Tuesday 30 April 2013

Not Bored at Watford [2]

From the fbb domestic coal measures, excavated during the clearing downsizing process; a birthday card sent by No. 1 son, probably for the chubby one's 56th birthday.
Three things to note: (a) No 1 son is a senior manager at Oxford University, (b) a variant spelling of Britain's most northerly mainland settlement, and (c) a somewhat "laisser-faire" approach to calligraphy.  Blog readers may draw their own conclusions about the quality of late 20th century education.

But he is a good boy!
Back to Watford ...

The town developed from an Anglo-Saxon settlement between a ford of the River Colne and the crossroads of two ancient tracks. St Albans Abbey claimed rights to the manor of Cashio, which included Watford. The parish church of St Mary the Virgin ...
tower added 15th century

... was built in 1230 on the same site as an earlier Saxon church, along with stalls for a weekly market. The town grew modestly; assisted by travellers passing through to Berkhamsted Castle and the royal palace at Kings Langley, with the main developments being the 17th century houses of Cassiobury and The Grove. The coming of the Grand Junction Canal and the London and Birmingham Railway in allowed the town to grow.

 But at Watford Junction Station ...

... something was needed!
By today's standards of passenger convenience and ambiance, the entrance to Watford Junction station was hardly attractive. Imagine a surge of arriving commuters piling out of the doorways and dicing with death as they avoided taxis and the dreaded cyclists; battling along a narrow pavement to catch their bus or peering with tired post-workplace eyes as they try to find their beloved, "en-voiture" ready to "kiss and ride".

So something had to be done.

But first let us look at the pre-improvement layout, travelling roughly south along Station Road.

First on our left we see the tunnel, bored under the tracks to give access to the station car park ...
... then the aforementioned clutter ...
... and, finally the bus station. It is tastefully hidden (?) behind a few judiciously placed trees on Woodford Road.
Not inspiring, cramped, but practical considering the shortage of space.

So what has happened?
A much improved pedestrian circulation area, clean and open, making an attractive and easy-to-use entrance to the busy booking hall. It looks splendid.
If the architect's sketches are to be believed there is now a pleasant piazza with paved markings, guiding the passenger to the pedestrian crossing; broad and uncluttered access to the adjoining bus station with taxis close by, waiting in a little nibble off the access road to the car park. Cycle parking and pick-up/set-down areas for cars have mysteriously disappeared completely.

But it looks pretty.

No 3 son sends a panoramic picture of the new-look area for comparison. The picture is long and thin and you will need to click on this compressed image to see all.
Not quite as "pretty" as the plans would suggest. But much better in practice, surely?

So why are some people unhappy?

  Next Rail Blog : Wednesday 1st May 

Monday 29 April 2013

Not Bored at Watford [1]

The World is your Oyster
and It's a Wonderful World!
Copy of e-mail received by No 3 son, as sent to fbb last Friday.


Due to an operational issue, you are due a payment of £5.10. This is now ready for collection at Watford Junction.

Payment correction details:
Reason: Payment correction because of an operational issue
Value: £5.10
Reference: 2240827
Collection location: Watford Junction
Status: Ready for collection with Oyster card number XXXXXXX

To collect your payment, touch your Oyster card on a yellow reader at the location shown above when you start a journey.

What is an "operational issue" wonders No 3; sounds like a tactful euphemism for "we've messed it up again." And, continues the lad, how does this work if you haven't provided Boris with with your e-mail details. And, once again, why can't Boris simply send you the money; why do you have to claim it via a "touch-in". Bois has no problems with taking your cash!

Oh, rather nicely, the man whose computer sent the e-mail is called ...

Mr Luck! Good luck with Oyster, indeed!
And he does exist!
Which all brings us appropriately to a series of blogs about Watford Junction Station and its etceteras.

The first station at Watford, Hertfordshire, opened in 1846 as part of the London and Birmingham Railway. The facilities were modest and sited to the north of the rural road to St Albans. Amazingly the building still stands, now used as offices for a "Used Car Lot" with fantastic finance deals.
A branch line to St Albans (now "Abbey" station) opened in 1858 when the station had "Junction" added and moved to roughly its present site. A branch to Rickmansworth opened in 1862 and the station was rebuilt and extended in 1909. Then came the so-called DC electrics and the branch to Croxley Green ...
... to complete the varied collection of services, main line and suburban. By the late 1940s the station had settled into a happy interchange routine.
The site of the station building was used for an office block development in the early 1980s removing the outward signs of its London and North Western Railway heritage.

Maybe, for the sake of completeness, we should complete the tale by reporting that the Rickmansworth branch closed in 1972 and that to Croxley Green just fizzled out in 1996 as expounded in a previous blog or two ...
... but leaving the ghostly presence of its station signs still in place 17 years later. The DC electrics are now part of Boris' Overground.

The present facilities at Watford Junction include a busy taxi rank and a small, but cramped, bus station.
For the last few months work has been going on to "improve" that station access area and our next blog looks a what is being done. Needless to say, these changes have not gone down well with every class of station user, as we shall see.

 Next Rail Blog : Tuesday 30th April 

Sunday 28 April 2013

Map Man Magnifico!

Nicholas Crane?
The man with the umbrella presented two series of programmes (BBC2) back in the early 2000s, recreating the work of key UK cartographers; fascinating.

But not him.

Harry Beck?
The London Transport employee who, inspired by the principle of electrical circuit diagrams, invented the London Underground diagram and set a world wide trend of comprehensible simplicity.
click on the image to view Beck's 1933 masterpiece

He has just been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque.
Hopefully the current residents of 14 Wesley Road, Leyton will be able to cope with the regular sight of groups of sad elderly men peering at their frontage.
The home of a genius!

But not him.
When London Transport decided to cease production of the long-standing single map of all London's bus routes, Mike Harris (no photo found so far) took on the project (by agreement) as a part time hobby and/or business.

Although far less easy to use than, say, the Paris transport map, this little pocket guide does provide the only cartographic representation of the whole of the Transport for London bus area. With practice it can guide even the most innocent of visitors to the Metropolis through the complexities of bus routes. And it really is "pocket-sized".

He has just published his 34th edition at £2 ...
... and for the real map geeks he will even sell you one of every edition so far published for £47.50. He even includes a donation to charity for each copy purchased.
Although hard copies are always best, wired and on line types can purchase digital downloads.

But the most fascinating of his products (for an old crusty like fbb) is his selection of historical maps.
From 1939 to 1970 these provide a stimulating insight to bus route development, but furthermore, they also illustrate the growth and often dramatic changes in London's roads and associated infrastructure. Compare, for example, Docklands in 1939 ...
... with our trendy residential experience today.

Even if our blog readers do not share fbb's fascination with all things cartographic, a selection of "then and now" editions is educational, informative and stimulating to the little grey cells.

Mike's web site is (here).

From time to time fbb places a copy in the "reading room" - for reading, not for any other purpose!

By far the best account of the work of Harry Beck is this ...
... available, as they say, from all good booksellers and from on-line sites. The author, Ken Garland, should know what he is talking about as he was a successor designer who worked on later post-Beck editions of the map. Strongly recommended.

 Next Bus Train Blog : Monday 29th April 

Saturday 27 April 2013

Jack (or Christine) in the Box?

Christine Stuart is a First Bus driver ...
... in a large cardboard box in front of her bus. Strange goings on in Aberdeen?
Very strange indeed for the once reviled "Worst Bus"!

This was their announcement last Thursday (24th April):-

The city's leading bus operator ...

... First Aberdeen, today launched a new voucher initiative designed to raise money for a good cause and encourage more people to use the bus.

20,000 households across the city will receive a leaflet this week from First Aberdeen which contains a free £1 travel voucher that can be used on any First Aberdeen bus service.

First has promised that for every voucher redeemed, it will donate £1 to Macmillan Cancer Support. This will help Macmillan continue to provide practical, emotional, financial and medical support to around 7,000 people living with a cancer diagnosis in the city, so that no-one has to face cancer alone.

Backing the initiative was bus driver, Christine Stuart, from Mastrick in Aberdeen, who has been driving for First for nine years. She said, "Macmillan is a charity that is very close to my heart. I know lots of people, including some of my colleagues, that have suffered from cancer and Macmillan have always been a great support. This is a brilliant promotion and I hope the people of Aberdeen use the vouchers and get on my bus to support Macmillan."

Meanwhile Duncan Cameron, First Aberdeen's Director and General Manager, said, "We hope that by providing two extra incentives to travel by bus, a £1 travel voucher and a £1 donation to Macmillan, it will encourage more people to consider using the bus more often."

O.K., a £20k donation is small change for the giant First Bus; likewise the potential £20,000 loss of fares revenue will hardly create total financial collapse; but it's the attitude that matters. However cynical we might be about the corporate world and charity, it does show that the company thinks that there is more to running buses than just making money.

The positive spin continues ...

First Aberdeen's punctuality and reliability performance has never been better with 95% of all services leaving their terminus on time. 

The company is in the middle of a fleet refresh programme which will improve the exterior and interiors of many of its buses.

In 2013 the company will be investing in a number of brand new buses.
In its most recent fares review (March 2013) First confirmed that it would freeze or reduce the majority of its ticket types and continue making special offers.
First has launched a "Customer Promise" whereby passengers can claim a free travel voucher if they are unhappy with any aspect of the service (within First's control).

First Aberdeen has secured the services of 13 regular customers to form a Customer Panel to provide mystery shopper evaluations on its bus services.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Will fares offers be sustained or will there be over-the-top increases once extra passengers are locked in to discounted goodies?
First Bus "Summer" offer Plymouth to Saltash
courtesy Plymothian Transit blog.

Equally, from the company's bottom line point of view, will the offers generate sufficient extra business to cover the cost of the discounts and more. In the end this is not just about being nice to customers, it's about reviving and growing a business that had become turgid and moribund.

Ultimately, it is in everybody's long-tern interests to see a better, even a successful First.
On a slightly less extrovert note, readers will remember the rather feeble fares protest a while back in Bristol. See "Bristolians are Revolting [1]" (read again) and "Bristolians are Revolting [2]" (read again). The response from First Bus was to commission an independent company to "consult" the people. Government "consultations" seem to be designed to befuddle and obfuscate, leaving our honoured leaders to do just what they wanted anyway. fbb did wonder how real First's proposal might be.

BUT ...
... something is definitely happening as here at Cribbs Causeway shopping "mall".

Independent? Maybe, we shall see.

 Next Bus Blog : Sunday 28th April 

Friday 26 April 2013

Studying at St Andrews [5]

Another find in the great clearing up process. A souvenir tea towel headed "Glesga Patter", thoughtfully translated as "A comprehensive Guide for Making Conversation in Glasgow".

The following caught fbb's eye : translations below.
your kind felicitations are agreeably accepted

I am rapidly running out of patience

And, in recognition that this is a public transport blog:-
this is a far as your ticket permits you to travel 
Lastly from St Andrews ... Bus Station Beautiful?
A couple of weeks ago, fbb published this print from a decaying slide, offering the opinion that it might have been St Andrews' bus station taken on the chubby one's honeymoon. His return visit confirmed that it was indeed so, with the 2013 shot clearly showing the tall (but now window-less) doors on the depot today.
Presumably the original garage and bus station were typical 1930s builds by Alexanders, later Fife, Later Fife Scottish and now Stagecoach. fbb guesses that Fife Council paid for the new building and Stagecoach provides the staff.
There is a welcoming "feature" with directions to key locations on the town ...
... and inside there is plenty of information. Fife's computer has been busy churning out a comprehensive index ...
... with a shiny penny for multilingual headings. Although it would not be too difficult to interpret the list below! fbb wonders how our friends from Nederland would cope with "Buslijn 23 naar Auchtermuchty"?

There is the usual set of departure lists with a very useful summary of everything to Leuchars Station.
A selection Stagecoach leaflets was displayed but, of course, no mention of other operators. There was also yet another version of the town's network map, making the whole thing even less comprehensible ...
... and indicating that some of fbb's detailed research, fortunately not yet committed to blog, was, bluntly, utterly wrong! Fife Council tell us that the bus station is staffed ...
... for unusually generous hours. Fife also tell us that the supervisor lives in the travel shop.
Nice ... BUT ...
... he doesn't open the window after 1700 Monday to Friday, after 1200 on Saturday and at all on Sundays. So what exactly does "staffed" mean?
Despite these criticisms, it is really, really good to have a bus station when all about you are losing theirs. So full marks to Fife and Stagecoach for making an excellent effort which could, ideally, be that bit better.

One more serious moan, however, concerns the usual elderly bladder problem!
Mrs fbb, desirous of relief, attempted to use the "facilities" ...
... even at the significant price of six shillings (30p) as subsequently discovered on Fife Council's web site.  Despite a diligent search of the equipment, she could find no indication of price or availability and, rather than either vaulting athletically over the turnstiles (?) or sacrificing successive inputs of specie, decided to suffer and seek solace elsewhere. Perhaps, now, you have to go on-line to be told how to, erm, pee?

One very big bad house point.

 Next bus blog - Saturday 27th April