Sunday 15 December 2013

Half Full or Half Empty? Part the Second

The current Route One on-line mag and sales brochure (read here) highlights several encouraging developments in the bus industry. There are new huuuuge buses (luxury coaches?) on the prestigious and busy Oxford to London and Heathrow services; gas buses will be introduced by Stagecoach Sunderland in the new year; and Leicester, currently home to a goodly collection of First tat, is to get new double decks. (Shhh! They're not new but ex London vehicles superbly refurbished!)

And, a week ago, Arriva launched its fourth "premium" Sapphire route.
click on the map to enlarge

fbb would have liked to show his readers a timetable clip but (when this blog was composed, on Friday) this was the best that Arriva could offer on-line.
The Sapphire web site was equally unhelpful:-

Now in July we're launching route 280. This runs between Aylesbury, Thame and Oxford. Get the details about route 280. Then towards the end of the year our fourth Sapphire route will be launched in the North East. This is service 7 between Darlington, Newton Aycliffe and Durham. More information will be available in due course.

Despite this on-line "secrecy", the route was launched at Walworth Castle Hotel ...
... a bit of Best Western Hotels' up-market real estate near Darlington.

Walworth Castle is a 16th-century mansion house, built in the style of a medieval castle. It is a Grade 1 listed building. It was completed around 1600, probably by Thomas Holt for Thomas Jenison. It stands on the site of a former manor house or castle built in the 12th century by the Hansard family. The estate passed through the hands of the Ayscoughs and Aylmers besides the Hansards and Jenisons, and became a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II and then a girls' boarding school after the war. It has been an hotel since 1981.

The super-posh launch was made ultra-posh by the presence of royalty! Yeah, right!
Sadly, fbb does not get invites to Arriva's knees-ups, so was not able to share a few tips with "Her Maj".
But, had the chubby one been scouring the interwebnet a few weeks back, he could have entered the competition.

The new Sapphire service will launch on route 7 on 6th December, but you could be coming to our launch event at Walworth Castle on 5th December! All you have to do is email us at and tell us the name of Prince George's parents and you could be joining us.
Prize includes: 2 tickets to the launch event; Overnight stay for 2 at Walworth Castle on 5th December 2013; Evening meal and Bed and Breakfast.

Had fbb spotted this opportunity, he would have entered; despite the difficulty of the question.

Whatever the quality of the launch and consequential on-line publicity, Sapphire is raising the profile of public transport in Arriva's heartlands. There is some evidence, too, that the hype is attracting more passengers.

Not too far away, in Wales actually.

The Welsh transport minister was reporting to the Assembly ...
Whilst this is a commercial matter for the company, we are disappointed that Arriva Buses Wales has taken this decision. I have today spoken to the three local authorities concerned and will be convening an officials group to report back to me by the end of next week with options for maintaining services. I will make a further statement in due course.

On 1 October Arriva Buses Wales announced that it had begun to consult staff on its proposals to close its Aberystwyth depot and its associated withdrawal from providing certain bus services in north and west Wales. This decision would affect the following services:

Services 20, 40 : Aberystwyth and Cardiff
Service 50 : Aberystwyth and Synod Inn
Service 585 : Aberystwyth and Lampeter.
Service X94 : Wrexham and Barmouth.

The BBCs report is available (here)

 Half Full? Half Empty? 

Is Arriva really saying that there was no hope for Ceredigion? What has the company done to promote hese services? The PR overspill from such a Draconian chop has been disastrous for the company. Or is Arriva playing Russian Roulette with the Welsh Assembly because of dis-satisfaction with their current public transport policies? Uncle Brian is playing the same game in Newcastle, so it must be a good idea (?).

 As an aside, Traveline is still quoting Arriva's services in its journey planner and timetable sections for queries after 21st December, with only a week to go to the pull-out ...
... albeit with a yellow warning triangle saying that the information was wrong.
There'll be plenty of full glasses at Christmas. But you have to wonder what most people will be celebrating?
 fbb's Advent Calendar for 2013 
Sunday 15th December
We are half way through our teeter through the testaments looking at the "complete" Christmas. Your resident blog poet (for want of an alternative, polite, word!) has a favourite story from the Bible Book of Judges. Offered without comment, we present ...
Eglon the King was horrifically fat;
For most of the day on his throne he was sat,
High in his palace with cool air and view,
Until, sad to say, he needed a poo!

He had a back staircase so that he might
Waddle on down well out of sight.
He could heave himself up with a grunt and a groan
And recover regality once back on the throne.

He despised all the Hebrews and treated them bad;
He taxed them and stole, took all they had.
"God's punishing us, it's what we deserve;
We've abandoned our faith; it's false Gods we serve!"

But up steps young Ehud, a left handed bod,
One of the few who still stuck with God.
He wouldn't be searched 'cos lefties were never
Recruited as fighters; now isn't that clever?

So he carried a sword hid 'neath his cloak.
He took all the taxes to Eglon; and spoke
"I've a message from God; it's private my King,
We don't want your servants all listening in."

Ehud, thought Eglon, he is nothing to fear,
So invited the Hebrew to talk nice and near.
He told all his henchmen, all toadying bores
To push off outside and close all the doors.

"So give me God's message, with no ifs and buts,"
And Ehud then stabbed him, right in the guts!
The sword was enclosed by the fat of his tum
And stuck out the back through the crack of his bum!

Grunting and groaning he fell to the floor.
His servants stood listening outside the door.
Ehud then fled via the King's secret stair;
The servants just waited; thy just did not dare ...

... Interrupt Eglon because they perceived
He'd been to the loo yet not fully relieved!
After waiting a bit till the King had recovered;
They tiptoed in and quickly discovered ...

... The blood, blubber and guts all over the place,
And Ehud had gone, too late to give chase.
The tyrant was dead, the Hebrews were free,
Released from King Eglon's cruel tyranny.

At Hebrew headquarters they began to rejoice;
Young Ehud spoke up with a more powerful voice.
Follow me and our God and have no more fears.
They did ...

... and peace held for the next 80 years.
If the detail seems un-Biblical, try reading Judges Chapter 3!
 Next train/ferry blog : Monday 16th December 


  1. A little (recent) history . . . . the services south of Aberystwyth were originally contracted as part of Traws Cymru by the Welsh Assembly. Arriva decided to operate them commercially, and disdained the Optare Tempo's purchased by the Assembly (which have now ended up on the Cardiff Airport route). Arriva then operated the routes with any old tat (and I do mean tat), and realised that the numbers still didn't stack up, so decided to slim down the timetable. With the proposed cut in OAP reimbursement from 73% to 46% (according to some commentators), the numbers REALLY didn't stack up, so AC did the obvious thing and withdrew (in good order, giving well over 56 days notice).

    The Assembly were displeased with the commercialisation in the first place, as they now had nowhere for their toys to run . . . . The service in 2012 and 2013 had become unreliable, with breakdowns a daily occurance, and not helped by AC sending a fitter from Aberystwyth to Carmarthen to fix the old tat.
    Hence the barely disguised pleasure at AC's withdrawal, and the refusal to negotiate.
    It will be interesting to see how things develop. BTW . . . the only on-line timetale so far is on the Carmarthenshire website, which treats the 40 and 40C replacements as two distinct services, with only a "c" to denote through operation (and passengers need to look at two timetables to work out through journeys!). At least the times are there . . . . .

  2. thanks Greenline727 for this useful detail. I was aware in general terms but not suffciently "au fait" to expand what I wrote above.

  3. There is a difference between the issues of Arriva in Wales & Stagecoach in Newcastle. In Arriva's case it was a question of whether a large group can maintain effectively a small outpost in such thin operating territory without greater funding. Arriva came to the conclusion the answer was no, compounded by the fact there are a couple of smaller independents in the area who have made great success out of other services (Lloyds Coaches to the north, Richards Brothers to the south & Mid-Wales around Aberystwyth) which meant that Arriva were never likely to hold on to work if it went out to tender.

    In the case of Stagecoach in Newcastle it is a question of ownership and what appears to be state sponsored theft. Nexus (the local Transport Authority) are proposing a Quality Contract that will take over all services in their area, don't appear to be planning to pay for any of it and expect the operators to co-operate with the transition for no compensation. Stagecoach are simply making it clear they will not risk valuable assets being seized and will remove them from the area the moment it becomes likely that this may happen. If Nexus were to give any indication they would negotiate over asset transfer, indicated they had the funds & intention to pay for assets (and despite what pro-QC supporters claim, bus routes are assets with a value - as underlined by the sale of Finglands to First where money changed hands but no physical assets were involved just routes) and gave assurances that no assets other than routes would be taken over without the current owners consent the response may be different. Nexus haven't even hinted this may be in their thought processes so Stagecoach have to take a harder position to make the issues clear.

    Arriva appear to be having an issue with their website, I haven't been able to get a pdf off their site in over a month (and I am largely looking at the Midlands). This is a problem affecting all areas & routes not just an issue with the Sapphire launch. This problem has been experienced by a number of other people I know as well.