Monday 2 June 2014

It's Them Confusers, AGAIN!

"ABCDEFG" continues tomorrow;
1 day late to allow for hot news from Northampton
A year or so back, Stagecoach in Northampton extended its X7 (Leicester, Market Harborough, Northampton) to Milton Keynes; thus doubling the existing X4 frequency on that latter leg. The X7 had its origins in United Counties "Coachlinks" brand ...
... continued by Stagecoach.
The recently extended X7 runs hourly all the way but just two hourly between Leicester and Northampton on Sundays. Branded single decks were used for the extended service ...
click to enlarge the above picture

But there was a change from yesterday, 1st June. The Sunday X7 was doubled to hourly from Leicester to Northampton; a remarkable uplift in the service. Not only that, but, every two hours, buses extend to Milton Keynes enhancing the two hourly X4.

fbb received this news from his Northampton correspondent a few days ago. So el chubbo decided to check the detail on the Stagecoach web site.
And it wasn't there on Saturday evening 31st May; and it still wasn't there at lunchtime yesterday. [Unsurprisingly still wrong at 1900 yestarday] In fact the Stagecoach web site is daft; showing THREE service x7s ...
... all delivering the same (wrong) timetable PDF.

Again, fbb asks the question. Does the Stagecoach management ever use their own web site? Seems not!

Never mind; we can go to the Northamptonshire County timetable site; usually a reliable source of up-to-date information ...
... but not yesterday, pre-prandial. But, true to the notice above, the timetables site had returned by early evening and offered your relentless investigator the correct Sunday timetable ...
... from an up-to-date Stagecoach PDF file!!!(?)
click on the panel to enlarge

Wrong date, but all three of Northamptonshire's X7s show the same correct timetable. Well done NCC, you've got something sort-of right that Stagecoach couldn't quite manage.

And, in passing, another fbb question. Why is it necessary to take a web site down for maintenance? Surely the clever tekkies can build the new site and drop it into the electronic bucket and, only then, remove the old? Apparently not in Northampton!

And so to Traveline. Stop sniggering at the back. Here's a Monday to Friday timetable extract.
We must applaud Traveline for punctiliously giving us two sets of times for the middle of the three (!) separate services. We can while away a merry hour or so spotting the difference between Note 1 timings and those headed note 2.
No: don't bother; there isn't any.

Sunday is unencumbered with loony notes, but does succeed in Traveline's avowed aims, namely to make bus travel as difficult as possible. And, if you can work it out, the table does show the two hourly Milton Keynes extension, but still as a separate service. So a notch better than the operator.
Nothing from Leicestershire who just direct you to Traveline; and Milton Keynes, which shows a jouit X4/X7 table ...
... hasn't caught up yet.
Registrations have only been available for eight weeks.

But we must congratulate Traveline for, at least, having the correct Sunday times; that is assuming that they are correct 'cos there's no source of corroboration. Which leads us to the Traveline journey planner.

Here's the result of en enquiry, made on Saturday 31st, for a Sunday 1st journey from Brixworth (north of Northampton) to Roade (south thereof) on the two hourly through X7 workings.
1111, 1211, 1311, 1411? Two hourly? 1111? Yes indeed, but you have to change buses in Northampton.
Only, of course, you don't; the 1111 journey is through. 1211? This time you do need to change on to the X4.
More potential confusion. Once again, the question. 

Does the Stagecoach management, Traveline Management, County Council Management, ANY management, ever use these web sites? Seems not! The solution to these presentational gaffes is simple. If the X7 is a through service then enter the data as a through service. It would appear that this "connecting service but remain on the bus with through fares" is "as a result of DFT advice." One of the endearing features of advice is that it can be accepted or ignored - so ignore it for the benefit of the oft-sidelined customer.

On the other hand, the whole thing might just be, like Duffy's Dallas Deus-ex-machina, a horrible dream.
Doubling of the frequency of a rural service on Sundays? Pull the other one!

In a valiant attempt to hold on to something like sanity, we end with another bus picture. Occasionally double decks substitute for the branded singles.
Now that would be a juicy ride, top deck front from Leicester to Milton Keynes.

 Next bus blog : Tuesday 3rd June 


  1. Actually when it comes to this DfT 'advice' you can't ignore it as what they are really saying is that "this is what the DfT will allow us to do to get around the EU rule that they didn't bother to change that disproportionally affects UK bus operators". If operators ignore this DfT 'advice' then they will end up being done for drivers hours infringements for driving Euro Hour routes on Domestic hours, the cost to the customer in a slightly confusing presentation is more than overweighed by the advantages of being able to offer the service at all.

    There is, however, an issue that Traveline still can't (6 years after this loophole was implemented) cope with the way these services have to be registered as separate sections and the people handling entering the data work for the local authorities not the operators. It looks like it requires the operators to supply the information in a special format for them to be able to make the accommodation - The Transpeak service is registered in the same way but Traveline show the service as a single through journey but when the registrations were sent to the local authority with a separate complete timetable along with the registrations showing how the through workings would work in the hope they could then reflect this on the travel planner, having looked it appears this has worked in this instance which is gratifying. It may depend on which person is entering the data as other routes in other areas run by my company and registered in a similar way have not been treated in such a clear manner.

  2. I don't think that the DfT have any authority over the presentation of a printed bus timetable. Whatever hoops they may have "advised" (and the DfT could say "pooh" to the EEC if they so chose) for official documents, this should not (and need not) influence printed publicity and journey planners which is entirely a matter for the operator and their customers. If it's OK to show a through service on JP's then its OK to do so on a leaflet. Keep nonsense under the counter with registrations documents!

  3. Surely you can only be "done" by the EEC for your actions. If you are breaking the rules then being "done" should follow automatically whatever you say to your confused and misled customers. Maybe it's OK to rob a bank and "say" that you didn't have time to fill in the withdrawal slip? The DfT advice is DaFT.

  4. The 'advice' from the DfT is that the service must be advertised by the operator as separate services with connections for it to be considered as being operated under domestic hours - they don't technically have authority over presentation of publicity but they do, through VOSA & the TCs, over what is defined as domestic hours and what as EU hours. If you advertise it as a through service with no breaks in your own publicity it will be considered as one service and will be expected to run under EU hours with tachographs, as per the Northumbria case with the 685 service some years ago. If you fail to operate a service to the correct drivers hours regs then VOSA & the TCs will take action for breaching hours rules which can result in fines for drivers and the loss of licenses for the operator (either a cut in authorisation or full revocation of the license) and the loss of repute for managers (leading to the loss of their jobs as they need their repute & the holding of a CPC to carry out their job), the risk of ignoring it doesn't get close to the benefits for customers of doing so. If we decide to implement the rules as per the letter passengers would have to disembark at the split points and reboard and not remain onboard the vehicle. The operators are caught between an EU rule designed by people who didn't realise how the UK bus network worked and a UK government who didn't care at first and now doesn't want to do anything difficult to fix the problem at source so is providing guidance to try & get round the problem with less work. If the DfT relax their guidance the operators will follow, if the tighten it up the operators will be forced to comply, the one risk is that no one has really tested this and VOSA (along with the TCs) as the UK enforcement agency are just going along with it, I'm not entirely certain how much sway this would actually hold in a court of law and I am just glad that it's not my repute & livelihood that rests on a bit of DfT advice being considered lawful.

    Traveline & third party information is outside operators control and so can be displayed in other forms without causing an issue for the operator, they will simply say "it's nothing to do with us & it's wrong" (there are enough instances of Traveline being wrong or confusing on single services for a case to be proven, operators can't be held accountable for 3rd party information provision legally defining how their services operate) but as I said previously Traveline appears incapable of dealing with this ruling & unwilling to make any changes to accommodate what is a standard practice for the UK industry. Your robbery analogy would only be appropriate if the UK government stated publicly that you can rob a bank if you don't have time to fill out a withdrawal slip, you work to the rules as laid down by the responsibly government, we're not making it up as we go along nor is the bus industry trying to be difficult. We are trying to do the best we can with the rules as they are laid down by the UK government, we have consistently asked for them to be changed but the UK government has gone as far as it appears it will and the EU hasn't been asked by the UK government to amend them so they will stay as they are.

  5. The EU (EEC hasn't existed in years) has no direct authority over the enforcement of operator rules, each country will have its own operator licensing regime and enforcement. The EU lays out the standard rules for all member states to implement and enforce to ensure fair competition across the EU - there is a facility to exclude local bus services as these would not generally be expected to be open to competition from companies based in a different country. This exclusion was based on 50kms, which basically reflects the longest urban bus service in most of continental Europe which is all they considered, the extensive interurban bus networks with routes much longer than this weren't considered by the EU or raised by the UK government so weren't accommodated - I'm sure the EU would be happy to be flexible if the UK Government wanted to exclude local registered bus services over 50kms but that would involve talking to the EU which the UK doesn't appear to want to do. The DfT has come up with a UK definition of domestic bus services, this is a process which undoubtably happens in each country to reflect their own circumstances, it is just unusual in the UK as we normally just implement the EU rules to the letter rather than the spirit. If the EU doesn't agree with the DfT definition of the split between Domestic & EU hours then they will bring the UK government (not the individual operators) up to the European Court and fine them and tell them to change it, since they have done nothing and this ruling has been in place for many years and doesn't affect the competitiveness between Mainland European operators & UK operators on work they both do I suspect they don't care.