Sunday 16 June 2013

Growing the Business? fbb's Advice

Your mission Mr Phelps, should you choose to accept it ...
A few days ago, long-time blogger Busing was offering his somewhat depressing views (from a bus operator's point of view) on attempts to persuade folk out of their cars and onto buses. (read his blog here).

fbb offers a few suggestions.

 1  Use good quality vehicles in the correct company livery as here from First in Plymouth:-
The Plymothian Transit blogmeister snapped this ex London cast-off in his home town.

Or, in Northampton, where Stagecoach has been operating ...
... buses in Warwick University dedicated livery on Northampton local routes, some in competition with First Bus. Meanwhile, the competition was/is using very tired Norwich hand-me-downs.

 2  Ensure that bus stop publicity is up-to-date and attractive, as here, snapped last week.
Even if this poster were clean and tidy, it presents a few snags. Stagecoach haven't operated this route for some  considerable time. Not only does Stagecoach (top) information no longer apply, but the Country Lion timetable (bottom) is also out of date. Here's the correct version ...
... which only runs Mondays to Fridays.

And, talking of bus stops ...

 3  Make sure your stops are well labelled, clear and tidy. Here is an excellent Stagecoach facility (sadly lacking a shelter) in the village of Church Brampton. Very nice, considering the number of potential passengers from this rural village location.
One minor snag, however; there are no buses at all in Church Brampton. By all means enjoy the bench, but you will have a long wait for a bus. fbb wonders what is in that large timetable frame. Meanwhile in the nearby settlement of Chapel Brampton ...
... there are buses about every two hours (Monday to Saturday) on Centrebus route 60 ...
... but no bus stop at all for journeys TO Northampton.

 4  Produce sensible maps which don't confuse the potential passenger. This is for the little village of Yelvertoft (bottom left) ...
... where, co-incidentally, a brand new bus stop pole and sign has been installed. The Northamptonshire County map shows an encouraging blue line for Stagecoach route 10 from Rugby.
Hooray, a "daily" service. And here's the timetable ...
... with not a mention of Yelvertoft! The secret lies in note "A".
journey runs from Clifton at 0723 and serves Lilbourne,
 Yelvertoft , West Haddon, Crick and DIRFT
Yes, that's it. The "daily" service is an incomprehensible diversion operating on schooldays only. But the village does have a new bus stop; yippee! Readers blessed with appropriate ignorance may muse about where and what DIRFT might be**.

 5  Explain you services clearly; take into account that most people struggle with a timetable. Allow plenty of space, make the print size at lest 12 point and try to avoid a lot of mystifying notes. Here (again from Northampton) is their new service 12.
fbb has previously commented on its suitability for those with vision difficulties! But, that problem aside, is this really the best way to encourage non-users to try the bus? And look again:-
Will those seeking to board their morning Stagecoach be able to cope with the radically different times for Monday to Friday (in green) and Saturday (in orange)? That is a toughie! A similar intellectual challenge applies in the opposite direction.

 6  Think carefully about your use of the so-called modern technology. Does your internet make sense? As here ...
... where the timetable is actually correct but the heading is wrong. The route was extended from Weston Favell Centre to Rectory Farm on 9th June.

 7  Make sure your destination blind (or electronic version thereof) shows something useful as here in Daventry.
Is it going to  DIRFT , perhaps  IF  any passengers can solve the puzzle? (Think about it!)

So, just  few suggestions as to ways in which bus services might become more attractive to dyed-in-the-wool motorists. Of course there are other problems that are harder to tackle. The perception of high fares, is often mitigated by bulk purchase offers but rarely mitigated by "have the first five trips on me" tempters; and is negatively linked with a paranoid unwillingness to admit to prices in the first place. Then there is staff training, vehicle maintenance and cleanliness, the problem of traffic delays ...

But surely if an operator gets most of the basics right, there is a foundation on which to build. One last, and oft repeated suggestion ...

 8  Have a local enquiry facility, a local phone number and plenty of printed publicity available in TICs, libraries, in fact anywhere that will take it.

But, we hear you cry, such things are impossible in today's cost-conscious market. To which fbb replies:-

Brighton ...

Nottingham ...

Trent ...

Edinburgh ...

... to name but four.

So tomorrow we look at a very impressive production from a company that used to be one near the top list but may have slipped a little recently. But their leaflet for services to an Island which isn't, and never has been, remains a lesson in how to do it.

**DIRFT - Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal.

Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT) is a rail-road intermodal freight terminal with an associated warehousing estate; the facility is located at the junctions between the M1 motorway, A5 and A428 roads with a rail connnection from the Northampton loop of the West Coast Main Line.

The original development of approximately 300 acres was built during the 1990s. of which only DIRFT south (DIRF
T Railport) had a direct rail connection. An extension, often referred to as DIRFT2, of about 130 acres received planning permission in 2005, and is designed to have all facilities rail connected - the first occupier of DIRFT2 was Tesco, whose distribution centre reached completion in late 2011. DIRFT2 is to the west of the A5.

A third extension, DIRFT3, also rail connected, is planned on the site of the former Rugby radio station.

 fbb is grateful to Alan, Northampton correspondent, 
 for supplying much of the information in this blog  

 Next Bus Blog : Monday 17th June 


  1. Just a little comment - don't always blame the bus companies so readily for bus stop shortcomings.

    Most bus stops and timetable frames are "owned" by the local authority, and they frown upon bus companies changing publicity shown there. They often charge for changes to publicity and bus timetables; maybe as much as £5 per change per stop! The LTA will then contract a bloke with a van to actually do the job, and my experience is that the bloke has no idea what he's doing, other than putting paper in a frame, so errors occur and bucks get passed!!

    You will of course comment that the timetable frame is the first point for intending passengers to check their bus times (which is correct), but when a bus company pays cash money for times to be changed, they (perhaps naively) expect them to be done properly!

    If the bus company then sends another bloke round to check, then perhaps the second bloke should do it himself - he's more likely to have an interest in getting it right! Of course, that costs money, and the council don't like . . . . and so it goes!!

    In re bus stops and shelters - a brief anecdote: the council told me "we've got cash for a bus shelter next year - where do you want it?" Suggestions were delivered and nothing happened for months. Eventually a shelter was erected at a stop on a route where "hail and ride" applied, and only two buses per day operated to serve an old person's facility. The local councillor had applied pressure for that location, without bothering to check the service levels at that stop. Even then, the regular stopping location was 50 yards away, so the shelter was utterly useless.

    Why didn't the bus company object? It had taken over 18 months from initial enquiry to erection, and frankly no-one remembered!

    We are not masters of our own destiny!!!!!

  2. FBB. You answer your own question about the Stagecoach service 12 in your photo example. There is a difference in Mon-Fri and Sat timings further along the route, after departure from Northampton Bus Station. It is probably more sensible to highlight that there is a different timetable on different days by showing a different colour than having, as used to be the case with some operators, a little symbol beside the relevant timings indicating such as *-operates 2 minutes later on Saturdays tucked away at the bottom somewhere.

  3. You are, of course, right Daddysgadgets. BUT, thanks to the false economy of NOT having separate MF and Sa timetables, there will undoubtedly be misunderstandings and wrong conclusions - as from me! But another thought. Are these differences REALLY necessary. The railways have working and public timetables. Surely a compromise is possible and thus a Monday to Saturday stable timetable?

  4. Based on my own perusings of said timetable, I proffer my own humble opinion that the differences between the weekday and Saturday timings are so tiny that they should just have the same times throughout. The layout and use of colour are instantly confusing and probably worse than that for those who are unfortunate enough to suffer from some form of colour blindness, too.

  5. Greenline 727 - it is worse than that, if the council have taken it upon themselves to manage the roadside publicity they can pretty much charge what they want and the operators have little option but to pay and have no access to the cases. Even if the operator can send someone out to check the cases they will normally not be allowed access to the cases and so can't put up their own (more accurate) publicity or change or cover anything. They could, in theory, go around and put their own cases up nearby (if there is somewhere suitable available) but that just increases confusion by having 2 different timetables on view.

    Looking at the photo of Chapel Brampton, I can't actually see anywhere safe the operator could attach a bus stop flag which means it requires the council to erect a pole which introduces all sorts of complications & objections, easier just to use hail & ride or a both sides of the road flag unless you have a helpful council (not many are in this respect).

    I would say the destination on the purple Solo is technically accurate, it is running a Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) service. The service can only be used by registered users, must be booked in advance and so the driver has a list of the passengers and pick them up from a specified point at a specified time, there is only one bus on this service making the destination somewhat redundant in the most part but the bus difficult to miss if you are booked. It is also somewhat difficult to market to non-users as they can't just walk up and board, so the traditional use of the destination blind is irrelevant - passengers know their bus, it picked them up from their home & is the same bus (& normally driver) who brought them in. There is no destination so there is nothing to put up on the blind, the buses now display the name of the service (County Connect) but that is no more clear to anyone but the booked user than DRT Service.

    1. Outbound at Cedar Hythe, Chapel Brampton there was a stop flag, you can still see the marks on the lamp post where it was fixed. Across the road towards Northampton there is a substantial stone shelter to which perhaps even NCC could fix a stop flag and a timetable case with up to date information in it.
      Comment from editorial in latesr Festiniog Railway Magazine " Many visitors and local supporters still rely on information provided by traditional posters or leaflets to learn what is happenning on the railway so it isn't in the railway's interest to neglect this form of advertising". Bus companies and the "it's on our website" brigade please note.

  6. One of the areas that I think gets overlooked is working to improve bus priority infrastructure. Bus reliability is a substantial issue for passengers and anything that can improve that from Guided Busways to rephased Traffic Lights should be encouraged.

  7. From my experience in of using buses in various towns information at buses stops is usually better when provided by the counsil rather than operators.

    It can be confusing when you use a stop which has services provided my multiple operators with their timetables in different formats. Some may not have even put their timetable in the display. There are many times where the stop you are standing at has no timing point on the timetable and the arrival time is just a guess.