Monday 31 March 2014

Wenzit Goh, Chairman of NUTS, strikes again! [1]

A blog or three ago, fbb made mentions of the former Latvian transport minister, now chairman of the National Union of Timetable Secrecy. This organisation aims to rid us of hard-to-understand traditional bus timetables and replace them with internet journey planners. His name is Wenzit Goh and his views are diametrically opposed to those of fbb. Frankly, fbb is losing the battle!

On Saturday the travel shop at Cardiff closed its doors ...
... leaving passengers with a good set of timetables on-line, an incomplete route map ...
... and a trek to the depot at Sloper Road if they want to speak to a human being. It is astounding that the dominant operator in Wales' capital city should even begin to consider having no front-line human presence in or near the bus station.

The excellent office in Gosport has closed, leaving enquiries in the hands of the Tourism Office next door. fbb's experience of TiCs is not good with leaflets hidden away, no network knowledge and a dominant desire to sell touristy stuff.

One encouragement, however, is in Salisbury ...
... where, despite the closure of the bus station, the ravel shop will remain.

But where Wenzit and his team are having consummate success is in our capital, London. The unstoppable decline of adequate bus information continues at an alarming pace. fbb's particular interest was aroused by a chum who phoned for information on travel (by bus) between Merstham and Redhill.
Back in the year dot this was London Transport's country area where smart green buses trundled between Croydon and Redhill (or Crawley) on service 405.
In 2001 it was transferred from successor privatised London and Country to Transport for London (or whatever it was called then) and it became a proper red bus route. Only it didn't, because he contract was won by Connex.
In 2003, Metrobus (now part of GoAhead) took over and have operated the 405 ever since ...
... although now it has become completely red!

A full photo-review of the 405 can be found (here).
A more detailed history of vehicle allocation is available on Ian Armstrong's site (here)
Sadly, fbb can't replicate Ian's splendid scrolling destination panels!

As well as timetables at bus stops, London Country produced excellent area books with timetables and helpful cartographical information on an area by area basis.
Until relatively recently in the history of this long-lived service, standard red bus "Panel" timetables were displayed at every stop (most stops?) and, with the internet age, were available to download. Thus it was that, even with the demise of the printed booklet, you could still obtain a copy of the bus timetable for the 405.
Again, until fairly recently, London Transport for London produced an excellent "red bus" network map, admittedly hard on the peepers, but comprehensive and usefully pocket sized. Even in 1970 the "green" 405 was shown.
These maps are still produced, but privately, by the excellent Mike Harris whose web site is (here).
Although Mike produces a network map annually, you won't find one in any enquiry office or Tourist Office close to route 405. Thy are regarded as "enthusiast" publications instead of being, as they once were, an essential part of any London bus traveller's armoury.

But as NUTS chairman Wenzit Goh would say, "that was then and this is now" so our next blog begins the search for route 405 information today.
Because fbb has been away for a long weekend on the Isle of Wight, part 2 of this "investigation" will appear on Wednesday 2nd April. Those who contribute comments may be advised to hold fire until the conclusion of episode 2!
 Next rail blog : Tuesday 1st April 

Sunday 30 March 2014

All Gas and Goodness in Aberdeen [2]

 No. 5 New Ticket Technology 

You will soon be able to pay for your bus ride using a mobile phone. This is yet another Aberdeen initiative from First. 
Let's hope the canny Aberdonians APPreciate it! There's two bonny Scots lassies looking very happy here! And first have painted the top of a bus to win over potential customers who own their own helicopter.
A huge untapped market there.

But we can't let Aberneen have all the glory. A similar project has been announced in Worcester. Where they, too, have smiling young ladies all ready to scan their whatsits ...
... and advertisements APPlied to the rooftop.
How clever of First to find at least six sets of identical twins with one of each pair living in both localities!
But Aberdeen trumps Worcestershire ...
... with APPropiate systems for both eras.
And, talking of Apps ...

First's App in Bristol now does fares.
Now here's a question for the techies. Can the Bristol-type App talk to the Aberdeen-type fare-paying App, allowing the user to check a fare then pay from the same screen. No, fbb didn't think so.

Apparently another fares system is being developed. On boarding the bus, the passenger uses the Device for Revealing Individual Value Effective Revenue to find his fare, then pays with little brown, silver and gold coloured discs of metal. The system is almost instant and very unlikely to suffer loss of battery power at a critical moment. Amazingly, the passenger needs no special APP to use this revolutionary technology.

coloured metal discs

And for those who sigh disapprovingly at fbb's Luddite tendencies. Consider this. Three days ago, fbb called at his local sweetshop, parcel office, grocery store, mobile phone top up shop, lottery ticket seller, ice cream stall, pay point point; oh yes, and newsagent.
As fbb waited to buy his copy of "i", the lady in front was paying for her paper and couple of bars of cholesterol. As she prepared to hand over a handful of those new-fangled coloured metal discs, the shop assistant exclaimed, "the till has just taken your money."

One very confused customer still had the specie in her hand. It transpired that the till had "read" her "in out, shake it all about and no PIN needed" bank card, safely (so she thought) double-stowed in purse in handbag. The on-card facility had been provided without her authority by the bank. Somewhat annoyed, she set off home to "get it taken off."

New technology, be afraid - very afraid.
It reminds fbb of a song!

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay
It's no fuss.
And I keep within my handbag sev'ral pounds and pence
For the bus
The company gives me an App
Will it be a fearful trap?
If my phone doesn't work at all,
Techie pride comes before a fall...

Money, money, money
Now seems funny
In a bus man's world
Money, money, money
Is still sunny
In a bus man's world
Safe the things I can do
With my bag of lovely money
In a bus man's world

fbb is not sure, but thinks the song (or something very like it) was recorded by a group called "APPA"!
Lies, damned lies and statistics.
The term was popularised in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881): "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." However, the phrase is not found in any of Disraeli's works and the earliest known appearances were years after his death. Other coiners have therefore been proposed, and the phrase is often attributed to Twain himself.

During the Dawlish Collapse, the Western Daily Mail published this article.
It was railing against the bias of transport spending in favour of London and the South East and against the poor downtrodden West. The detail is revealing ...
... with 6% of expenditure (the red slice) being for us country bumpkins (m'dear) and 45% (pale blue) for the Capital and its environs. But is it as bad as that? According to "other" statistics, the South West contributes 8% to the nation's economy, whilst London and the South East is nearer 40%; figures much closer to the expenditure on transport infrastructure. Of course, then it all depends on where you draw the boundaries.

But it isn't much of an argument for building a diversionary line to avoid Dawlish alltogether. It may, however, be an argument for building a stronger sea wall!
 Next bus blog : Monday 31st March 

Saturday 29 March 2014

All Gas and Goodness in Aberdeen [1]

This very moe (Whoops) nice man from Aberdeen ...
pop nuts a
... is Niall Dowds. He is chief PR man for First in Scotland. He sends fbb lots of lovely press releases, so many that Aberdonian blogs could well appear every week! But you can have too much of a good thing - even the mercurial rise of Worst Bus to First Bus can become a little, well, samey, however commendable it might be.

But because things are happening at a franctic pace, fbb will attempt to distill some of the latest gems in expurgated form.

 No. 1 Charity Work 

In 1911, a young man named Douglas Macmillan watched his father die of cancer. His father's pain and suffering moved Douglas so much, he founded the 'Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer'. Douglas wanted advice and information to be provided to all people with cancer, homes for patients at low or no cost, and voluntary nurses to attend to patients in their own homes. Today much of Douglas' legacy lives on. We are still a source of support for people living with cancer today and we are a force for improving cancer care.
First (nationally) has donated £80,000 worth of in-bus advertising space to support Macmillan's latest campaign.

 No. 2 Fair Fares 

First Aberdeen today said that it will freeze the overwhelming majority of its fares in 2014 and reduce in price Adult Day tickets. The company confirmed that it is able to reduce or freeze the majority of its fares, for a second year running, as a result of the increasing numbers of customers travelling on First Aberdeen services. The only fare which will increase is Stage 3-5 of the Adult Single fare.

Details of First Aberdeen's Annual Fares Review, which will be implemented from March 30, include:-

Adult FirstDay ticket reduced by 40p to £4.30
Adult Off Peak FirstDay ticket reduced from £4.10 to £3.80 
During fresher's week students term ticket is £300 (a £50 discount)
All other student tickets frozen
All season tickets (including FirstWeek) frozen
All children's tickets frozen (including single tickets)
Park and Ride tickets frozen
First Family Weekend ticket frozen (reduced by 25% in October 2013)
Late night services fares frozen
New £3 evening ticket promotion introduced  (not Fri amd Sat)

And the bad news?

Stage 3-5 Single Adult ticket increased by 10p to £2.10.
The "Travel Trio" promotion Services 11 and 20 will end.

Things are definitely going right for the Fearnley masterplan. (See below item 3; also interview with GRF in the April edition of Buses magazine; not a "canard du premier Avril".)

 No. 3 It's a Gas 
Actually this came from the City and not from Niall 'cos it's their project.

The Aberdeen City Council-led bus project, which has backing from Europe, the UK Government and the Scottish Government, as well as a broad range of private sector partners, will deliver a hydrogen infrastructure in Aberdeen in 2014. This will include the production of hydrogen from a 1MW electrolyser ....

[That's using electricity to split water- H2O = into H, hydrogen and O, oxygen]

... and establishing a state-of-the-art hydrogen refuelling station, Scotland's first commercial-scale hydrogen refuelling station that will include hydrogen production through electrolysis, in partnership with BOC.

Council leader Barney Crockett said: “The arrival of these buses in Scotland is absolutely wonderful news. We will have the world’s largest fleet of hydrogen fuel cell ...

[That's using hydrogen and oxygen to oin together again and create water and electricity]

... buses running on the Aberdeen’s streets,.

Got it? Good! fbb explained the principle back in April 2011, complete with diagram.
Hydrogen buses have been running intermittently on London's route RV1 ...
... and Aberdeen's batch of ten, shared equally between First and Stagecoach, will hit the roads of the Granite City in May.
It is worthwhile to stress that Aberdeen's hydrogen buses are totally different from "Gas" buses. Stgecoach has just announced a fleet of 17 for Suderland

The initial batch of gas buses are 17 Scania K270UB 4×2 with ADL Enviro 300 bodywork. The Scania chassis is powered by their OG9 GO4 9.3l five-cylinder vertical in-line gas engine coupled to an automatic gearbox.

Developing 270hp, drivers have already commented positively on the power available along with the comfortable feel of the controls. The chassis has only around 40 components not common to the diesel version. Composite gas tanks on the roof, concealed in a stylised pod, hold the fuel at a pressure of up to 200 bar.

These simply burn gas instead of diesel; like gas central heating instead of oil.

 No. 4 Super Survey Success 

There are still those "out there" who doubt the long term results of  the Fearnley Turnaround policy. But the recent Passenger Focus survey suggests that ow Public is responding with growing enthusiasm. These headlines are from a First Bus press release and are, therefore, skewed in favour of the Company.

86% of passengers said they were satisfied with their overall journey
(a rise of 5% compared to 2013)

First has seen an increase in score in 34 of the 35 variables measured

93% of passengers in Suffolk were satisfied with their overall journey
(second highest amongst operators in England)

Greater Manchester recorded a 31% increase in value for money scores to 71%

Nationally an overall 10% increase in value for money scores
Nationally an overall 9% increase in punctuality scores

Nevertheless the change is mighty impessive.

Well done, First. And there is, we are told, further improvement in the pipeline and even better "stats" since the survey was taken.

  Next bus blog : Sunday 30th March 

Friday 28 March 2014

Moving Marsh Barton [2]

Devon County Council has bold aspirations for its rail network. A series of reports, published over the last few years, have proposed significant expansion to the number of stations and the services within the county. The detail has varied over time, but can be summarised by this map.
Cranbrook is under construction on the Waterloo main line and due to open later this year.
From the December 2013 timetable change the stop was inserted into the schedules ready for completion.

Northcourt is already "approved" in a developing area south of Digby and Sowton ...
... on the Exmouth line. It will be built alongside Liberty Way, south of Old Rydon Lane.

Next on the list is the errant Marsh Barton, wrongly located south of Topsham by Rail Magazine. This will have a beautiful view of Exeter's waste disposal plant and is located at the existing railway bridge on the delightfully named Clapperbrook Road East, an extension of the newer Alphin Brook Road.
Here is the existing bridge ...
... and here an architect's  view of the approach to the new platforms.
There is no housing at Marsh Barton, just acres and acres of sheds. The estimates for passenger numbers are, therefore, based mainly on travel to and from work. The sort of businesses on the trading estate are hardly likely to attract walking shoppers.

So, is Marsh Barton Station necessary?
Two bus services penetrate the area, both operated by Stagecoach, successors to Devon General and Exeter Corporation.
The "B" should be (and once was) an Exeter city (Citi) route but has been extended to Dawlish. It runs every 30 minutes. 
Then there is "Green".
As the bus branding suggests, this is one of Exeter's park and ride services with the terminus at a site called "Matford". Matford village is further on; and it would be clearer were the car park called Marsh Barton South.
As is so often the case with such services, the leaflet is less than helpful ...
... with no map. Indeed, the casual passenger would be forgiven for thinking this was a Park and Ride service. (?) But it is more than that. It provides a "normal" bus service with multiple stops through much of Marsh Barton estate. Traveline, unusually, comes to the rescue.
With a bus every 10 minutes and loadsa stops, who is going to use the station? Possibly folk travelling from further afield to get to work, but it will be hard to persuade such to abandon their cars; and there is no shortage of parking on the estate.

The current train service to Exeter St Thomas (to the north) and Starcross (to the south) is hourly with trains continuing to Paignton. 
It is unlikely that trains will ever be more frequent than every 30 minutes and there will be problems squeezing in such a generous service between First Great Western and Cross Country expresses. The 1350 from Exeter Central stands in the platform loop at Dawlish Warren for a frustrating 12 minutes to let a Paddington "fast" overtake.
Despite this concern, however, Devon County is to be applauded for its commitment to rail. Let us hope that the money is available, that the passengers turn up to fill the trains and that Rail Magazine eventually gets its geography right.

Today fbb and Mrs are off to the Isle of Wight for a long weekend visiting chums with fbb preaching at his former church on Sunday. Busy busy. Blogs have been pre-posted (hopefully) so the usual caveat applies. IF the technology works, all will be well, but your un-trusting author cannot be certain ...

Likewise, blog comments may not be acknowledged.

Back home Monday with cat-sitter "embedded" for the duration!
 Next bus blog : Saturday 29th March