy eyesight. There is alphabetical index of places served ...
... with a two letter "grid reference". Why? Surely this map is for present and regular users of buses in Brum. Hopefully such experienced travellers will have some sort of idea as to where their locality is located. But there are no route numbers.

Surely the least a potentially confused passenger might need to inspire confidence is the number of the bus he or she usually uses to get to the city centre?

So fbb started to add route numbers to the map. And that is where the trouble began! The diagrammatic lines appear to bear no relationship to what actually happens. Here is fbb's version but just for services to Sutton:-
And here are some of the errors and omissions. 

The Centro map ignores the link between Yarnton and Walmley, route 115;
It implies a direct link between Four Oaks and the Good Hope Hospital; in practice this does not exist as a through route to central Birmingham. The 604 route does, however, provide a purely local link but is outside the scope of this particular map.
It suggests you can catch a through bus from Stockland Green and Shortheath to Sutton Coldfield; but you can't. Service 65 terminates at Perry Common.
And the route of the 66 and 66A via Boldmere, Perry Common and Warren Farm is so wrong as to be laughable. It is even worse than the clip shown here. On the "un-adjusted" Centro map, Warren Farm is to the left of the "line" that joins Kingstanding and Banners Gate and nowhere near any route to Sutton.
The fbb's yellow line is fascinating. It (presumably) refers to buses to Streetly etc.
But the only buses between Kingstanding and Banners Gate are routes 77, 79 and 604; none of which serve Birmingham Centre. fbb thinks the cartographer (who, presumably has never been to these places) might have confused Banners Gate ...
with Sutton Oak. Very easily mixed up!
In fact the whole map is riddled with nonsense. Apart from giving very general and often misleading information, it is a very poor effort indeed. fbb could do better!

The enlarged and geographically accurate city centre map gives detailed locations of stops, route by route but it does offer the mystery of the black lines ...
... which, presumably, are meant to show you where the buses go. Except they don't! Try following them like a tram and you get to some weird places, go the wrong way round roundabouts and miss important junctions completely. What are these lines for?

One thing this map does reveal, however, is how "diffuse" these "interchanges" are. Purple routes from the north all serve Bull Street Priory Queensway; an odd name as there are no stops at the former Bull Street terminus.
Locations at BS1, BS16, BS17 and BS18 look as if they might be better as part of the Moor Street (MS) group. Presumably they have "BS" codes because of their historical locations? fbb is hoping to get a more detailed analysis from his West Midlands contact in due course. Perhaps someone will tell us what all those little unexplained icons mean; does the briefcase signify "packed lunches on sale"?

In the meantime, if you go to Birmingham, perhaps it would be wise to leave the paper city centre map in the racks. The on-line version of the central area is a little better, only because it doesn't have the false "tramlines"!

And, please please pretty please, never use "dull" colours on black.

 Next Blog : Wednesday 1st August 

Monday 30 July 2012

Harry Potter and the Obstreperous Oyster [2]

Czech artist David Cerny has made a sculpture of a "London Bus" doing press-ups. Now, lest you should feel that fbb has finally flipped (it's the hot weather, you know), this article appeared in the Daily Mail and elsewhere in the media.
Cerny has taken a "London Bus", added huge glass fibre buttocks (ugh), a pair of arms and some gubbins so that the bus appears to do press-ups.
And ... HUP!
But at least three buckets of rhubarb to the Mail. It is no more a London Bus than fbb is favourite for gold in the Olympic 100 metres. [Whoops, fbb's identity revealed at last?]
Dear Mr Daily Mail, it is a Bristol Lodekka, actually THIS Bristol Lodekka [ODL 15, fleet number 555], photographed outside Freshwater depot on the Isle of Wight.
Cerny bought it from its owner in the Netherlands whither it had been exported a goodly number of years ago.
Dear Editor of the Daily Mail, "The Isle of Wight is not, yet (!), part of London." Just because it's red doesn't mean it's a London Bus.

Thanks, Alan, for this super snippet.
And, talking of London ...

You've worked it out haven't you?
Yesterday's blog (read again) posed two questions. Firstly, what is the Oyster "cap" on an off-peak (Saturday) day's travel including Zone 5.

Answer: £8.50. [prices may have changes since this blog was composed]

Secondly, why was Alan (Harry Potter) "capped" at £7.15?

Travel around London is cheap and easy using this piece of plastic and, according to the publicity, you will be never charged more than that equivalent one-day travel card, however many times you touch your Oyster card on the little yellow readers.
So, unravelling the truth from yesterday's jocular blog (?), the chubby one and chum Alan both travelled on silly Southern cheap fares from Portsmouth to East Croydon [£3.25] and then began their jolly round the rails of East London, including a visit to Dagenham Dock in Zone 5.

fbb bought a one-day travel card at £8.50 and Alan used his Oyster, confidently expecting to be charge the same £8.50. When the twosome eventually arrived back at London Victoria, Alan decided to check his payments. The screen showed this ...
... as revealed yesterday. This appeared to show that Alan had been capped at £7.15 (honest, that's what it looked like.) In fact there were journeys missed off the bottom of the screen which actually made the calculation right. Boris the Blue had NOT generously given Alan an extra discount.
But just look how complicated the whole thing is.
Barking to Kings Cross charged £2.60 as an NR journey [at 1441]
The same journey charged as £0.00 as an LU journey [at 1526]
Yet Alan travelled all the way by Hammersmith and City [LU] train, and only once, not twice;p an hour apart as implied!
[LU = London Underground : NR = Notwork Rail]
There there are two "journeys" from Stratford International to West Ham, one charged at £1.40, and one charged at £0.00. Presumably there are LU and NR again, but there's no room on the screen display.
All these complexities are to ensure that Boris gets his fair share of the overall revenue, accurate to the penny. Only it hasn't and he doesn't. It is no wonder that people are confused and overcharged.

Thousands of Tube and rail users are still being “ripped off” on Oyster pay-as-you-go because they don’t touch out at the end of a journey. The latest figures for the Tube, Docklands Light Railway and Network Rail/London Overground show that the total cost of “incomplete” journeys rose to £66.5 million last year compared with £63 million over the previous 12 months. An incomplete journey is normally one where the card holder has not touched out at the end of a journey. When this happens they are charged the maximum fare for the longest journey they could have made, which could total as much as £7.80 for a single zones 1-6 journey.
Reasons for incomplete journeys include passengers forgetting to tap in or out, barriers being left open to prevent overcrowding after major sporting events or concerts, and machines failing to work.
When leaving Victoria, chum Alan made a small contribution to this £63 million. After being correctly "capped" at £8.50 he was charged a further £4.25 because, sinfully, he didn't touch out, despite the fact that he had already paid in full for ta whole days travel! What caused the normally law abiding Alan to transgress in such a heinous manner?

Answer he simply couldn't touch out!
fbb and Alan, you may remember had pre-booked cheap tickets to and from East Croydon. So they scheduled their departure from Victoria on the specific train prescribed by the cheap-o ticket. Victoria to East Croydon by Oyster; sit tight and transform, like Cinderella's pumpkin, into a cheap fare payer from East Croydon to Portsmouth whilst resolutely remaining on the same train.
Alan carefully explained his dilemma to barrier staff at Victoria offering to touch in, then have the man at the gate touch out for him. Or, maybe let him though the barrier without even touching in. He even offered to show "the man" the screen as illustrated above. The staff neither understood, nor cared, to Alan was fined for not touching out and his capped day's travel cost £12.75 instead of £8.50.
Alan, like fbb, is not a man to be trifled with. He wrote a stiff and vehement email to Boris. After about 2 months delay he received this reply:-
I have had a look at your journeys on the date in question and I can confirm that you have an incomplete journey.
I am able to process a refund of £4.25 for you to collect from a station of your choice. Please reply to this email with the name of a station that you will be travelling from. Refunds sent to nominated stations remain there for a period of seven days before expiring. In light of this, please also specify the date you will next be travelling. 
Erm, why can't you just credit his Oyster account?
You will just need to touch in and make your journey as normal and your balance will be updated as you pass through the ticket gates. If you will be travelling from a station with more than one line, please also let us know which line you'll be using (eg Jubilee, Bakerloo, Northern). This can be any Underground, National Rail, DLR, Tramlink or Overground station within the Oyster zones.
Erm, (again) why can't you just credit his Oyster account?
If you would rather we sent you a cheque, please confirm your full postal address.
Erm, (again) why can't you just credit his Oyster account? CHEQUE PLEASE! Which duly arrived a further two months later.
The Obstreperous Oyster strikes again! How many "normal" London commuters will bother to go through this tortuous travail? That's why Boris and chums are banking £63 million which isn't their's!
Boris : do you REALLY (no, really) have to make it all so complicated?
 Next Blog : Tuesday 31st July 

Sunday 29 July 2012

Harry Potter and the Obstreperous Oyster [1]

Sometimes fbb composes a blog and then realises that he has "got it all wrong". Today's little bit of weekend reading comes into this category. The information contained in this piece was the result of a trip to London by fbb and his chum, Alan. For "Harry Potter", read "Alan" and for "Ron Weasley" read "fat bus bloke."

fat bus bloke's big bludner will be revealed tomorrow; BUT ...

There is still some obfuscating Oyster obstreperousness to observe.

Despite the bludner, writing the blog was still a bit of fun!
For now, the blog as originally conceived.

From a hitherto unpublished work by J K Rowling.
Fans are eagerly awaiting this "sequel" to the riotously successful series of novels and films; and fbb can reveal a few tantalising advance details of the plot.
Harry, now a student and home for the vac from Northwitch University, spends some time with his new love interest Belladonna, who lives on the South Coast. On a day trip to London to study the Muggles lifestyle, he is dogged by the evil spirit of Lord Voldemort ...
... as he tries to make sense of the Transport for London fares system. From Southern Railway he has successfully bought a very cheap train ticket as far as Croydon ...
His Hogwarts honed skills get him an OAP discount!

... whence he intends to travel on the Overground to Westfield Stratford City to invest in some new "threads". Ron would join him at Croydon using a one-day Travelcard, weasley the best value for an occasional visitor. Ron now sells expensive jewellery in Wandsworth from an up-market shop called "Neck Romancer". But for Harry it would be a clear opportunity to enjoy the benefits of  Boris the Blue Wizard's cheap fares system purveyed by electronic bi-valve mollusc plastic.

From Westfield they go on to visit Hermione who is having a spell [groan] of Voluntary Community Service at Dagenham Dock, returning via Kings Cross to check on improvement work ...
... especially for platform 9¾. Nice.
Then it was Victoria line back to Victoria and a quick check on how much has been deducted from  Harry's card account.
Experts on the system will understand this picture of the enquiry screen at Victoria; but it would appear that he started with £15.55 (off screen) on his card; topped up with £10 giving a working total of £25.55. Deductions totalled £7.15 which appears to leaves a balance of £18.40.

But why £7.15?

And why 35p for the tube journey from Kings Cross to Victoria? It should be £2.00.

"Price cap", we hear all you Londoners cry. Boris the Blue Wizard will never charge you more than the stated price cap for your day's travel, however many journeys you make. How nice of the fair hayored buffoon mayor!

In preparation for tomorrow's blog, please enjoy this list of fares and amuse yourselves trying to match it with the screen above. Your starter for 10, "In which zone is Dagenham Dock located?" Come on, we've got to hurry you.
So the price cap should be ... ?

But beware: Voldemort's obstreperous oyster is ready to pounce.

 Next Blog : Monday 30th July 

Saturday 28 July 2012

628 : its Fate of Late

It is the very model of a modern motor omnibus ...

fbb vowed that he would never spend money on a full-price bus model; but this was £10 from Creative Master Northcord and is in the short-lived Southern Vectis "small bus" livery, used alongside big buses branded Route Rouge and Island Explorer.
And this, a similar vehicle, in the even shorter lived Red Rocket branding for Eastleigh local services under the dynamic management of Phil Stockley. Bluestar was for frequent "main line" routes and, proposed but never implemented, "Green Leaf" for the rural services.
From the same stable, this one cost £6. Cheap as expensive chips.

But fbb just had to buy this one at full price, £24 from EFE.
SDL 638J, fleet number 628. You see, for a brief period in the late 90s, fbb owned it! The flat fronted VR was delivered to Southern Vectis (SV) in 1971 and was ultimately "refreshed" to form part of the company's heritage fleet, used in service for a while on route 1 and 1A. In this guise it is seen here passing Island Bakeries at Binstead, now demolished and replaced by the ubiquitous block of flats.
The heritage idea did not bring much in the way of commercial benefits and involved extra cost (conductors) so it was dropped and the vehicles disposed of, mainly to the embryo Isle of Wight Bus Museum. 628, however, remained in the fleet as a spare having been fitted with a new gearbox and power steering.

fbb bought it in April 1995 from SV to provide wet day cover for his Open Top operation and to carry large school parties on private hire duties.
It was dubbed Zaphenath Panea** and the Southern Vectis fleet name was replaced by "Westbrook Travel" in a similar style.
All fbb's vehicles passed to Newbus Ltd at the end of December 1997 and when this company closed down in 2002, 628 was purchased privately and is now on the stocklist of the Museum.

Back in a previous blog, fbb mentioned that this bus is unique nationally (unless anyone knows better) because it has a working stair gate. When one-manning became an economic necessity it was believed that to operate a double deck with only a driver (omo) was unacceptable. So whatever the Ministry of Transport was called then ruled that omo was acceptable but only if the top deck was closed off.
At busy times you could employ a conductor who would be only too happy to work split shifts and go home during the quiet periods. (!) Then the gate would be opened.
fbb is indebted to the present owners of 628 for supplying these pictures. A further titbit to savour is that the vehicle has had its rear destination equipment replaced to return the bus to an as-delivered state.
In ffb's ownership there was just a blank panel; it is the original version that is modelled by EFE.
Incidentally, fbb bought his bus models from Hattons of Liverpool. The three were ordered on-line on Wednesday, packed on Thursday and delivered to the Isle of Wight early afternoon yesterday (Friday) by someone or something called, oddly, "Yodel". Delivery charge was £4, a flat rate for more than one model. Hatton's web site is (here).

And as for 628, she (he? it?) is fit and well after a little over 40 years and fbb is pleased to have had a very small part in ensuring its unique survival.

The model brings back happy memories!

** Zaphenath Panea : as you would expect from an active and committed Christian, all of fbb's vehicles were named after characters from the Old Testament of the Bible. Partriarch Jacob gave his favoured son a coat, incorrectly translated as "of many colours" (it wasn't, the original Hebrew text means "a coat with long sleeves"). His brothers, understandably, sought to "take him out". After many adventures he ended up as No 2. big cheese of Egypt. Unable to pronounce the Hebrew name Joseph, the Pharoah (No 1 even bigger cheese) named him Zaphenath Panea! 
Had fbb stayed in the bus operating business he would have named his next vehicle "Mahershalalhashbaz", a familiar character (?) from the book of Isaiah.

 Next Blog : Sunday 29th July 

Friday 27 July 2012

Honiton Revisited

Hot news from our Northampton correspondent concerning the closed enquiry office at Northampton Station. It has re-opened. But before you cheer too loudly, let's see what has appeared in its place.
Well now, not content with closing the enquiry office, London Midland has let it to a car and van hire company; so you can pop into the station and be encouraged not to use the train at all.
Green Motion's "launch" picture for its new Northampton Station office doesn't seem to match any part of the station that fbb knows and loves.
Perhaps they don't know where the office is? Perhaps Green Motion will be selling train tickets in the rest of their offices? The company stresses its environmental superiority; but surely the greenest car hire is not to hire one in the first place? Mixed messages all-round.
And so back to Honiton

And it's Still Great ...
... the station, of course! fbb first passed through Honiton Station on his way to Sidmouth back in November 2011, 6 months after its refurbished re-opening. The impressive little cupboard cafe was still trading last Saturday with an amazing range of goodies ...
... and the advertised warm welcome. Called "Otter Halt", after the river, not the animal, it had now sprouted a couple of tables and some chairs.
The coffee is superb.

fbb and Mrs were, once again, connecting with Stagecoach service 52B for the short and picturesque trip to Sidmouth.
The bus runs via a one way clockwise loop through Honiton and after a short breather in Honiton High Street, pulls into the Station forecourt ...
... where there is a shelter and a timetable.
And, as you see, it is a timetable, not a departure list. So far so good.

But now things get less satisfactory. Who runs the buses? Answer Stagecoach, from their Exeter depot. Who runs the trains? Answer Stagecoach. To an outside observer it would appear to be part of the same company. BUT ...
In the waiting room cum booking "hall" there is a rack with some tourist type leaflets and rail timetables. Is there a stagecoach bus leaflet? Nope, not even for the bus that stops outside and connects with the trains.

Of course there is an "onward journey" poster giving details of bus rail interchange at Honiton station. It mentions both the 52B and a couple of journeys on a Honiton local service that happen to call there. There is a helpful map ...
... which suggests that the 52B leaves from stop "B" on Church Hill opposite the station yard access road. There are no stops there!
There is a stop at the bottom of the station steps near the railway bridge that crosses the road.
Imagine the annoyance of a luggage laden elderly lady who has staggered down two dozen awkward steps, dashed across a rather dangerous road and hailed the bus; only to find that it then turns into the station yard and stops plumb outside the station building. In fact the map is both wrong and utterly useless. As an aside so are the similar maps at Salisbury, riddled with out of date information and wrong service numbers.

Who creates this stuff, and who is responsible for keeping it up to date? No doubt it comes from some impersonal unresearched database and is processed by a "lesser mortal" who has no idea where Honiton is in the first place. And we all know that if it's "on the computer" it mist be right, even if it's utterly wrong.

One improvement to the railway at Honiton is a set of new signals ...
... which don't look particularly interesting until you get up close and personal. They are actually powered by LEDs (light emitting diodes) and consist of lots of green and red dots so they can show both aspects from one signal head.
Very clever and a lot cheaper to install and maintain than conventional signals.

Oh, and as if to confirm cartographical chaos, Google Maps doesn't seem to know where the bus stops are either.
But at least they give you a choice of FIVE.

So fbb has a message for nice bearded Mr Souter, boss of all Stagecoach operations everywhere:
How about telling your lads at Exeter that you also operate trains, and maybe they should pop a few leaflets into the station. Perhaps remind them that the bus to Sidmouth connects with the trains. You never know, people might use public transport a bit more if you told them about it. Similarly, perhaps you could tell your lads (and lasses) at Friars Bridge Court (an address that you seem to keep secret on your web site) ...
... that you run a bus or two here and there and you would like people to use them. Assuming that you do want people to use them.

fbb has provided this consultancy service entirely free of charge; unlike most consultants used in the transport industry today who would probably charge half a million pounds for such an intellectual insight into promotional and publicity possibilities. Mind you a free SWT rail pass would be nice. How about it Brian?
 Next Blog : Saturday 28th July